Escaping Wonderland (& the Wrong Kind of Popularity)

Hello, dear internet friends,

I’m with Aly & AJ on this one: The greatest time of year is here. Okay, “greatest” may be too broad. This season doesn’t have to be everyone’s favorite, but it is mine. While the holidays can certainly be busy and overwhelming, this year I’m ready to embrace each sparkling moment. I hope to be present with the ones I love, slow down to appreciate decked-out front yards, and make plenty of time to watch holiday movies and shows.

I have become a connoisseur of Netflix’s seasonal offerings. Did you know that there are four Vanessa Hudgens characters in the Netflix Christmas Cinematic Universe? It’s true, and I’d love to talk to you about it. Outside of that tinsel-tangled web of doppelgängers and fake European countries, my favorite festive show on the platform is “Dash & Lily,” a one-season series based on a young adult novel. Lily, a Christmas-loving human ray of sunshine, leaves a notebook of clues to decode inside New York City’s famous bookstore, The Strand. Sarcastic and surly Dash picks it up, kicking off a Christmas break of the pair sending each other on dares throughout the city, getting to know each other—and themselves—along the way.

It’s a sweet love story, a traveling tale of Christmas in New York. It’s also about fitting in—or rather, finding where you belong. As we get to know Lily, we see that she struggles to fit in with her peers. While reading a book on the subway, she looks over wistfully at the three girls next to her who are interacting over stuff in their phones. In another scene, Lily is caroling at a park with her adult neighbors when she spots a group of her soccer teammates. One appears to look her way but doesn’t wave or invite her over.

As Lily reveals to Dash in their notebook, life wasn’t always this way for her. Without spoiling the details, an experience of social rejection in middle school changed everything. Before then, she believed that she’d always belong by being herself. “After that,” she writes, “I started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, like school was full of all these rules that didn’t make sense.”

I came to view that scene through a new lens after finishing a book called Popular: Finding Happiness and Success in a World That Cares Too Much About the Wrong Kinds of Relationships by Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist and the Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association. Taking readers through scientific research on the subject, Prinstein shows how popularity impacts our lives well beyond our middle and high school days. While the book is written for adults, I think anyone of any age can benefit from understanding the two types of popularity as he defines them. The first is status, or what I call capital-P Popular. As Prinstein explains, this type of popularity becomes apparent in adolescence and defines individuals who are well-known and powerful amongst a given group. The second type of popularity, likability, is the one we understand from when we’re very little. Likable people engage in kind, inclusive behaviors with the aim of truly connecting with others.

The disorienting shift that Lily experienced was status overtaking likability in her middle-school world. I can certainly relate. When I was little, I found it easy to get along with other kids. I honestly thought I was best friends with “everyone,” meaning all the girls in my multiage class of first and second graders. For me, the transition to a new social order felt more like a slow fall down the rabbit hole than an abrupt change. I learned that people might spill your secrets, make fun of you to someone else (who would tell you about it), or exclude you for no obvious reason. I found it all so painful and impossible to understand that I latched onto the only solution I could come up with: I needed to change myself—especially how I looked—to fit in. To be Popular. Then I could be fully happy again.

I wish I could go back and teach my younger self about the two types of popularity, but Prinstein’s book helped me understand how the challenges of status and benefits of connection don’t end with graduation. It’s never too late to make changes. The main reason I struggle with social media is that it feels like being in middle school, holding my breath to see who “likes” me. Since last month, I’ve kept up with cutting back on my use. I’ve been surprised by how different life has felt, considering I didn’t think of myself as someone overly plugged in. Without the backdrop of all that social noise, moments of genuine connection have felt more properly highlighted. It’s a little like being six again. I’m just happy to be invited to play.

The difference is, I know now I can’t really be best friends with everyone. What Lily’s story shows is that you don’t need everybody to see you. Finding just one person you can take off your social mask around can be transformative. Meeting them through a hidden notebook at a famous bookstore may be highly unlikely, but you never know what a simple lunchtime “Can I sit with you?” will do. I made a lifelong friend that way.

So, I never achieved capital-P Popularity. And I’ve come to realize that, at least for me, social media can be the same status game by a different name. But you know what? I have friendships that are as simple and sturdy as they felt in the years before I knew Popular. I don’t take them for granted because I know what it’s like to get lost on the wrong side of Wonderland.

xoxo

Marie

“Dash & Lily” is available for streaming on Netflix.

Popular by Mitch Prinstein can be purchased at Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Can You Ever BeReal on Social Media?

Hello, dear internet friends,

This week, I wrapped up edits on my book’s next chapter about the intersection of celebrities, social media, and identity. (A topic worthy of its own full book, but I hope I did it justice!) I had a lot of fun working on this one. I find pop culture to be an endlessly rich subject matter for all it has to say about us. It’s our shared dialogue. An overarching narrative full of rich themes and fascinating characters that we all take part in shaping through what we buy, watch, listen to, and talk about—and who we make a star.

It was so interesting to walk through the iterations of young female celebrities in my lifetime, from the glossy, well-choreographed pop stars of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, to the bedazzled-pink paparazzi craze of Paris Hilton, to the flashy, fame-focused Kardashians, to now. The era of the internet creator, where suburban Connecticut high schooler Charli D’Amelio—playing the role of our modern Cinderella—went from filming TikTok videos that embarrassed her older sister to promoting her custom Dunkin’ Donuts drink to millions of followers.

What surprised me during my research—though it really shouldn’t have—was how many articles placed Charli in a frame of authenticity or relatability. Certainly, in contrast to the Kardashians before them, the D’Amelio family as a whole comes across as humbler, politer, and more grounded. Charli is likable, but I wouldn’t say she’s relatable; she’s aspirational. Just as Paris Hilton represented an ideal of excess in the reality-TV-saturated early 2000s, Charli exemplifies celebrity in the 2020s: optimally suited to go viral on the internet and make it look natural.

“Authenticity” is the guiding undercurrent of the most popular social media platforms today. The heavily filtered selfies of early Instagram have given way to blurry “candid” shots. TikTok feels like the Internet finally turning in on itself, trying to Do All The Things, All At Once. What if you meme-ified your closest relationship to the current trending song? Perhaps due to the virality that keeps it running—and constantly raises the stakes—it’s the platform where the boundaries for what’s appropriate to share have most dissolved. Many times I’ve used it, I’ve scrolled into a shockingly intimate piece of a stranger’s life and been left with the unresolvable unease of knowing what someone is going through but not them. I don’t “like” it.

Then there’s BeReal. The buzzy new app that may not last but has caused enough of a stir that Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are copying it. The stated purpose—for those who haven’t been exposed yet—is “to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.” Users are given a different two-minute window each day to post photos taken simultaneously from their front and back cameras. If you don’t post, you can’t see your friends’ posts. If you post late, your friends will be notified. The number of times you retook your photos is also visible to your friends.

Being “real” is enforced.

I haven’t used the app myself because I don’t want to post, so I don’t know what it’s like experientially. I understand that the norms of a given platform sometimes morph it away from what the designers intended. Still, the concept reads like a parody of our attempts to create—or perform—authenticity online.

You can’t make people be real. Online or off. Maybe we should stop trying.

All of this has finally broken the spell of social media for me. I’ve long been aware of its problems, of course, but I wanted to believe that not altering or filtering your photos was enough. That as long as you didn’t lie or manipulate the truth in what you posted about your life, it was okay. No room for harm.

I’m not holding onto those hopes anymore.

I don’t know how you step on the stage of social media and not perform a little. No matter what app you use—BeReal included—you get metrics on how well you do. How “likable” you are. (You can hide like counts on your posts or those in your feed on Facebook and Instagram, but you still get the likes.) The more I’ve thought about it, it disturbs me that I intuitively know what “content” of my life is most appealing to the algorithm or audience. It has little to do with what’s meaningful for me to share.

Maybe you can’t envision someone envying your life, because you’re not a social media celebrity living in the same white-walled California home they all seem to have. I think of another me in an alternate universe whose life unfolded a little differently. Maybe she’s a couple steps behind or had one less stroke of good luck. What would she make of me, or rather, my posts? And I already struggle sometimes with comparing myself to some imaginary me who had the foresight to do everything just right.

Why make it harder on myself? Why add more ghosts to the room?

I think many of us feel exasperated with at least some aspects of social media, and yet we keep going. It’s hard to log off completely and not feel like you’re missing out, socially or otherwise. I know I wouldn’t have as many blog readers if I didn’t use social media, and I’m grateful for the connections and conversations that sharing my work has inspired.

All this to say, I can’t see the full path ahead, but I’m walking anyway. Taking the apps off my phone to remove the temptation to check them every quiet moment. Deciding to continue sharing my writing but leave my life where it belongs from now own.

Stepping off the stage. For me. For you. For us.

xoxo

Marie

The Jackson Pollock Manicure

Hello, my dear internet friends.

Last month, I told you that I’d started editing “How to Be a Girl,” the chapter in my book on teen magazines. On Monday, I finished my edits (for now!) and sent it off to my workshop group for feedback. I was so excited that I set up my Spice Girls dolls to celebrate (which you can also enjoy here). That chapter was a challenge—trying to sift through stacks of magazines to find the best thematic examples, deciding where to land to capture how they’re still relevant—but even when it was hard, it was fun. It never ceases to amaze me that, even when I sit down to write about a topic I think I know like the back of my hand, I always learn something new along the way.

During my magazine scavenging, I came across an editorial called “Art of Makeup” in an issue of Seventeen from my junior year of high school. It featured four “looks” inspired by classic painters, from eye shadow blended in the vibrant colors of Georgia O’Keeffe to splatter-paint nail art a la Jackson Pollock. Which I tried. I don’t remember the actual attempt; I must not have been successful, otherwise I would have done it over and over and never forgotten. But that’s when I started wearing black nail polish. I thought it was cool. Maybe even edgy, one of the many personal-style descriptors I learned from Seventeen. Of course, I Marie-ified it (and in turn, removed any potential edge) by covering it with silver holographic glitter. It was fun. It was a good time.

That anecdote doesn’t mean much on its own, I’ll admit. But coming out of the particular environment of looks-based messaging I’ve been wading through over the last couple months, it definitely stands out. Teen magazines often spoke in the language of your appearance being a project, your body an object with many parts in need of maintenance, repair, or upgrade. That Seventeen was a makeover-themed issue. The first image in the “Beauty” section was—honestly?—haunting. The article was entitled “Look Like a Model!” Unsurprisingly, the face of a runway model was featured, but her actual appearance in the main image was somewhat obscured, covered in arrows, dashes, and instructions. A template for all the ways one’s face could be fixed. “Shade Jawline” was written along the arrow down her chin. “Contour cheeks.” “Fill in lips.”

I would love for such an image to sound severely outdated. But I know that it doesn’t. Magazines spoke confidently under the assumption that you knew that your hair/skin/body/brows needed work and understood why that was important. (Generally: attention. Often, more specifically: male attention.) The implicit importance of “fix-it” work is still written into media and advertising. It’s programmed into the social media filters that distort your features in… well, all the ways Seventeen was suggesting you could with makeup.

But what about the Jackson Pollock manicure? In the sadly not-distant universe of a teen magazine promoting white eyeshadow as a means for visually editing your nose, the suggestion to emulate an iconic artist’s work on the tiny canvas of your fingernail seems delightfully absurd. And absurd delights are my soft spot in life. (Cherry cola Oreos with Pop Rocks in the middle. My cat entering deep sleep atop a crying-while-laughing emoji bean bag.) What I really mean to say is, the concept and attached memory feel both nonserious and joyful. And what might that be like? To treat physical presentation as a totally nonserious avenue for joy?

Which feels like the right question, or rather the right direction to head. The vulnerable truth underneath is that, for all the ways I’ve disentangled my day-to-day actions from the fix-it mindset of beauty and diet culture, I’m not perfectly immune. That stuff is sneaky. “Problems” get invented so “solutions” can be sold. And that rhetoric can infiltrate—or imitate—our self-talk. That’s where I get stuck sometimes. Because man, it sounds so real. But I know it’s not me.

I’ve become more aware of that little critical voice lately, and it’s something I want to change. I don’t exactly know how, but the great thing is, I don’t exactly have to. Looking back on all the ways I’ve transformed my relationship to my body, I see that as long as I knew the general destination, I was able to practice my way there. With food, I knew I wanted to listen to my body instead of subscribing to arbitrary rules, so I kept practicing until doing so became second nature. I now truly enjoy exercise because I factor how I feel into every decision around it.  And so, I no longer want the appearance-project mentality to feel like it has any validity, so I will figure out how to make choices that actively invalidate it.

Probably, where I’ll land will look a lot like where I’m at now—a daily preference for comfort via elastic waistbands and my one-step hair-styling routine (it’s a scrunchie)—just with a bit more intention. But I’ve also been wondering if occasionally doing something a little bit fun and frivolous could serve as a reminder: If my appearance-related decisions are anything beyond practical, they should simply be fun. And rarely do any of them need to feel all that serious.

So, is black glitter nail polish the answer?

Not for everything.

But is it fun?

Oh, absolutely.

xoxo

Marie

Still fun, even missing one. 🤷‍♀️ Nail polish by Holo Taco. Photo by me. 🙂

Articles referenced:

  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Art of makeup. Seventeen, 66(1), 88-97.
  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Look like a model! Seventeen, 66(1), 32-33.

The Stories That Make Our Lives

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease’s website (original quote source material unknown)

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

I hope your summer is in full swing in the best way. And if you happen to be tuning in from the southern hemisphere, I’m sending you winter well-wishes!

In March, I wrote about challenging my expectations for myself (and life itself), “practicing my flexibility muscle, [and] balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented.” In May, I reflected on the resistance I feel in the face of unexpected challenges and how “I have learned—am still learning—that instead of resisting, I need to embrace what is so I can decide what I want to do about it.” This month’s post feels like a natural progression from those two. Some chapters of life are apt for learning certain lessons or exploring particular themes—if we’re open to reading them that way.

This month, I’ve been reflecting on how crucial storytelling is to the way we experience the world and understand our lives. Our personal memories are often stored in narrative form. Our friendships are built on shared experiences, from the humorous tales we recount with glee to episodes of support in hard times, which stay written on our hearts even if we never speak them aloud. And when we go through something unexpected, we try to make sense of it through story.

Expectations can exist in our minds as stories. Scripts—or at the very least, loose outlines—for how we anticipate certain events or facets of our lives will go. I often don’t realize how attached I was to an imagined version of the future until life goes off-plot.

That upending of expectations can feel like loss. Loss of what we hoped for. Loss of control. We are the authors of our own stories, but we’re not the authors of the world (or other people). Story collision is bound to happen. Sometimes in a spectacularly serendipitous way. Sometimes in a painful one.

When that happens, where does it leave us? With a new story. Already lived through, but not yet shaped for memory. It may feel hard to hold at first. But once it’s in your hands, it’s yours. Yours to craft as only you can. What may have felt in the moment like a story of disappointment or self-doubt can become one of resilience and growth. Of love and connection. Or maybe you’ll write a story bighearted enough to hold all of it. Every shade of the experience coming together to form a mosaic. One that looks a lot like life as it really is. As Kathryn Schulz writes in her beautiful memoir Lost & Found, “We can’t get away from this constant amalgamation of feeling, can’t strain out the ostensible impurities in pursuit of some imaginary essence, and we shouldn’t want to if we could. The world in all its complexity calls on us to respond in kind, so that to be conflicted is not to be adulterated; it is to be complete.”

From one storyteller to another, I am simply encouraging you—as I’m encouraging myself—to be mindful of the narratives you “write” about your experiences, even if they never leave your own mind. Expand your story’s frame to capture the bigger picture. Treat each “character” with compassion (including yourself). Highlight the scenes of connection, meaningful details, and lessons learned that you want to carry with you.

Because one by one, your stories make your life. And you deserve one that’s been written with care.

xoxo

Marie

A Few Blossoms of Light in March

Hello my spring blossoms,

Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.

For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?

So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!

An article: “I trained myself to be less busy — and it dramatically improved my life” by David Sbarra, PhD for Vox

I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?

A podcast episode: “Are Your Expectations Too High?” from The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness is hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD and co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?

A quote by Kurt Vonnegut

A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:

. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.

xoxo

Marie

The Power of Self-Compassion

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Hello my sweet valentines,

I hope this month of love has been kind to you. I hope you’ve been able to spend time with people you care about and enjoy delicious treats (chocolate or not). I also hope you’ve given yourself love and kindness.

We all deserve to give ourselves the same support, care, and understanding that we show others. However, that can be easier said than done. We can so easily fall into the role of our own worst critic. One challenge we have is that we can easily observe our behaviors, which we can then judge through the harsh lens of hindsight. But our self-talk is harder to be aware of—let alone change—because so much of it is automatic.

Last month, I talked about using gratitude as a way to stay anchored in the present. One thing that distracts me from the now is negative self-talk. I can be very hard on myself. The heart of it often seems to be my desire to do right by others. Which is a lovely thing, of course! But values are meant to be guideposts for making choices in the present. They aren’t meant to be punitive. For me, self-doubt creeps in when I get stuck questioning my decisions over and over. Doing so becomes a painful cycle. The voice of self-doubt tells me that I can’t move on from the past and makes me distrust my ability to move forward.

I say “voice of self-doubt” because I am trying to . . . Well, I am trying to undermine its authority. I am trying to put a little more distance between that voice and me. I do not view or speak to others harshly, and I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated that way, either. That’s why I am working hard to give myself more self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author on the subject. She describes self-compassion as being there for ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding when we are struggling, just as we would be for someone else. Specifically, she breaks down self-compassion into three components:

  • Self-Kindness: Being gentle and understanding with ourselves, as opposed to self-critical and punishing.  
  • Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, as opposed to feeling uniquely inadequate.
  • Mindfulness: Being aware of and open to our thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ignoring them or getting consumed by them.

You can read more about self-compassion on Dr. Neff’s website here.

Lately, whenever I am feeling down, I stop to recognize what is bothering me and name what I’m feeling (sad, frustrated, anxious, etc.). Once I’ve done that, I try to see if there is any self-talk underneath the emotion that’s adding to the pain of it. Often, there is. Maybe I’m imagining an unrealistic negative outcome to a situation, making it feel more and more believable the more time I spend on it. Or maybe I’m making a negative assessment of myself or my abilities based on a challenge I’m facing. Whatever the thought, it typically falls into the category of self-doubt/self-criticism. Recognizing that opens the door for me to meet it with self-compassion.

What that looks like varies a bit on the situation. I can say something kind to myself, acknowledging the impact that a feeling or thought is having on me, even if I can’t change it right away. I can dismantle a judgment I’m making by recognizing that I’m holding myself to a standard I don’t really believe in (and wouldn’t expect anyone else to live up to). The most compassionate response can also be an action. Engaging in self-care, asking for help, or breaking a task down into more manageable chunks (with more reasonable expectations).

I’m not always able to move past a negative thought or feeling in the way I’d like to. Sometimes, I can’t really make sense of what’s going on in my mind.  And I can still be too hard on myself. But even so, finding ways to show myself compassion has felt like discovering a superpower. Being in the cycle of self-doubt feels like listening to a soundtrack that can’t be turned off. Learning how to not only turn it off but transform it into something else entirely has been really, really cool.

I am proud of myself.

Whatever it is you need today, I hope you can give it to yourself. I know you deserve it, and I hope you can see that, too.

xoxo

Marie

Starting the Year with Appreciation

Photo by FLY:D on Unsplash

Happy 2022, my sweet Internet friends!

I love New Year’s. One of my traditions is to create a vision board, with visual reminders of what I would like to experience, accomplish, or feel during the year. I value the opportunity to approach the new year with a sense of intention. And in my mind, your “vision” for the year can be a work in progress. I haven’t finished my 2022 board yet!

Looking at my board, I can see how much I have to look forward to this year. At the heart of it all, though, I have one goal: to be present in each moment, as much as possible. To appreciate the big, exciting, moments, but also the ones that feel small or “skippable.”

My mind tends to wander off in all different directions: past, future, unlikely hypothetical scenarios. It’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m steering the ship. So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to help myself stay grounded in the now. I’ve been trying meditation. And about two weeks ago, I decided to start a gratitude practice. Or, as I’m calling it, my appreciation journal.

Merriam-Webster describes appreciation as “an ability to understand the worth, quality, or importance of something.” I think that’s just so perfect. I want to make a more conscious effort to acknowledge what is valuable in each day. So, before I go to bed, I’ve been filling out the following prompts in my journal:

  • I am grateful for . . .
  • I am proud of myself for . . .
  • I am looking forward to . . .

I’ve only completed nine entries so far—I don’t pressure myself to write if I’m not up for it!—but it’s already been a learning experience. Admittedly, the most challenging of the three is deciding what I’m proud of. I have a tendency to focus on what I could have done better, but I’m working on that.

Reflecting on the other two prompts, I’ve recognized that it’s easy to look forward to major events or feel grateful for out-of-the-ordinary acts of kindness. You don’t really need a journal to remind you. But on average days, there are so many things I look forward to without even noticing. My morning coffee. A phone call with a loved one. And the things I feel grateful for, as I’m wrapping up the day, could also be easily overlooked. A relaxing evening playing Animal Crossing. Someone showing me patience when I was feeling stressed.

This has made me realize how easy it is to generate more moments of joy on a day-to-day basis. Also, taking note of what you appreciate in your life breaks the cycle of overlooking the everyday good. In his essay entitled “Why Gratitude Is Good,” Dr. Robert Emmons, a leader in the scientific study on gratitude, explains, “I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.”

I know not everyone likes to write, but I think there are all kinds of way to make appreciation or gratitude a habit. You could make a goal to take a photo each day of something that brings you joy. Or, once a month, you could do something special for someone who brings value to your life. As a bonus, I would recommend checking out these resources on gratitude from Greater Good Magazine, where the above article from Dr. Emmons was published. They have interesting information on gratitude’s benefits and suggestions for how to practice your gratefulness.

Wishing you a moment of joy where you are right now. I am grateful for you.

xoxo

Marie

Ending the Year with Purpose

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Hello my winter wonder-pals,

I don’t know about you, but the last couple months of this year have been flying by. 2021 has been a roller coaster of a year, and I don’t feel like I’m gently coasting back to the station just yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year. I love the cold weather (when we have it), I love all the extra opportunities to gather with family and friends, and I love the ever-expanding universe of the Netflix Christmas movies. But recently I realized that my excitement about all of the above (and more!) was starting to twist into overwhelm. So much to do, so much I want to do, but seemingly so little time!

As I was reflecting on how I was feeling, I remembered a podcast episode I listened to earlier this year. Priya Parker was a guest on Brené Brown’s podcast called Unlocking Us. Priya is the author of the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. During the episode, Brené shared a quote from the book that has stuck with me: “a category is not a purpose for a gathering.” For example, a birthday party is a category. The purpose is something only you can define. Maybe your purpose is to close out a difficult year in your life on a positive note, or to celebrate the year’s victories with the people who supported you along the way.

I thought that was such a smart way of looking at things. Even though I’m not hosting a gathering this year, I realized I could use the same strategy to approach the varied opportunities of the season. What am I hoping to express to someone by giving them a gift? What do I hope to feel, or who would I like to connect with, at the next holiday party? Maybe those things seem obvious, but as someone who loves calendars and to-do lists, I find it so valuable to stop and reconnect with my “why” for any given task or event, as opposed to just continuing to go go go.

In a moment of synchronicity, yesterday I came across a mediation on Headspace entitled “Re-defining Holidays.” The purpose of the exercise was to set an intention for the season. I came up with two: presence and peace of mind. By presence I mean, I don’t want to speed through the season. I want to be here for it. My mind can often spin off in a variety of directions, but if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that our best opportunity to do good always exists in the present moment. And at the very least, I would like to do some good before the year ends by being truly present with the people I care about.

My reason for choosing peace of mind as my other intention is pretty straightforward. Ending this roller-coaster year with a sense of calm sounds pretty darn good.

In everything this month brings your way, I hope you are able to center yourself and what you need. My wish is that you are able to end the year with contentment in the present moment and hope for what’s yet to come.

See you in 2022!

xoxo

Marie

Getting Too Hot? Some End-of-Summer Thoughts

Photo by Tincho Franco on Unsplash

Hello my sunset sweethearts,

Doesn’t it feel like summer just disappeared in the blink of an eye? I know it’s not fully fall yet, but still. It feels like just a minute ago that I was with friends on the 4th, and now Halloween decorations are appearing on end caps. I’d say “too soon,” but I’ve already consumed a few mugs of pumpkin spice coffee myself. Anyways. Next month I am going to be sharing the next pick in My Dream Library series, but for this last post of summer I wanted to share a little life strategy that’s been helping me as of late.

A couple of weeks ago, I got stuck. I was starting to obsess over a situation where I wasn’t sure if I “should” have done something differently. (The Shoulds are dangerous woods to wander!) I kept going over and over it, way past the point of helpful reflection. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to talk it over with someone, to get unstuck. But I was embarrassed. I am fully aware that I often notice, think about, and worry over things that aren’t on anyone else’s radar. So I sometimes feel the double-edged sting of being acutely aware of my worries, but also completely cognizant of how overblown they probably are. I know saying them out loud to someone I trust always helps, but sometimes wish I didn’t have to.

As I was gearing up to ask for help, a thought popped into my mind: Your conscientiousness is such a lovely thing about you.

I’ve often thought that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. That’s easy enough to see, embrace, and love in others. Someone who has the biggest of hearts might have trouble protecting the boundaries they deserve. Someone who can get lost in the zone of their passions might also lose track of time when it matters. It’s all just shades on the same beautiful spectrum. Imperfect but radiant.

In that moment, I realized I’d been telling myself that I was an annoyingly, embarrassingly anxious person. But I could also see myself as a careful, thoughtful person. It’s heartbreakingly sweet how much I want to do things right. And that’s lovely. I just need to catch myself before I fall in the deep end of overthinking now and then.

Ever since then, when I feel my brain starting to take off, I imagine a thermometer. (There’s probably a better metaphor/visual out there, but this one’s working for me.) I ask myself, am I getting “too hot”? Am I moving towards the end of the spectrum where I imagine highly unrealistic, bad outcomes or get stuck on something from long ago? Or is this a situation where my attention to detail is a gift? Because it is. My so-called overthinking brain is also reflective, attentive, thoughtful, and creative. Sometimes it just needs to be steered in the right direction.

So, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, maybe ask: Is this thing that’s plaguing me, also what makes me great?

xoxo

Marie

Happiness vs. Joy

Hello my spring blossoms,

I sometimes wonder how often or thoroughly other people remember their teen years. If you haven’t committed to writing a book for young people based on your own experiences, do you still remember the first time you heard a song by your soon-to-be favorite artist, on a mixed CD in your first car? Do you still think about your first massive crush from time to time, or do you leave any thought of them behind, along with the so-earnest-it-hurts journal entries you wrote back then? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe some experiences are universally sticky in our minds.

The reason I decided to write for teens—when I was still a teen myself—was that I wanted to help other girls avoid the pitfalls I fell into. I spent way too much of my teen life being unhappy, and my faulty formula for changing that was based on changing myself.

I still want maximum happiness for all of us, but I’ve adjusted my perspective slightly. I’m taking an amazing course led by the incomparable Jess Weiner, called “WTF is Success?!?” We are working to redefine success and what it means to have a good life on our own terms. One of the recent exercises was to choose 3 non-negotiable values for your life. Doing so helped crystallize some things I’ve been reflecting on as of late. The first guidepost value I chose for myself was “joy.” I’ve decided that I’d rather focus on creating joy than chasing happiness. I get that those terms could be synonyms, but hear me out. The difference, as I’ve defined it for myself, matters.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that emotions can be fickle and, honestly, sometimes incongruous. If you’re someone who has struggled with your mental health, you probably know what I mean. As a teenager, I coulda/shoulda been happy, but often I wasn’t. That was true at times in my twenties as well. When you start tilting towards anxiety or depression, being happy feels like one more thing you’re bad at. And of course, being hard on yourself about it hardly helps.

I can’t necessarily control my emotions or what life throws at me. I may get a frustrating email at work, or a burst of anxiety out of seemingly nowhere. Already this year, I’ve felt both the bittersweet sadness of loss and the ecstatic joy of celebrating a new life. All of these experiences, all of these feelings, are worthy parts of being alive. I can’t promise myself that I will always feel happy. But I can make a commitment to create joy in my life, and sprinkle it throughout my days.

Even if I have a long day ahead, I can pause to make a good cup of coffee. I can sing off-key to Taylor Swift (still my favorite, years away from that mixed CD) while loading the dishwasher. I can ask my partner to sit on the back patio during sunset with me, even if it isn’t quite warm enough yet for that to make sense.

Looking back, my younger self may not have had a great handle on happiness, but she did know joy. Back then, it was a stack of magazines in my bedroom, episodes of “Hannah Montana,” and a perfectly chilled Diet Coke. If I could go back, I’d give her more of all that. Still, seeing my life now through her eyes—from my pink office and stuffed bookshelf to my wonderfully strange and cute cats—I can’t help but think, Man, she would really enjoy this. And so I will.

xoxo

Marie