Book Review: "The Happiness Project"

Image credit via here.

Image credit via here.

I've been picking up a lot of "stunt journalism" books these past few months, AKA where the author sets out to do one thing a day that scares her, or quit his desk job and eat his way around the world. For The Happiness Project, the author sets out to make monthly resolutions (in areas such as Family, Boost Energy, Aim Higher, Attitude, Mindfulness, and Marriage) to live a happier life. "The days are long, but the years are short" is her motto. 

Upon purchase, I was immediately intrigued by Gretchen Rubin's project, but skeptical by how much change in "happiness" she could really bring to her life by setting resolutions such as remember birthdays, take time for projects, laugh out loud, and start a collection. (I tend to roll my eyes at the "live, laugh, love" Myspace-era posters that find their way into my life here & there). 

I was convinced: wasn't happiness a choice dependent on circumstance, fleeting, and above all, a little selfish? I already make monthly resolutions, which tend to recycle themselves from unfulfilled resolutions of the past month, but was happiness even a worthwhile goal?

Surprisingly, Rubin does address the superficial concerns of trying to be happy, and the back-and-forth efforts of trying to "smile in the mornings," but then blowing up at her kids later that afternoon. Because happiness is a state, it's one of those things you can never FULLY achieve—something that Rubin notes at the end of her year of happiness. Yet, I enjoyed reading the monthly accounts of Rubin's very intentional efforts, and gleaning kernels of wisdom based on studies of happiness from Ghandi, Winston Churchill, Freud, and other famous authors and psychologists. For her, her happiness project included reading memoirs of catastrophe (to meditate on eternity/life/death), indulging in modest splurges, starting a children's books book club, acknowledging the reality of people's feelings, lightening up, avoiding "dumping" on others, or taking time for passion projects. 

Given that I'm spending the year working in microfinance, I've been thinking a lot about money, and her chapter on Money really gave me good food for thought. While money can't buy happiness, Rubin provided a thoughtful of paragraph of things that money can be spent for/to invest in (on p. 171 + 174), such as:

I.e. My Barre3 online subscription; investing in a French press + nice pens that make me happier/write better/want to work more; supporting causes like charity:water; sending my mom Farmgirl Flowers for Mother's Day; paying $ to buy English books in lieu of libraries in Lima; sending my mom Farmgirl Flowers for Mother's Day; traveling in Peru to visit other missionaries' ministries

I.e. My Barre3 online subscription; investing in a French press + nice pens that make me happier/write better/want to work more; supporting causes like charity:water; sending my mom Farmgirl Flowers for Mother's Day; paying $ to buy English books in lieu of libraries in Lima; sending my mom Farmgirl Flowers for Mother's Day; traveling in Peru to visit other missionaries' ministries

I also loved the concept of "spending out," meaning using your beautiful Anthropologie linens NOW, instead of saving them for a special occasion in the future. Too often, "later" becomes "never" and you never get a chance to! In addition, instead of encouraging a big splurge (like the Prada Saffiano Cuir bag I'll never own), she encourages making a "modest splurge" if it'll really bring you that much more happiness. We frequently tend to have the mindset that spending money is self-indulgent and that we should be saving it instead, but if it's a little more money spent wisely, it can do well in bringing you worthwhile, longer-lasting happiness. 

As humans who are sensitive to change, we need both spiritual and material growth in our lives. We are happy when we can measure our present vs. past, and see change for the better—whether that means looking back on the ways I've matured since a middle school naïveté (when I used emoji's like xD and :DDDD), or how someone might think back to their first car out of college. 

It's always good to be in a habit of thinking how we can make life a little sweeter (hence, I'm a huge fan of monthly resolutions), and so while The Happiness Project seemed like a lot of dedicated attitude-changing tricks and sticking to little projects, I was nonetheless able to relate with the spirit of the book and think about how to intentionally be happier.   

Nisolo Shoutout / getting PR points!

This morning, I opened up my email to find Nisolo winning major PR points, with placements both in Darling Magazine and Stella Spoils' newsletters...woohoo! For those who haven't heard of Nisolo, it's a high-quality leather shoes/goods brand based out of Nashville (style-wise, think a mix of Cole Haan & Madewell). But the best part: Nisolo is a socially-conscious brand, employing Peruvian craftsmanship to handmake all their accessories, and ultimately lift workers out of poverty. Turns out, Nisolo in Spanish means "not alone"! (+link to their blog!)

Proof of the features...good work Nisolo! :) 

Proof of the features...good work Nisolo! :) 

It's a brand that I've gotten to know well here, since one of my friends Matt (who worked at the HOPE project last summer, and actually went to Santa Clara Univ!) works at Nisolo's factory up north in Trujillo! As their social impact intern, he's basically responsible for trying to measure the brand's tangible impact on the quality of life of the Peruvians who work there. Meaning: conducting interviews, developing reports, and trying to convert all the stories he hears to quantitative information for Nisolo. One of the American visitors we had last month for the HOPE project also happens to run a nonprofit consulting firm in Nashville, with Nisolo as a client (!), so I got to hear stories about the in-and-out runnings of the brand, too. 

I'm hoping to make it up to Trujillo sometime to visit Matt (waiting for another friend I met last month to arrive in Peru to go together) and see the Nisolo factory in-person! In the meantime, I've picked out a few favorites... :) 

Anyways, I subscribe to a lot of daily email newsletters (from theSkimm to lifestyle to Anthro sale announcements), and was so pleasantly surprised to spot the two coveted placements in one day! Please go check out Nisolo, and the wonderful work they're doing in Peru!

March Ministry Update / Blog Streamline

March was such a crazy busy month since we had a HOPE visit leading up to the inauguration of our entrepreneurship center, I didn't have time to blog at all! So (shhh!) I'm backlogging a few posts...there's a lot going on, but I'm also trying to figure out how to :define" my blog--I originally created it for fun as a way to document my creative pursuits/ramblings, but then it got real personal at times, sometimes still figuring that out! Admittedly a little messy. Nonetheless, I think I will be creating a separate casual Tumblr (soon!) and transferring some posts there of my more normal, day-to-day life in Peru, and try to keep this my more "creative" blog. Of course, Peru things will still pop up here as I'm dabbling in creativity exercises and coming to some self-realizations, but we will see! (Now I'm just thinking out loud).

Anyways, here's a public link to my March ministry update, in case you were wondering what I was up to all month/do in Peru anyways: If you want to be on my official mailing list though, just shoot me a message with your email and I'll happily add you! :)

Other ministry updates can be found here: Feb, Pre-Trip



Homesick for America

I’m constantly updating my Instagram “About Me” because I’m indecisive and quickly bored, but for a while I put “an American in Lima.” Since arriving to Lima, however, I realize that I no longer really am or preserving my “Americanness” in Peru. Of course, I will always identify as American, and many Peruvians will probably see me as “the American,” but I’ve realized that being here is more about “becoming Limeña” than being a transposed American.

My first week of orientation, we talked about what it means to live cross-culturally and to be a 150% person. Jesus was a 200% person—fully God and fully human, yet it’s impossible for us to be 200%—as humans or as people living cross culturally. Instead, we should strive to be 150% people: in my case, 75% American and 75% Peruvian, so that we are majorly, but not completely, inbetween cultures.

As you can imagine, there are many differences between Peruvian culture and American culture. On the whole, Americans are friendly, champions of the individual, independent yet skeptically-guarded, and (seemingly) always seeking a little liberating fun. Peruvians, on the other hand, are more shy, naturally innocent, trusting, and warm—strangers greet each other with a cheek-to-cheek kiss, kindheartedly strike up conversation, and all seem to smile with the kind of smiles that light up their eyes. I love that about the culture: the relational aspect of just sitting around, enjoying a meal together, and the person/event-oriented aspect of Peruvian culture (though it does mean Peruvians are always late, since 6 p.m. really means 6:30, 7, or never p.m.).

Still, the cultures are distinct, and a big part of orientation was talking about how I would assimilate into Peruvian culture, many times by “repressing” my Americanness. At first, as someone who identifies strongly with her "Americanness" and the right to express herself, this almost felt wrong. Fashion-wise it mandated that I "blend in" by wearing more cotton t-shirts (opposed to chiffon blouses), carrying simpler cross-body cloth bags, and sporting longer shorts. Culture-wise, it mandated that I cease all guy friendships, listen to secular music sparingly, and tolerate the (harmlessly-intentioned) Peruvian name-calling culture as a "chinita" ("little Chinese girl"). Contrary to US culture, where everyone is constantly trying to stand out, I would be trying to blend in and be "ordinary." (Tall-poppy-syndrome cultures fascinate me.) It’s definitely a mindset shift for me, but a necessary one if I want to fully invest/adapt to life in Peru, and minimize drawing attention on the streets as a "gringa.As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:20a, "When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law." Plus, God does tell us not to worry about clothes. But still, it was hard. 

I think all these culture shock feelings (+ initial anxiety about transportation safety + visiting some shantytowns) culminated when my short-term coordinator told me I should stop wearing my necklace in case of theft. As those who see me often know, I always wear this necklace with a pendant of six hearts (five open and one filled-in) that make a flower. My parents gifted it to me on my sixteenth birthday, and I haven’t stopped wearing it in the five years since. It’s really become a part of who I am—it was designed by Pablo Picasso’s daughter for Tiffany’s, and the meaning of the pendant has come to take on greater significance in my life (since only one heart out of the six is filled in, it symbolizes how I openly/deeply love a lot of things in my life [sometimes to a fault], but only have one full heart made complete by God, so I won’t play with love lightly). It sounds cheesy, but the necklace has become a part of who I am. By taking it off, it felt like taking away a part of me, and my heart longed for home where I was understood, as Maya Angelou describes, "the safe place where we can go as we are, and not be questioned." 

It's funny because when I actually told my mom about all these things, she laughed, like “Dear, you’re in Peru…of course you can’t be 'American’!” Which, said out loud, does sound a little obvious and naive. But as a pretty open-minded and adaptable person, I was in shock that I was in shock the first week. Yet, God has proven to be global & still so good, delivering encouragement when I needed it most. Even as I'm writing this post, I'm suddenly reminded by this (oldie but goodie) Lincoln Brewster song that has become my prayer, the lyrics of which go:

I'm giving You my heart and all that is within
I lay it all down for the sake of You my King
I'm giving You my dreams I'm laying down my rights
I'm giving up my pride for the promise of new life

Though I still do miss little things about home (beside the obvious, I really miss bagels + Amazon Prime) and have this underlying FOMO of missing out on all my friends’ lives back in the US, I know that here in Peru is where I'm supposed to be right now. And so here I am, laying it all down--the shock, the fear, the feeling of being foreign. To building a new home. 

Arrived in Lima last night!

A few first impressions/scattered notes:

1. LIMA IS a sliver of light in between the ocean and the Andes, but I was pretty stunned by how BIG it is when I flew in! And, it's simultaneously dusty/down-to-earth/small town but also globalized (brands like Toblerone, Calvin Klein perfume)...haven't figured out which side it's more like yet. 

2. Everyone in Lima is so NICE!! I sat next to a Peruvian on the plane (I had window) and she was SOOO sweet & always smiled at me when I looked over, or needed to bother her to pee, or took the last pasta dinner...legit so nice. And the taxi driver who took us from the airport to Surco (where my coordinator lives) even waited like five minutes for us to get inside the house, to make sure we were okay before he drove off. And the air-kissing-to-say-hi thing is so real. I air-kissed gazillions of people today at church. Men, women, young, old...I feel like a liberal kisser #kissesforeveryone

3. I went to church this morning with my coordinators, which was really neat even though I realized I actually have to pay 100% attention to understand the Spanish, and I don't yet have a Spanish-English Bible. But we also took communion today, and I was surprised to find out that it was REAL WINE instead of grape juice! And white bread! Peruvians do not skimp on their communion! (Actually, apparently the ones in the middle are grape juice, and the ones on the outer ring are wine, but I didn't know that til afterwards). 

4. It's really hot. Like humid-hot, maybe 80 degrees? Also, a lot of people here wear printed trousers/loose pants (which I bought one pair of at Old Navy before coming). I think basic tanks + printed pants are going to be a thing. However, I also wore a t-shirt that said "C'est La Vie" on it. An American wearing a shirt in French in Peru. Hah. I'm also watching the Superbowl later with an Irish and a British/Peruvian...funny how things like that worked out!

How cute is this alpaca rug though

How cute is this alpaca rug though

One of the geotags for Lima! This is the little backyard of Ruth's house in Surco. 

One of the geotags for Lima! This is the little backyard of Ruth's house in Surco. 

I haven't been able to take too many pictures outside, since there's a huge phone theft problem and I'm a little scared to pull out my iPhone on the street. But hopefully I'll get some pics in to share soon. Simply put--I have arrived safely in Lima :) :) And really like it here so far, and love reading/speaking/listening to all the Spanish everywhere. I'm not missing home too much yet, which is really good (though I'm upset T-Mobile doesn't ACTUALLY give me 4G everywhere)! Today is a chill day just adjusting (hence, the Super Bowl), but later this week I'll have orientation, get taken out into the city, and visit some other people's projects before the Latin Link conference starts! Making sure to take it slow & soak it all in :) 

Prepping for Peru

The one month countdown has begun! 

On February 6, I'll be moving to Lima, Peru for the rest of 2016. For everyone not in the loop, I'll be there working with Hope International, supporting the microfinance efforts in northern Lima (Comas), mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, and helping them start a magazine to publicize the projects of the microfinance community. I felt super called by God to "cross borders" in this international experience to deepen my faith, see the world, and use my skills as a journalist to serve this developing area. 

While I'm currently wrapped up in logistics (figuring out international banks, switching cellphone plans, practicing Spanish on Duolingo, getting immunizations, etc.), and practicing the ever-careful balancing act between spending present time with US friends and prepping--I am beyond excited to go!

The fundraising process was definitely a strenuous one, having to raise a salary of over $13K, but I'm happy to say I'm 97% funded and essentially done. At the lowest moments, I felt despondent--I sent nearly 50+ emails, and sometimes felt like I was emailing into this dark abyss where no one ever responded. I used to track the emails to see open rates, but eventually this gave me too much anxiety, and I began to demand God to come through for me. I think there were a lot of "low" moments challenging the taboo notion of asking other people for money (growing up in an American culture, I'm used to "pulling myself up by the bootstraps," and relying on myself to make things happen), but a big breakthrough came when I stopped practically tracking these emails, instead giving people's financial decisions up to God. I eventually just came to this realization (while listening to King of Wonder) that this whole journey of going to Lima, both the ups and the downs, is not about the money, but about learning to love God more. If God has called me to go, the money will come. And when I fully rested in God, it did. 

That's just definitely just one "hard" facet of the journey, but I'm excited to wrap things up on American soil, and enjoy my time before I leave!

Holiday Centerpieces Workshop

On Saturday, I had the privilege of arranging some beautiful blooms in a Holiday Centerpieces Workshop, hosted by Lorraine Lee of Harvesting Love Events and taught by Kim Wakatsuki of Flowerstory. I felt happy to be invited, happy to reconnect with Lorraine (who I interned for the summer of 2014!)...and of course, happy for an excuse to play with flowers.

My finished bouquet, with moody styling.

My finished bouquet, with moody styling.

Being on Pinterest all the time probably helped in knowing what I do and don't like about bouquets (mine's ended up rounder than oblong, with more flowers), but I learned quite a few tips and tricks from the workshop! Including:

  • When lining greenery, put it perpendicular to the lip of the vase so it doesn't lie flat
  • Floral arrangements are ALL about variation of texture, clustering in odd numbers, and making sure your showstopper flowers are properly accented
  • Aim to create a "loose triangle" shape when you arrange
  • Heat will open/close roses and peonies!
  • Frame darker berries/little flowers against white ones, so they pop out!

I think being a good floral designer is just about having natural style/good taste, and executing well on the look you're aiming for. Of course, knowing practical flower care helps too (when flowers are in season, which blooms and leaves look good together, how certain flowers photograph and creating a good "face"). As Kim was demonstrating her process, she made it look so easy, layering and layering until voila! — gorgeous, modern centerpiece is born. When I started on mine, it took forever to lay down the greenery, fill it with the right proportion of textures and flowers and accents, and for a while it looked "off" until I found a look I liked (mostly after I stuck in the flowers).

Shooting my bouquet alongside a dinner party or wedding reception mock-up. 

Shooting my bouquet alongside a dinner party or wedding reception mock-up. 

Working with the peonies, red berries, and seeded eucalyptus were probably my favorite (someone remarked I had the most feminine arrangement there; I'm not surprised)...but I was surprised by how much I grew to like the redwood and juniper leaves lining the bottom layer of greenery, and some of the "see it to believe it" plants I would have never thought to incorporate before (helleborus, the little green flowers poking out on the left; and the olive and ruffled green bud on the right). 

Now I have a "base" for my future arrangements this holiday season, though I'm planning on swapping out the blooms with lush red ones later on! I even got to meet some others in the wedding industry, one of whom made this gorgeous little video of the workshop! It's only two minutes long, and I made a cameo! :) Happy December, everyone! 

Reporting the Breakthrough Science Awards

The Breakthrough Prize Awards was held November 9, at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

The Breakthrough Prize Awards was held November 9, at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

By a stroke of luck, I got to cover the red carpet for the Breakthrough Science Awards this past month for New York, which was my favorite I've done so far. I finally met a bunch of Silicon Valley royalty as a lifelong Bay Area resident, which gave me an outsider's perspective on the allure of the whole entrepreneurship scene, and at the end, I left pretty inspired by science in general.

The premise of the event is cool--for background, the Breakthrough Prize was founded by all these famous faces (Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Yuri Milner, Jack Ma, Mark Zuckerberg and their wives), who award $3 million to seven teams of scientists for "breakthroughs" made in physics, math, or the life sciences. Since scientists are paid little and rarely given the attention they deserve for figuring out some of life's biggest questions, Graydon Carter has made the event into an "Oscars for scientists," and invites all kind of A-list stars to give scientists the honor they deserve.

The Silicon Valley red carpet is like three times more chill than the New York ones, where people are competing for celeb interviews and it's a little more hectic. All the major media outlets were there, but instead of just the shoot-and-go approach to interview questions ("Kim, just one question!") everyone seemed to be small talking with the scientists and celebs, which I LOVED. I ended up talking to a mix of entertainment celebs from Martin Starr & Kumail Nanjiani, to Thomas Keller, Anne Wojcicki, Carl Sagan's wife, and countless others. A bunch of A-list celebs also walked the carpet but weren't doing interviews, including Sergey Brin, Christina Aguilera, Lily Collins, and Uber's Travis Kalanick who I caught brief glimpses of (and kind of freaked out inside).

I loved it because it was a mix of big entertainment stars, who had done hundreds of red carpets and knew the drill, and also these SUPER CUTE, super dorky scientists! Some admitted that it was their first time wearing a tuxedo and going to an event like this (I melted), and they had to go out and rent one with their wives in tow. Saul Perlmutter, the astrophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the universe was still expanding at an accelerating rate, chilled with us for at least 10 minutes, and we talked about all sorts of things from crazy science to normal things like the annoyance of playing email-tag with people. He was super nice, and kept apologizing for being there if we had to go interview bigger celebs or "go do our job," but we were like "No stay and talk to us!!!" (him not knowing that small talk never happens on the red carpet). 

It was a really cool experience, because after living in the Bay Area for close to 20 years, I rarely get to see Silicon Valley in "all its glory" the way the allure of it is seen by everyone else. Closer to home, Steve Jobs used to hold conferences at De Anza College or be based right in Cupertino, but it's not like I'd see him walking down the street every day. For once, being under the same roof as all these CEOs/scientists opened my eyes to the privilege it is to live here, and realize that there's always more to a place than you know of it--layers of different experiences just miles from where you might live. 

Red carpet aside, I just LOVED learning about all the scientists' work before they accepted their awards--some in their Alzheimer's research, work in the field of optogenetics (using light as sensors to turn off/on neurons), cholesterol research, neutrinos, and more. I felt so inspired by their dedication to answer some of life's biggest questions, amid all the difficult setbacks, and it kind of put into perspective for me that I need to find meaning in my work, and settle down in a career where I feel like I can really make advances in the world. At least, that's the ideal.

Some of my favorite quotes/moments of the night:

  • Seth MacFarlane's whole opening speech really, but this line: "We live in an era in which science is still being challenged by ignorance and fear. Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States, and he doesn’t acknowledge climate change. But he says if it does happen, we can build a wall to keep out the sun."
  • "The scientific method is so powerful, so enlightening that in the blink of an eye we went from burning witches at the stake, to putting them on Real Housewives of Orange County."
  • Deadpan, a Japanese scientist accepts his award: "There are twelve elementary particles in known physics, and out of all of them, neutrinos are the weirdest."