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The Enchanted Outlook

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Imaginative Outlooks

Enchanted Spaces: New(ish) Room

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About a year-and-a-half ago, I wrote a little series called Enchanted Spaces, where I talked about the rooms in my home from the perspective of different fantasy concepts. Before I could quite finish the series (or, ahem, finish my apartment, to be more accurate), my husband and I moved.

While I’ve been itching to do more with this series, we are currently renting out a room while I’m in graduate school, which, between the limited space and limited budget, has made doing a “room reveal” difficult. I was thinking, though, lately, of the importance of home, and of having a sense of space in any living situation. Fantasy literature often ends with a sense of restoration and a homecoming. Ask Dorothy, Alice, Harry, or Wendy, and they will tell you the importance of home.

And so, I wanted to share a few of the little things I’ve done to make my space a little more homey. The room isn’t finished (and with my husbands tech equipment, the dog stuff, and the stuff I didn’t want to put into storage, I don’t know if it will ever be quite where I want it) but I am happy with the direction it’s headed. I’ve also enjoyed finding creative solutions to both create more space and more storage.

One of the choices we made, which was originally out of necessity, was placing our mattress on the ground. We have a dog who has some spinal issues and who also loves to snuggle with us. Or rather I should say, he cries all night long when he can’t snuggle with us. So, we wanted to make sure our bed was accessible. We placed our mattress on a slatted frame that had come with our old bed so that it could breathe, and added a little ramp for the dog. While this did mean sacrificing under-the-bed space, it also made the small room look a LOT more spacious. By placing the bed under the window with curtains, we made the illusion of a “frame” above the bed.

The second thing we did was to invest in curtains to hide our storage. While I’m all about minimizing and keeping belongings in the open, we had brought many belongings with us, such as some of my grandma’s quilts, my memory box, and my husband’s record collection as well as everyday needed tools, electronics, and toilitries, that we had placed on a tall metal industrial bookshelf. It was a mishmash of boxes and the clutter was distracting to me. So, I purchased two mustard/camel colored curtain panels from World Market and a set of curtain hooks, which fit perfectly over the top of the metal bookshelf. After the holidays last year, a bunch of garlands were on sale at Target, and I purchased the silver and gold one in the picture above for about five dollars. It hung perfectly over the top shelf. Now our stuff is accessible and organized, but not adding to the clutter. And bonus: since I didn’t need the curtain ties for the shelf, I tied them on the neutral curtains over our bed to, ahem, “tie” everything together.

The best investment I have ever made in terms of furniture has definitely been a series of unfinished pine crates from Michaels. I purchased these several years ago, and we have used them in so many different configurations and for so many different uses. We currently are using two as our bedside tables, two at the foot of our bed to stop our dog from jumping off and for extra storage, and two more stacked as a little bookshelf. I’m all about modular furniture because it can be reconfigured as living situations and needs change.

While I did purchase the set of curtains, the lamp, a letter box for mail, and a new set of fair-trade sheets (as the old ones had a huge hole in them), I really wanted to use what we had available to us. The homeowners had kindly lent us several pieces of furniture when we moved in. Since I was needing a space to study, I also borrowed the corner chair, which was already in the home and matched the room’s color scheme. While I may eventually replace it with a compact desk and compact office chair, this works just fine for now. I brought a small box of neutral decor with me, so that I could change out items without having to worry about a color scheme and I’ve also used my jewelry as decor.

And then finally, I wanted to add some pop. My sister helped me with this. She got me the two mustard-yellow pillows for Christmas, which was just what I needed to finish off the look without adding more clutter.

So that’s it for now. It’s still small, packed, and kind of cluttery, but I am loving finding creative solutions to make the space not only work, but feel like home.

Investing in Being a Good Citizen (Investment Charms Series)

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I’ll admit, this post comes after a number of failures on my part. Working in the social services field means I’m often seeing the direct, day-to-day impact of policy changes, which can feel frustrating. I’ve gotten lost in my share of ugly internet debates. I’ve burnt out trying to address everything I care about at once. I’ve found myself feeling bitter and even despondent. I don’t think any of these reactions was “wrong,” but, none of them helped me to be a better citizen, nor did they make me feel any better.  So, I went back to the drawing board. What does citizenship actually mean?

Citizenship

  • the fact or status of being a citizen of a particular place

  • the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community

This post is about the second definition. What kind of qualities make someone a responsible member of a community? I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out what it looks like to be a good citizen and how to have good citizenship in a way that was healthy, sustaining, and encouraging growth, while not shying away from taking responsibility for truths that need addressing. I came up with a combination of four areas of citizenship: ownership, goodwill, education, and action. Focusing on these four areas has helped me to be a happier and more effective citizen, so I wanted to share in case they were helpful to others as well.

Now, by ownership, I mean recognizing the ways in which we benefit (if indeed we do) from being a citizen of a particular governance or organization and then feeling a responsibility for our part in that governance or organization. Maybe we have the opportunity to attend a school. Maybe we can use emergency services. Maybe our area has public museums or parks.  When we do benefit from our citizenship, perhaps this can bring about a sense of both gratitude and responsibility. I like to think that we as citizens of our nations and our communities can take a certain pride and ownership in helping maintain services that are for the benefit of all people. It also means realizing the impact that our decisions can have in the community as a whole and taking ownership of the results of our decisions.

By goodwill, I mean having a general attitude of cooperation and good intent towards others.  This means humanizing individuals from all walks of life. I don’t take this to mean always being agreeable with everyone; in some circumstances, it may mean standing one’s ground or setting boundaries without resorting to disrespect or ridicule. I think that setting boundaries and standing our ground can sometimes be an act of kindness and compassion, if this is done with an attitude of goodwill. And personally, I think it is much easier to have goodwill towards others if we first practice self-love and self-acceptance. I find it is much more difficult to empathize from a place of hurt, shame, or fear.

By education, I mean immersing oneself in the diverse needs and challenges of the community. To me, this means not only consuming a variety of media sources with strong codes of ethics, but also making efforts to reach out to community members from all walks of life. This means going out of our comfort zone and questioning our preconceived notions. If this feels time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be. It can mean making small changes over time, such as as liking social media pages about various social or environmental interests or subscribing to brief email updates, and in turn sharing that information with others. To dig deeper, volunteering can be a great way to learn more about community needs, and can be fun at the same time! Which leads me to…

Action. I find it most helpful to focus on action-oriented solutions. While it’s great to have a general knowledge of community needs, I would recommend picking one or two causes to become actively involved in so you don’t burn out. This means finding effective ways of giving back to the community and also sharing those ways with others. I would also personally encourage statistically significant, data-driven ways of giving back. Look into annual reports and results of studies, if they are available. Action has an added benefit because I find that negative people tend to have a harder time arguing with concrete actions rather than words. Action can be anything from volunteer work to donations, to engaging in community events to, of course, giving feedback and voting on issues. And finally, action might sometimes mean accepting that the way in which we have previously engaged as citizens might be harmful, and making meaningful changes to better the way we interact with our communities.

Now, when I find myself in a political or social conundrum or a disagreement, I move down that list. Am I taking good ownership on the issue as a member of my community? Am I responding in a way that exhibits goodwill to others? Do I have enough education on the subject at hand, and if so, have I taken the time to help educate others? And finally, have I taken action towards effective change rather than just talking about the issue?

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with investments and why I’ve included it in the investment series. Well, as Dr. Martin Luther King once said,

“Whatever effects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Never forget that when we invest in our community as a whole, we also invest in ourselves. To me, citizenship is a verb, not a noun. There are so many different ways of being engaged citizens of our communities. When we take the responsibility to learn more about our communities’ needs and act accordingly, we are able to pay forward the benefits that being members of that community has afforded us.

Do you like these tenants of ownership, goodwill, education and action? Is there something else related to good citizenship that I’ve overlooked? Or, is there a tactic you use in order to be a happier, more engaged citizen of your community?

Investing in Decisions (Investment Charm Series)

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Welcome to my new series on investment! In this series, I want to expand the meaning of the term investment beyond just finances and look into the power of making life choices that encourage growth. Looking at my life choices in the framework of this word for the past year-and-a-half has really changed my perspective and helped me to grow as a person.

I have lately been suffering from some major decision fatigue. I think it has been a combination of a lot of life changes in a short time and a job that requires minute-by-minute decision changes. One thing I have learned from working in the mental health field is that when we are very stressed, we tend to make the choices that seem the easiest in the moment. Our brains struggle to put in the extra effort and energy to find the best overall long-term solution. And it can feel like a relief to have made the decision, even if that decision is an unhealthy or maladaptive one.

So, one thing I have been doing lately is investing a little more time on the upfront on many of my decisions in order to consider what will be easiest and/or best for me long-term. For instance, I put in some extra research when considering buying new make-up because I couldn’t find a make-up company that really worked for me and that I was passionate about. I have now found Elate Cosmetics* and am super excited to be building an eco-friendly capsule make-up collection that I hope to use as my go-to for years to come.

I’ve also invested in many reusable products lately. While the cost is sometimes bigger upfront, it has saved me time and money to only purchase a product once, rather than purchasing the same things repeatedly. This gives me more mental energy to prioritize my other life purchases.

Another example would be going back to school. This was a big choice, and one that I had been considering, but putting off, for years. In part, my hesitancy was due to the expense and not wanting to have debt. Last June, I buckled down and really did my research. Little did I know that, for the program I had interest in, the city where I lived had the cheapest in the country and was also well-ranked nationally.

Obviously, if we took this kind of consideration with every single decision our lives, our brains would be exhausted. But maybe pick an area to start. I started with purchasing products because I was exploring using less waste, but you may wish to start with relationships or big life decisions. Ask yourself:

1. Does this decision align with my values? Will I feel good about the decision in the long-term? Does it make me happy to make this decision? Does it feel right? Is it healthy?

2. Does this decision help to curb future decision-making? Is it a re-usable or long-lasting choice? Does it have an aspect of versatility to it? Will I continue to love this decision long-term? Am I only making the decision “for now” only to confront it later or is it a choice that is “settled” and clears my mind to focus on other things?

3. Is this decision an investment? Did I make the choice that will help me to grow as a person? Will it make my life easier long-term? Will this decision bring more wealth into my life, whether that be a wealth of good relationships, morals, materials, or happiness? Will this decision blossom?

You might find other questions to be helpful in your life as well, but these three were a good place for me to start. I would also add to not be afraid to think outside the box. You may find the decision that best fits you and your life is an unconventional one- I certainly have from time to time. So, I wish you a happy decision-making process, and may your choices bring you joy and help you to thrive!

*This post was not sponsored by Elate Cosmetics; I’m just excited to share a new product I am passionate about!

My current buzzword is investment. Is there a word or phrase that you like to use that has brought a bit of “charm” into your life? If so, I would love to hear it!

Why I Ditched my Travel Bucket List

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When I was younger, I had a dream of visiting all seven continents. Ambitious? Maybe. But truth be told, I was very fortunate to be off to a good start. I had already visited Africa and Europe and I live in North America. Since my husband is Korean American, there was a good chance that we would visit Asia at some point in our lifetimes as well. I’d had a good friend who had already accomplished this goal of visiting every continent in her early twenties, which made it seem even more achievable.

Despite the fact that I was farther along with this goal than many people my age, I realized it wasn’t making me happy. The reason was that I was focusing on this one big goal rather than traveling with intention. I have talked about before the impact that daily intentional activities have on our happiness. Trips that didn’t help me reach that goal felt insignificant, rather than the gifts that they were. Furthermore, I worried how disappointed I would feel if I never met my goal, rather than feeling gratitude that I had the ability to travel, a privilege denied to many.

As I have grown older, I have focused less on big life goals and more on living with daily intention. While going through this change, I came across this quote:

Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.

This quote is often falsely attributed to the Dalai Lama and I can’t find its originator, but nevertheless, it stuck with me. To me, this became a much more proactive, intentional way to vacation than focusing on one big bucket list. Moreover, it depended much less on how much time I had because the trip could be the next town over or a cross-country road trip. It depended less on how much money I had, because I could camp out in a tent or splurge on a five-star hotel. It also depended less on personal limitations, like who would watch my dog or if I had a physical condition later in life that limited travel.

The main reason I like this philosophy of travel better, though, is that I had four continents left, but *hopefully* I could have 60+ years. That is potentially 56 more opportunities to get excited, to plan, to daydream about my upcoming trips, than if I was focusing on reaching the remaining continents. It means every year I will go somewhere new! I think that’s pretty exciting! And hey, maybe I will still get to visit every continent, but if I do, my mindset for going will be, in my opinion, more healthy.

I even keep this philosophy in mind on a weekly or even daily basis. Since I have recently moved to a new city, I have ample opportunity to explore new places regularly, whether it be a new grocery store or a park down the road. When given the choice, nine times out of ten I will choose a novel choice over a familiar one because novelty has been shown to be correlated with happiness.

The first year I started this new plan was the year of our honeymoon; we went on a cruise, so I got to visit three new places: Haiti, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Last year, we didn’t go on any big trips (though we attended two out-of-town weddings at locations we had been before), but we did go to Cherokee Casino, and I had never been to Cherokee, NC before. And this year we are going to… Raleigh, NC!

I’ve stopped in a mall in Raleigh, once, and spent some time in Durham, but I haven’t spent time in Raleigh Proper, so I’m pretty excited. Pictures and details to come!

Have you ever had a time when you re-evaluated a life goal because it wasn’t making you happy?

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Fairy Tale Forest

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I shared this on Facebook but wanted to share it here as well. Be sure to check out these stunning photos of a “fairy tale forest” from National Geographic. They are enchanting and just so beautiful! The artist is Ellie Davies:

Inside a Real-Life Fairy Tale Forest

A Week of No Magic Fixes

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I am currently tackling a few projects that I have been putting off for a while because they are just not fun. Stuff like getting a part fixed on a car that can only be done at a dealership I don’t like, selling furniture that will probably involve some bartering and negotiating, changing a medication that will involve side effects, confronting someone about something I’ve been putting off. In short, stuff I absolutely HATE to do.

I am normally a huge fan of re-framing things, changing my perception of things so the not-fun tasks are more fun. But, sometimes that kind of over-thinking leads to postponing things if we can’t find a way to re-frame them. And then we get to my current situation, where the to-do list of icky stuff is piled a mile high. So, instead of finding a magic fix, I’m just going to grit my teeth and do one thing a day this week.

Magic fixes are great, but sometimes they can make things more complicated, or even be used against us. That magic health food fix will never compare to a whole foods plant-based diet. The magic sleeping pill or the super-caffeinated drink might be needed on occasion, but maintaining a balanced sleep schedule (if possible) is probably the healthier option. And those magical discounts, if not for things we really need, just mean spending more money.

So, this week, I am trying to keep an eye peeled for the ways in which magic fixes actually bring us down, rather than how they raise us up. It should be an interesting change.

Have you ever had a magic fix that went awry?

 

Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

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The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

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