Me · play

Getting back into the (blogging) game

person wearing black nike low tops sneakers playing soccer
Photo by Markus Spiske on

You know that feeling when you pick up an old sport? An old instrument? Hesitant, new but familiar. Visceral muscle memory of the ball on your foot, or the paintbrush in your hand. You are surprised at how much you remember and yet curse yourself for how much you’ve forgotten. You remember how hard it was and time-consuming, but also how rewarding and fulfilling.

It’s been awhile.

A lot has been going on.

I had a (third) child in December.


I traveled a bit, mostly to show off said child.

I went back to work in June.

So I’ve been busy. But I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things.

To share stories about child-friendly, adult-friendly, play-friendly spaces. How to make spaces enjoyable for everyone, or at least make sure that everyone has a space. Public spaces and private spaces.

But I’m still a little rusty. And still working and parenting and other things. Not as much time for research. Not as much time for ethnographic endeavors and events (I had to skip the EPIC conference this year in Hawaii, I’m so bummed!).

So I may not be quite as consistent as I was, but I’m still here, practicing, kicking the ball around.

Hope to see you out on the field.

behavior · culture · happiness · Me · psychology

Study Hacks: Rethinking Passion

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...
What are the real keys to a fulfilling career? Image via Wikipedia

As a child growing up smooshed in between the “Me” generation and the Millenials, I have always been told that I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up, and to follow my passion; pursue my dreams and the money will follow. After going to college, getting a real job, going back to college, and getting several other jobs, it started to dawn on me that this whole “pursue your dream” thing might not be the best strategy after all, (although I wouldn’t say I’ve completely abandoned the idea). So I was intrigued when I read this post from the blog Study Hacks by David Shenk, full-on condoning this sneaking suspicion I’ve had for awhile.

For the past couple years I’ve been advancing a controversial argument: “follow your passion” is bad advice.

I’m not against feeling passionate about your work — in fact, I think this is a fantastic goal. But from my experience studying this issue, passion is not something that you discover and then match a job to; it is, instead, something that grows over time along with your skills.

In other words, working right trumps finding the right work.

This viewpoint was also supported recently in a The New York Times article by David Brooks:

“College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to.”

more via Study Hacks » Features: Rethinking Passion.

It’s nice that “grown-ups” are finally acknowledging that we’re not all going to grow up to rock stars or astronauts. That there needs to be more behind “finding your passion” in order to succeed in a competitive capitalist market structure.

However, my vision is slightly skewed, because of how many people in my family DID follow their passions. My mom, my dad, two of my cousins, my husband, my mother-in-law, and multiple siblings-in-law, all of them made money at one point in their lives (or continue to) doing what they loved, following what was their “passion” at the time. Only a couple of them have made much money doing it, and many of them eventually got “real jobs.” But still, many of my family members were able to turn their passions into a career.

So I think there IS a part of the equation where passion is important; if the subject matter doesn’t interest you, then you’re asking for a looooong slog. The difference between their success and others’ failures, I think, is that they weren’t just “following” their dream; they all actively pursued it! They wrote up business plans and proposals. They sold their cars and slept of friends’ sofas and lived off of beans and rice while they got started. Maybe they were only able to pursue it part-time because they had to take a “real” job to pay rent. When more training was needed they got it. When long nights were needed, they put them in.

I think the idea is we are more motivated to put these long hours in if we are passionate about something. However, I do think both Brooks and Shenk are also right in that it is NOT always fun, it is NOT always easy, and there is realistically more value in dedicating yourself to what you are doing right now!

Another factor is prioritizing what’s important to you, including your time. In the world of the desk job and remote access, there is more flexibility. I think it is harder to be dedicated to something than simply passionate about it. Stenk has a great post from last year about how to love your career. I’m sure I’m butchering the message, but basically it comes down to

  • feeling like you have control of your own destiny,
  • you’re making a difference (in any small way),
  • and that you’re good at what you do.

That certainly matches up with the most successful entrepreneurs in my family. They valued the autonomy over their lives, and they were GOOD at what they did, but it came from years of training and hard work.

It definitely adds some much-needed perspective to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

behavior · brain · happiness · health · Me · mental health

June is “Me” month

Cardio Boxing Group Fitness Class
This month, kick your self-maintenance into high gear! Image via Wikipedia

Interested in joining me for a little “me” time? How about a whole month of it?

My mother and I have decided that for June, 2011, we are going to be totally self-centered. That’s right, we are going to focus entirely on ourselves; our health, our mental wellness, our physical fitness, taking time for ourselves, and figuring out what we want out of life. Neither one of us is very good at this kind of self-focused behavior, so it will be an interesting experiment to see if we can both pull it off.

So far I have done pretty good: I woke up early and did a productive, challenging workout, I have eaten quite healthy meals (oatmeal with raisins and a tuna salad, thank you very much!), did not spend an exhorbitant amount of time at work, tidied up some stuff online I’ve been meaning to do, finally asked my boss about a couple of nagging issues, and am planning to spend time doing fun stuff with my husband before going to bed at a reasonable hour. I actually started a day early yesterday and bought new clothes (some new, some new-to-me) that made me look and feel good, and had a decent dinner. Pretty good track record for only a day and a half.

I invite everyone to join me for “Me” month. If you can’t do a whole month, maybe choose a week. Or even one day a week. This isn’t about indulging in your every whim or being hedonistic or a narcissist. It’s about taking care of yourself for an extended period of time. Getting enough sleep. Eating healthy food, and not too much. Moving around, getting exercise. Figuring out who and what you want to spend more time on and DOING it!

We all have things we could be better at for self-maintenance, and often we take a lopsided approach. Some people focus entirely on what they put in their bodies, some only focus on how their body or mind performs, paying no attention to the other side. But we are all one big giant package of tissue and firing neurons, and all of it needs to be taken care of, not just the muscles OR the brain OR some other feature (your hair?).

Recently I asked what your deathbed regrets would be, so think of this as the next step: what can you do today to take better care of yourself, to make sure you don’t have those regrets, or at least delay that deathbed a bit more? I know some very healthy, well-rounded people, so I’m curious to see what they secretly think they need to work on.

Take some time to think about what your body and mind really need, unless you already know, and leave it in the comments below.

behavior · happiness · Me

The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds – inspired by Lifehacks

WLA moma Henri Rousseau The Dream 3
People's #1 deathbed regret: not being true to themselves. Image via Wikipedia

They say hindsight is 20/20, and I find it very informative to find out what people wish they had done or are very happy they did, either at the end of a school year or sitting in a rocking chair on a porch in retirement. So this bit of anecdotal evidence is interesting, and while none of the regrets are surprising it’s good affirmation of what people’s priorities in life should be.

…the following regrets were first posted in The Observer in 2010, and we’ve recopied them for you here below. But instead of just the grandmotherly bits of advice about dreams having gone unfulfilled, we’ve supplemented each regret with some rockstar advice on how to not have these regrets in the digital age.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

TNW Advice: We interview so many entrepreneurs here at The Next Web, some of whom will succeed, most of whom will fail. But it’s about going out and creating a reality out of what was once just an idea in your head.

read all 5 regrets, plus the added bits of TNW advice at The top 5 regrets people make on their deathbeds – Lifehacks.

What the five regrets basically constitute are making time for themselves, their friends and family, taking risks rather than playing it safe, and just giving space in their lives for happiness.

This is a really good exercise to do at any time, to see if you’re really living the life you want and what you can do to change it.

If you were told you were going to die tomorrow, this evening, whatever, what would your regrets be?

Mine would be:

1. Not taking that hiking vacation through Europe.

2. Not taking a sabbatical, more time for me.

3. Not finishing my thesis.

4. Not spending more time with my sister the last couple of years before she died, which translates into generally just spending more time with others I love before they kick the bucket.

5. Not starting a family.


On Vacation

The coconut tree
Coconut tree. Image via Wikipedia

Tomorrow I will be in Maui.

Tomorrow I will lie on the beach, belly exposed to the tropical sun, letting the rays warm me to my core and awaken me from a long winter doldrum semi-slumber, like a sunbear coming out of hibernation.

I will eat fresh pineapple, and coconut that actually tastes like coconut and not stale sweet water.

I will float on the top of the water in shallow pools like seaweed, wearing my mask and snorkel watching colorful flat fish peck at corral, hearing the tap, tap, tap noises they make with their fishy beaks.

I will hike to the top of recently retired volcanoes, through lush forests, up waterfalls, under strange birdcalls, to view the ocean from as far west as I’ve ever been.

I will feel the rough bark of trees and grain of rocks. I will smell flowers. I will hear the wind and warm afternoon rains.

I will not miss the cold, gray rain of today. I will not miss the hum of fluorescent lights, buzzy speakers, traffic, printers and computers. I will definitely not miss the sense of helplessness while stuck in traffic, fighting deadlines and work, and responding to correspondences.

But that is tomorrow. Today I am here, now, ready.

Note: *inspired by yesterday’s prompt from StoryPraxis. I didn’t end up posting this to their site because they tend to favor creative writing, but it’s a good writing exercise nonetheless.

community · environment · happiness · Me · Nature

Appreciating the daily commute

South Lake Union, Seattle, Washington 2
South Lake Union, Seattle, WA. Image by tedeytan via Flickr

I originally wrote this essay as a response to the daily prompt at StoryPraxis, a very cool project that encourages people to write for just ten minutes a day. The particular prompt inspired me to write about my current hometown, Seattle, and how enriching its natural environment is. For example, I probably have one of the prettiest commutes in the United States. You can read the original post here.

Seattle is probably the prettiest city to have to commute through. You drive over lakes, over sounds, past mountains, past forests. You cross microclimates, and probably experience at least three kinds of weather in 20 minutes or less.

Cresting over one of the many hills the Olympics suddenly burst out onto the horizon in front of you, the bright morning sun making the snow caps shine just below the cloud layer so it looks like a clear, sunshine day “over there.” The sky above you is filled with gray clouds, but today they are more textured than a gray blanket, allowing the light to bounce off creating interesting shapes and textures.

Each neighborhood you pass is very distinct, either due to geographical divisions like water or hills, or more cultural markers like Buddhist prayer flags mixed with solar panels on 1950s bungalows which two blogs later transform into modern condos with Priuses parked out front.

Coming up over the I-5 bridge you’re now high above the city, the commercial waterways 100s of feet below. From here you can see almost all of Seattle’s signature neighborhoods in a 360 degree view – University district, Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown, Capitol Hill. You see the Olympics on your right, and now the sun is reaching its fingers over the Cascades on your left, injecting the gray clouds with pink and purple, adding bursts of color to the gray sky above.

The freeway has ivy and trees growing over the sides, threatening to spill onto the roadway. You merge onto one of the eastbound bridges, and suddenly you’re cresting over a giant lake, now so close to the water you’re almost floating. To your right off in the distance across the water is Mt. Rainier, shooting its head above the clouds, fighting to keep them from swallowing it whole. A great blue heron casually floats over the morning commuters, and a bald eagle stands vigil on top of one of the lamp posts dotting the bridge.

You pull off your exit, the trees and shrubs now practically enfolding the off ramp. On a sunny day they call to you, “come climb in my branches, come run through my meadow fields.” It’s good that it’s so damp and gray today, or you’d never get to work. The tulips and crocus popping up in the road dividers, almost weed-like in their determination to grow anywhere and everywhere, add some color now that the sun has risen above the clouds, taking the pink streaks with it.

You’re sad to go inside, but know you’ll have a literal birds-eye view into the trees growing just across the street of your office building.

You’re thankful to have one of the most beautiful commutes in the world, and just sad you have to experience it all from a car.

environment · Me · mental health · Nature · play · smell

A morning communion

deciduous azaleaEnrichment is…

Waking before dawn, and being called out by the morning birds to go participate in the celebration of dawn.

I lie in bed, awaken from being overheated under my down comforter. I had been cold and left the heat on last night, foolishly, for now I am up and alert, at 5:30 in the morning. I toss and turn a little, and lie on my back, hands resting on my chest and stomach, almost as if in meditation or prayer.

I don’t know how long I lie there, but soon enough the light outside changes from cold, harsh street lamps to a softer natural light. Suddenly I hear a bird announcing his presence in the tree above my bedroom. His song is joined by a second kind of beat, the first lolling, the other more short and chirpy. A third chimes in with his sing-songy notes. For whatever reason, I am moved to join them. Not in song, but a need to be witness to this ageless ritual of the morning, of virility, of male posturing, of spring.

It is spring; after a long rainy winter, it is finally starting to be spring. In the dark of my bedroom I feel for my grandfather’s work shirt and a pair of leggings. I find a pair of Converse waiting by the back door. Slowly, so as not to wake the dog or my husband I left behind both soundly asleep, I unlock the door, tie my shoes, and I am gone.

I could easily just stand out in my backyard, listening, still as a newly budding daffodil in this morning gray. But I must move. I must be a part of it. I want to deeply breathe in the cold wet air, to feel the morning on my hands and face. While it is a warmer morning than I’ve felt in awhile, the air is brisk with only one layer on, but walking keeps me just warm enough. I walk north past the church where last weekend the boy scouts had their gardening fundraiser, the yard now empty, abandoned in this pre-morning gray. There are no cars, no people. Just me and birds, and they are the only ones brave enough to break the silence.

I see fat robins picking at things in the street; they must have better eyes than me to make out anything edible in this pre-dawn light, or maybe just being closer to the ground helps.

A pair of runners and their dog cross my path a block up, reminding me that I am not the only human alive. Gaining momentum before charging up a small hill, they do not see me, they are lost in their own morning meditation.

I pass under a series of pink blooming plum trees, and as I pass their fragrance fills my nostrils. It is glorious. I breathe in deeply, letting the fruity blossom smell reach all the way into the back of my throat. My pace is perfect so that I am able to perform a deep, yoga-like breath under each tree, taking the smell in, considering the slightly different fragrance each tree puts off. One is farther along in its blooming cycle, and the white flowers are less fruity than the pink ones, more subtle. As I walk under them the air temperature changes to just a few degrees warmer. It is a pleasant respite from the cool morning air.

The houses on the street are all darkened, except for the occasional porch light or living room lamp left on. They are still asleep. Wise souls. Foolish souls for missing the morning.

The street dead ends onto another cross street, and I turn, starting to make my rectangular route around the neighborhood. Each garden’s plants are in a different state of bloom, from sticks to buds to a few purple and pink azalea blooms already in full show. Some gardeners have already started their new beds this year, others haven’t touched them, or let them go to weed.

My study of the local architecture is distracted by another human; a homeless man with shaggy graying, sun-bleached hair, in baggy clothes and a plastic bag tied to his shirt is walking down the other side of the street, slowly but with a purpose. He ignores me as we walk towards each other on opposite sides of the street. As he passes from my peripheral view I wonder what he is doing out wandering around the neighborhood this time of morning, then realize he could just as easily think the same of me; what is this strange girl doing in just a large flannel work shirt and leggings doing wandering the neighborhood this time of morning?

I see another runner reach his front walkway as I make the final turn onto my street. The light is finally starting to turn yellow, streaming up under the clouds, lighting them with streaks of yellow and orange. The birds are now in full chorus. My hands are chilled, but I am filled with gratitude that I got to see this morning arrive. I lift my up my back gate and carefully swing it open so it won’t scrape the pavement, still trying to keep quiet.

I take a moment, standing on my back porch, letting the bird song and wet, cold morning air drift over me. I want to share this with my entire household. I want to share this moment of awakeness, aliveness, and sense of being a part of the world. But the secret to this moment’s success is that it is a solitary event, it is alone and quiet. Just me and the birds, the plum blossoms, the rhododendron bushes, and the cold wet air.

I go inside to get warm just as the sun splits the clouds open and it starts to rain.

behavior · environment · happiness · health · Me · mental health

Special Project: Me

"Running with the seagulls", Galvest...
This is an example of a personally enriching environment. The question is how do I get there (figuratively), without running away and becoming beach bum (literally)?

This blog explores the integration of environment and wellness, both emotional and physical. So far I’ve looked at positive psychology, museums, education, urban farming, neurology, environmental sciences, architecture, play, exercise, and almost everything in between. The whole point of starting this blog was to explore the science behind what it takes to make us happy, healthy, wholly-functioning humans. What does it take to be happy? How does one’s home, job, family, dog, car, bicycle, clothing, toys, i.e. their environment, their world, fit into that? I was, and AM, curious about what it takes to be holistically happy?

But with all the quick posts, longer posts, and cool news snippets, one subject on this blog that has only hinted at: me. What does it take in my environment to make me happy?  What do I need surrounding for mental wellness?

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been doing a good job of exploring that. In the past nine months I’ve changed residences twice, changed jobs numerous times, lost sleep, gained an injury, lost mobility, changed exercise plans so many times I’ve lost count, gained weight, lost friends, gained a gray hair or two (I’m 28!),  lost family, gained furniture, lost some dreams, had my dreams change, lost hope, changed my commute mode, and gained even more patience. But I haven’t really looked at what it would take to make me happy. What I need to do to put myself in a healthy, fulfilling, sustainable environment.

At first I thought discussing myself and my quest for happiness, wellness, and all around goodness would take away from this blog, and my focus on research, ideas, and theoretical rather than the actual doing. But the truth is I am in this blog already, whether actively or not. So why not be in all the way? It’s supposed to make you happier if you can fully commit to something, anyway.

So, just as a heads up to my few readers; you will be seeing a bit more of me, the actual me, around this place. As of today, March 3rd, 2011, I am making it my overarching goal to become happier, healthier, and a better version of me. I am going to make my environment an enriching place; that includes what I put in, on, and around my body, and what I use to feed my mind. And I plan to hold myself accountable by writing about it here. My accomplishments, slip-ups, and epiphanies.

All the studies and research and cool enriching stuff I find will not go away, not by any stretch. It’s just that now you get ME as an added bonus. Lucky y’all!

This is a very dangerous place for me, BTW, out in the open (The irony is I was called M.E. as a child (those are my initials), but I chose another name when I was six because I didn’t like being called “me.” Maybe I should have stuck with it). I’m definitely not in my most comfortable surroundings exposing myself in this way to the entire blogosphere. But it’s a much-needed shake out of my comfort zone in order to be ready to take on new challenges.

Are you also exploring your wellness, what you find enriching? I’d be interested in hearing your story or you sharing your blog with me; strength in numbers and all that.