Happier Starts: Tips for Better Summer Beverages

happier-starts-beveragesI’m less of a Pinterest person and more of a Pinterest Fail kind of person. I realize it’s something of a sacrilege to admit that, but I am just… not crafty. I tell you this by way of preface; if you want recipes for cucumber-watermelon-limeade with a twist of mint or a DIY on making your own goblets, I’m sure that stuff exists on Pinterest. I’m sure it’s great, too. But that’s not really my sort of thing.

My sort of thing is more like… how can I do something foolproof, cheap, and low-effort that will make me or my family/guests smile? And right now we’re smack in the middle of a typical southern summer, at my house, which means the temperatures are soaring and everything from lazy evenings to fancy social events start with an icy glass of something. Here’s a few simple no-crafty-skills-required ideas for keeping your drinks fabulous.

1) Amp up your ice cubes! I’m all for just plain ice, of course, but the possibilities for going one step further are nearly endless. Doing water for a large group? Freeze berries in your cubes to add a hint of flavor and make the drinks prettier. Love ice coffee or ice tea? Coffee cubes—or even half-n-half cubes, if you like yours light—avert the dreaded water-down, and tea cubes or lemonade cubes for tea are awesome. Want your kids to drink more water, but they want juice? Make juice cubes for their water (and go with a variety of colors).

2) Find a vessel that makes you happy. You’ll drink more if have something to drink out of that you really love. (Hmmm… seems like I’ve heard that before….) Stay hydrated on hot days by figuring out what sort of bottle or cup will keep you reaching for it.

3) Play mad scientist. Someone gave me an infusion bottle as a gift (you know, a water bottle with a sort of cage in the center to allow you to lower solids into the water without them getting in the way of the straw). I put lemon and lime slices into it for weeks before it occurred to me that I had an entire garden of possibilities to try. Mint! Lemon verbena! (Okay, Pinterest, you win, I did cucumbers and they were refreshing, fine.) Kids will love this one, and if adult beverages are more your thing, c’mon now, how do you think they invented sangria…?

4) Go for the stunning visual. Sugary beverages are a rare treat around my house, but for a special occasion, doing a layered drink would be all kinds of fun. All you have to remember is that sugar in a liquid makes it heavy, but here’s a quick Instructable on the process, too. (This works for adult beverages as well, of course; higher alcohol content liquids are lighter than their lower-proof counterparts.)

5) DIY beats fancy drink labels. I’ve seen all sorts of fancy drink charms and sleeves and what have you all over Pinterest. “Make your next party perfect!” You know what partygoers really love? I mean, assuming it’s an outdoor, relaxed affair? A stack of Solo cups and an array of permanent markers. Sure, the first few people will dutifully write their names on their cups. Then will come a few fake names, and maybe a few scribbles. But then the real art begins. It’s fun and easy and I’ve yet to meet the kid or adult who doesn’t end up sort of getting into it.

Cheers!

Living Happier with Nataly: The awesome of travel

Relaxing has never been one of my strengths. In fact, not being able to relax is one of my weaknesses: left to my own devices, I usually work myself into exhaustion. There’s plenty of science that proves taking vacations, even short ones, has huge health benefits, both physical and emotional, but even that hasn’t always been enough to get me out of the office and on the way to a relaxing vacation. As funny as it may sound, I’ve had to think of ways to make taking time off easier.

One of the things I love about Happier is that I get to share the small simple lessons I’ve learned in my own life with you, so here’s how I made my recent off-the-grid vacation one of the most stress-free and positive breaks I’ve ever had:

  • Say it out loud.  I told my friends, family, and the team that I needed a break. Like, really needed a break. Going public and being open about it was awesome. Everyone encouraged me not to feel guilty about taking time off and helped me cover all the bases while I was gone. Making it a group effort helped me worry less and disconnect more. Which made me way happier.
  • Commit to unplugging. To really relax and get the full benefit of being away, I knew   I’d have to completely unplug this time. That meant getting myself removed from all work emails beforehand and staying off all social media (though I was allowed to post moments in Happier :) ….but just a few…). Instead of making up an excuse to justify my absence to others, I wrote an honest out-of-office email that said I was away because I needed a break and that I wouldn’t be checking emails on vacation. I also asked anyone trying to reach me to shoot me an email right after I was back if what they needed was time sensitive (which made me feel less panicked about missing something critical).
  • New routines. I changed my vacation-routine completely — including no super-early morning walks, trying different foods, taking time to read actual books which is a luxury — all to maximize “brain chill-out.” Doing as many different things as possible is the best way for me to disconnect from regular life because it helps me get into a whole new mind space.  As I hoped, it worked wonders this time.

When I came back, I felt more refreshed and organized — and happier — than I had in a long time. I wasn’t surprised that my vacation would be great for me, but what did surprise me was how great it was for my family and my team at Happier to have me return so calm and rested (you can email team@happier.com and ask:).

natalyvacationIf you need a break, take one. It’s not selfish. It’s a way to nurture yourself and give the best version of yourself to everyone around you.

 

Happier Starts: Tips for a Happier Read

happier-reading-tipsOne of my favorite parts of summer is when my family goes camping… and a lot of people think that’s because I like camping. (It’d be a logical conclusion, but that’s not why.) I like camping because I love sitting outside with a good book, and even though I could do that at home, it feels more permissible in the middle of nowhere.

Whether you and yours are dedicated bookworms already or you’re looking to amp up your reading habits, making reading happier is easier than you might think.

1) Do theme days. Looking to mix it up? Before you walk into the library the next time, announce that everyone will be picking a biography… or a comic… or a book of poetry… or something else you don’t usually select. How wacky can you go? We’ve had “find the coolest cover” contests and “get a stranger to recommend it” days and more. Picking books doesn’t always have to be serious, and you may discover something new.

2) Read together. Everyone knows you’re supposed to read to children, but how many of us keep it up once they’re old enough to read for themselves? Being read to is a luxury for anyone, and reading a great book together is a great bonding experience for all ages. Take turns reading chapters aloud with your kids, significant other, or friends. It’s a very different experience than reading alone.

3) If you loved it, read it again. In today’s go-go-go society, many of us have trouble making time for reading, and rereading a book may sound silly. It’s not, though—returning to the books you already love (especially ones read during your formative years) are a little nostalgic vacation for your brain.

4) Start or join a book club. This doesn’t mean you have to have officers and finger sandwiches and a meeting hall; it can be as informal as you and a few friends and some cheese curls (no judgment). The next best thing to reading together is having fellow readers to discuss a juicy book with after you’re done.

5) Follow what you love. If you’re having trouble finding a book that hooks you, start with one that did. Who wrote it? Have you read the author’s other books? If not, try some of those. If yes, have you gone to your local library or bookstore and asked for recommendations based upon that book/author? (Even online there’s lots of “if you love this book you may also like…” sorts of things, but real live book-dealing people would love to help you find a good book, I promise.) If you love one author, do some research to find out who they read, too.

I hope you’re finding lots of happy reading for yourself this summer, and always!

Living Happier with Nataly: An anti-stress treat

Happier Friday!

Wait, is it Friday? Because, for me, this feels like one of those Mondays-on-a-Friday. Have you had one of those days?

Last week I did something I haven’t done in a really long time: I went on vacation and did not look at my email. Zero. Nada. (If this doesn’t sound like a big deal, believe me, it was for me. Running a start-up usually means I’m on 24/7.)

It was AWESOME. But when I came back earlier this week I felt like an avalanche hit me — catching up on email, work stuff, team stuff, home stuff has been pretty overwhelming. Which is why this Friday feels more like a Monday.

gooseberries-cherriesI have this rule where when I feel UGH in the morning — stressed, tired, grumpy, overwhelmed (you know, UGH) — I try to find a quick pick-me-up. I love fruit, and I especially love summer fruit, so I packed myself a container full of cherries and gooseberries, and devoured it first thing after I got into the office.

It was a small treat and a super-tasty one. I’m smiling now as I write about it! And while it didn’t remove all of my stress or deal with all of the endless emails screaming for my attention, it was a tiny happy moment that made this Monday-on-a-Friday a little more awesomer. (Awesomer totally is a word; just ask my 10-year-old daughter.)

I hope you make time for a quick treat for yourself this weekend!

Cheers,
Nataly, Happier co-founder & CEO

Happier Hearts: Lifefactory glass water bottle

Nataly's water bottle momentBeing happier has nothing to do with having more stuff, but I’ve learned that having a few things that make you smile is awesome. Once a week I’m sharing a find – or a few! – that’s making me smile. Here’s what I’m loving this week:

This is my favorite water bottle. I don’t really like water, so I got a fun bottle that looks awesome to inspire me (and trick me!) into drinking more every day. It’s glass, BPA-free, and orange (my favorite), so every time I see it and fill it up, I’m reminded that healthy habits don’t have to feel like hard work.

Takeaway tip: If there’s a healthy habit you’re having a hard time sticking to, find a way to make it fun. Finding a happier water bottle inspired me to drink more water more often!

Happier Starts: Tips for a Happier Garden

happier-garden-tips
There’s no shortage of resources out there on how to create a wonderful garden. If you can access your local garden center (or Google), you can figure out what grows well in your area, how to design a growing space, and so on.

This isn’t about that. This is about having a garden that makes you happy. This is about having a garden that makes you happy even if you’re not much of a gardener. I used to kill every single houseplant I ever owned, and I am here to tell you that what I look forward to most every summer is gardening, because it just makes me happy. It turns out that gardening makes lots of other people happy, too, so I’m in good company.

Regardless of what brings you to it, your garden should make you happy! So here’s a few handy tips to make it so:

1) Plant what you like. Self-evident, right? Short of trying to grow cacti in Alaska or drought-intolerant flowers in the desert, pick the plants that will bring you joy. I grow fruits and vegetables, because I enjoy cooking (and eating). The actual landscaping in the front of my house is pitiful, because I don’t care as much about that. Veggies make me happy; that’s where I put my effort.

2) Front-load your success. Growing veggies? Plant zucchini. I don’t even care if you like zucchini; zucchini is easy to grow and hard to kill and even if everything else gets screwed up, congratulations, you’ll have zucchini. (Zucchini bread and even zucchini brownies are delicious, if you don’t appreciate the squash in its natural form.) Growing flowers? Don’t be ashamed to go to the garden store and ask “What do you have that’s really hard to kill?”

3) Spend at least a few minutes out there every day. There is zen to be found in the soil, for sure, but even just the observation of daily growth is something that’s likely to brighten your mood. You had some dirt and some water and a seed and now you’ve got a giant plant (and maybe even food). That’s a miracle right in your yard!

4) Make peace with the circle of life. I use things like diluted soapy water spray and diatomaceous earth for pest control in my garden because I’m kind of a hippie-wannabe, but I won’t judge you if you use chemicals. No matter what you use, though, the fact remains that critters will find their way to your plant babies and eat some (or all) of your hard work. Know this and try to view it as part of the fun. (I always grow more than I need, in the hopes that the bugs will leave us enough!)

5) Make it a group activity. Get your family involved to spread the fun around. (Most kids love picking their own food!) Talk with friends and plan on collaboration or sharing; one of my dearest local buddies and I swap our garden overage, so we each get to enjoy more variety.

I’ll stop there — I’ve got gardening to go do!

Movin’ on up with Get Your Move On

Get Your Move On

You guys spoke. We listened. Our newest course in the Happier arsenal is a direct result of your feedback. Meet Get Your Move On. After the launch of resounding success Meditation Vacation, there was one piece of feedback we received time and time again:  more courses with Dave!

So Dave and Happier are together again to bring you Get Your Move On. This course combines walking and meditation, two habits which have been scientifically proven to help you be healthier and happier when practiced regularly. Each day of the course focuses on a theme that makes life more awesome. Gratitude, random acts of kindness and breaking out of your routine are just a few of the topics you’ll enjoy along this 7-day journey.  Each  day includes stories, real-life applications and mantras to bring these themes to life.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 2.16.41 PM

 

We are beyond excited to share Get Your Move On with you all. While we may be somewhat biased, we think you’re going to LOVE it.  And as always, thanks for your awesome feedback on Everyday Grateful, Meditation Vacation and Yoga to Go.  Based on your feedback our team is learning and creating more exciting courses and content in the months ahead!  We cannot wait to hear your thoughts on our latest Happier creation. Enjoy!

 

Happy International Day of Happiness!

Here at Happier HQ, we think every day is a great day to be happy, but today the whole world agrees—it’s the International Day of Happiness! It’s totally a real thing, and we didn’t even invent it (the United Nations General Assembly did, so, y’know, it’s legit). We have a few humble offerings for you to celebrate the day:

  • If it makes you happier to read nice things about Happier (it works for us!), check out this USA Today piece on the day, featuring none other than our very own Chief Happiness Officer, Nataly Kogan.
  • As a special, one-day, hooray-for-international-happiness celebration, we are offering our mobile Meditation Vacation course for just $9.99, today (March 20th, 2014) only! That’s half price, which seems like the least we can do on such an auspicious day.
  • Need some quick-and-easy reminders of simple ways you can be happier, whenever? We put together the handy-dandy infographic below to help. Save it to your desktop, make it your wallpaper, print it out and staple it to your dog (just kidding on that last one; please use tape)—whatever works for you, we’re happy to lend a happiness boost, today and every day.

(Click to enlarge.)25Ways_All_info_01

Rewriting Tolstoy

It’s that time of year again — the time of year when most people are living the famous line from Leo Tolstoy’s novel,  Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Starting with Thanksgiving and barreling straight through Christmas and into New Year’s, people everywhere — young and old, single and married, happy and sad — are making plans to spend time with their families. Some will drive to the next town over for a quick visit; others will travel across the country or halfway around the world — filling highways and train stations and airports as they make their way home to reconnect: to share meals and gifts and time with families they don’t often see.

For some people, the holidays are filled with uncomplicated joy and happiness — gift-giving and cookie-baking and matching-footed-pajamas! For others, the holidays are filled with stress and angst and sadness. For them, the holidays don’t look or feel anything like that Norman Rockwell painting.  For them, the holidays are emotionally complicated and difficult to manage.

So this year, if you’re one of those people — like most people are —  instead of spending the holidays counting all  the ways in which your unhappy family is unhappy in its own way — instead of rolling your eyes at every bad sweater and every drunk uncle and every semi-hurtful-remark; instead of counting, on the fingers and toes of both hands and feet (and the hands and feet of everyone in the room), every grievance and complaint — however justified! — instead of falling down the usual rabbit hole of holiday misery and depression, why not try something different:

Use what you’ve learned all these months using Happier and find the small positive moments in your holiday visit.

For some of you, this will be easy — so easy, it might threaten to ruin your holiday because you’ll be so busy focusing on all your happy moments your family will complain that you’re not paying enough attention to them! But for others, you’ll have to dig deep to find those moments. You’ll have to look past all the old wounds and try to find beauty and love and peace in other things:  a safe flight home; the perfect crust of an apple pie; a Butterball turkey perfectly cooked, even though the stupid thermometer-thingy was broken and didn’t pop up.

Instead of suffering in silence about the big things, try expressing gratitude aloud for the little things: Thank your mother for making your favorite green bean casserole (even if it’s really not your favorite but she just thinks it is); thank your father for a warm fire well-lit; thank your spouse or your partner for making the trip home with you and for enduring your family’s eccentricities and idiosyncrasies with grace and patience. If you do, you’ll be able to rewrite Tolstoy:

All happy families are boring; each unhappy family is interesting in its own way and can be made happier by focusing on really really really small positive moments during holiday visits….

(And for a laugh, here’s an Xtranormal Video I made last year about Thanksgiving: “Hello 1-800-Butterball? My Turkey Is Fine, But My Family Is Killing Me!”)

I’m a crazed, busy startup CEO. Here are 5 habits that keep me sane and make me happier.

Let’s get this out of the way first:

Just because I run a company called Happier doesn’t mean I’m naturally, without any effort, happy. Not at all. Running an early-stage startup and juggling that with being a mom, wife, daughter, grand-daughter, friend and well, a woman who also wants to have more than a second of time to herself, is freaking hard. I stress a lot, I have totally off days when I just want to go hide under the covers, and there are many days when I am not sure how to get it all done.

But I am lucky: I’ve spent the last few years living and breathing research on happiness and I get to be part of the amazing Happier community every day. I have learned a LOT about being more positive and optimistic, managing my stress, and yes, being happier, and I want to share some of my favorite happiness habits with you. (I don’t think you need to be a crazed start-up CEO to find these useful but if you are, I think you will.)

  1. Write down at least 3 things every day that I am grateful for. OK, I don’t write them down, I capture my happy moments in our Happier app, but it’s the same idea. Mountains of research shows that practicing gratitude has incredible benefits for our overall well-being — from helping us be more positive, joyful and optimistic, to feeling less stress and anxiety. And you do have to actually practice it by writing down what you’re grateful for; just thinking it is not enough. I have two types of days: On some I share my happy moments throughout the day; on others, I share them at night, in “bulk”, before I go to bed. Both work, just depends on how much running around I am doing.
  2. IMG_3128Go for an early morning walk. I get up at 6am every day and go for a 3+ mile walk. I do it in the sun, rain, freezing wind, and even snow (I think I skipped a few huge snow storm days, but that’s it). There are days when I think I’m half-asleep when I start walking but my body just goes. For me this is like my daily meditation. I listen to music — not news — I move, I breathe. I travel a lot and try to get a walk in on business trips as well, although this is more challenging. Having this one daily ritual that doesn’t shift due to schedules, that’s just there, always, is incredibly helpful. It anchors my day and gets me started on the right foot. (Plus getting your heart pumping and getting fresh air have been shown to lead to less stress and more positive thinking.)
  3. Get one thing done before I check my email. This is a hard one but makes a huge difference. I try to get something done on my to-do list before I open my email — which also means no mindless email checking in the car or while getting stuff done with my family in the morning. Research says being productive makes us happier and I can absolutely attest that days when I stick to doing this are better and less crazy stressed.
  4. IMG_3129Have small fun family traditions to anchor the week. I work a lot. My husband works a lot. Our awesome nine year-old kiddo has a lot of activities. So our week is pretty nuts. I realized a while back that having rituals — even really small ones — that we can all look forward to, helps a ton. For example, on Friday nights we do sushi and a movie together. On Tuesdays I get home for dinner with our daughter and it’s quesadilla night. Every morning I put a small note with a sticker into her lunchbox — it’s 30 seconds during which I smile and think about her day and 30 seconds when she opens her lunchbox and smiles. Our family traditions aren’t complicated, but they are huge for keeping us all saner and happier.
  5. Always have one thing on the calendar I’m looking forward to.  I try to schedule a lunch or dinner with a friend, catch up with my parents, or have a plan for something fun with my husband and kiddo at least once a week. Having it there is a great pick-me-up if I’m having a rough day and it’s just fun to look forward to. (Which science says is actually a thing — looking forward to good experiences makes us happier. When you plan a vacation, for example, the anticipation and the planning make you as happy – or sometimes happier – than going on it.)

I’d love to hear about your favorite happiness habits, small or big. Someone called me an expert on happiness the other day and it bugged me — I don’t think anyone actually is. Being happier is a way of life, and like with everything else, I’m always learning, just like you:)