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

A giant, grateful shout-out to our awesome users

happierhug[Image courtesy of Happier user John H.]

Needless to say, if you’re an active Happier user, you know that we had a looooooong weekend—our most catastrophic server issue ever took us offline for a couple of days (we don’t know about you, but it felt like several years to us, as we worked like crazy to fix it).

Everything is fine now, but for a little while there, it wasn’t. The team pulled together, the situation was resolved, but we knew that a system outage like that can make users grumpy… or downright angry… or even cause them to leave us altogether. That’s a bitter pill to swallow for any company, but when your business is happiness? Bummed doesn’t even describe the tip of the iceberg. We worried we were letting you down and you wouldn’t forgive us.

Well, it turns out we needn’t have worried, because the Happier community is even more awesome than we’d realized. (How is that even possible? We don’t know! You’re just that amazing!)

Users took to Twitter and Facebook to share happy moments while the app was unavailable. And the minute we were back up, you were there, ready to share in our happiness!

Check out Nataly’s relieved update and the outpouring of community happiness:
natk1natk2
(That was just all we could fit in a single screenshot, by the way; there were tons more comments just as kind and supportive. We were blown away by all of you, for real.)

And it didn’t stop there! Awesome user John H. made us the cool graphic at the head of this entry (while thanking us for our hard work), and plenty of other users weighed in to let us know you were just glad to be back with us. Here’s just a few of our favorites:

nataliez

denitaf

lorin

In short (well, okay, not all that short): Something unhappy happened, and you made it way more bearable. We thought the story here would be that we were down (we were) and we’re so sorry about it (we are!) and besides fixing things on our end, we’d have to do damage control. Instead you were all there to thank us for our hard work and to celebrate our community. You are the reason we do what we do, and the reason we love it. Thank you for making Happier a place that truly does make us happier, every single day.

Meet our new “Stories That Inspire” and, well, be inspired!

We get lots of emails from Happiers telling us about the positive impact our app and community — and now our new course — have had on their lives. We LIVE for these emails. Our entire team reads them, and they are what make the long hours and uphill battles of start-up life worth it. Like, SO worth it.

But we’ve struggled with how to make it clear to people that don’t know Happier just how amazing and life-changing it can be. Turns out that nothing we say can come close to the awesomeness that you guys are able to put into words, so we’re going to kick off a new series that will showcase these moving and uplifting tales of growth and change. “Stories That Inspire” will keep committed to make the daily choice of focusing on the happy moments in your life, instead of on the bad ones, even on days when good moments are far and few between. “Stories That Inspire” will certainly keep us dedicated to doing what we’re doing: trying to make the world a happier place, one moment at a time.

Our first story comes from over-the-top awesome Happier, Pinkie. Pinkie is a long-time member of the Happier community, posts amazing happy moments and is genuinely an awesome human being. Pinkie recently took part in our Everyday Grateful course and had the following email exchange with Nataly, our fearless leader and chief happiness officer.

“I’m taking the Everyday Grateful course and, right in the beginning, you asked us to come up with a daily ritual.

I hate being told what to do, but myself and I agreed that we’d give it a shot. I didn’t want to set the bar too high (bipolar + high personal expectations = pooey days) so I kept it simple: when I traipse down the stairs every morning,  the first thing I’ll do is write a quick happy note and stuff it into my 2014 happy jar.

I cannot in words explain how Herculean this was for me to stick to it, but I did it. For two weeks – only missing a day when I slept in ’til I’m not telling o’clock – I have been consistent. It feels good and I’ll have to find a bigger jar.

I am grateful for Nataly Kogan.
-Pinkie”

“Hi, there,
You have no idea how much this means to me – THANK YOU for taking the time to write, for doing what I asked in the course:), and for making gratitude a part of your life. Send us a photo of your happy jar! We would love to share your story on our blog and it would be so awesome to include a photo.
Thank you for sharing this and making my day!
In gratitude,
Nataly”

“OK. This is nuts. You just took something off my bucket list.
I would love nothing more than to send you a picture for Happier’s blog. I consider it an honour and an opportunity to tell the nation how great life can be hence the bucket list comment.

Here’s the ‘Happy Corner’ I see every morning. In the background is a granite fountain filled with raw amethyst (my birthstone) that was given to me by my oldest son. It makes me happy every time I see it :) So does the orange vase, the antique saucer and the beautiful tablecloth passed down to me from my Oma.

My Happy Jar is a beautiful pink vase I found at the thrift store. I didn’t think I’d fill it up, like, ever, so it seemed like a pretty distraction from how few crumpled up happy notes I actually had.

Pinkie1
Since starting the annoyingly strongly suggested ritual, I have to squish my happies down so they don’t spill over.

What do you think of my new Happy Jar? It’s orange, awesome, cost only $2 AND a cookie jar! It’s meant to be!

Pinkie2

Pinkie, You. Are. Awesome.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, and the world.

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:)

How fancy wine glasses can make you happier

Can I confess something? This week kicked my butt. Actually, it kicked the collective butt of our entire family. Among other things, our long-time sitter (who was with us for more than 5 years and is beloved by 9 year-old kiddo) got sick, my grandmother ended up in the hospital and I caught the death-cold-or-something going around. A week of juggling lack of babysitters (thank you grandparents!), interviewing new sitters (thank you amazing husband who was like a rock doing background research and finding them), hospital calls (thank you doctors!) while doing all the other usual crazy-busy stuff we do left me feeling like a deflated balloon by Sunday night.

Never mind, I am not a fan of analogies. By Sunday night I felt like crap. Physically and emotionally.

It was time for dinner and at first I started to dread it. UGH, more stuff to do. While thinking about what to make for my crew I was putting away the new wine glasses I got for us this weekend. (OK, secondary confession: They are inspired by the wine glasses Olivia Pope has in the absolutely addictive show Scandal. Yes, I bought wine glasses because I liked them on a TV show.) And that gave me an idea:

I was going to make us a fun “fancy” Sunday night dinner.

photo 2Dining room instead of kitchen table.

“Cocktails” (juice and lemon) in fancy wine glasses instead of just water in regular water glasses we use.

Candles.

Cloth napkins and nice silverware we usually use for company.

A geometric tower made from sweet potato fries instead of just piling them on the plate.

A little music.

I baked a quick salmon steak and threw together a quick cucumber and corn salad to go with sweet potato fries tower and the entire fancy dinner, from start to finish, including setting the table, took me about 20 minutes. When I called my guys over to the dining room table, their surprised smiles were all I needed to start turning this rough week around :)

photo 3

The Daily Orange: Wishful orange coat thinking

I am always on the lookout for awesome orange anything so imagine my excitement when I saw this absolutely killer coat in my Happier feed:

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I immediately asked Jeanette where she found it and then spent more time than I care to admit browsing this great Etsy shop that makes this coat: HappyFamilyJudy. (And no, the name wasn’t lost on me :)

orangecoat

Did I mention I love this happier orange coat?

If you are wearing something orange or find some orange inspiration, share a happy moment with it into the Daily Orange collection and you never know, you may find yourself and your awesome find featured on our blog :)

Public art makes me happier

There are a lot of things about living in Boston that make me happier. And lots of things that make other people happier, too. We have an entire traveling wall dedicated to happy Boston moments. But few make me as happy as the latest public art installation — “Street Seats“, by Design Museum Boston.

I can trace the beginning of my love affair with functional public art to a trip I took to London in the summer of 2006. I was there on business and decided to stay an extra week to experience the city.

Serpentine PavilionHigh on my list of things to do while I was there was to visit the Serpentine Gallery to see the Thomas Demand exhibit. I spent hours pouring over his amazing work only to exit the museum and be completely transformed by The Pavilion. Unbeknownst to me, every summer The Pavilion comes to life as a pop-up public art exhibit which just happened to be designed that year by none other than Rem Koolhaas and Cecil Balmond. *Swoon*

To me, The Pavilion was a perfect example of the transformative nature of public art. Stunning design made accessible to everyone. Studies have shown that looking at art makes us happy and just being outside offers a marked improvement in our overall health and well-being. So by looking at art outside you’re getting a double dose of happy-inducing endorphins.

Happier Team Visits Street SeatsDesign Museum Boston has flipped the standard museum concept upside down. Public space is the new museum. And what better way to bring design to the people of Boston than to redesign something so common in urban landscapes that it typically goes unnoticed: the lowly park bench.

Happier Team Visits Street Seats

 

The outdoor exhibition features 17 unique public benches re-imagined by design teams from around the world. I needed to see them. All of them.

We’re lucky that the Street Seats are located right in Happier HQ’s backyard. Or as other people like to call it, Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood.

Happier Team Visits Street Seats

So the Happier ladies minus Nataly (missed you!) went on an exploratory mission to check them out.The verdict? They are an awesome place to sit and enjoy the scenery plus they’re amazing conversation pieces on their own. Also, they’re super fun.

Not only that, but I was fortunate enough to meet the Founder and Executive Director of Design Museum, Boston, Sam Aquillano while at TEDxBoston this week to watch Nataly give an awesome talk on how pancakes can make you happier and change the world (video coming soon!). Sam gave an amazing talk on design, and what we can learn by encountering it in unexpected places. Of course Street Seats featured prominently in his talk which made me very much happier.

We’d love to hear how public art makes you happier!

3 things I learned about how to be happier

Stop chasing the BIG HAPPY

When my family fled Russia in 1989, I had a rough time. After a few months in refugee camps in Austria and Italy, we finally made our way here and then spent a year living in the projects, on welfare, in Ypsilanti (outside Detroit). When I finally got on my feet I decided that to make up for the hardship I was going to chase the American dream, which for me meant being HAPPY. And the way I thought you got there was by achieving a LOT and making a lot of money. So for the next 20 years I did just that – a series of impressive jobs, starting companies, publishing books, getting the fancy stroller and the fancy car, you name it. By the time I was in my early 30s, I really appreciated my life and had learned a lot but I was not happy. Mostly, I was really exhausted.

My father is a scientist so I turned to science on happiness and had a “holy crap” moment: I was doing it all wrong. While chasing some unachievable state of the BIG HAPPY I had ignored so many of the small happy moments that were part of my everyday – the sound of my daughter’s footsteps as I put my key in the door and she ran to meet me, grabbing our favorite Spanish Latte with my husband on a morning walk, hearing a friend tell me I made her smile. I became a lot happier when I started focusing on these small moments, elevating them out of the routine, pausing to actually be grateful for having them in my life. (No wonder research shows that people who write down a few things they are grateful for every day report feeling more optimistic and less stressed.)

Create experiences out of the routine

I juggle running a start-up with bIMG_7778eing a mom to a very active 9 year-old, so I get what it’s like to be really busy. Forget busy, what I mean is totally overwhelmed. But one of the most important things I’ve realized is that taking a few extra minutes to make an experience out of something that is otherwise just part of the routine is one of the best way to feel – and help my family feel – happier.

The other day it was a horrible rainy cold Monday morning, we were late to get up and get going, and I read a really frustrating email as soon as I picked up my phone. My first instinct was to just take out cereal for everyone for breakfast so we could get through this terrible morning faster. But instead, I decided to make crazy looking pancakes, with turkey bacon for hair and whip cream for beards. My husband and kiddo laughed as soon as they saw them, I felt awesome for helping them laugh and everyone’s morning became, well, happier.

Find your happier must-dos and stick to them with your life

Every morning I wake up and go for a 3-mile walk. In the sun, rain, snow, wind, doesn’t matter. I am a total zombie for the first 10 minutes of it but by the time I get back home I am awake and have more energy for my day. It’s my way to disconnect (I listen to music and don’t check my email) and have some me time.

When I have a rough day ahead of me I try to start it off by eating something awesome. There is a bakery nearby that has the most amazing yogurt parfait. I will take time to drive there, get it, and sit and eat it while reading a magazine (not business) or a few pages from my favorite book. Another place across town has my favorite oatmeal. I will fight traffic to get there because I know I will have a happier day afterwards.

Having these small routines that I know help me feel more positive is huge. It helps to to know that I can look forward to something that I know I enjoy — and if you look at the science, a lot of research shows that anticipating a good experience is a great happiness boost.

How to be happier: Try different and new things

I often refer to myself as an “experience optimizer”. It’s a fancy term for saying that I try to make the most out of every experience, including really mundane ones, like where we should go for lunch with my team or my family or what type of card my kiddo should make for our dads on Father’s Day. I like to try new things, to experience something I’ve not experienced before. And yes, if you’re thinking that this can be both fun and incredibly annoying for people who are with me, you’re absolutely right. (Just this weekend my husband and I spent a half hour talking about where we should grab sandwiches to for lunch while I tried to optimize for taste, trying something new, and being able to eat outside but not where we usually eat.)

I do this instinctively but I also realize that trying new things, seeing new things, tasting new things, meeting new people and learning new skills makes my life more awesome.

IMG_8890The other day I was having a “Monday” on a Sunday. And the weather was awful to boot so it was a double whammy. There was a new exhibit at the ICA here in Boston, so we decided to go. It was an installation of art by someone I’d never heard of before: Barry McGee. I absolutely LOVED it but more than that, it was new and fresh and nothing like what I’ve seen before. By the time we left the exhibit my case of the Mondays on a Sunday was gone.

Turns out, there’s research supporting the idea that trying new things makes you happier:

Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University looked at 30,000 event memories and over 500 diaries, ranging from durations of 3 months to 4 years, and says that people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.

Give it a shot. Try a new food you’ve not had before. Go bowling or trampoline jumping or see a movie that’s usually not something you’d be into. Find a new author to read or a new recipe to try. Take a different route to work or on your run. A life less boring is also, as it turns out, a life a little (or a lot!) happier.

What makes you happier, Neil Shurley?

neilshurleyNeil Shurley and I had a friend in common on Facebook and now he’s a passionate user of Happier. Though we’ve never met “in person,” I’m getting to know Neil in a whole new way: not just through his achievements or the news articles he shares, but by what makes him happy. On Happier, that means looking at the moments in his top collections  – Family, The Little Things, Being Grateful, and Ukulele Evangelism. By seeing who and what makes the small moments in Neil’s day so full of joy, I feel like I’m really getting to know him in a meaningful way!

You seem to have really embraced Happier and use it a lot – tell us why.

In the last couple of years, I’ve become more aware of how stress and negativity overtakes my whole worldview. A few weeks ago I saw a friend post about Happier on Facebook. I jumped in and am now not only actively searching for happy moments to share throughout the day, but also telling others the good news of Happier. And it’s been working, making me feel inside that I am the happy person others see.

One of the core beliefs of Happier is that there are moments of simple beauty and happiness even in the most difficult situations. Tell us about your “We Love Lisa” campaign that was mentioned in The New York Times.

Early in my Twitter experience, I came across Lisa Adams (@adamslisa). Over the course of our “virtual” friendship, I learned more about her family, her experience with breast cancer, and her positive spirit on her blog. When I lost my father two years ago, she was the closest thing I got to a personal grief counselor. Last fall, when she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, I was devastated, as were her thousands of other followers. I wanted to do something to demonstrably show her that there were lots of people — many of whom she had never even met — who loved her and were thinking of her. It seemed like a small way to share with her the happiness that she’d brought to me. So I wrote a song, recorded myself singing it, and asked Lisa’s social media friends to send me photos of themselves holding signs reading “We Love You, Lisa.” I made a video and sent her the link. It still makes me happy to think that I may have at least brightened her day.

We love when Happier users make up their own collections. Explain “Ukulele Evangelism.”

The ukulele is the happiest instrument on earth. I’ve played the saxophone since junior high, but had never had any luck with stringed instruments. But the ukulele is so small, easy and just plain happy, that it’s become my very favorite thing.  I am the ukulele evangelist. If everyone had an ukulele, it would be a much happier world.

What’s your favorite thing about living in South Carolina?

The fact that my family is here. My wife grew up here, my parents moved here to be closer to their grandkids, and now my brother and his wife have moved here with their two kids. What could be better?

It’s almost Father’s Day. How does being a dad make you happier?

Figuring out how my children are experiencing the world, seeing old things in new ways through their eyes, and sharing their joys, both big and small. And I love sharing stuff I love with them – it’s wonderful to see my old Star Wars action figures and GI Joe’s getting a whole new life!