What the Moon Means

I have sung e.e. cummings poem “I carry your heart with me” to God like a psalm for years. I used to say it was my prayer but I’ve realized that’s not exactly true. I don’t sing it hoping that the words will become a reality but knowing that they are my reality. There is no fate, no world for me outside of him. I know because I abandon him so frequently. And when I do it is like I’m cut off from what the moon means and what the sun sings. Like I am a body and mind without a heart.

When my voice sings out those words, it is in desperate need to feel the beat of my heart within my chest again as it beats with his. Cummings words are so beautiful, so enticing, they help draw me back.

This is one of those times that I need this song.

It sounds so pathetic to say that without God in my life I don’t know who I am. That I feel vacant and vapid. That I lose all sense of direction. If I were to use this as some sort of argument for God’s existence (which is not my intention), I know how it would be ridiculed. I despise this feeling of weakness but this is my Achilles’ heel. Every time I shut God out, and it happens all frequently, this is what happens:

Self-assurance is replaced by self-doubt. Passion turns to apathy. My well of words begins to run dry. My thoughts grow quieter and quieter until they can’t be heard.

This person is so foreign to me that I feel like a stranger. Somehow, it still takes me ages to identify why this is happening. This time, I think it’s taken nearly a year.

Locking God out this year wasn’t exactly intentional. Not like when I was mad at God in college. I just haven’t wanted the emotional clutter that close relationships, especially with men and God, bring to my life. I haven’t wanted the confusion of trying to sort out what I want versus what God wants from me. So, over this year, I’ve been gradually withdrawing more and more into myself, making it impossible for another man to enter my life or for God to have an active part in it.

As a result, 2013 was rather placid. Sure, I had I raging internal debate about what I want to do with my life but it was more rational than emotional. Honestly, it was a mental exercise in futility. Life has a way of working these things out for us—opening doors, closing others—it’s impossible to determine more than what I want/should do right now. I know this so I don’t know why I bothered being so engrossed in the debate besides wanting something to obsess over. My concern about the weight I gained back last year was a similarly pointless, emotionless debate. I kept telling myself I should care, mentally listing off the reasons and the solutions but, emotionally, I didn’t give a damn. While my mind and body didn’t have a great year, for my heart it was tranquil.

Solitude has that effect on me. There is a certain freedom in solitude that I’ve always found comfort in. I strongly feel the heavy weight of the responsibility that relationships impose upon us. It’s a yoke I find hard to bear every day. At first, it is a pleasure to feel free of it. In the absence of those relationships, I gain greater control over what I want and how I feel. The downside is that this sort of freedom eventually has a deadening effect because the body and mind can’t survive without the heart.

I’m to that point now where I feel like I might die without the challenge and reward of those heart to heart conversations with God that push me to try harder in my relationships with other people. Without that fire that burns inside, prompting me to challenge things I feel deep in my bones are dangerously ugly. Without the passion for beauty and meaning that drives me to write. Without those pangs of conviction that disrupt my apathy and compel me to change, to grow.

So, I’m singing out e.e. cummings words to God again hoping that soon I’ll feel my heart beating with his. I wonder when I’ll learn to stop cutting myself off from my heart.

The Art of Gift Wrapping

I come from a family that usually waits to do most of our gift wrapping till the night before Christmas. Of course, we always have a few presents under the tree before then but not many. On Christmas Eve, after getting home from the last Advent service, we end up dispersing to different rooms of the house to finish up the rest. When you wait that long to wrap your presents, you don’t have time to really invest in packaging them creatively. This year, I decided to break from tradition and get into the art of gift wrapping.

Taking inspiration from Anthropologie’s blog and gleaning some tips from Martha Stewart (I know…so cliche),  I pulled out my craft supplies, wrapping paper, magazines and boxes. While watching Christmas movies, I personalized the wrapping for my gifts so far. I’ll be honest, it was immensely time consuming but entirely worth it.

Creative Gift Wrapping

Lucky for me, I have a lot of craft supplies. I did buy some new wrapping paper, a bag of Green Wired Canadian Pine Stems, gold and red mini bells and that holiday colored yarn. I haven’t used the bells yet but I used the other supplies to wrap this present for my dad.

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I’ve had this lace for a while. Its something my aunt sent me after she cleaned out her craft room. Lace isn’t a material I usually use for sewing projects so this gave me a chance to make something lovely with it. I stacked those wooden buttons on top of each other and threaded them together. (I just fiddled with the ribbon until it looked like a flower/bow, but you can find tutorials on YouTube if you don’t have the patience for that).

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I’ve been using magazine pages to wrap presents since college. For this present, for my gothic friend, I used a photoshoot from an old issue of Vogue. I pasted pages together until they were just the right size to cover each box.

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I’ve always loved creating paper snowflakes since I was little. I feel like I’m a bit too old to string them up in my room. Instead, I attached them to this present with a rhinestone in the middle to add a little sparkle.

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I’m proud of this eclectic mix of presents now under my Christmas tree. Hopefully, it’s given you some ideas too.

For more gift wrapping inspiration, follow me on instagram.

What it Means to Belong to Your Family

“Belonging. I think it’s a large part of what family is all about.” – Jonathan David Michael

I have been in pursuit of belonging since I was a child.

Growing up in a happy, functional family it seems irrational, or maybe a little ungrateful, to say that. But it is true. I felt out of place. Even though my family members can be experts at predicting me (especially Christa and my mom), they often aren’t that great at understanding me. I’ve found it hard to feel like I belong with people who don’t get me.

In elementary school, I decided that I was going to go live with one of my friends and her family because I felt like they understood me so much better. I packed up a little suitcase and planned out what I would say to my parents when they realized I’d moved out. As I walked down our lawn, it hit me that my “rational” argument would be crushing to my parents. I turned around and went back inside without them ever knowing the “sacrifice” I was making for their sake.

It’s a funny story now, remembering how serious and silly I was (my friend’s family was deeply dysfunctional so it really would have been a terrible swap). Even though I never physically ran away, I still didn’t accept that I belonged with them. From elementary school through grad school, I kept my parents at an emotional distance and treated my friends more like family. I rarely talked to my parents or sisters more than once a month and less than that during my final semester of grad school.  I wasn’t fully aware of the space I’d created between us until I moved back home (about two years ago now).

One of the things I hear often from my family members, even my brother-in-law, is that it’s ironic that I’m the one who moved back home: “You do the best on your own.” I think that’s why I had to come home. I needed to learn that I do not belong with my family, I belong to them. Even when they completely misread my actions, even when they seem like mysteries to me, we belong to each other.

In Jonathan David Michael’s blog post about being an involved Dad, he ends by telling a little story about a time when his son asked why he loved him. He said, “Because you’re mine… and that’s all there is to it.”

If he said that to his wife, I could see someone arguing that he is objectifying her, treating her like a possession. Since he said it to his son, I think more people probably understand that what he’s talking about is mutual. His son could just as easily say that he loves his father because he is his and the statement would be equally true. What they possess is a shared bond that can’t be rationally explained. I think it would be just as beautiful for he and his wife to say those words to each other. All of us want those we love to claim us. We want them to say that we are theirs and we want the freedom to say that they are ours.

I’ve spent too many years annoyed with God that He hasn’t given me a man that will claim me and who I can claim. All the while, I’ve been dismissing my family’s claim on me. Spending this year utterly single has helped me to appreciate and accept that we belong to each other. Reflecting on the value of family this season, I am incredible grateful for the belonging that I have. Even though it is not what I have looked for.

Loving through Gifting

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I’m thrilled that we’re finally into December because I can publicly come out of the closet and celebrate the approach of Christmas! The truth is that my Christmas season started early in November when my hunt for meaningful/whimsical Christmas presents got serious.

I haven’t gotten really into the Christmas spirit very much over the last few years. I was too poor and too busy in grad school. Last year I was too worried about my mother, who spent the whole month in and out of the hospital due to complications from having her gallbladder taken out.

This year, my family is well and I’ve got some extra cash along with a more flexible schedule. Though my Christmas budget isn’t especially large, since I started my Christmas preparations early, I have had more time to stretch out my spending and start making meaningful homemade gifts.

Something I’ve been reminded of in the process is how hunting for good Christmas presents gets me in the holiday spirit.

It is no surprise to me that gifting is considered a love language. When you’re actively hunting for meaningful gifts, the people you love are frequently on your mind. You spend more time musing over what they enjoy, what they are passionate about. When you’re browsing in stores, instead of just thinking about if this or that suits your taste, you mull over if it reflects the style or personality of one of your friends. If you’re a crafter or artists, you find yourself thinking about ways that you can bring beauty into the world, even if in the simplest way, for their benefit. In other words, gifting becomes a way of actively loving other people both in thought and in deed.

Love is what Christmas is all about (okay, and hope but that’s for another post). It makes perfect sense that giving gifts is an integral part of Christmas.

I will admit that giving gifts is my natural love language. The gifts I love giving and receiving are those that display the thought that went into their selection/creation. This Christmas season, I am embracing my passion for meaningful gifting and inviting you to join me.

Counting My Blessings

The buttery-scent of baking pumpkin pie is reminding me that Thanksgiving is just a day away. Following tradition, I’ve been thinking about what I’m grateful for. One of the biggest blessings this year has been becoming an aunt.

At the beginning of August, I shared with you the bittersweet arrival of my niece, Anya. I admitted my fear that my sister and I would grow apart when she became a mother. Friends had predicted that the reverse would happen, that my niece would actually bring us closer together. I wanted to believe them but I wasn’t able to until I held her in my arms and stayed up late talking to my sister the week after Anya was born.

In the four months since she’s become a part of our lives, I’ve made two trips down to Alabama to see them. Even though I worked with children in my church’s nursery in high school, I didn’t grasp until now how much having a baby in the family helps you to regain a sense of wonder as you watch her discover herself and the world.

For the first two months, my sister and her husband sent us a picture or short video almost everyday. We were able to feel like we were with them as she discovered the joy of making faces, started cooing and began engaging with toys on her own.

While I’m disappointed that I won’t be seeing any of them tomorrow, I’m looking forward to their visit in a few short weeks.

 These are some pictures from both of my visits that I’d been meaning to share with you.

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Skype date with our parents

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Sightseeing in Alabama

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Driving to the airport with my sisters

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The Problem With Hinging Your Value On What You Do

Recently, I researched what makes a good name for an organization or brand. In the process, I thought about the virtue of Imago Dei Community Church’s name. Pondering it was unexpectedly convicting. It made me aware of the distorted lens I’ve been viewing myself through.

Imago Dei is the church founded by my favorite pastor, Rick McKinley, out in Portland, OR. Not only does it have a name that flows nicely off the tongue, their name conveys the ethos of that community. Imago Dei is Latin for “Image of God.” It points to the theological doctrine “that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function” (Wikipedia). From the sermons preached on Sundays to the ways that they serve others inside and outside their church, the community of Imago Dei affirm that we are all equally valuable, equally intended for a life rich in meaning and connection. Whether you are a vagabond or sell bonds you are worthy of love and grace.

This is a doctrine I claim to believe. My obsession over the last year with “what I’m doing with my life,” my growing defensiveness of my singleness and my stress over gaining back weight are all evidence that I haven’t been seeing myself in this way. I’ve been measuring my value by my function and utility, by my success and finding myself wonting.

By our culture’s standards, I need to get my shit together. I’m living with my parents. I’m constantly struggling with my weight. I’m working multiple jobs instead of having a comfortable, six figure salary at a job with benefits. I’m single and not looking or dating.

If I’m honest, I’ve felt like a loser and I’ve dealt with a fair share of people implying I am one. I’ve had people say to me, “So, going to college really didn’t get you anywhere, huh?” “You have a master’s degree, why are you working for a demo company?” “So…do you also have a real job?” I had a trainee, a blunt middle-age retiring RN, tell me that I should have found a quality guy in college and imply I need to put more effort into finding a man right now before it’s “too late.”

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 That’s me in my uniform demoing.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is either pushing me toward a “normal” job or pressuring me into online dating. While I’m too stubborn to let other people’s opinions dictate my choices, I’ve started to see myself through the lens of their disappointment. On top of that, I’ve been wrestling with my own.

Last winter I read Karen Swallow Prior’s article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Getting Married Young.” The life that Prior describes—marrying  in college and having that relationship as the cornerstone of her life as she went on to get her masters degree, PhD and become a professor—is the life I’d imagined for myself. While on one hand I feel blessed by the richness of my life, on the other hand I’m jealous of Prior. Jealous of her stable, intellectual career. Jealous that she has the companionship and support of a spouse to share her life with.

I have been immensely frustrated with the fact that my life has not met my expectations and I have not met my expectations. Not only am I alone, I am not the woman that I envisioned. Something that is becoming blatantly clear to me is that I will never be the fervent scholar or reclusive author that I imagine. I’m too social and I have too much of a need to make something besides words on a page.

My frustration has made me foolish and defensive. It’s why I started that happiness project in September. The grand goal I set for myself was really to direct my life back to the path that I, and other people, had envisioned for me. Before the end of the month, I realized that I was trying to turn myself into someone I’m not.  I do want to be a professor someday but not now (academia is much like a monastic community; it has beautiful values and is a world onto itself—I’m not ready to be so confined).

My happiness project did lead me to start working on starting a business (Narrative Manifestos) with my friend Krista that will combine my passion for conscious capitalism, my knack for promotions and my diverse communication and interpersonal skills. Even though I’m stoked about our business, Narrative Manifestos, reflecting on Imago Dei reminded me that hinging my worth and value on it isn’t a real solution.

Something I’ve learned through losing weight is that you never “arrive.” No matter how good you look to other people, you always see areas for improvement. You never get passed having crisis of faith in your new lifestyle. Relapses will happen when making the “right choice” just doesn’t feel worth it. No matter how much weight you’ve lost, there will be times you feel like a miserable failure. If your worth and identity hinge on your success, you will constantly oscillate between empowerment and despair. The same is true about hinging your value and identity on your career or your relationship status.

Even if Narrative Manifestos is wildly successful, I’ll find reasons to feel bad about myself if I keep tying my identity to what I achieve instead of who I am. Who I am is not some list of shifting attributes. I am a child of God who bears his image. I’m valuable and lovable simply because I am.

When I think about the people I love and respect, it isn’t because of what they do. It is because of who they are. Even when they’re frustrating beyond belief, or doing something that is not the best reflection of who they are, I don’t believe their value is diminished. I look for the good in them because I believe they bear the image of God.  Why is it so hard to do this when it comes to me?

Do you struggle with feeling like your worth is determined by how successful you are?

The Art of Talking to Anybody

“You can talk to anybody.” I hear this a lot from friends and coworkers. They’re right; I can talk to almost anybody. Now, it’s part of my job. I wasn’t always like this.

The idea of talking to strangers and even acquaintances used to make me anxious. When I was younger, I avoided it whenever I could. If I wanted an extra packet of honey mustard sauce at Wendy’s, I’d make my little sister, Christa, go up and ask for it or I’d go without. If I thought someone seemed cool, I’d send Christa over to scout him/her out. Wherever we went together, she was my mouth piece (unless we were around people I was comfortable with, then I did all the talking). I got so in the habit of letting her talk for me that to this day, when we’re with people I don’t know well, I expect her to do the talking for me.

In high school, I began to get better at conversing with strangers. By the time I started 9th grade, I had switched schools four times. I was getting used to meeting new people and creating a social network from scratch. Still, the idea of talking to strangers was daunting. I got a D in Journalism my freshman year, despite the fact that my teacher loved my writing, because I wasn’t willing to go out of my comfort zone and interview people I didn’t know.

One simple realization has helped me overcome anxiety: The idea of talking to strangers is more intimidating than the experience. Whenever I am forced to talk to someone new, the actual conversation is rarely as uncomfortable as I imagine. If I start psyching myself out, when I’m heading into a situation where I know I’ll have to talk to lots of new people, I remind myself that people are just people. There is nothing to be anxious about.

Working in student activities and promotions over the last few years has helped me to perfect the art of talking to anybody. These are my top 3 tips for how to strike up conversations with new people:

1/ Look for a Natural Lead In

Walking up to a complete stranger and saying, “Hi. My name is Lindsey, what’s yours?” is undeniably awkard. If someone did that to me I would give them a false name and excuse myself from the conversation quickly. Actually, something similar to that did happen to me the other day while I was training at a store in Monroe. That is exactly how I responded. You don’t have to be that person.

Instead of starting off with your name, take into account your setting and the person you want to talk to then make a statement or pose a question that will draw that person into conversation. For example, if you’re at a networking event you could walk up to someone who is also alone and say, “Hi. I never know what to do at events like this.” Or “Hi. Would you mind if I joined you? I was feeling out of place in that corner by myself.” Most likely that person is feeling equally out of place and will appreciate your company. Addressing the elephant in the room, in a casual way like that, also gives that person something to relate to. If that person invites you to join him/her, you now have an opportunity to introduce yourself and launch into a real conversation.

2/ Be Willing to Hand Out Compliments

Compliments are a great conversation starter. I do this a lot. I’ll compliment a woman on a unique necklace she’s wearing or a beautiful scarf. Most women, when complimented on an item of clothing or an accessory, will tell you where they got it. If it’s unique enough, they’ll sometimes tell you a story about it. It creates a great opportunity for you to share your fashion taste or exchange stories. The pettiest of topics can lead to awesome conversations.

I don’t strike up as many conversations with men through compliments. I have done it. It’s usually more affective to complement them on something other than their clothes.

A good compliment is specific and sincere. General compliments seem phony. If you don’t care about women’s scarves, complimenting a woman on her scarf won’t spark a conversation. After she says thank you, there will be nothing more to say.

3/ Don’t be Afraid to Start with a Story

One of my quirks is that I think that small talk is invasive. If the first thing a stranger or acquaintance asks me is how I’m doing or what I did today or what I do for a living, I feel like they’re trying to invade my privacy. It makes me defensive and unease. I know, it’s irrational but that’s how I feel. While I try to give people grace when they do this to me, because I realize it’s my own bit of crazy, I avoid starting out with small talk whenever I can. I’ve discovered that exchanging stories is a far better way to spark a conversation and get to know people.

Asking someone you don’t know how they are doing is either going to get you a sob story (this has happened to me…talk about uncomfortable) or a pat reply. Starting off with a story engages the other person gives you both something to banter about once the story is over.  For example, if you’re at a wedding reception solo and you’re stuck at a table with people you don’t know, tell a story about the bride or groom to break the ice. In most cases, someone else at the table with share one of their stories and the whole table will start talking.

These are the three best ways I know to strike up conversations with strangers. If you are pleasant to people, they will usually be pleasant in return. There are some exceptions; of course, some people are overly defensive and some people just plain like being rude. They are the exception, not the rule. It’s important to remember that their harsh reaction is a reflection on them and not on you.

No matter how nice you are, not everyone will like you. That’s okay because you won’t like everyone either. It doesn’t necessarily mean that either of you is a bad person. It just means you don’t have compatible personalities. That’s fine. You’ll never know if you could become friends if you don’t have that first conversation.

Do you have any stories about talking to strangers? Are there any tips that you would add to my list?

Why We Shouldn’t Focus on Celebrity Flaws

If facebook offered a thumb down button, I would have pressed it this morning on the She Finds slideshow post “Gorgeous Celebs with Ugly Body Parts” that I came across. Though caustic posts like this are common across the internetz, it always disappoints me to see them on sites for women.

Introducing the slideshow, the author wrote:

“Celebrities always seem so flawless, right? It’s kind of annoying. I mean, it’s hard comparing yourself to gorgeous models like Karolina Kurkova or hotties like Megan Fox. But even some of the most attractive celebs have some physical flaws. And don’t get us wrong, we’re by no means perfect ourselves, but there’s something about celebrity flaws that makes us feel better inside.”

That last line should have clued me into how childish and abusive the slideshow comments would be. Naively, I thought that the author would use these women’s flaws to challenge the assumption that we have to be perfect to be beautiful. I was wrong. Each of her comments on the different celebrities “worst body parts” –from Kim Kardashian’s swollen pregnant feet to Rachel Zoe’s neck– are petty and biting:

“Sorry Kim Kardashian, but your bloated feet remind us of the Michelin Man.”

“As stylish as Rachel Zoe is, her neck is one accessory we’d leave at home. Is that you, Skeletor?” 

I was so disheartened and offended on these women’s behalf that I didn’t go further than the 11th slide and even confessing I made it that far makes me feel guilty. I can’t help but want to apologize to those celebrities for those caustic remarks about their bodies.

While trashing on those women’s flaws might make someone feel good for the length of time it takes to get through the slideshow, that feeling won’t last long. Picking apart their bodies and finding fault contributes to doing the same thing to ourselves. Afterward, the biting remarks in that post might strengthen your own insecurities. Those slides shame anyone with knobby knees, veiny arms, or swollen pregnant feet. If Rachel Zoe should be ashamed to go outside with her thin neck, what about your [insert body part]?

You could say, “What do you expect from a women’s fashion blog? They thrive by making women feel bad about themselves.”  I disagree. I think that the fashion industry thrives most by making women feel empowered instead of insufficient.

When I feel ugly, I’m more inclined to wear ratty jeans and a sweatshirt than a beautiful dress (though I might still wear a pair of 4” heels around my house to boost my self-esteem ever so slightly-but I definitely won’t bother to buy a new pair). When I feel undesirable, I’m much less likely to invest the time and money to care for my skin or put on makeup.  I know that I’m not alone in this. When the standard is unattainable, why even bother trying?

Shopping is only fun when I view myself with grace, seeing my beauty despite flaws and without comparing myself to other women. The only time I can successfully lose weight or maintain a healthy weight is when I feel good about me. When I buy new makeup or other beauty products, it’s because I want to look as beautiful as I feel.

Women’s fashion magazines and blogs best serve us, their readers, by empowering us. They should affirm that our minor flaws don’t diminish our beauty. They should treat all women, celebrities or not, with the respect we desire.

The Balancing Act

My dad regularly sends me links he thinks will interest. He sends a wide assortment. I’ve gotten links to organizations he thinks I’ll be interested in, job postings, news articles, op-eds, blogs, community event boards, etc. This morning I was surprised to find a link to How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps in my inbox. There was no way that my dad was trying to improve my sex life or fitness, I had to see what the article was actually about. I followed his link to Kate Bartolotta’s article on the Huffington Post’s blog as soon as I got a free moment.

Kate Bartolotta’s post doesn’t have any sex tips or ab workouts; instead she discusses how those types of promises in magazines can’t bring you happiness. If you want to be happy, you have to choose to be happy now. Not in the future when you achieve whatever goal you’ve set for yourself. She gives eight tips for finding happiness now.

Her tips tie in well to Gretchen’s Happiness Project. In the midst of my happiness project, it was an apt link. It left me thinking about how I sometimes feel lumped in with the people who think rock hard abs will make them happy.

Whenever I mention working on losing weight now, I’m usually met with insistence that I look great. It’s a well-intentioned response. I have no argument with what they say—I don’t look overweight—but I’m bugged by the assumption that just because I’m talking about losing weight it must mean my self-esteem hinges on my pant size. It’s an understandable assumption, but it wasn’t true for me at a size 22 and it’s still not at a size 12. I know that getting back down into a size 8 alone will not make me happier, it’s that process of treating my body better—practicing moderation and balance, making time to do the type of workouts that I enjoy and energize me—that improves how I feel physically and emotionally. (Having some cheerleaders really helps get me motivated to do this work and makes it more fun, which is usually what I’m looking for when I talk about it.)

It bugs me that I have to deal with this misconception so often. I understand that it comes from this part of our culture that Bartolotta is critiquing. She’s right to criticize the superficial goals magazine’s sell us but it isn’t always enough to choose to be happy now.

One of the secrets to having a meaningful life is that you’ll frequently have to hold happiness and unhappiness, or contentment and discontentment in tension with each other. If you want to lose weight, you have to be frustrated enough with your habits and size to change while also having enough love for yourself to believe you’re worth the time and effort it will require (in my experience, losing weight –especially through a lifestyle change—is a labor of love). If you want to switch careers, you have to be discontent enough to launch out into the unknown while also having that joy in what you love to give you the energy to follow through.

I understand who Bartolotta is writing for and appreciate her 8 tips but you can follow all of them and still discover that you are deeply unsatisfied and that dissatisfaction is damping your happiness. Every day, I find new things to be grateful for but I still feel deeply unfulfilled. It’s important to recognize that it’s valuable to have a healthy sense of discontentment that drives us towards goals that will improve our happiness (not “make us happy”). The most rewarding goals are those that will offer more than superficial, or short-lived satisfaction.