Tag Archives: happiness

40 Days Later: from optimism to strength

Forty days ago I started my Savannah Smiles Challenge in an effort to bring more optimism to my day-to-day life, my attitude and my spirit. It’s a good thing I did, too, because I got some bad news today, and I’ve had to turn all that optimism into strength.

Several months before I started the Challenge, I had begun to tackle another feat, a scholarship application for an award that would have provided $30,000 toward a master’s degree and connected me to change agents in multiple fields worldwide.

I am proud to say that I made it to the semi-finalist round. The next round, however, wasn’t meant to be.

How fitting, I thought, that I would read a rejection email on the final day of my Savannah Smiles Challenge. Apparently, I have been nurturing all that positivity for a reason.

As I’ve said again and again, I believe we must be the makers of our own happiness. We can’t expect positive energy to illuminate our lives if we don’t actively strive to cultivate that energy within ourselves and others. Well, I believe the same is true of strength. We must always do our best to choose strength over weakness, to take a step forward instead of a step back. Of course it isn’t always easy, or even possible, to immediately stand up after a fall. But if we resign ourselves to lying defeated on the ground after every slip, resignation will become the norm and resilience will disappear into obscurity. Weakness must be the exception, or else it will only be harder to summon our inner strength when we truly need it. There are far worse things than not getting some big-deal scholarship, Savannah. Suck it up.

I can’t help but feel the 39 days I spent doing sun salutations, journaling and reading poetry were all in preparation for today, the 40th day. Disappointment almost kept me from going to my yoga class this morning, but after greeting (almost) every day with yoga these past few weeks, I knew that single hour would help me heal.

I walked into class late, feeling heavy. After sun salutations and leg exercises,  my instructor said it was time to go into our headstands. I collapsed into child’s pose. Tears started to pool in my eyes. “No,” I whispered to myself, “not today.”

But against my own will I prepared myself for the pose. I placed my head between hands and began inching my feet toward my torso. Then, for the first time in my life, I lifted myself into the half-posture—meaning my legs were folded next to my stomach, with only my head and my elbows supporting my body—and stayed there. Normally, I get to this point and immediately fall over. But this time, I remained balanced on my head, looking at the world upside down. Those jerks can reject me, but I bet they can’t do a fucking headstand.

Overall, I’d call the Savannah Smiles Challenge a great success. I have started journaling almost every day, and sun salutations come second only to my morning coffee. I’ve also started reading some of my poetry and listening to others at SpokenWord Paris, an open mic poetry sesh that goes down every Monday night.

What’s more important, however, is that I learned, once again, that I have a plentitude of people and things to be grateful for and to find happiness in. My gifts, my opportunities and my experiences make my life unique, vibrant and beautiful. My friends, my family and my mentors—all of you bring such joy to my heart and make every day worth living. If I ever again feel my optimism fleeting, as I’m sure time and trial will cause it to do, I will only need to look back on these past 40 days and remember what I learned from daring myself to smile.

I may have listened to this song 20 times within the past three hours.

I don’t care. I love it.

—Savannah

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The Will to Carry On (Cheesiest Title Ever)

It is one thing to start a new routine. It’s another thing to maintain it.

Two weeks ago I started the “40 Day Savannah Smiles Challenge” in an effort to insert more beauty and balance into my life and render myself a little more positive, a little more like the sunny Savannah I used to know.

During the first week of the Savannah Smiles Challenge, I felt empowered and motivated. And I started writing. I started writing any chance I got— on the metro, on a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg, waiting for a friend. I journaled every day. That is, until the new semester started.

On Monday I woke up and slid back into my old morning regimen: shower, make coffee, pour coffee number 1, read the news and answer emails, acquire coffee number 2, blow-dry hair, straighten bangs, rush out the door.

This is not necessarily a routine I dislike or find detrimental to my happiness. But it is not one that allows time for yoga or poetry. Hence it wasn’t until I was putting my shoes on that I realized I’d forgotten to do my sun salutations and read my poem. It’s the first day of classes, I thought, I can skip a day.

But skipping one led me to skip another and soon the routine I was trying to meld into my day-to-day life was sabotaged. This doesn’t mean I’ve failed completely. I just haven’t done a moon salutation or journaled in four days.

I am writing this post now to remind myself of why I started this challenge. I am writing this post to remind myself of why I need to continue. Creating a new routine doesn’t mean I have to destroy the old one, it just means I need to adjust my already established habits to accomodate those I want to add. Sacrificing a handful of minutes sifting through news on Twitter is a small price to pay for an entire day spent in a more balanced, more content state of mind.

Part of my challenge is to note one thing I’ve found beautiful throughout the day at the end of my daily journal entry. Here are a few things I’ve jotted down:

January 11th:

Today I discovered la Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève. It is the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen. I worked there for three hours, all the while marveling at the great, black arches that support the ceiling and the yellowed, antique books that cover the walls. I got myself a library card, and I will be spending a lot of time there.

January 14th:

Paris in the snow is beautiful. The only reason I knew it was snow was because the flakes, each so small they looked like drops of mist, drifted down to the earth like feathers instead of plummeting to the sky like rain. Within an hour the snowflakes had grown and looked as they should when dancing through the crisp Paris air.

January 17th:

The pond in front of the Sénat is frozen except for in the center where the water is splashing down from the fountain and a small cut-out where garden-goers are feeding bread to the ducks. The sun, slowly setting, reflects off the shards of ice, making them glint like glass.

The grass is bright golden green in the sun. A single shadow, cast by a statue of a young boy, extends across the circular lawn like an hour hand on a clock.

Seagulls dive into the fountain and bob through the air. One of them has caught a piece of ribbon and is trailing it behind him as he soars across the periwinkle sky. The ribbon twinkles like tinsel and I want to fly like a kite.

This is beautiful.

Reliving the first week of my Savannah Smiles challenge through my journal entires has reaffirmed my desire to further integrate these new patterns, most importantly writing, into my every day. Writing is one of my greatest pleasures, and doing it consistently liberates and enriches my imagination.

I want to write everyday. Now I just need the discipline and self-awareness to ensure that I can find the time to do so. But if I’ve learned anything these past couple of months, I’ve learned that I always have the time. What I lack is the will.

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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Relearning an old lesson

Last week, in my five-month letter from Paris, I said Paris’s grim and grey day-to-day life had thrown me into melancholie. As I wrote that letter, I longed for blue skies and friendly faces, but I felt they would never come. Well, ask and you shall receive, my friends! These past few days have been some of the sunniest I’ve seen all winter.

My friend Matthieu snapped these photos a couple of days ago as we strolled through the Parc de Sceaux, which I blogged about  last year. The sun was teasing us as we walked, peeking out from behind the clouds just long enough for us to notice how beautiful the park looked in its rays.

parc de sceaux 1parc de sceaux 2parc de sceaux 3

Do you see the rainbow?

It snowed a day after Matthieu took those pictures, and he went back to the park to capture it under a light blanket of snow.

parc de sceaux snow 1parc de sceaux snow 3parc de sceaux snow 5parc de sceaux snow 4

 Hm, that château looks familiar

It’s amazing how when you ask for something and actively strive to bring it into your life, it appears. I’m not just talking about sun, here. I mean that optimism and happiness I thought I’d lost. I mean friends and family who take all the clouds away. Sometimes, all you need to do is reach out to people and empower yourself in order for the things you desire to appear in your life. I’ve learned that first-hand in the past week or so, and it’s a lesson I’ll be sure to never forget.

It’s funny, though— I’d already come across this life lesson before.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t, you will leak away your innate contentment.”

That quotation comes from Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I read over the summer. I shared this quote and many others from the book on the blog, but just like blessings, words of wisdom are things we need to continuously revisit, relearn and reapply.

As I continue to seek out positivity, now and throughout my entire life journey, I know this lesson will find me again and again. And thank goodness for it.

What are your favorite words of wisdom? Share them in the comments below, this girl can always use them! 

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

All photos are by Matthieu Surjous! Merci beaucoup! 

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Introducing the 40 Day Savannah Smiles Challenge (!!!)

Salut tout le monde! A couple of days ago, I told you in my most recent letter from Paris that these past five-ish months have eroded my optimism. I said my smile had faded, and with it my once ever-positive spirit. Well, after reading lots of motivating articles and blogs (which just sort of found their way onto my screen, really. Ask and you shall receive!) and getting lots of much appreciated encouragement from you wonderful folks, I’ve found the inspiration to take my happiness into my own hands and get my smile back. As a dear friend told me after reading my letter, “Much like good food, happiness is something we have to make for ourselves, not seek in the ready-made aisle.”

This brings me to the….

challenge!

(!!!)

(^^^that means I’m excited)

I am ready to see Paris in a new way and make this a positive experience, one I will look back on with joy.

As another darling friend of mine told me, sometimes we create a pattern of negativity. Gloominess creeps into our lives like bad habits, and we learn to expect it, just as I expect the sky to be grey when I wake each morning.

To reverse this pattern of negativity, I’m going to create a routine that invites beauty, creativity and optimism into my life by engaging in activities that make me happy. For 40 days, I am going follow this plan, and hopefully, by February 19th, I will have a consistent routine to follow, one that will make me smile and light up my life (queue Debby Boone).

Here’s the plan:

I will start each day with: Three sun salutations and a poem.

I will end each day with: Three moon salutations and a journal entry.

To close my entry, I will write: 

  • one thing I found beautiful that day,
  • one thing I am grateful for and
  • one thing I am looking forward to.

And that’s it! Start simple. Start small. And big things will follow.

I will be sure to blog more regularly to give you updates on the beautiful things I’m finding in this Paris life, what I’m reading and how this is improving my optimism. If you want to follow along on a more day to day basis, join Untethered as a Cloud on Facebook!

Want to bring more positivity into your life?

Join me! 

Here’s what to do: 

  1. Take a few minutes to think about the positive things you enjoy that you want to incorporate into your daily life. For me this is yoga, poetry and journaling. 
  2. Once you’ve identified a few of these activities, think of one simple way to integrate each one into your everyday routine. Do you like reading? Try reading a chapter a day. Want to get better at photography? Try taking one photo each day. It’s the little things!
  3. Make a plan and write it down. Leave a comment below and tell me what you’re going to do each day to bring a little more positivity to your life. Making a declaration is the first step to realizing your goal, and I would be honored if you joined me. Can’t wait to see your own challenges!

Keep the smiles coming,

Savannah

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