How to be happy: the best advice I received in 2012.

How to be happy: the best advice I received in 2012.

Camping at Seven Comandos Beach in Palawan, the Philippines


I’ve always liked writing year-end recaps, reflecting on everything I accomplished in the past 365 days (or 366, I suppose). I started writing in this blog shortly after the New Year in 2006 as a way to help me get over my social anxiety and push myself towards living a better life. The more I did, the more I had to write about. And then the more I wanted to do. It was as simple as that. And every year since has just gotten better and better.

Last year I sat down a few days before the New Year to try to sum up 2011. That was the year I turned 30. The year I quit my job. The year I flew to Europe on a one-way ticket. That post sat half-finished in my WordPress drafts folder until I finally deleted it this October. How could I possibly recap a year where I completely changed my life and saw and did more amazing things than I ever had before? Every day since I quit my job last July has been an amazing adventure in one way or another. And this year was even more fulfilled than last. So I knew that trying to summarize it all would be impossible.

2012 will always be the year where I learned to let go. Where I learned that I don’t always have to be responsible. Where I truly learned how capable and independent I can be. It’s the year where I finally moved on. It’s the year that I learned to be more outgoing and extroverted. It’s the year that I fell in love with Asia. And with the travel lifestyle. It’s the year in which I slept with more men than in any of my previous years combined…

I’m going into 2013 the same way I did last year on December 31: knowing that I’m leaving the year a different person than who started it, knowing that I still have a lot to work on, and knowing that it’s only going to get better. I’m no longer looking back and just wanting change. I’m looking forward and wanting to continue on the same path.

I can’t possibly recap everything that happened in this year that helped me get to where I am today. So, instead, I thought I’d share some of the best advice I received from some of the wonderful people I’ve met, or know. Because sometimes random people are brilliant and can see what you need to work on more than you can yourself. Sometimes random people can teach ou how to be happy.


< Portrait by Suwat in Chiang Mai, Thailand


“It’s easy to be happy.”

This. This was probably the single greatest thing that anyone said to me this year. Or maybe ever. The advice sounds so simple — it’s easy to be happy — but it resonated through my bones. It is easy to be happy. We, OK I, spend so much time focusing on the stupid little things going wrong that I often miss the big picture. And so we, OK I, make myself miserable because I get upset over the one dumb thing going wrong when I could be thinking about all the other amazing things going on.

It’s easy for me to complain that guys don’t like me, when what I really mean is that one guy who I had a huge crush on blew me off. It’s easy to forget that there will always be someone else, eventually.It’s easy to forget that I still have random Australians that I met months ago asking me to come visit. Or that I’ve had some of the most amazing adventures with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Or that I’m living the travel dream and doing what so many people say they wish they could do.

But it’s just as easy to turn that around and focus on those good things instead of the bad. It’s still something I struggle with. Daily. But something I plan to keep in mind for the future, because all I want in this great big world is to be happy.


The Time is Now


“You need to have more confidence in yourself.”

A guy told me this in between kissing me on the beach in Boracay. I was more drunk than I normally get, it was one of the very few nights where I couldn’t piece together everything that happened the next day. But I remember him telling me that. I partially took offense, but I knew it was also, partially, true. Because I still get mixed up in the “who I used to be” game.

I had met him the night before and flirted with him at a club. But then he disappeared and I saw him outside talking to some other girl. So, I left. And the next night I wasn’t thinking anything was going to happen. And I got too drunk. And then he kissed me. And then I told him this whole story. And then he told me I had to have more confidence in myself.

This is probably a horrible story.

But, anyways. I sometimes have trouble giving up who I used to be. I used to be this shy awkward girl who thought she was ugly and stupid and who didn’t know how to talk to people. I’m not that person anymore. But it’s hard, sometimes, to remember that and have confidence in who I actually am. It’s hard to think of myself as someone desirable. With men, friends, or careers. And so I think “oh there’s no way that guy could like me back,” or, “she wouldn’t want to hang out with me,” or, “I am not qualified for that job.” Even though when I take a chance it sometimes works out with amazing consequences. And even when it doesn’t, it doesn’t kill me. I am pretty awesome. I just need to remember that.


Volunteering at Sambhali Trust in Setrawa, India


“Every time you’ve taken yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ve gotten better.”

My dear Heather said this to me when I was struggling with what to do about a volunteer project I wasn’t quite thrilled about. Teaching is everything I hate rolled into one: school, children, standing in front of crowds, talking unprepared. I wanted to just say no, and give up on it because it was certainly not something I was comfortable with. But Heather reminded me, as she often does, that I am good at taking myself out of my comfort zone. I am scared of pretty much everything, but, at the same time, I want to experience pretty much everything. And so I often force myself to do things I am afraid of, or don’t think I can handle. And she always reminds me of that. And always reminds me that it makes me a better person. And I love her for that.

Those words from Heather inspired me to keep at the volunteer project. And even though I was an awful teacher and have no desire to ever stand in front of a classroom again, I survived. And yes, I am probably a better person for it.


Me on New Years Day 2012 in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Me on New Years Day 2012 in Halong Bay, Vietnam.


And now, as I type this last post of 2012, I will leave you with some other advice I gathered throughout the year. Because I leaned a lot. And because I can…

Don’t show a guy a condom and not expect for him to want to use it.

Sometimes having all the choices in the world makes choosing more difficult.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

If an American girl goes to your bungalow to watch football in the middle of the night it’s not the football she cares about.

Take the plastic off your hot dogs.

It doesn’t matter if you’re good. It matters that you’re having fun.

Install tracking software on your laptop. Now.

And, of course, you are an awesome carton of unicorn milk. Don’t ever forget that. Ever.


Happy New Year Everyone!!!


How to be happy: the best advice I received in 2012.
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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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