Practicing gratitude is a win-win situation for happiness.  A grateful person recognizes the importance of the people in their lives, and a recognized person (the person receiving the thanks) feels connected to their social network.

Gratitude is on my mind with Thanksgiving just around the bend, and so today’s rah rah rah project involved leaving little “I am thankful….” notes around 50th&France in Edina.  Hopefully, the recipients paused to reflect on their blessings, and, with any luck, felt a bit of happiness when they reflected on what they’re thankful for.
How would you fill out the card?

happy ding dong ditch

I’m good at getting into trouble.  To be honest, I even kind of like it — there is just something so irresistibly fun about all that risky behavior.  In elementary school I planned secret get togethers in the bathroom during class (everyone meet at the bathroom at 10am — don’t be late), by middle school I was sneaking out to toilet paper houses with my best friends (we only decorated our friends’ houses – it was an act of love), and in high school I was regularly tubing down the flumes on a friday night.  Oops.

My risky behavior went a little rah rah rah tonight with a happy ding dong ditch adventure.  The mission was simple: place a mason jar filled with flowers on a doorstep, ring the bell, and run.  Repeat 5 times.
I called my friends and told them I had a surprised planned for the evening.  No questions asked, they showed up at 8pm ready for anything.  They are much too lovely to cause any trouble on their own:789
Zi Lin was the first brave soul to sneak up the steps and leave a flower jar.  Chrissy, Lauren and I planned to watch from behind the bushes, but we got nervous and ran away fast.  We felt like pros by the second-go-round, however, and we remained composed when we got caught on the third ding dong ditch.  “Hey! What are the flowers about?” a youngish-man yelled from his recently invaded doorstep.  We stopped, spun around, and told him it was a happy ding dong ditch.  He smiled and thanked us for the flowers.  We walked away wishing we had started up a conversation and gotten his number (not for me, of course, but for my 3 cute&single friends).

busy buying happiness

Jon called around lunch to see how my day was going, and I answered in a rush, “babes, can I call you back? I’m busy buying happiness.” The hubs knows my quirks, so he didn’t ask any questions – just told me he wanted details at dinner.

I try to keep a light tone with most of my rah rah rah posts, but the experiments are usually inspired by a scientific theory on happiness.  My research comes from The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, The Center for Compassion and Altruism at Stanford University, and, of course, the talented community at TED.

A 2011 TED talk by Michael Norton argued that we can buy happiness if we spend money on others.   What’s more, Norton stated that we can increase our own happiness by spending as little as $5 on another person. $5 for happiness? That sounds like a bargain to me.
I decided to test his theory at one of my favorite places on earth, Forever Yogurt.  A new shop just opened up in south Minneapolis, and so I decided to spend the afternoon buying ice cream for whomever walked in the door.  Well, up to $20.
A woman entered the ice cream shop a few minutes after I finished a tub of  Angel Food Cake/Pumpkin Pie/Nutella, and I was ready to go.  I creepily watched as she filled her bowl of ice cream, loaded up on toppings, and made her way to the register.  And then, it was my moment – I intercepted her at the register and offered to pay.  I said it would make my day if we should let me buy her ice cream.

The woman looked confused, at first, and then she started beaming, “Stuff like this never happens to me.  Thank you so much.”

Isn’t that what people say when they win the lottery or receive an honorary PhD?  Could the free ice cream really have made her that happy?  It seemed so.
The second woman I approached walked in smiling, seemed to get happier as she picked out her ice cream, and was just about over the moon when I offered to pay for it.  She didn’t seem surprised at all, just laughed and said she would pay-it-forward by the end of the day.
The final stranger (they were getting massive bowls of ice cream and $20 only goes so far) was a young girl on her lunch break from the clothing boutique next door.  She said she’d heard about random acts of kindness before, but didn’t think they were common enough to happen to her.  She also said the free ice cream ‘made her day’, and that she was excited to tell her friends about the random act of kindness.
It appeared to me that the strangers were all happier as a result of the free ice cream, but this project was intended to make me happier, not them.  I choose to buy things for strangers, as opposed to friends or family, because I like the idea that they can’t pay me back.  If I bought my friend a t-shirt, she would bring me a book the next day, and the cycle of giving would never end.  A stranger, however, could only repay me by helping another stranger.  A lovely circle, right?

But anyway, I digress.  Did the project work?  Absolutely, but not like I thought it would.  It’s nice to see people get excited, but that alone doesn’t increase my happiness.  What did make me happy, however, was the feeling that I had spent my time wisely.  If I did nothing else today, I had made 3 people smile, and, hopefully, inspired them to feel more compassion for strangers.  I had devoted $20 and 2 hours toward promoting kindness, and that, dear readers, did make me very happy indeed.

let’s play tattoo shop

I like calling my friends to see if they can play.  I started making the formal request in the 6th grade, and I never quite broke the habit.  Friends tell me that it’s not ‘play’ if you’re running errands or going to music festivals or baking a cake, but I persist. Maybe I just like the question.  Strangers try and tell me I’m too old for play, but I can’t hear them because I’m busy on the swings.

I wanted to incorporate play into my RAH RAH RAH series, and so, quite naturally, I decided tattoo parlor would be a fun game.  I designed temporary tattoos on my computer, printed them out, and then called my friends to see if they would play with me.  Lauren agreed under the condition that she could pick out tattoos for strangers.  Chrissy, being difficult, said she would only play if she could place the tattoos on strange body parts.

And so, our trio headed into the streets of Minneapolis to give temporary tattoos to strangers.  We figured that 50% of people would find us annoying and 50% would get a tattoo for kicks. We were very, very wrong. 90% of people wanted tattoos, and our shop closed down from lack of supply within an hour:
I was typing this post and thinking about how awesome Chrissy and Lauren are.  Top notch, really.   Here is your  chance to get to know them:

If you want to download the tattoos I made, you can find them here : tattoo.

i’d help move your furniture

Ronad Dahl says that if you think kind thoughts your face will light up and you will always look lovely.  I tend to agree.  I take it a step further, however, and think that if you share those thoughts you will actually be lovely.  Actions speak louder than words, right?

TheDuck&TheOwl are poster children for speaking kindly of others.  Each day they write eloquently and sincerely about the things that make them, and others, smile.  When they asked to be involved in a random act of happiness (rah rah rah) promoting kindness, I almost did a happy dance.

The group of us created a dozen unique compliment cards, and then we took to the streets of the Midwest to spread some kindness.  TheDuck&TheOwl worked their magic in Milwaukee, and I got busy in downtown Minneapolis.
Here are copies of the kindness cards I handed out:









City dwellers are famous for being absorbed up in their own minds and consumed by individual tasks.  Let’s break the cycle and speak kindly to one another.

show them some goodness

ImageTake a close look at my face and tell me, dear reader, would you trust me if you met me in the streets? What about if I tried to do something kind for you? Would you accept the act of kindness, or would you start considering my ulterior motives?

Committing random acts of happiness is not an activity for the faint of heart.  I’ve had a few people inquire about getting involved, and so it’s time for a full disclosure: it’s difficult to get people to accept something for nothing.  It’s hard to overturn the timeless adage that ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

I tried to show some goodness today by giving strangers ‘something for nothing.’  I placed my favorite books of summer on bench at the beach, and I left a short note asking strangers to enjoy the books.ImageImageImageI did the candy for a stranger experiment with Justina Louise, and she commented that about 10% of people thought I was trying to harm them, 20% were too busy to be bothered, and 70% thought I was kind of awesome.

A study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning (2010) put logic behind the various reactions that I received from my encounters that day.  The scientists created an economic game that required people to accurately judge the trustworthiness of strangers in order to win.  The study found that people consider 52% of strangers trustworthy, even though a whopping 80% of strangers are actually deserving of trust.

The good news here is that the chances of encountering a trustworthy person are much greater than the chances of meeting someone that wishes you harm.  If you’re extremely cynical or risk-averse, you might say that you’d rather practice caution than encounter someone with ill intentions.  That’s fine, dear reader, but if you don’t take the risk then you’ll never meet the 80% of strangers that are awesome.

“Your beloved and your friends were once strangers. Somehow at a particular time, they came from the distance toward your life. Their arrival seemed so accidental and contingent. Now your life is unimaginable without them.”
– John O’Donoghue

 If that’s not enough reason for you to reach out, consider this: the study by Fetchenhaurer and Dunning also confirmed that the root of cynicism is lack of experience with strangers.  What does that mean, exactly? Well, we established that approximately 80% of people are trustworthy.  But, if your first few encounters with strangers involved the 20% of people with harmful intentions, then you’re probably not interesting in forging friendships with mysterious people.  On the other hand, if you continuously encounter strangers from the trustworthy 80%, then ever stranger probably seems like a potential new friend.

The odds are in your favor.  If you’ve had negative experiences with strangers, try reaching out and increasing your sample size – you’re due for an encounter with someone in the 80% of trustworthy people.

I’ve tried to create a compelling case for reaching out to strangers based on mathematical odds.  But, dear reader, my final plea comes from the heart: I ask you to be the type of person that shows others how kind strangers can be.  If someone is cynical of you, perhaps they only have experience with the 20% of untrustworthy people.  Why not break that cycle and show them some goodness?ImageAfter the rah rah rah, I went to enjoy my own read, Fin&Lady, on the lakeshore.  After a couple of minutes, Chuck Love wandered over and asked if he could serenade me.  Talk about getting lucky with strangers, right?

When I left the beach, I snapped some pictures of the people that might find and enjoy the novels I left on the bench:

the wisdom of the duck & the owl

ImageWe can do a little bit of good on our own, but surely, if we work together, we can do much more.  Unit yesterday, all my random acts of happiness had been simple projects intended to make strangers in Minneapolis smile.  That all changed on Friday when the rah rah rah projects went on a road trip to Milwaukee.

Kaitlyn and Sarah, also known as the TheDuck&TheOwl, reached out to me with a brilliant idea: why not expand the happiness projects across the Midwest?  Spread the cheer and goodwill just a bit further than Minnesota? The idea was excellent, but I worried the execution would be tricky: how would the rah rah rah projects make it out of Minneapolis?

This is where the wisdom of the duck (Kaitlyn) and the owl (Sarah) came into play: they suggested that we plan a rah rah rah experiment (code name for random act of happiness) and then execute on the project in our respective Midwest cities.  (See that delicious cookie up up up above? That was made by Kaitlyn and Sarah.  I know, I know, I want them to be my best friends, too.)

I had such a fun time making ice cream with strangers that I suggested that we do a similar project with cookies.  For the collaborative rah rah rah, we would both bring sugar cookies and frosting to the park, and then we would get strangers to decorate the treats with us.  Sounds fun and delicious, right?

The Duck, the Owl, and the Apartment Wife may be the only people who think so.  I organized the cooking making station and then asked people if they wanted to join me. 30 minutes passed without any takers, and so I started using my phone to play on Pinterest.  I wondered how the project was going for Kaitlyn and Sarah. 

 And then.

 A nice man wandered over and asked if he could sit down with me.  He said that he was a painter, and I looked like an interesting subject: a girl sitting alone with cookies and frosting.  I giggled and asked him if he’d like to decorate a sugar cookie with me.  The man agreed, and we spent the next 30 minutes decorating cookies and talking about art.  A somewhat perfect afternoon, right?Image
After he left, I asked a couple girls heading to the beach if they wanted some cookies.  They said it sounded a little strange, but they were up for it.  We swapped stories and sprinkles, and then we hung out in the grass for a bit before they ran off to work on their tans.
It was a pretty fun day in Minneapolis, but the best part was that Sarah and Kaitlyn were doing the same project in Milwaukee.  Their project went a bit differently, and you can read all about it on their blog, TheDuck&TheOwl.  They provide a revealing account of the trials&triumphs of doing random experiments with strangers.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes you improvise 🙂

The three of us want the projects to keep expanding, so if you’re interested in being involved in the next one, let us know and we’ll involve you in the planning.  It might be successful, it might be a flop, but it will definitely be interesting – and hopefully a little fun. 

 Have a great Saturday, everyone! 

public apology to pedestrians everywhere

ImageI named my first bike Wanda because I thought we would spend years “wanda-ing” around together.  We’re all wrong sometimes, right?  I bought Wanda right after I moved to Chicago, and I was more than a little nervous about riding alongside “late-for-a-date singles”, “pressed for time business executives”, and “every-minute-counts cabbies.”  

I figured I would risk being one of those people that everyone hates, and simply ride on the sidewalk. Next to the pedestrians.  Well well well. That was my first mistake.  Sure enough, just two weeks after riding Wanda I ran smack-dab into a hand-holding couple as they were exiting a restaurant.  I actually only crashed into the girl, but it felt like I had hit them both when her boyfriend started yelling about the importance of riding in the street.

Lesson learned & point taken.

Wanda and I began biking alongside the multitude of drivers in Chicago.  We were nervous, sure, but I also figured that we would be pros before long.  Everything seems tricky until it’s easy, right?  Besides, I made a solemn vow that I would never make another person sprawl out along the sidewalk. I had to commit myself to the city streets.

Can you guess what happened on day 3?

That’s right.  Wanda and I got hit by a car.  We were crossing the street when a car blew through a stop sign: Wanda went left and I went right.    

Two days later Wanda was stolen in the night during a particularly noisy Chicago rainstorm.  I didn’t look for her.  I figured it must be a sign.  From that point on, I relied on my two feet and the bus for all transportation purposes.

I met Jon two years later, and he took me bike riding around Lake Michigan on one of our first dates.  He loved riding, and he told me dozens of stories about how his bike had gotten him to every class at Madison for 5 years.  I rented an old beach hopper, and slowly told him the story of Wanda.   A couple weeks later, we went to the bike shop and he picked out a new bike for me.  He told me it was time for a new beginning. 

I’m happy to say I’ve been accident-free for 3 years now, and I’m learning the rules of biking on the road.  Luckily, Minneapolis is an extremely bike-friendly city, and there are dozens of trails and paths (even in the downtown) specifically for people riding two wheels.

Anyway! That was just a long story about what I was thinking during the rah rah rah experiment today.  For my project, I decided to make custom water bottle labels and then place them on bicycles around the city.  Maybe this was my small way of making amends for all the trouble I’ve caused on my bike over the years.

Below is the label I made. I know, it’s pretty awful and slightly embarrassing.  If any graphic designers are looking to make a new best friend, contact me.

rolling around in ice cream

People often ask how life changed when I got married.  The question fills my head with pictures of me&Jon pulling the car over to run through sprinklers, getting in trouble for popcorn fights at the movies, and staying up all night (on a Tuesday) to watch every episode of Breaking Bad. 

It seems that people expect me to lament over all the cooking and cleaning, but the apartment only takes 30 minutes to clean (it’s as tiny as a treehouse), and I love cooking meals and hosting dinner parties.

There seems to be a stigma that being married makes you grown-up.  Dear reader, I’m here to upend that nonsense.  I may have a ring on my finger, but my childhood definitely isn’t over. No way, no how. I decided long ago that I would prolong childhood as long as possible, and I’m still reaping the benefits of that glorious decision.  So bring on the puddle stomping, the pillow fights, and the opportunities to play with my food.
ImageYayLabs! supported my love for playing with food by sending me an ice cream ball.  If you know me, then you’re realizing that not many things would make me much happier. I love ice cream (and cookies, brownies, fudge, candy – I have very sweet teeth), games, and any excuse try something new.

The ice cream ball only works when shared with others. Literally. After you pour in the 3 or 4 ingredients needed for your dream concoction (flavors range from chocolate covered cherry to toasted coconut fudge), you need to roll the ball around for approximately 20 minutes.  Perfect for a rah rah rah experiment, right?

You’re already probably guessing what came next, and you’re right: I took the gadget to the lake and made ice cream with strangers:
ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageIf you’re thinking that the pictures in this post look better than usual, that’s because Justina Louise spent the day with me again.  It’s somewhat like heaven to have a friend that works as a wedding photographer but enjoys photographing goofy experiments.  It’s also awesome that Apricot Lane keeps making me look so fly in all the photographs.  Thanks for making playtime so much fun y’all 🙂

tisket, tasket, lunch for lovebirds in my basket

I’m the girl walking through town with a book in her arm and a camera around her neck. When I’m reading a book (the hours we spend in bed together is almost akin to dating), I translate the words into pictures, patterns, and designs, and the activity inspires some of my most creative thinking.  I’ll be contemplating the words as the author intended them, but against my own background, experiences, and hyperbolic mind, I often envision a story all my own.

I’ve read a great number of books in which a young person is mentored by an older guide.  These mentors are always filled with wisdom, and just eager to find a student that they can fill with their knowledge of history, people, and ‘the way things were.’  That said, I’ve always thought that it would be great to have one of these encounters on my own – maybe I would help a woman cross the street and then she would tell me all about how she fought for women’s rights.  Or maybe I would sit next to an older man on a bus, and he would tell me stories about Vietnam.  I’ve got a quarter century behind me, 26 good years, but I’m yet to have one of these mysterious encounters that are so prevalent in novels.

And so, I planned a rah rah rah experiment that would make a stranger happy by planning a picnic for them.  And yes, I was secretly thinking that I would end up hearing tales of yonder all night.

To set the scene: I packed a basket with three turkey bacon wraps, a few bags of popcorn, and some pepsi-cola.  I took that basket to the park, and then I proceeded to scan the area for strangers that might want to have lunch with me.  The first woman I approached appeared to be about 70, and she was reading a novel under a shady tree.  Perhaps she was reading a novel about an elderly woman who mentors a young girl, and wishing someone would approach her with a picnic lunch.  Something told me we might be the perfect match for one another.
I approached the woman and told her about my project, and then invited her to have lunch with me.  she smile gracefully, and then explained that her food allergies made eating with a stranger impossible.  Well fine, fair enough.  I had expected that preparing a meal for a stranger would have some trials (Jon is allergic to seafood, peanuts, zucchini, and squash, and he refuses to eat fruit or vegetables.  You could say I know a thing or two about being picky eaters).
But I wouldn’t be defeated.  I approached a young couple holding hands on a bench, and explained my project.  Free food? They asked.  I smiled, showed them the contents of the bag, and then plopped down between them.  Suddenly date crashing seemed much more fun than learning about women’s rights and Vietnam.  And so, I spent the next hour hearing about how they had met at the park 2 months ago, and spent every day together since.  He was at college in Duleuth, and she was a senior in high school two hours south.  They were planning to make it work.

It was incredibly happy to share a meal with them and listen to the story of their summer romance.  And as for them, they seemed pretty amped-up about the free food.  Happiness all around.
The amazing photographer Joy Lengyel made this picnic look like a photoshoot for Martha Stewart, right?  Check out her work, and maybe send her a sweet note (why not?)

Oh, and good news: Jessica Gerke won the scarf give-away from AllThingsAccessories.  Jessica, take a look at the shop, choose a scarf (teal and red retro bird, pink chevron, yellow and grey flower, or blue bird) and send me your address.  Congratulations!