Break Out the Pumpkins!


I just finished reading the book Joyful: the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness which talks about how things bring us joy. In the beginning of the book, it talked a little about how we become cheerful during the holidays because of the decorations and feeling in the air. This reminded me of the term hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) which is a Scandinavian term that roughly means that feeling of comfort and coziness that we get.

In recent years, the term has taken off as a jumpstart to a decorating trend, but it is much more than that. Hygge isn’t just things, it is a feeling. To have that perfect hygge feeling, yes you do need some things like pillows, blankets, candles; but you also need things like good food, conversation, and ambiance. Typically, we experience the hygge around the holidays because all those things are present.

After reading, Joyful I really wanted it to be the holidays so I could decorate. I love that period between Halloween and New Year’s. So I have already decked out my front porch already in some of my Fall and Halloween decorations (unfortunately, a mouse got to my box first). It might not quite be sweater weather yet, but I am ready! Did this bring me joy? Actually, yes it did. No one else might have their decorations up, but I don’t care. Pulling into the driveway today, I found myself smiling to see my scarecrow and spiders there on the porch. I fully plan to stop at Dollar Tree for some more decorations to replenish what the mouse got to.

Do you decorate for the Fall or the Winter holidays? What are some of your favorite signs of this three month span of holidays?

PS…If you are interested in finding out more about how things like color and designs can improve our mood, i encourage you to pick up a copy of the book Joyful: the surprising power of ordinary things to create extraordinary happiness!

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Let’s Talk About Self Care: a top 5 list

Face it, when you think about self care, you are probably thinking of spas and pedicures. Right? Full disclosure, I am writing this while waiting for a blue Dead Sea Minerals mask to dry. I’d take a picture, but I can’t smile since the mask is drying and honestly, I am not a selfie person. But that isn’t what self care is all about.

Self care is taking a moment to do something for your mental health. The benefit of visiting a spa is that you can disconnect. But really, how many of us can afford that? Monday was my birthday and I thought about going to get a pedicure, but instead I did my feet myself at home because spending money gives me anxiety. So dropping a chunk of cash in the long run really wouldn’t make me feel any better mentally.

If you have been reading this blog for awhile, you know my husband is having health issues. We are currently waiting to see if he has been approved for disability. It is a tough reality, but we have accepted it. So that means that we have to find ways to save rather than spend since he is not working. Things have also been tough at work too because two people in my department resigned. So overwhelmed is not even strong enough of a word right now.

So here is a list of my top five low-cost/no-cost self care things that you can do for your mental health:

1. Staycation

To celebrate my birthday and the fact that I had just returned from a week long conference trip, I took the two days off before July 4th. That gave me five days to unwind since my office is closed on the weekends. It would have been nice to have taken a real vacation somewhere, but not this year. Instead, I spent $18 on a cheap vinyl kiddie pool that my son and I setup in the back yard. We have learned that you can’t put a pool in our yard gracefully because of the slop of the yard. In the end, we sat in the pool fully clothed while it was filling with water just to keep the sides up long enough to self stabilize. It was a heat index of 105 degrees, so the pool was really needed if we wanted to be outside. The rest of the time was spent reading and watching movies with the family. Family time is very important for your mental health because the connection with people is something you need even if you are an introvert. Remember that experiences also trump things when it comes to happiness. So an $18 pool wins out over a $1800 vacation because of the experience it gave me and my son. Though he would probably have argued that a trip to Universal Studios would have been better. Honestly though, what will he remember. The only times I remember our family trip to Disney when I was a kid is when I see photos. Instead, my memories are filled with seeing fireworks at the local community college or barbecues in the backyard. Those are the memories that have stuck with me.

2. Budget

I know what you are saying…money gives you anxiety, so how is this self care? There is a piece of mind when you know that it is okay to spend on something like that kiddie pool. Also, even though money is tight, I know that we will be okay. Budgeting helps take out that ambiguity factor. According to Maslow, our happiness is at the top of the pyramid of the Hierarchy of Needs. However, we can’t reach that level if we are constantly worried about food or even a roof over our head. Which leads me to the next item…

3. Safety Net Fund

This could probably be lopped in there with the budget section, but a safety net fund is something everyone should have. For a long time, my husband and I put this on the back burner for when we would get our debt paid down. Then he got sick…when I took over the bills last year, it was one of the first things I did. The idea is that you want to start with $1000 set aside for when those big ticket emergencies pop up. So I set up a free savings account with Capital One because even though they were not exactly the best interest rate (though 1% is not too shabby compared with other banks), the ease of use for their system is really nice as I also have credit cards and my car loan with them. So it is all one interface that I log into. I started out small with $25 deposited ever paycheck. When money was a little better, I adjusted that to $50 and then back down to $25 when things started getting tighter again. When I got a little extra money, that also went into the account. I also opened an account with Long Game which is a gamified savings account app from a bank in Virginia. You receive tokens for depositing money into your account. Those token are used to play games of chance like scratch offs, match games, races with friends, and lotto drawings. You can win coins to play more games or even cash. The games don’t cost you anything, it is all based on how much you deposit. The more you deposit, the more you can play. It is FDIC insured and has a really low interest rate of .1%, but the draw is that some of the games give you a chance to win money. So far I have won about $3. I know, not much, but it is more than my son’s savings account has gained in almost six years with the same amount of money in it. Between Long Game and Capital One, I have reach that $1000 goal,for my safety net fund.

4. Gardening

Gardening is one of those activities that has a two-fold benefit. It can be a mindfulness based activity because of the tranquility feeling it can give us to putter in the dirt or trim leaves, but it can also be a nice benefit for our pocketbooks. I tried for several years to have a traditional garden and every year I failed. So I started small with a patio container garden using pots and herbs. With container gardens, you have many options for what you can grow things in. I have containers from the dollar store that I drilled holes in and added gravel for drainage below the dirt. That same year, my son tried to grow a cucumber plant in a pot. We had basil, mint, and cucumbers all summer. This year I expanded the pot garden. We have cucumbers, peppermint, basil, oregano, rosemary, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, lavender, cucumbers, butternut squash, and zucchini. Most of these were purchased as seedlings from the garden section of the hardware store, but some we also started from seeds. We didn’t think most of the seeds would sprout, but now I have roughly fifteen zucchini plants. My son hates zucchini. I am going to have to get creative when it is time to harvest. So factor in the price of purchasing these fresh at the grocery store and you have your money back and then some in the output. I use a dehydrator for all the herbs that we can’t eat fresh. Honestly, I am Italian but even this is too much fresh basil for me. During the summer I constantly drink ice water with lemon and mint. A health alternative to sugary or caffeinated drinks. It is also nice to sit on the deck in the morning with my coffee and smell the herbs. Very soothing!

Garden Tower Project

Here is a picture. It is a bit overgrown at the moment, I need to harvest some of those herbs.

5. Clean

I know, this is another one that has you shaking your head. But the truth is that clutter and mess is overwhelming to our senses. When our house/apartment is a mess, we feel like we are a mess. It also becomes another thing on our to-do list. You can start small, with just fifteen minutes a day (or broken down into fifteen minutes sections with lots of breaks between sections like my son likes to do). Purging the stuff you don’t need can also be very satisfying. You can donate or have a yard sale. There are also free sites you can post your stuff on if you still want money, but a yard sale isn’t an option. I have been holding on to a lot of clothes since moving to Maryland. They don’t fit, but I always had in the back of my mind that one day I would lose the weight and be able to wear them again. That is something else that can sabotage your mental health. Holding on to those items is just a reminder that there is something wrong with you. But hey, I am healthy and I can always buy new clothes if I do start to lose the weight. So I have been bagging up all those too small clothes and sending them off to thredUP…and using the money gained to buy cute shoes.

There are a lot of other self care things you can do to benefit your mental health. These are just my top five recommendations. Other than a spa trip, what would be some of the things that you would put on your Self Care list?

Creativity and Hygge

Wow, it has been a while since I posted anything. Basically, it has been a whirlwind since Thanksgiving since it was the end of the Fall term. I had a final exam and then a final paper to write…on top of editing my dissertation proposal for the umpteenth time. I am really excited today though because I just got the last of my grades. I was a little worried about my final creativity project because typically my professors find my projects to be too academic in nature…which how can you not when it requires you to write 20 pages?! This time was a win!

The course was focusing on Global Perspectives of Creativity and for our final assignment, we had to focus on one of the countries we read about and their approach to creativity. Since it is the holidays I decided to pick Scandinavia and write about how creativity is connected to hygge. The whole paper would probably bore you, but here is an excerpt that particularly talks about the connection between hygge and creativity:

The Hygge Connection

According to author Marie Tourell Soderberg (2016), at one time Denmark claimed much of northern Europe, even parts of Britain, as part of their territories. However, after losing the last bit which consisted of Norway in 1814, Denmark was left with nothing more than a small, flat landscape of a country. Therefore, they promoted a strong sense of community among people with shared interests. The characteristics of hygge are the epitome of the Scandinavian welfare state and Danish identity. Demark ranks as number two on the current World Happiness Report (2017) and was previously rated as number one in the world. Many researchers have pointed to hygge being the reason for this high rating (Soderberg, 2016).

Hygge (pronounced Hoo-ga) is a term that somewhat defies translation into English. In a sense, it is a feeling of family and friends, conversation, openness, and warmth (Soderberg, 2016). According to Bjornskov (Soderberg, 2016):

In hygge we also find a sincerity and comfort that means that we dare to express ourselves when we disagree. And when we, in a respectful and relaxed way, dare to discuss the bigger questions in life, we get the opportunity to see ourselves and the life we lead with a new perspective, becoming more aware of what makes us happy. At the same time this new perspective opens our eyes to what we are able to change in order to improve our wellbeing (pg.33).

This aligns to what Runco (2014) states about the creative environment being one that allows for a freedom to express ideas without a fear of negativity. It is also similar to Sahlin’s (2013) description of the creative environment being one where people come together as well as Ekvall’s Climate Dimensions with the two dimensions of debate and challenge (Puccio, Mance, & Murdock; 2011).

According to Brits (2017), hygge can be considered as a framework to support our needs, desires, and habits. These can be practical needs like shelter and safety; or more immaterial needs like comfort and togetherness. Author Meik Wiking (2017) makes the comparison to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that a person’s unmet needs serves as motivators of behavior; however, a person must first satisfy their basic needs before they can move beyond to higher-levels (Evans & Ward, 2007). After meeting the basic needs of food and shelter, the individual can then move on to the second level of this hierarchy which includes the needs of safety. However, if a person feels unsafe or not secure, then they will not be able to move on to the higher levels of self-actualization where creativity and innovation live (Huber & Potter, 2015). Safety includes more than just a physical protection from danger as it can also include morale, a stability, predictability, and understanding one’s place in the world (Evans & Ward, 2007).

Hygge and Mindfulness

Mindfulness often has a place in conversations about creativity (Runco, 2014; Sternberg, 2010). Sometimes it is referred to as Zen (Runco, 2014). It is this feeling of being aware and yet distant, here but not here, connected yet separate. This is a feeling that can also be attributed to hygge. Brits (2017) has identified three salient themes present in the hygge experience. These themes are as follows:

Hygge Themes

Interiority

This is an awareness of both inner and outer space. When the individual is aware of their surroundings and boundaries while also valuing this quiet stability. The focus is inside-out.

Contrast

There is a sense of distance between the individual and the outside world. However, there exist still an awareness of the outside world around the individual.

Atmosphere

In hygge, this is an environment that produces a feeling of warmth and a mood of contentment. There is harmony present.

(Brits, 2017)

As seen in the table above, the three themes have an almost mindfulness quality to them. According to Frauman (2010):

Mindfulness is expressed by actively processing information within one’s surrounding context, and it is more likely to become manifest when a setting or situation is varied, interactive, and involving; facilitates perceptions of control; appears relevant to one’s interests; and is perceived as unique, new, or different (Langer, 1989, 1997). According to Moscardo (1999), mindfulness is associated with greater learning, satisfaction, and thinking about new ways to behave in recreation and leisure settings. Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) suggested that the “feel” of mindfulness is that of a lively awareness and involvement in the present moment where consequences include an enhanced awareness that multiple perspectives are possible when interpreting one’s environment and when receiving new information (pg.226).

So if hygge is about processing the environment around you as well as looking at things from the perspective of others through discussions, then the connection to mindfulness seems to be present. If as Runco (2014) states that mindfulness can have profound effects on creativity, then with this comparison, so too can hygge.

Hygge and Mindset

According to Kaufman (2006), creativity from a Scandinavian perspective is understood to be an attitude toward life and a way to understand the problems of existence. Instead of focusing on the creative product, Scandinavians focus instead on the creativity within the system, or rather the creativity within the community. Brits (2017) states that, at least in Denmark, life is rooted to the community. There is a strong connection to home, community, and country. So hygge is their way to reflect that sense of interconnection to not only each other, but also to place. There is a certain mindset that the Danish people have when they gather together. Pera (2013) describes this social creative mindset best when describing the act of small c creative tasks:

Mini-c creativity highlights an important relationship between learning and creativity. Knowledge development (Popescu, 2013) and later forms of creative expression have their genesis in mini-c interpretations. All contributions judged to be creative by others have their genesis in mini-c. Mini-c creativity focuses on the individual creative processes involved in student knowledge construction and development of new understanding. (Beghetto and Kaufman, 2007) Significant creations are almost always the result of complex collaborations. Distributed creativity refers to situations where collaborating groups of individuals collectively generate a shared creative product: the distributed creativity perspective locates creativity in the symbolic social interactions (Paraschiv, 2013) among members of a group. In collaborating creative groups, creativity is an ongoing social process. (pgs. 208-209)

This mindset that everything is connected extends beyond the home and can also be seen in the Scandinavian workplace. Brits (2017) describes a working environment that promotes open communication, collaboration, and a flat hierarchy. There is a sense of belonging and acknowledgement that every individual has a place on the team. This mindset promotes the freedom of self-expression, and a knowledge that every individual on the team will have a voice and their opinion will be taken seriously. These elements of hygge in the workplace are also important markers when it comes to promoting creativity in the workplace. The debate over the importance of creative industries to the Scandinavian economy is a much discussed one. At one point, it was even part of the Swedish cultural policy that the creative industries should be fostered:

to safeguard freedom of expression and create real opportunities for all to use it; to work towards ensuring that all have the opportunity to participate in cultural life and cultural experiences as well as their own creativity; to promote cultural diversity, artistic innovation and quality and thereby discourage the adverse effects of commercialism; to allow culture the conditions to be a dynamic, challenging and independent force in society. (Power, 2009, pg.447).

Certainly, there is something to be said of promoting a cultural policy with its roots in creativity. As the economist article stated, the Scandinavian region is experiencing a cultural revolution and part of that is rooted in their creative approaches to their participation in these cultural experiences (“Cultural revolution”. 2013). In many ways, it embraces the creativity component of adaption (Runco, 2014).

Conclusion

Hygge is a practice that is commonplace for the Danes; however, it is rarely taken for granted (Brits, 2017). It is the meals that are eaten together, the routines that make up our days at work, the conversations that are had with our children. Hygge is the everyday atmosphere or the environment that we create when we promote that concept of creative environment.

References

Brits, L.T. (2017). The book of hygge. New York, NY: Plume.

“Cultural revolution”. (2013 February 2). In Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21570839-one-worlds-blandest-regions-has-become-one-its-most-creative-cultural-revolution

Evans, G.E. & Ward, P.L. (2007). Management basics for information professionals (2nd edition). New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers.

Frauman, E. (2010). Incorporating the concept of mindfulness in informal outdoor education settings. The Journal of Experiential Education, 33(3), 225-238. Retrieved from http://ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/docview/804231789?accountid=10559

Kaufman, J.C. & Sternberg, R.J. (2006). The international handbook of creativity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Pera, A. (2013). The role of social factors in the creative process. Contemporary Readings in Law and Social Justice, 5(2), 207-212. Retrieved from http://ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.drexel.edu/docview/1475144131?accountid=10559

Power, D. (2009). Culture, creativity and experience in Nordic and Scandinavian cultural policy. International Journal of Cultural Policy, 15:4, 445-460, DOI: 10.1080/10286630902893690

Puccio, G.J.; Mance, M.; & Murdock, M.C. (2011). Creative leadership: skills that drive change (2 Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Runco, M.A. (2014). Creativity. Theories and themes: research, development, and practice (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Sahlin, N. E. (2013). Creating Creative Environments [PDF]. Kungl. vitterhets historie och antikvitetsakademien. Konferenser, 80-87. Retrived from http://www.nilsericsahlin.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/139.Creating-creative-environments.pdf

Soderberg, M. T. (2016). Hygge: the Danish art of happiness. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Wiking, M. (2017). The little book of hygge: Danish secrets to happy living. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

World Happiness Report. (2017). Retrieved from http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2017/ .

Pop Art Self Portraits 


Back when I was a youth services librarian, I created the following instructions for a program about creating artwork using sharpies.  As I was browsing through my computer files today, I came across the instructions. I immediately had the thought that this could be a threefold project. First, we have the Doubler which is a concept introduced in the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The Doubler is when you look back on a journal entry and relive the experience. Finding this file had a similar effect for me. I remember how relaxing it was to create my example piece for my teen group. That leads me to my second pieces: mindfulness. This is a small “c” creative activity that can lead to a clam state of mind and therefore reduce stress. The last part is that, depending on the final product, this could be a great low-cost activity that could become a gift for the grandparents when done with kids or artwork to display on any blank wall space. My main focus is of course stress reduction, but, hey, my son likes to draw!

 
Materials:

• Photograph

• Copy Machine

• Paper

• Pencil/Charcoal

• Popsicle Stick

• Black Sharpie

• Colored Markers

• Ruler

Take photographs of portraits blown up on a copy machine. Make a charcoal transfer by rubbing the back of the copies with charcoal. Place the photocopy charcoal side down on a sheet of white paper. Using a sharp pencil, trace the outline of the image on the photocopy. Make sure to press hard when tracing as this will transfer an outline of the image onto the other paper using the chalk. After the transfer is complete, use a marker to trace the chalk outline. Another alternative to chalk is to trace the outline of the photocopy image with thick heavy dark pencil. Place the penciled photocopy face down on a clean sheet of white paper. Using a popsicle stick, rub at the paper so the pencil lines transfer to the back of the top sheet of paper.

Once your transfer is complete, use a dark marker to outline all your pencil or chalk outlines on the white paper. (If you want clean images, it is best to use the pencil technique as any unwanted pencil marks are easier to erase than the charcoal technique). Use a ruler to add a line of dots to the face of your image, the face should be filled with dots similar to artwork by Roy Lichtenstein or early comic strip prints. Bold colors can be used to fill in other areas like hair or clothes.

Reading Suggestions:

Hendrickson, Janis. Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997. (2001)

Metzger, Phil. The Art of Perspective: The Ultimate Guide for Artists in Every Medium. (2007)

Osterwold, Tilman. Pop Art. (2007)

Rubin, Susan. Whaam! The Art and Life of Roy Lichtenstein. (2008)

Here is a quick example I created using an app called Art Rage for iOS… hopefully you have better luck with your portraits, but it was fun creating it! — yes, I drew those dots free hand. That is why you need the ruler. It will look better, trust me!