Category: life advice

How To Give Great Gifts To Just About Anyone

How do you give great gifts? Well, it's not just about giving them something from their gift list! Click through for gift ideas nobody else has thought of and gift-giving tips that will help with anniversaries and birthdays, too!In addition to championship level cheese-eating and Thriller-dancing, I like to think that I know how to give great gifts.

I am totally the friend who makes note of the salt and pepper shakers you liked so much at that restaurant, finds a pair and then gives them to you for your birthday three years later. (And devotedly hopes that you remember that you liked them and aren’t kind of creeped out by my insane memory)

How do you give great gifts?

You give amazing gifts by listening

The truly awesome gift does not come off of Christmas Wish List. It’s the thing that your friend mentioned in passing several times or that you always see them fawning over when you’re out shopping. It’s the sort of thing that they mention liking but can’t justify purchasing when there are bills to be paid and cars that need repairs. It’s the sort of thing that you know will bring them joy.

You buy awesome gifts by shopping year round

But I’m sure you already know this, right? Riiiiight? Waiting to shop until it’s holiday season is wicked stressful. Wading through seas of women in cat sweatshirts? Not how I want to spend my winter weekends.

So if gift giving inspiration strikes you in August, buy the gift then, for Pete’s sake! If you’re on a summer road trip and your friend is coveting some turquoise in New Mexico, buy the necklace and stash it till Christmas. Aren’t you the clever one?

You get personal

Now, I’m not one to sneeze in the face of pillar candles or a basket of scented bath things, buuuuut I also wouldn’t shriek “Wow! You know me so well!” to the giver of these gifts. Give the people in your life something that shows them you know who they are and what they’re about – an aerial map of a city where they used to live or an artist’s sketch of their childhood home.

Or what about one of those custom-made photo albums that have the photos printed on the page? Or Indian cooking classes for your friend who spent a year in Mumbai? Or tickets to a reading with their favorite author?

You resist the urge to give them gifts that you’d like

I know it’s incredibly tempting to give your lovely but fashion-challenged cousin a gift card to Forever 21. Or give your technologically backward grandma a digital camera.

But gift giving isn’t about you and the life you think these people are missing. It’s about giving them something that they want, something that will make them happy. So you best not be buying me a hair straightener or a Williams Sonoma gift card because they will gather dust and lead me to question our friendship.

You give wonderful gifts by embracing the power of the small gift

For her 30th birthday, I gave my BFF a novelty eraser and $5. And she loved it! Really! But before you decide that you don’t ever want to be my friend, you should know that the eraser looked like a delete button (we’re both Internet-obsessed) and the five dollars was
a) brand new from the bank
b) featured a home-made sticker

c) was a payoff on a long held bet/inside joke.

And I’m pretty sure that the BFF was more touched by my $6 worth of presents than the various picture frames/gift cards/novelty socks that she got.
At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

You consider the gift of non-stuff

If you are attempting to give a gift to someone over the age of 26 who has a ‘real job,’ there’s a pretty good chance that if they want something? They just buy it. And really, who needs another decorative bowl/set of cuff links/DVD?

Non-stuff is more memorable and it doesn’t need dusting. Good non-stuff gifts include airplane tickets, gift certificates for spa services, a night at a Bed and Breakfast, classes or lessons, tickets to a sporting event or concert or donating to a cause that’s important to them. Added bonus: easy to wrap! 

If you don’t know what to get someone, ask their best friend

If you’re an aunt or parent or spouse and you truly have no idea what to get someone for the holidays, just ask their best friend. More likely than not, the BFF knows what your niece/girlfriend/wife has had her eye on! And then you can buy it and delight her with your thoughtfulness!

Now I want to hear from you! What’s your best gift-giving tip?

P.S. 23 life-improving gifts you should just buy for your damn self

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

You’re Awesome. So Then What?

We’ve discussed the fact that I’m in L-O-V-E with my friends.

I make an active effort to surround myself with people who fill me up and inspire me. Because I spend nearly seven days a week in the company of people I’d describe as “awesome,” I’ve had a few realizations about what that word means and how (if at all) being a great, cool human affects the rest of your life.

How awesome someone is and how awesome they think they are have very little to do with each other
My friends are smart, funny, kind, accomplished, interesting, good looking. They do fun, crazy things with their spare time, they have jobs they love and lives that excite them. And yet! Some of these people wouldn’t describe themselves using such glowing terms. They’d probably drop in a few words like “neurotic, chubby, broke, adrift.”

To which I usually cry “We don’t talk like that in this house! I’m only friends with great people and I’m friends with you!”

I’ve also encountered people (as we all do) who I wouldn’t necessarily describe as awesome. While said people probably have good qualities, I haven’t seen ’em. But it doesn’t matter! They’re pretty sure they’re awesome even as they dodge calls from Grandma and steal co-workers’ lunches from the fridge.

Even on-top-of-it, awesome people have their own insecurities and struggles. And people who don’t really meet your criteria of awesome? Well, maybe they’ve got their own criteria.

How awesome someone is and their relationship status have very little to do with each other

As noted above, I know a lot of great people. And some of these people are single. Some of them are joyfully single, some would like very much to find their proverbial lobster. Some of these fantastic people are dating people that are, perhaps, less awesome but the relationship is happy and fulfilling for both parties. (sidenote: does anyone ever really think anyone is good enough for their friends? because I rarely do!) Sometimes fantastic people date and cancel out each other and everything gets yell-y and uncomfortable.

And we all know at least one needy, immature, bad-decision making person who somehow snags a great partner. Forpetesake, Rush Limbaugh’s been married four times!

If you’re awesome and unhappily single, don’t worry. It’s not you. You’ll find somebody. If you’re awesome and in an unhappy relationship, decide if you want to work it out or leave; your amazing-ness won’t necessarily protect you from the lumps and bumps of life. If you’re awesome and you have a great partner, go high five them.

How awesome someone is and whether they’d be a good person to work for/with have very little to do with each other
The personality traits that make someone fun to be around are not always the traits that make someone a good employer/employee/co-worker. I love surrounding myself with people who are funny, adventurous, curious, and a just a little bit risk take-y. These are not the qualities I look for in an intern. I want someone who is smart, hard working, follows directions well, takes initiative, and is crazy reliable. Of course, those are nice traits in a friend as well, but I’m less concerned if my friends can figure out how to use Hootsuite.

When you’re thinking about working with a friend, realize that their ability to bring life to any party or talk you through a breakup might not always translate to pulling their weight on group projects or getting you revisions in a timely manner. And if that friendship is important to you, maybe you just shouldn’t work together.

Would you describe yourself as awesome? How does that affect (or not affect) other aspects of your life?

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The One Sentence That Helps Me Be Present

Want to be more present in your life? Pay more attention to your life and get out of your head? This one sentence will help! #mindfulness #meditation #presence #selfdevelopment #selfhelp #centering

I am not particularly good at ‘living in the moment.’

I spend huge amounts of time thinking about the future.

And not ‘thinking about the future’ like fantasizing about a big farmhouse with a garden full of perfectly weeded heirloom tomatoes.

I mean ‘thinking about the future’ like
I should really get my brakes checked
Do I have enough spinach to make that salad?
I need to do laundry today otherwise I won’t have anything to wear to that dinner party.

Ugh, right?

In those moments when I find myself sitting on a beach in Poland or eating gooseberries in Stockholm or drinking limoncello on a roof in New York – and unaccountably thinking about boring, logistical BS – I say to myself:Be happy in this moment. This moment is your life. Click To Tweet

Hippie as all get out?  Yes.
Effective and calming and re-centering for a deeply Type A personality?  Also yes.

Do you ever struggle to stay in the moment?  How do you deal with that?  Do you do or say anything when you’re trying to get out of your head and into your life?

P.S. How to figure out what makes you happy (so you can add more of it to your life) 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Inestimable Power of “I’m Sorry, Dude. That Sucks.”

Wondering how to comfort someone? Trying to be a supportive friends? Rather than trying to solve someone's problems or offering cliches, say this instead.
Have you ever read about the differences between how men and women (allegedly) handle problems and complaints? When women complain, we (allegedly) want people to listen to us, validate us, and make cooing noises.

When we complain, men (allegedly) want to solve our problems.And when they try to do that, fighting and hurt feelings ensue.  Because, Dude!  I totally know how to solve this problem!  I’m just telling you about it because I bond by sharing my feelings!

I’m not a big complainer, but when I drink a glass of whine, I do, in fact, want cooing noises and conciliatory hand pats.  But here’s the bad part.  When people complain to me: I totally, totally try to solve their problems.  Like, all the time. 

And sometimes I do that passive aggressive thing where I ask them a series of questions to get them to say the thing I want them to say and then I act like they found the solution themselves.  What a jerk!

But last week I was talking to a friend who’d been going through some tough health issues.  She related how awful she felt and how deeply unhelpful her co-workers had been. I had no experience with her particular issue so all I was left with was “I’m sorry, dude.  That sucks.”

And I felt like a terrible friend!  Shouldn’t I be emailing her links to doctors and trying to feed her saltines and ginger ale?  I said as much and you know what her response was?

“I think people really underestimate the power of ‘I’m sorry, dude.  That’s sucks.”

And I think she’s right.  Your friends are probably smart enough to solve their own problems. Click To Tweet

You’re not trotting out hackneyed cliches about “things working out” or “everything happening for a reason.” You’re showing them that you’re listening and that you care and that you’re not judging.

Sans cooing noises.

What do you do when your friends complain?  Are you a problem solver or a conciliator?

P.S. How to be a better friend

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

How To Give A Great Compliment

A really great, day-making compliment is more than "your hair looks great!" Click through for a surefire formula for making someone feel special + amazing
This guest post comes to us via Erin at  She drinks too much coffee, runs for fun and watches nerdy space dramas with her pile of furry animals while dual wielding delicious burritos.

I was out with some friends to celebrate a birthday. I wore a new dress that I’d picked up at H + M a few days earlier. I thought I looked a little gangly and I’d done something new with my hair that I wasn’t super happy about. I was standing around awkwardly, feeling very self-conscious and wishing I’d thrown on jeans and a t-shirt instead.

Just then a group of three women walked by, arms linked, chattering happily. As they passed us, one of them veered towards me, grabbing me by the elbow and with sincere enthusiasm said, “Your figure is uh-mazing!” I blurted out a surprised “Thank you!” as she and her girlfriends continued on their merry way.

Made. My. Night.

Now that’s a lady who knows how to cheer someone up. With one compliment she managed to assuage my insecurity and left me feeling pretty damn fabulous. Wouldn’t we all like to do that for someone? Yes, I think we would.

There are lots of reasons to compliment someone. You admire something about them. You’d like to brighten their day. You don’t know them very well and you’d like to connect in a way that says, “I like you! Let’s be friends!” Those are all great reasons.

We suck at giving compliments. We don’t give nearly enough of them, and when we do it can easily go all wrong. The truth is, paying someone a good compliment is not always simple if you’re not accustomed to doing it.

We may think that we sound insincere, accidentally say something that sounds vaguely insulting (“Your hair looks so much better that way!”) or chicken out completely for fear of sounding silly.

But practice makes perfect. The best way to get better at giving great compliments is to practice by giving lots of compliments.

What? No, I’m not suggesting you give an insincere compliment just for practice. What I am suggesting is that everyone (yes, everyone) has some positive traits that are compliment-worthy. Figure out what they are and tell them about it!

Dishing out awesome compliments does not come naturally to me, but I want to be better at it, and so I’ve started using this simple formula that makes it easy to flatter someone without sounding like an ass.

Here’s how to give a great compliment:
[how you feel about the thing] + [what the thing is] + [a reason why it’s great]

For example:
[I really love] + [your style of painting.] + [The colors you choose are so emotive!]

Of course, there are lots of other ways to phrase a great compliment, but this formula is a great start when you’re working towards being a first-class complimenter.

“You look fantastic in that dress. That color palette is so flattering on you.”

“I am so impressed with the party that you put together. The food was amazing and we had a really great time.”

“You did really great work on this project. It’s obvious that you put a lot of time and effort into it.”

Lastly, make sure your compliments are really compliments.

If you’re complimenting someone on something they’ve changed, be sure that you’re not poo-pooing their previous efforts. A compliment that makes someone feel bad is not a compliment at all.

“Your hair looks so much better that way!” is not a compliment, because it implies that you thought their last haircut sucked. A better option might be “That haircut looks great on you. Those bangs really make your eyes pop!”

Likewise, instead of saying “Your artwork has really improved.” you might say, “I love the style you’re painting in these days!” Isn’t that so much nicer?

So there you have it, friends. Go forth, start dishing out some awesome compliments and enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from making someone’s day.

Are you good at giving out compliments?  What’s the best one you’ve ever received?  Once, someone said “Sarah, it would never occur to you to be anyone other than yourself, would it?”  Annnnd, I chose to take that as a compliment.

P.S. 14 ways to show your friends you love them.

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

33 Things I’ve Learned In 33 Years

All the life advice and happiness tips learned from 33 years of life, 18 years of school, and 35 countries of travel. Click through and learn from my mistakes!

Tomorrow, I turn 33.  I plan to celebrate this fact by poking around the museums of Stockholm, eating a lot of carbs and cheese, giggling over drinks with a few Swedish friends, and then calling my favorite people in America very, very late at night.

I also thought I might resurrect (and revise) the most popular blog post I’ve ever written.  Because we all love lists and advice don’t we?  I’ve added two more things that I’ve learned in the last two years – and I can’t wait to hear all your wisdom in the comments!

So, here are 33 things that I’ve learned over the past 33 years.

1. Trust your gut. Really.

If you think he likes you, you’re probably right. If you think he’s cheating, you’re probably right. If you think she’s going to be your new BFF, (this time with feeling!) you’re probably right.

2. Sunscreen. Always.

SPF 15 indoors, SPF 30 outdoors. I’ve been wearing sunscreen every day since I was 19 and I still get carded. I think this actually has more to do with the bouncers hitting on me, but I’d like to share the credit with this moisturizer + sunscreen recommended by my dermatologist. 2,000+ 4.5 star reviews on Amazon!

3. If you’re lying in bed worrying about it, get up and write it down

If I don’t do this, my night will quickly devolve into cyclical thoughts of doom and anxiety. Just get out of bed, write down the thing that you’re worried about, write down a few ideas to deal with it and then go the eff back to sleep.

4. Processed carbohydrates and sugars are yucky

It’s not hard to switch to whole wheat bread and noodles or substitute honey/maple syrup/raw sugar for the white stuff. It’s yummy and you’ll feel heaps better!

5. Maintaining friendships (and making new friends) is an active process

Stop waiting for them to call you! Think of something fun to do, call your friends and go do it. Also, stop sitting in your apartment, devotedly wishing that you knew more cool people. Surprisingly, this will not get you any closer to making new friends. Go places where like-minded people hang out, talk to new people at parties, initiate. Show your friends you love them.

6. Uncomfortable underwear can ruin your day

At least they can ruin mine. So don’t wear your sexy-times underwear on the day you have to walk ten blocks to work. (These are the best underwear I’ve ever owned and they’re the only ones I buy now!)

7. It really doesn’t matter what you major in

What does matter? The internships you get, your work ethic, your interpersonal skills, who you know. So go ahead and get a BA in Studio Art! As long as you complement that with work experience at a graphic design studio, a museum and an ad agency.

8. Create an active lifestyle

I don’t go to the gym every day. Or, um, ever in the summer. But I walk to work and to the market and just about everywhere within a three-mile radius. If you make daily activity a habit, you won’t have nearly as many moments of “how did I inadvertently gain 30 pounds?!” or “why can’t I walk up a flight of stairs?!”

9. Learn to enjoy your own company

There will be times in your life when you really want to see that movie, check out that new boutique, go to Thailand and no one wants to go with you. Bummer! But that doesn’t mean that you can’t go by yourself and have a good time. Take baby steps and work up to doing the big stuff on your own.

10. Don't allow outside sources to determine your self-esteem Click To Tweet

I’m still working on this one. But I think it’s important to realize that just about everything in life is relative – depending on your surroundings, you could be the hottest/smartest/highest paid girl in the room.

But if you walk next door? Maybe it’s different story. It’s important to have faith in your abilities and strong suits – regardless
of how they compare to others.

11. Find out what colors and styles work (and don’t work) on you. Style accordingly.

I look good in gold and browns and corals. I look good with long, wavy hair. I look good in boat neck, three-quarter length tops. It took many, many unflattering photos to figure this out.

12. When in doubt, make the effort

You will never regret wearing that nice outfit, buying the thoughtful gift for the friend you haven’t heard from in a while, over-tipping. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll know you did your best.

13. Cook at home.

Seriously. You will save one million dollars. You will maintain a healthy weight. You will impress your friends.

14. There are 300 million people in America. And 6,000,000,000 in the world.

I promise you, you’ll love someone else. You’ll meet new friends. You’ll find co-workers and neighbors that are awesome. If it’s too hard (or if someone is making you feel bad) walk away. There are a million other people out there who won’t make you feel bad!

15. It’s easier to make money than memories

Are you throwing up in your mouth right now? I am a little bit. But it’s true. Don’t take the extra shift at work and miss your friend’s awesome end-of-the summer barbecue. If all your friends are springing for a weekend at a cabin near the Canadian border, save up for a few weeks and make it happen.

You won’t remember the two weeks of eating in and watching library DVDs, but you’ll remember three days of fun with your buddies. And there are lots of ways to have a social life and still save money!

16. You can find common ground with just about anyone, anywhere

Regardless of a person’s gender, age, race or religion there are common denominators to the human experience – falling in love, being homesick, laughing at baby animals. You don’t even need to speak the same language to share an appreciation for these things. You’d be amazed how far you can get with most people just by smiling and asking them questions.

17. Don’t buy the cheapest version. Buy the second cheapest.

This trick has saved me a lot of money. And many hangovers. Usually the cheapest version of something (vodka, eye shadow, shoes) is noticeably dicey. But the second-cheapest? Not so bad! And it’s possible to make cheap things look nice!

18. Make an extra copy

Of your keys, your lease, your birth certificate, your social security card. Then give said copy to someone trustworthy.

19. Floss.

Seriously. It’s pretty gratifying in a slightly disgusting way.

20. Consider second hand, for just about everything

98% of everything I own is second hand. My blow dryer, my picture frames, my sheets (not as gross as you’re imagining). They cost a fraction of what I’d pay for them new, and no one’s the wiser. At least until I tell the internet that I sleep on used sheets. Here’s how to thrift like a champ.

21. Excuses are embarrassing

With the exception of excuses like “my grandma died” most excuses are embarrassing for everyone involved – the person giving them and the person listening to them. ‘I just don’t know where to start,’ ‘I’m tired,’ ‘it’s too expensive’ really just translate to ‘I’m not making it a priority’. See? Embarrassing, right?

22. Don't ask a question if you're not prepared to hear the answer Click To Tweet

If you ask your friend “Do I look fat in this?” you best be prepared to hear that it’s not a super flattering look on you. If you ask that guy you’ve been seeing for five months “Where do you see this going?” you need to know he might respond in stutters, back-pedaling and comments about “keeping it light.” Don’t ask if you don’t really, really want to

23. Engage in calculated risk taking

Dancing on the table, taking a spontaneous road trip by yourself to a neighboring state, trying a new type of ethnic food – it is unlikely that any of these things will kill you. But they will probably make you more interesting.

24. Learn how to live well within your means

Make a budget and stick to it. Pay off your credit cards every month. Learn to cook for yourself. Get a bike and use it (then you won’t need a gym membership or all that gas for your car!) Cancel the cable. Split internet with a neighbor. Consider second hand. You’d be amazed how painless saving money can be! Just put your money where your happy is!

25. Learn some basic photo editing skills

Because that photo from your vacation would make a great Facebook profile photo if you didn’t have that giant zit, right? Photoscape, Picnik and Gimp are all great options!

26. If you don’t know what you say, silence is always an option

I learned this from my friend Ellie, who used this approach to deal with unruly patients during her years as a nurse in NYC. If someone says something you don’t like (and don’t know how to respond to) just stare at them and don’t say anything. Totally. terrifying. And totally effective!

27. If you don’t know, ask

Because that thing that people say about assuming (it makes an ass out of you and me)? That’s true.

28. Do something different with your weekends

After a week in the cubicle farm, I know it’s tempting to spend your weekend watching DVDs, running errands, going to house parties and nursing hangovers. But doing the same thing every weekend gets old. And you won’t return to work reinvigorated or inspired.

You don’t have to do anything earth shattering – have a sleepover with old friends, go camping in a State Park, rent bikes and ride through your city, try a new ethnic restaurant, look up the top tourist sights in your city and check them out. Milk those two days off for all they’re worth! Here are 17 little ways you can mix up your daily life.

29. Stay in touch

In the age of skype/facebook/texting there’s absolutely no reason that you can’t maintain regular contact with your childhood bestie or that cool girl from your freshman comp class. Maintaining and fostering friendships is super important. Also, you’ll have more couches to crash on when you go traveling!

30. Find a creative outlet

Most of us aren’t 100% creatively fulfilled by our day jobs. Even those of us who work in creative fields! Engaging different parts of your brain (and different parts of your personality) is hugely, hugely gratifying. Seriously, you cannot overestimate how having a good hobby can change your life. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that after I started blogging, I needed less sleep and was a much happier person. Truth.

31. Act like you know what you’re doing

You can pretty much conquer the world with a confident walk, a well-thought-out outfit and confident demeanor. We teach people how to treat us and when you show people that you’re a force to be reckoned with, they’ll believe you.

32. When you ask friends or family to do things for free, you end up paying in stress and time

Of course, we can’t all afford to hire movers/painters/accountants/etc.  But when you ask your cousin to photograph your wedding or your college roommate to design your website or your little sister to help you move – what you don’t spend in money you just might spend in missed deadlines and ruined carpet. Our friends and family love us and want to help.  But it’s not the same.  And you know it.  If you can, pay a stranger to do things for you.  Then you won’t feel bad complaining.

33. Most things in life will cost twice as much and/or take twice as long as you thought Click To Tweet

Particularly travel or home improvements or building up a client base.  There are always unexpected fees and raised prices.  Have a backup plan!  Or budget way, way more time and money than you think you’ll need and you’ll be presently surprised when things come in ahead of schedule and under budget.

What about you?  What have you learned so far?  What do you wish someone would have told you?
Photo by Fabien Delétraz on Unsplash