10 Things That Made Me Happy While Taking the #100HappyDays Challenge

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Back on January 23 I started a #100HappyDays Challenge. The homepage of the site asks you, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” I believe most rational people would probably say no. And, if like me, you suffer from chronic depression you’d be even more skeptical.

The second question the site asks you is, “You don’t have time for this, right?” Again, most of us would agree that we don’t have time to make an effort to be happy every single day for 100 days. But is that true? Why don’t we have time? Is it because we don’t believe we’re worth the effort? Or is it because we don’t believe that you can find happiness that easily? Or maybe, and I know this sounds a little crazy, we don’t really understand a) what makes us happy, b) what happiness really looks and feels like, or c) how to begin to find happiness in our everyday lives.

The challenge itself is simple. Each day, for 100 days, you simply take a picture of something or someone who made you happy and then follow the steps on the site.

So first you register in the challenge >here<, then choose your favorite platform for submitting pictures. Here you can decide yourself on the privacy of your participation & happy moments:

  • Share your picture via Facebook, twitter or Instagram with a public hashtag #100happydays;
  • Come up with your own hashtag to share your pictures with to limit publicity. (Don’t forget to tell us how to find your pictures though)
  • Simply send your pictures to myhappyday (at) 100happydays.com to avoid any publicity.

The 100happydays.com site claims that “71% of people tried to complete this challenge, but failed quoting lack of time as the main reason.” Studies have shown that most people are not just busy, but overwhelmed with responsibility – work, housework, school, family, and other social obligations – that keep them running nonstop and afford little time for anything else. People typically don’t make time to take care of themselves, or just check in to see how happy they are with the life they are living.

Believe me, I get it. I’m a divorced single parent who works full-time. I’m a part-time writer trying to become a full-time writer, which means I write fiction in the hopes of being published and farm myself out for freelance projects because my day job doesn’t pay enough. I’m not currently dating, but I have a fairly active social life. I rent, so I don’t have a lot of home repairs to tend to, but there’s still housework, errands, cooking, and child rearing. To be honest, housework doesn’t get done very often, but we always have clean laundry and dishes, and my son never misses a meal. My son is involved in activities outside the house, and he has behavioral/emotional issues that we manage through therapy and other strategies. I’m not going to win any awards for my parenting skills. However, I make a point of showing up and being present when my energy and own mental health issues are balanced. I’m actively seeking employment, because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stay in my current job after June. So, yeah, I’m busy. Like mind-numbingly, soul-crushingly busy some days. Depression has been an ongoing issue for me since I was a kid. I was diagnosed in my teens and have sought the support of therapists and medication on and off throughout my adult life. I’m not just busy. Some days are harder than others. Some days I have #zerofuckstogive. Some days I consider it a win if I get out of bed, get dressed, and make it to work.

Despite all the challenges I face day-to-day, I managed to find something to be relatively happy about for almost every single day of the 100-day challenge. I chose to post my pictures, thoughts and reflections on social media – Facebook and Instagram. Each day, beginning on January 23 and ending on May 2, I posted a photo, a meme, or simply an observation about that day and what brought me joy.

100happydays.com also asks the question, “Why would I do that?” Good question. I’m sure lots of people would ask that question. Well, here are some answers.

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

  • Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
  • Be in a better mood every day;
  • Start receiving more compliments from other people;
  • Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
  • Become more optimistic;
  • Fall in love during the challenge.

Need help figuring out what makes you happy? Here are the top 10 things that brought me happiness during my #100happydays challenge (in no particular order). Perhaps, you’ll recognize some of the things that make you smile too.

  1. Booze. Let’s face it, adult beverages are delicious and when they are drunk responsibly, they can have amazingly curative properties. When I was younger, I was hell-bent on self-medicating. I drank too much and too often. I also was careless about mixing drugs with alcohol, and usually in questionable company. That’s a story for another day. At this point in my life, I don’t drink very often. I keep some booze at home, typically bourbon, which is my favorite liquor. Occasionally, I’ll drink rum. Booze appeared in my social media feeds on Day 1 of the challenge. It was a rough day. And, booze played a role in bringing me happiness 4 out the 100 days, 5 if you count the codeine cough syrup I drank when I was sick. Fun fact: Because of my love of bourbon and booze in general, I gained roughly 20 new followers on Instagram who are either bars with specialty cocktails, bourbon aficionados, and distillers of small-batch spirits. So, I guess you could say that booze has the ability to make me popular and interesting.
  1. Coffee & Tea. I don’t know about you, but caffeine is 90% responsible for keeping me conscious most days. It’s no secret how much I love coffee, but I also enjoy drinking tea. Coffee and tea have been staples in my life since childhood. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the 70s and 80s, and my grandmother didn’t see a problem with putting iced tea in my bottle when I was a baby. I drank my first cup of coffee when I was five. But don’t worry, she cut the bitterness by adding a tooth-decaying amount of sugar to it. Essentially, my grandmother was my first drug dealer. She hated alcohol. Most likely because her father and one of her brothers were alcoholics. People who drank alcohol pissed her off, but she was the poster child for coffee, sugar, and cigarettes. When I was a poor college student and couldn’t afford to maintain my cigarette habit (I smoked between the ages of 14 and 35), my grandmother would either give me money or buy my cigarettes for me. By the carton. In fact, when I was a junior, studying abroad in England for a year, her biggest concern, aside from my safety, was that cigarettes were so much more expensive there. She sent me care packages on a regular basis, and I could always count on finding at least one carton of Camel Lights in the box of goodies. In a related story, after my first week of living in England, I discovered that I was getting headaches almost every day and was feeling lethargic even though I was drinking between 6 – 10 cups of tea a day. Eventually, I realized that I was suffering from dehydration. Basically, I lived on tea, beer and cider, scones with clotted cream, packets of cheese and onion crisps, and Camel Lights. Once I figured out what was wrong with me, I kept a plastic cup near my sink and I would drink 2 – 3 cups of water before going to bed and upon waking. By the way, I had purchased the cup with Camel Cash, and the cup featured an image of Joe the Camel wearing a leather biker jacket, circa early 90s.
  1. Food. I love food. I love to cook it. I love to eat. I see food as something beyond a means of nourishing my body. Food conjures memories of childhood. Food comforts me. Sharing a meal with family and friends is one of my favorite ways to interact and be social. Learning a new recipe is akin to learning a new spell. Food is a perfect marriage between magic and science. Cooking allows me to express myself, get creative, and heal myself through healthy foods. During the #100happydays challenge, food appeared in my social media feeds 34 days out of 100. Foods that appeared the most were fruit salad and tacos. A lot of the foods were healthy and involved my crockpot and meal prep that allowed me to cook once and eat for several days in a row. Some of my most popular posts dealt with food and the recipes I featured, and these posts got some of the most comments, including requests for recipes. Food is the glue of cultural and social interaction. The healthier I eat, the happier I am.
  1. Friends & Family. I have a small family. For the most part it’s just my mom, my son and me. I also have aunts, uncles, and cousins. For the most part, I am close with my cousins. We’re all around the same age, grew up in the same generation with access to the same elements of popular culture. I saw my cousins during the summer at family picnics most of the time when I was a kid, and now I make time to see them when I can. I spend a lot of time with my cousin Tara. I think of her as a best friend and sister, not just a cousin. She’s 1 of 4 kids and I’m an only child. Her sister and I are the same age and get along well too, but we don’t hang out as often as I’d like. Tara and I have similar tastes in music, movies, television shows, art, food, and enjoy mean jokes at the expense of others. She’s a talented artist, a supportive and loving person, and she can always make me laugh or think more clearly about something happening in my life. I will happily tell you that I am blessed with an amazingly diverse and interesting collection of friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends, Pat, has been my friend since we were 14 or 15 years old. He has an uncanny ability to zero-in on what is at the source of the negative feelings I might be feeling about any given situation. Sometimes it’s spooky how well he knows me, but I don’t know what I would do without his friendship. His ability to make me laugh never ceases to amaze me and he is always brutally honest with me when I find myself in crappy situations. He’s usually the first to tell me that I can a) overcome the problem, and b) if I look at a situation a little differently and take full responsibility for my own actions, 9 times out of 10, things will be just fine. I have other amazing friends, like Sarah and Isabelle who have been in my life as long as Pat has, and I have newer friends, like Stephanie who I feel like I’ve known just as long. And, I can’t forget my friend Danielle. She always has a way of making sure I’m taken care of, even if it’s just getting together to talk over dinner. Friends and social occasions really make a difference in my life. Typically, I prefer one-on-one interactions or small gatherings, but every now and then I attend larger events. I have a touch of social anxiety, so that’s where my good friend Booze comes in to play again. Out of 100 days, 31 of my posts were about friends and family.
  1. Film & Television. I’m obsessed with popular culture and have long-loved the escapism of watching movies and TV shows. My preferences for genre tend to be Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Black Comedies, Historical Dramas, Mysteries, and Romance, but usually the Paranormal variety. I love vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, and other things that go bump in the night. And, I love superheroes. Marvel’s film franchise has provided me with hours and hours of happiness. And, I’ve been known to fall in love with fictional characters. Here’s a short list: Loki, Magneto, Wolverine, Captain America, John Constantine, Elijah Mikaelson, Hannibal Lecter, Francis Dolarhyde, Damon Salvatore, Simon Bellamy, Lucifer, Preacher, Lawrence Talbot, Rupert Giles, Spock, John Mitchell, Captain Ross Poldark, Spike, Doctor Who…well, you get the idea. In fact, if you’ve read my blog before, you’re familiar with my obsessions and may even share some of them. 12 of 100 posts referred to films or TV.
  1. Books. Reading is important to me. I don’t remember a time in my life when books were not available to me. Bookshelves filled with books, trips to the library and used books stores, talking about new books that a favorite writer had written – these were all common occurrences in my childhood. Before I could read, family members and teachers read to me. Once I could read on my own, I read as many books as I could get my hands on. Stories bring a certain richness to my life that I often can’t find anywhere else. My love of stories, books and words led me to become an English major in college. Why? Because I love to read and write (I’ll get to that shortly). I’ll read just about anything, but like my preferences in film and television, my taste in genre and to a certain extent literary fiction, are the speculative genres – Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction. I also enjoy nonfiction. Over the past few months, I have been consuming Roxane Gay’s books, An Untamed State, Difficult Women, and Bad Feminist. Her writing speaks to me in so many unexpected ways. Not only does she show me the different parts of myself that would normally seem disconnected, but she also shows me how they relate to each other to make me a whole and complicated person. And, more importantly, she makes me want to be a better writer. Books appeared in at least 12 of my posts.
  1. Writing. Writing has been a part of my life almost as long as reading. Narratives have always been an important part of my life. Whether I was watching a Hitchcock film or favorite Western with my grandfather, an epic Romance or Soap Opera with my grandmother, “Creature Double Feature” or “Dark Shadows” with my mother, “King Fu Theater” or “The Prisoner” with my father, or enjoying the ridiculous premises you’d find in 80s music videos, and later an obsession with foreign language films, I consumed a lot of narratives in and out of books growing up. Stephen King’s books lined the bookshelves in almost every house in my immediate family. A year or so ago, my aunt bequeathed her Stephen King collection to me. I hadn’t read a lot of his books, but I had seen film adaptations of them. In the last few years, I took the time to read Carrie, The Shining, The Gunslinger, Misery, Salem’s Lot, and I just finished listening to Doctor Sleep as an audio book in my car. I tried reading IT at one point, but I couldn’t get past the clown. It’s weird. I can watch the film starring Tim Curry and I can’t wait to see the remake with Bill Skarsgård, but the book scares the shit out of me. One day, I will read that book cover to cover. Today is not that day. As much as I love Stephen King’s fiction, my favorite Stephen King book is On Writing. It is the only craft book that ever brought me to tears. I have two copies. A copy I bought to read while earning my MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and the copy I found on my dad’s bookshelves after he died. My dad was a writer. He wrote a lot, but never finished writing his novel. I finished writing my first novel after his death in 2015. I’ve since started writing 2 more novels, and I’ve been writing poetry and short fiction since I was 12. I’ve only had one short story published, but I will have more of my work published, damn it. I owe that much to my dad. And, I can’t talk about writing without talking about Anne Rice. She is probably one of the biggest influences on my writing, and I must give her at least partial credit for why I write about vampires. Her novels gave vocabulary to some of the things I thought and felt as a teenager, and her vampires made me feel more alive than any characters I’d find in the fiction geared toward teenagers at the time. Thanks for all the good books, Anne. Your work gave me the courage to write about taboo subjects in a way that allowed me to talk about the beauty I found in them.
  1. Self-Care. Technically, participating in the #100happydays challenge is an act of self-care itself. Taking the time to pay attention and make note of the things that make you happy really is an enlightening exercise. In doing so, I found myself seeking out more ways to care for myself. I ate healthier foods. I spent more time in the company of people I love. I tried to develop better habits, like exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and scheduling downtime so that I could do the things that recharge me and fill my brain with creative ideas. Don’t want to take my word for it? Try the #100happydays challenge for yourself and see what I mean. Self-care and self-love are not selfish acts. Doing nice things for yourself, taking care of yourself, enables us to care for the other people in our lives without killing ourselves to do so.
  1. Art. I’ve talked about several art forms/crafts in this post, namely writing and visual media. I’d also include culinary arts in that list. However, I also like to go to museums and galleries to check out the work of mixed media artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, collage makers, and several other mediums. During my 100-day challenge, I visited two galleries, CALC in Carlisle, PA, where my son had a drawing in one of the local student art shows, and Metropolis Collective in Mechanicsburg, PA, as well as The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. In each art space, I got to see some wonderfully beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking art. I need to go to more museums, and I need to create more of my own art. Perhaps there are projects I can work on with my son this summer to get us both creating and spending more quality time together.
  1. Michael Fassbender. Laugh if you must, but Michael Fassbender’s work as an actor brings me happiness on a regular basis. I had enjoyed his work in films prior to last summer when I went to see X-men: Apocalypse, but for some reason, his portrayal of Magneto in that film struck a chord with me that caused me to not only revisit X-men: First Class and X-men: Days of Future Past, but I also rewatched Inglourious Bastards, and then began making my way through his entire body of work. I’m particularly fond of Shame, 12 Years a Slave, A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Jonah Hex, Macbeth, Prometheus, Slow West, and I loved him in the TV show “Hex”. His characters make me laugh, cry, think, feel shame, and I’m not going to lie, ignite my desire. He is a beautiful and talented man. Eventually, I will see all his film and television performances. His Magneto breaks my heart, and makes me question right and wrong. After watching 12 Years a Slave, I went through a period of deep meditation and self-reflection based on my confused feelings of repulsion and attraction for his character, Edwin Epps. His Carl Jung left me feeling sexually frustrated, and his Rochester made me realize how many toxic relationships I have been in and examine why I keep returning to those doomed relationships. He is a master of his craft, not just a handsome face.

This was not my first #100happydays challenge rodeo, so I can attest to the fact that most of the claims made by the folks at 100happydays.com are true. Are they true every single day of the challenge? No. I don’t think anyone is happy every single day of their life. However, I will say that by taking the time to notice the things that do make me happy, I have a better understanding of my own happiness (or lack of happiness). I understand that happiness is a choice, and we are responsible for creating it for ourselves. And, like me, you might be surprised to find that happiness is all around us. All we need to do is take inventory and remind ourselves that happiness is not completely out of reach. In fact, it may be closer than you think.

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Fuckable Fictional Characters: Magneto

Over the weekend I went to see X-men: Apocalypse. I enjoyed the movie. In fact, as I usually do when watching Marvel movies, I experienced some catharsis. Marvel’s heroes and villains have always had a powerful effect on my psyche, and more often than not, when I see a movie featuring these amazing characters I cry. Laugh if you need to, but Marvel characters tend to experience some heavy-duty tragedy in their fictional lives, which makes them interesting, believable, and deserving of our empathy. Like regular old people such as you and me, they react to this tragedy in a multitude of ways. Some of them channel those negative feelings into helping others, while some take their pain and channel it into seeking revenge.

I don’t condone the choice to take revenge for the pain and suffering that people (fictitious or real) have experienced in their lives, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the desire to do so. Revenge always seems like it’s going to be satisfying and it tempts us into believing that making our enemies pay for the hurt they’ve caused will somehow heal us. Unfortunately, for most people, revenge only causes more pain and turns people into the villains they hate so much.

A Heartbreaking Villain: Magneto

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Erik Lehnsherr is a tragic character. His story line is riddled with black moments. Born Jewish in Germany, he survived the Holocaust, but his family didn’t. In the comics, we are told that he not only survived, but also was later made to work in the death camp at Auschwitz to remove the dead bodies of his fellow Jews who were murdered in the gas chambers. The Nazis persecuted him for being a Jew, and then because of his mutant ability, he was hunted and threatened by people who feared him, which put other people he loved in danger. His daughter Anya died at the hands of an angry mob after people witnessed his mutant power. His wife, pregnant with twins, left him because she was devastated by the loss of their daughter and frightened by his power. To say that Erik is emotionally damaged by the terrible things that happened to him and his loved ones would be an understatement.

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When I was first introduced to Magneto as a kid, I didn’t understand why he was viewed as a villain. In fact, Stan Lee has been quoted to say that he never intended for Magneto to be seen as a villain. Inspired by the leaders of the Civil Rights movement, he envisioned Magneto as the Malcolm X to Professor X’s Martin Luther King Jr. – two men fighting for the same cause, but with different ideologies. Each man wishes to protect mutants from persecution and violence, but Magneto prefers to be proactive and confront the enemies of mutantkind BEFORE they can hurt his brothers and sisters. Charles Xavier has chosen to walk a more peaceful path, and never gives up hope that mutants and humans can live peacefully together. However, he also understands that the path he’s chosen is dangerous and trains his students so that they are ready to fight when the war against mutants ends up on their doorstep. He’s hopeful, but not an idiot.

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Our tax dollars at work.

The common struggle that initially unites these two men is compromised by their opposing views on how to deal with the threat of humanity. Magneto has witnessed the evil of humankind time and time again. His trust for humans will only extend so far, because he is always waiting for them to disappoint him. If we were to diagnose Erik with a psychological disorder, I think it would be safe to say that he suffers from PTSD after the atrocities he witnessed in Nazi Germany, which has contributed to his trust issues and difficulty maintaining relationships, romantic or otherwise. Intimacy can be a real challenge when you ultimately trust no one.

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They need more on-screen smooch time.

Because, even the people Erik has loved and attempted to trust have either abandoned him, or given him a reason to turn on them. Or his paranoia leads him to betray them before they can betray him. His agenda, to punish those who threaten him and his mutant brethren, has destroyed more relationships than healed them. His pursuit of revenge alienates him from friends and family, potentially making him one of the loneliest villains in the Marvel universe.

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What? That there should be scenes of both of you naked? That’s totally what I was thinking.

There’s a lot of ground to cover with Magneto seeing as how he appeared in the first X-men comic in 1963. Since there’s so much material to pull from, I’m going to cheat a little and only focus on the films that he’s appeared in. Yes, I’m fully aware that these films deviate from the original storylines that appeared in the comics, but since amazing actors have portrayed him on screen, I’m going to focus on them for the purposes of this blog post. I’m sticking to the films mainly because while Magneto has always been an inspiring character in print, it’s Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of him that stirs my heart (and loins) the most.

Magneto, played by Ian McKellen, first appeared on film in X-men (2000). McKellen did an amazing job of conveying the complexity of the character, as well as his cleverness, his power, his skills at manipulation, and his single-minded determination to stop all threats to mutant life. No matter what. McKellen reprised the role several times, including his appearance in X-men: Days of Future Past in which he plays the older Magneto and Michael Fassbender the younger Magneto.

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The sassier side of Magneto.

When we were given an in-depth peek into Magneto’s origin story in X-men: First Class (2011), Michael Fassbender had the unique opportunity to convey the raw emotional turmoil and rage-inspired violence that labeled this misunderstood character a villain. Not to mention the fact that he also brought Magneto to a level of sexiness that pairs well with James McAvoy’s equally sexy Charles Xavier. Maybe it’s the costuming from the 1960’s that reminded me of some of my favorite spies played by gorgeous British actors, or maybe it’s just the fact that Michael Fassbender is simply one of the sexiest men alive. At any rate, I have no complaints about the casting.

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Speaking of fantastic casting choices, when I saw X-men: Days of Future Past, my head nearly exploded when Evan Peters took on the role of Quicksilver, Magneto’s son. He was amazing, and his scenes were by far some of my favorites in both Days of Future Past and Apocalypse. Evan Peters stole my heart in the American Horror Story series, and he’s definitely on that list of actors who portray monsters in such a way to make me lust after them. I’m not one of those women who considers marrying serial killers on death row, but I do fantasize about fictional characters who commit similar acts of horror.

I think anyone would find it difficult to argue against Magneto’s complexity, or the fact that he is a damaged soul. And, even though he makes a lot of terrible decisions, I often find myself cheering him on. Humans do terrible things to each other, but those horrific acts become even worse when targeted at people who don’t look like them or share their cultural beliefs. You’d have to be an idiot not to grasp that the battle between humans and mutants is an allegory for racism. The fact that Erik is a Jew who survived the Holocaust allows me to overlook some of his methods for dealing with his enemies.

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In fact, I applauded his mission to track down and kill former Nazis who associated with the man who exploited his power and turned him into a monster. However, his belief that mutants are superior to humans sounds an awful lot like the ideology of the Nazis. That’s not a coincidence. Ironic, yes. Coincidence, no. It’s one of the personality quirks that make him such an interesting character. His psyche was so damaged by his tormentors that he uses their ideas and methods to smite his enemies.

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A friend of mine who also saw X-men: Apocalypse over the weekend was unable to accept Magneto’s actions in the film as redeemable. He’s right. A lot of people died because of his choices and the actions of the people he teamed up with to essentially destroy the world. Again, we were reminded that his pain and rage are his two biggest motivators. Does that excuse his actions? No. Do I still feel a kinship with him because of his pain and because he’s one of my favorite fictional characters? Of course I do. Is it true that each time I see Michael Fassbender in that role I want to help Magneto heal his pain any way I possibly can? Absolutely.

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Seriously. Look at this guy. You know you want to hug him. Kiss him. Handcuff him to a bed frame. Whatever it takes to distract him from making any more mistakes.

I’m not going to lie. A character with a backstory like his in the hands of a gorgeous actor like Fassbender is going to win my heart every single time. He is powerful, emotionally damaged, fighting for a cause I can get behind, and smoking hot. And he fucks up constantly and continually drives a wedge between himself and the people who care about him the most. In his efforts to protect mutants, he ultimately destroys all hope of uniting them on a common front. He becomes worse than the enemy he’s fighting. And, my heart breaks for him. There isn’t enough love in this world to heal Magneto, because he refuses to be healed. He isn’t redeemable because he doesn’t wish to be redeemed.

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Let Magneto’s major flaw be a lesson for us all. You can’t heal your own pain by causing pain in others. But, that doesn’t make him any less deserving of our empathy and love. Magneto will always have a special place in my heart, in that dark corner I reserve for the justifiable villains, antiheroes and monsters. Always.