The Secret to Happiness

Our bodies are intriguing. They are so complex that even the world’s smartest minds haven’t figured out all the intricacies that lie inside. Many people put an emphasis on parts that are being researched, such as the brain or the heart. Others will pay special attention to areas on our bodies that society deems important. What about parts like the nose? For some, it is their defining trait and we are quick to notice. However, I am willing to bet that most don’t pay attention to their own nose, unless they are in front of a mirror. Most of the time, we don’t even realize what is in front of us until we smell something bad or really good. A good possibility for why we don’t notice our nose is because our brain tends to edit it out. We don’t see it.

Happiness is like a nose. It is there all along, but our brain edits it out. We are quick to see the negative and overwhelming circumstances in life. Look in front of you. Start with the small things that make you happy, whether it is the beauty of wild flowers, or a puppy enjoying a walk. Try doing an activity that you enjoyed as a child! Reflect on what happened after a long day: Did someone treat you with kindness today? Did you do something to bring joy to someone else?

There are some phrases my dad used to say when I was a kid that I will never forget, such as the “put it back” jingle he would sing when I wanted to buy a toy that I was not going to go home with that day. One of his favorite phrases to use on my sister and I frequently was: “Pay attention.” Even as I type this, I can hear him say those two words in the specific tone he used. We need to slow down and pay attention to the countless blessings that surround us in this busy world, because happiness isn’t very far away at all.

The Danger of “Good Enough”

The language-learning community likes to talk about the downfalls of being a perfectionist. When learning a language, making mistakes is inevitable, whether you like it or not. Learners can choose to learn from those mistakes, and sometimes even get a good laugh from them, or they can shy away from meeting new people and never reach their goal of becoming conversational in the language that they are learning because they are afraid of making mistakes when speaking or writing in that language.

The same goes for life. We aim for perfection and are constantly looking to better ourselves through inspirational talks on YouTube, self-help books, and reassuring blog posts. We know that we are not perfect, and we never will be perfect; at least not in this life.

Some people have accepted that fact, which is okay. If we strive for perfection then we will fail.  However, we should not settle for who we are right now. There is always something about us that we can be working on, while striving to be the best version of ourselves. The moment we settle and say that we are “good enough”, we make the conscious decision to stop growing. It is important to see the need for constant growth in our lives, because if we aren’t growing, then we are dying.

What kind of person were you in high school? How did you treat others? Would you want to go back to being that person? Look at your life in the past year. Would you want to be the same person you were even a year ago, making the same mistakes?

No matter how great you may think you are, or how much improvement you feel like you have been making, you still have a long way to go, and so do I. Look at it as motivation to continue on the path that you started, or even change your direction completely. Either way, don’t strive for “perfect” and never settle for “good enough.” Aim for “even better than yesterday.”

The Best Four Years

Yesterday, my sister graduated from high school. It was an exciting and special moment to share with her, and also a little bit nostalgic. Pretty soon she’ll be off to college and be making more memories that will last a lifetime.

Some people say that college is the best four years of your life, and to an extent, they were right. They were the best four years of my life… so far. However, I don’t want my best four years to be so early on in my life that everything goes downhill after that. I hope that I have even better moments as life goes on and that I could have even more “best years of my life.”

Where does that mentality about college come from anyway? Why do people speak of the “glory days” when referring to the past? Shouldn’t we be striving to make every day a little bit better than the last, rather than glorifying something we will never again experience?

As she moves onto college, learns more about herself, and works to become the best person she can be, I hope that she’ll enjoy every moment. I hope that she can look back at her four years of school and say that they were good, maybe even the best for the moment, but that she’ll see the bright future ahead of her and go forth with a positive outlook on it.

As for me, I am still a little bit sad that four years of school went by so quickly, but I am thankful for all that I experienced and for the people in my life that I met because of going to college where I did. I may never see some of them again, but I will forever cherish those memories and continue to live life making new ones.

Duolingo Challenge | Learning Polish in 90 Days

If you have been a long-time reader of my posts, you may have seen a post a while back that talks about a free language-learning app called Duolingo. I have always loved using Duolingo as a supplement to my language-learning. Never have I used it to learn a language on its own. That’s why I decided to challenge myself to learn a language from scratch ONLY using Duolingo. That means no help from others, no using forvo for pronunciation, no YouTube videos on Polish lessons, absolutely nothing except the Duolingo Polish course itself.

I have completed two trees on Duolingo so far: French and Portuguese. I was taking classes in conjunction with using the app on my own, so by the time I finished both trees, the lessons were more of a review. What I learned in class was more advanced than what I had learned with the app. Even so, I thought it was great for reinforcing some of the content that I learned in class.

The reason why I decided to do this challenge is because I’m genuinely curious as to how much of a language I can learn with only using Duolingo. I don’t expect to be conversational by the end of the challenge, maybe just have basic knowledge. Since the Polish tree is large, I don’t expect to finish all the lessons in 90 days, if I’m properly pacing myself and making sure that I understand what I am learning.

WHY POLISH?

I probably should have done this challenge with a language that is closer to the languages I speak, but I wouldn’t have had enough motivation to push me to keep learning the language after a while. I’ve been wanting to study Polish for a long time for a few reasons, but one of the most compelling reasons is because of my grandma. She was born in the U.S. but I was told that she spoke Polish at home as a kid. It has been a while since she has used it, I only hear her use some words here and there, but I would like to surprise her by speaking some Polish to her. Like I said, I don’t expect to have an entire conversation with her beyond something very basic. I’m just looking to surprise her!

If you want to follow my Polish language journey, you can check out the first video of my challenge here:

I would also be thrilled if you would join me in my challenge! You don’t have to study Polish, but any language you would like to from scratch. I would love to see how far you could get in 90 days from just using Duolingo. It would be especially interesting to see the comparison at the end if others are studying other languages! If you’re interested in joining me, please leave a comment letting me know either below or on this forum!

Live Without Regrets

My dad has used the line: Live your life in such a way that you will have no regrets at the end. The reason he says that is because at the age of 10, he lost his father to a sudden heart attack, at age 11 he lost his home and every earthly possession to a major flood, and at the age of 12 his favorite baseball player was killed in a tragic airplane accident. He learned early on that things don’t last and that you never know what tomorrow will bring. He said that if you want to do something, do it; if you want to say something, say it. You don’t want to get to the end of your life and say, “I wish I would have…” or “I wish I wouldn’t have…”

I just finished my senior year of college. With that comes a flood of questions, but there is one that I have been dwelling on, even before I graduated: How do you feel? 

Just like any other life-changing situation I’ve gone through, I felt and am feeling a lot of things. However, not one of them is regret. I made sure to make the most of my time at Gettysburg during my four years there. I did almost everything and visited every restaurant that I wanted to, leaving me satisfied. Most of all, I made memories that I will never forget.

This past school year, my introverted side took over more than ever and I know that part of that was due to reverse culture shock. During the two semesters, I constantly battled with wanting to have alone time because of being drained from work, but also wanting to make sure that I was spending time with those who were special to me before potentially never seeing any of them again.

Despite having the mentality of wanting to spend time with others, there were times where saying “no” was necessary for the sake of being able to rest. There were also times where I needed to put my work aside for an hour, after working on it for many hours, to spend time with my friends. In the end, I wasn’t left wishing that I had spent more time with people. Life is all about balance and balance prevents regret.

So how do I feel after all is said and done? I am still swimming in a sea of feelings, but making the most of my time at school has helped me feel ready to move on overall. No matter what stage of life you are in, if you just finished high school, just finished college, or if you are finishing a completely different chapter of life, make the most of it because you never know what will come next.

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Your Grade Isn’t Always a Product of Your Work

During finals week at colleges across the country, libraries are filled with students, empty classrooms are occupied after class hours, and (what seems like) the zombie apocalypse is beginning. The number of breakdowns and stressed-out, tired students that I had seen this semester was astonishing, and quite disheartening. Why do people let themselves get to this point in the first place?

I love learning. If I could be a permanent student without debt, I would be, or so I thought. This past year, the joy I got out of learning about new topics was overcome by the obsession to feel accomplished based on my grades. Many seniors I talked to this year, as well as myself, were upset that we were spending our last year of college worrying about our grades, instead of spending time with our friends and making memories before graduating.

After realizing that there is a such thing as over-studying, I realized that resting was very important. There has to be a balance. I formed a certain attitude when it came to studying for tests: If I studied as much as I could without overdoing it, and I didn’t do well, then I genuinely tried my best and could feel okay about it, even if I was disappointed at first. If I didn’t put any effort into studying for an exam and didn’t do well, then I had no one to blame but myself.

The truth is, you can put all of the effort you physically, mentally, and emotionally can possibly put into an assignment, and sometimes it just won’t pay off. Sometimes you get a teacher that doesn’t agree with you or doesn’t appreciate the way you write a paper, but the kid that wrote the paper half an hour before class got a better grade. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good student. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to work harder. It means that you didn’t live up to that professor’s standards, whatever they may be, and that isn’t always a bad thing. Maybe your grade doesn’t reflect all the work that you put into the assignment, but you did your best, and that is what matters.

Use Simple Language

Many years ago, I was talking to somebody that I had just met, and they asked me if I was from Scranton. This was the first time I was asked a question so specific to where I lived that I was caught off guard. I told the woman that I was from the area and asked how she knew. You have an accent, she told me.

What? I thought I spoke standard English just like anyone else in the area! There wasn’t anything in my speech that made me think that I sounded like I was from a specific area. When people think of American accents, they usually refer to the South, New York, or New England. Who knew that even in the little region where you grew up, your accent could be seen as different? There is much diversity within American English, but that doesn’t just apply to how we sound when we speak.

I have interacted with a variety of language exchange partners from many different places. Not all language exchanges give you the same experience, and not all language exchanges will go smoothly. However, if you are looking to make the experience less stressful for both parties, I would suggest using simple language.

I naturally don’t use complicated language and I don’t see why it needs to be used in everyday situations, like some people use it. If I can get my point across concisely without having to repeat myself or clarify what I was saying, then I can continue to say even more things. I have found this to be very helpful as a language exchange partner, because most of the time, my partners will understand what I am saying, even if they don’t consider themselves “fluent” in English. Being able to understand the conversation will make them more motivated to continue speaking to you and you will be able to have more fluid conversations.

I have been told that I enunciate in English. That can contribute to a better and easier language exchange, but I would highly suggest trying to use language that is simpler and more natural, rather than what you are reading in your textbook. However, I would not use language that is so simple that it is insulting. So try it out! See what happens when you speak to somebody using most of the vocabulary that they’ll probably know!