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ver la bella : how to stay positive + present when life's hard



After noticing that my pup, Bella, had lost about a pound (quite a lot for an 8 lb. dog!), I took her for a checkup. I'd expected be asked to make some changes to her diet, but I never thought I'd be facing a dire diagnosis: kidney trouble. When I received the initial test results (results that were vague but disheartening), I experienced what I guess are typical responses. First I was shocked, then incredibly sad, then swept away by a wave of powerlessness and disbelief. All the while I was bombarded with the barrage of questions in my mind: How could my little pup -- only 8-years-old and so seemingly healthy -- be suffering from such a serious illness? How would I be able to see her in pain? How would I be able to face losing her -- something I always knew would happen, but could never imagine happening so soon? How long would I have with her? How could this be happening? 

Over the next few days, the rush of negative emotions and rhetorical questions were endless... I cried at the sight of her little body curled up on the couch. (How could that spot on the couch someday be empty?) I clenched my fists in anger at the sight of a neighbor walking his new puppy. (Why was his dog's life just starting when my dog's life was ending?) I panicked at the sight of the vet's number popping up on my cell phone. (What more bad news could he have to deliver?) I lay awake, wallowing in self-deprecating doubt. (Could I have done something to prevent this?) I hated the sight of her eyes filled with fear and distrust as I gave her the twice-daily dose of medicine. (If I was helping her, why was it hurting us both so much?)

After two months of celebrating her presence, so grateful to have found her after she'd gone missing for a day, the sudden influx of negative emotions surrounding this little ball of fur was overwhelming, smashing into my heart with the force of a wrecking ball. I'd prided myself on looking for the positive, on striving to be present no matter what, but all of the words I'd written, all of the advice I'd doled out to others, was suddenly so hard to embrace. 

To those of you who haven't been through this, it might seem as if I'm being dramatic. After all, one could argue that she's just a dog. She might be just a pet, just one part of my multi-faceted life, but she means so much to me. Those of you who have (or have had) a close relationship with an animal know how important these relationships can be. And I might be losing that relationship so much sooner than I'd ever anticipated. It was a tough pill to swallow -- but unlike Bella, who snapped at me and hid behind furniture when it was time to take her pills -- I decided not to fight it. 

Choosing to be positive and present right now has not been easy. I want to curl up in bed and sob. I want to leave town and pretend it's not happening. Of all the things I want to do, staying in the moment isn't at the top of my list. But after the initial shock and sadness wore off, I realized I needed to stay as positive and present as possible -- both for my own well-being and for Bella's. It's a constant struggle, but here's what I've been doing to keep myself focused on the positive and the present: 


5 Ways to Stay Positive + Present
(No Matter What Life Throws At You)


1. Accept what you cannot change.

Life is a mysterious, fragile thing and it's so hard to know why some things happen when they do. To make it through this crazy world in one piece, we must accept what we cannot change. To find peace, we must respect what is. Much as I would like to turn back time and make Bella well again, much as I would love to find a way to stop her from getting sicker, these are things I cannot do. I cannot change what is, no matter how much I might like to. Accepting the current situation is incredibly difficult -- and I'm not quite sure I will ever fully embrace it -- but choosing not to accept it only causes angst and stress. Accepting it doesn't mean I like it, doesn't mean I wouldn't give anything to change it. It only means I have a place of peace where I can recognize that some things are out of my control. 

2. Be positively proactive. 

While there are somethings you cannot change -- like the fact that Bella's sick and not going to get better -- there are other things you do have control over. Every morning and evening I give Bella her medicine, crushing up pills in her food and facing the tortuous task of syringing liquid syrup into her snarling mouth. I take her to the vet, petting her and whispering reassurance during her belly-up ultrasound, holding her shaking body in the waiting room. These things are difficult, but I feel better knowing that I'm doing something proactive to help her. I cannot change the situation, but there are still things I can do, actions I can take. However small, there is always something we can do to make even the most difficult situations a bit easier to bear. 

3. Share how you're feeling. 

Talking about the pain and sadness makes it seem more real, which makes me hesitant to do it. When I first heard the news about Bella, I acted like everything was fine, like I wasn't fazed at all. Only later did I open up, break down, and share the pain I was in. It didn't make it go away -- perhaps nothing will -- but opening up to someone else, falling into the open arms of someone who loves me, made the burden a little less heavy. It sometimes seems braver to keep smiling, to act as if nothing's wrong, but that's actually not very positive or present. It's just pretend. It's okay to experience emotion and it's so helpful to share those emotions with others. Letting it out frees you a little bit, making you feel a little bit lighter. 

4. Enjoy what you still have.

The initial waves of sadness made it difficult for me to recognize that Bella is still here, still sitting by my side and looking up at my with those sweet brown eyes. Once I took a step back from my own pain, I realized things are unsettlingly the same. She is still here. I am still here. I could choose to lose myself in my sadness -- or I could choose to embrace the time I have left with her, enjoying every single moment she's by my side. In choosing the later, I found a source of joy in the sadness. I was so thankful to have her -- and, as a result, I became even more thankful for everything. Impending loss casts a bit of magic on life, making the mundane sparkle. Every moment starts to sparkle and shine. 

5. Take care of yourself. 

Putting yourself on the back burner is all too common when a difficult situation starts to swallow up all of our time and emotional energy. With an onslaught of new things to worry about, think about, and do, caring for yourself can seem like an indulgence -- but it's necessary to keep yourself positive and present. No matter what else is dominating your day, don't forget yourself. When I first heard about Bella, I didn't want to even leave her for a second, the guilt overwhelming me every time the door clicked shut behind me. As the days have gone on, I've realized that neglecting myself doesn't help me -- or her. During this tough time, we both need me to be at my best, which means I need to take care of myself.    


These five things are not easy to do. When I pet Bella and feel her tiny bones protruding from her fur, it's hard to accept her illness. When Bella and I battle during daily medicine doses, it's hard to know if all the proactivity is really helping either of us. When I break down and cry, I wonder if I'm just wallowing in self-pity. When I snuggle up to Bella for a cuddle, it's hard to enjoy it knowing that she might be in pain, that someday I will no longer have her to cuddle with. And when I do things for myself -- run an errand, enjoy lunch with friends -- it's hard to shake the guilt that I'm not spending all my time with my little dog who won't be around forever. Yes, staying positive and present has never been harder for me than it is right now -- but I know that it's ultimately much more rewarding than the alternative, which would involve me focusing on the Bella-less future, on all the sadness and pain that will come with losing her. I'm certain those emotions will come -- and the loss of her will be devastating -- but I've been doing this Positively Present thing long enough to know that if I don't focus on enjoying the moments I have with her now, if I don't focus on the positive of still having her here with me, I'll someday be looking back and wishing I hadn't wasted those final moments with her. 

Anyone who has a pet knows that they pick up on our emotions. Whenever I'm sad, Bella will curl up beside me in solidarity. Whenever I cry, she scrambles over to me to lick the tears from my face. She's always been in tune to my emotions and if I want her to experience whatever time she has left in a happy state, I must focus on the positive, must put on my bravest face and smile -- not only for all the wonderful years Bella and I have shared, but for every single moment I'm still lucky enough to have her in my life. 

How do you stay positive + present when life's hard? 
Any advice for someone like me who is struggling to stay upbeat
during a difficult situation? 


on positivity: a letter to my younger self



Recently Ashley, the founder of Your Super Awesome Life, asked me to weigh in on what I wish I'd known when I was a teen girl. (For those of you not familiar with Your Super Awesome Life, it's a wonderful website where Ashely provides tips, tools, and inspiration for teen girls who want to begin living in a way that reflects their deepest, truest, most super awesome dreams. Her mission is for every girl to feel empowered and super awesome.) The list of what I wish I'd known is endless, but what I really wish I'd known back then is how important having a positive attitude is. 

It's so easy to look back and say, "If only I'd known..." Clearly I cannot go back and teach myself what I know now, but I can help others who are where I was to see what I was once blind to: positivity matters. There's a lot I would say to my younger self about how important positivity is so I've written a letter to the girl I once was. Though it's addressed to teenage me, it's something I hope all teenage girls (and perhaps anyone!) can learn from.  



Dear Teenage Dani, 

I know it's tough being where you are now. Pardon the Britney Spears reference, but you probably are feeling as if you're no longer a girl and not yet a woman. You sometimes long to be in your twenties or thirties, free from the confines of living with your parents and finally living as an adult. You sometimes wish you could go back to the naivete of childhood, to a time when you didn't care so much about boys, didn't have to worry about grades, and didn't feel like you were constantly on an emotional roller coaster. You're in the in-between, a kind of life limbo, and it's a tough place to be. 

It's also a great place to be. You're on the verge of adulthood -- old enough to have some sense of who you are, yet not so set in your ways that you feel trapped by your own self. The worries you have now seem daunting -- college, boyfriends, friend drama -- but they will only magnify in adulthood. I'm sure the last thing you want to hear is that it gets worse, but that's the truth. It also gets better. As an adult, you will have more freedom, more experience, more fun. You'll become the person you were meant to be (and, oddly enough, you'll realize that this person is quite similar to your childhood self). 

As wonderful as those wild, experimental teen years are for you, the things you'll experience later in life will be so much better. Life will be harder, but it will also be happier. Though taking advice is probably one of the last things you want to do (you love to go your own way), listen up. I've learned some things over the past ten years or so and I wish I'd known them back when I was a teenager. Here are some of the things I wish I would have known... 


  • Your attitude matters -- and you can control it. You have the power to choose your attitude. No matter what happens, you can choose to focus on the positive in the situation. At times it seems like it would be way more work to focus on what's going right (those negative thoughts are tempting!), but focusing on the negative only makes it harder on you. You have the power to control your attitude so make it a positive one (no matter how hard it is!). 
  • The tough times will bring out the best in your life. I'm sure you've heard it before: "Without the rain, there can be no rainbow." Cliche? Yes. True? Yes! Without the really tough times in your life, it's hard to appreciate all of the awesome things you have going for you. The tough times will really help you see (and be grateful for) all the good things in your life. Don't forget to learn from them.
  • You must stop doing things that make you unhappy. Look at your life carefully. Are you doing anything that makes you unhappy? When you find yourself at your lowest point, is there anything that has caused the low point to occur? Often there are patterns you just aren't admitting to. Be honest. (And take an extra close look at any alcohol or drug use. These will cause serious unhappiness and negativity for you.)

  • Always surround yourself with people who bring you up. Choose not to be around people that cause you to be unhappy. Sadly, you're probably around a few people that bring you down, not up. If you find people in your life bringing you down -- yes, even family members or significant others -- find a way to separate yourself from them. If you want to live a truly positive life, you must be surrounded by positive influences.

  • Be open-minded to living a positive life. You'll want to call of this "positive living" stuff bullshit, but try to be open. The more you start opening your mind to new ideas, the more you'll realize there are so many benefits to focusing on the positive. Every idea for living more positively might not work for you, but having an open mind will help you learn to make your life as awesome as it can be. 


These things might sound impossible -- too hard to even think about trying -- but at least think about them. Each of these has made such a positive impact on my life. Had I known -- no, not just known, but believed these things -- back when I was a teenager, I might have avoided a great deal of heartache and mess in my young adult life. You might not realize it now, but you have a lot more power over your life than you realize. Don't ever forget that. 

Adult Dani  


My younger, teenage self probably wouldn't have listened to a word of this. Or maybe she would have and thought it was too far out of her reach to even try. I might not have been able to reach her, but I hope this letter will reach someone, somewhere, who can learn from the lessons I've learned over the past decade. Learning to live a more positive life has been a challenge, but it's a choice I've never once regretted. 

the best medicine: 5 reasons you should laugh more


Cliche as it might sound, laughter really is the best medicine -- and I can certainly vouch for that these days. Atop the stress of my new career, this week I've been battling a fierce cold, and one of the best distractions from my aching head and stuffy nose has been laughter. When my boyfriend pokes fun at me, when I catch my daily dose of Ellen, when I receive a hilarious text message -- all of these things crack me up and make whatever's ailing me disappear for a moment.  

Laughter might seem like a frivolous thing to spend time thinking about, but it's important. It has such a positive impact on your life and, like most people, you probably don't give much thought to it. Laughter is something we've been doing since we were infants. We learned quickly that laughter is rewarded. Just think about how people try to make babies laugh and how clearly pleased they are when the giggle erupts from that tiny little mouth. As babies, we were encouraged to laugh and we received positive responses when we did so. 

As we grew older, we realized there are different types of laughter and different occasions when laughter is appropriate (one of which, I've learned, is not in the front row of a church). As we age, the meaning of laughter changes. It grows deeper and richer and has many more levels than it did when we were infants. As adults, we no longer have people cooing around us in an attempt to make us laugh, but sometimes when we're really feeling down, there are people in our lives who will do whatever they can to bring that laughter out of us.

No matter what the age, laughter is one of those things that just makes you feel good. There's certainly negative laughter (such as laughing at someone), but today I want to focus on how we can bring more of the positive types of laughter into our lives. As adults, we need to laugh more often. According to Psychology Today, the average five-year-old laughs 300 times a day. The average adult? Only four.

Just think about how great you would feel if you laughed 300 times today. Pretty amazing, I bet. Not only does laughter feel great, but it has quite a few health and social benefits as well. You probably don't need much encouragement to laugh more often, but just in case you need an extra push, here are five reasons you really should start laughing more. 


5 Reasons to Laugh

1. Laughter boosts your immune system. According to some studies, laughter helps to boost your immune system and may even increase the number of cancer-killing cells in your body. Doing something that feels good and is good for you? Sounds like a good idea to me!

2. Laughter release endorphins.
And speaking of feeling good... when you laugh, you trigger a release of endorphins (those feel-good chemicals). These chemicals are the reason that you feel so happy when you laugh. The more you laugh, the better you'll feel so do it as often as you can!

3. Laughter helps us connect with others. Think about how you feel when you're laughing with someone. You feel connected, right? Even if you don't know the person well, you feel bonded with him or her. Forming connections has a positive impact on our lives -- and laughter is a great way to connect! 

4. Laughter protects your heart. Apparently laughing has some healthy heart benefits. Laughing can lead to improved blood flow and cut down on high blood pressure. Heart troubles are unfortunately pretty common -- which is why we should all start laughing more often to ward them off. 

5. Laughter keeps us present. When you're laughing, you're focused on whatever is funny in that moment. You're not worried about the past or the future. You're in the now. Though you might not realize it, laughter really is one of the best ways to stay present. 

These are just a few of the many reasons it benefits us to laugh. Laughter offers us a break from the hard parts of life. Laughter offers us a chance to escape, even for a few moments, from the past and the future. Laughter allows us to really be in the moment. No matter how badly you feel, how broken your heart is, how tough things seem, laughter has the ability to pick you up, to bring you a respite from unhappiness. It really is the best medicine. Below are a few of laugh-inducing links. 


Laugh-Inducing Links

The Best Medicine Pinterest board


Lessons from Disney

A bear does the Dougie

Hipster pup

Stuff Instagramers say

The Landlord

The dangers of texting while walking

Texts from the dog

Charlie Bury, Chicago comedian

The Doghouse Diaries

Aled Lewis's Toy Stories

What's making YOU laugh today? 
Feel free to share your funny jokes, links, and stories
in the comments section below.