Day 1 and Intro: Self.com’s 14 Days to Happier, Healthier You!

Photo of A.J. Jacob’s book “Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection”, Ghirardelli Semi-sweet chocolate chips and Celestial Seasonings’ Tension Tamer Herbal Tea, Photo Credit: © Anita George 2012
Note: The tea mentioned in the post is not the same as the one in the photo. The one in the post was Red Rose Original black tea.

Eat this “superfood.” Gulp down these supplements. Perform these exercises. Think happy thoughts.

There’s a ton of advice out there on how to attain optimal health and happiness. Articles, studies and talk show segments: Do any of these ideas work?

I don’t know, but I’m at a point in my life where I have the time and energy to experiment and find out.

So I will.

I came across this article from Self.com earlier this year and it appealed to me from the beginning because it’s not just about  increasing your happiness; it’s also about decreasing your stress. Learning how to manage stress better is a personal goal of mine. Chronic stress is an ugly thing. Overcoming adversity to achieve your goals is wonderful, but if you’ve let the stress from that struggle take its toll on you and overwhelm you then that victory means almost nothing.  You can’t even enjoy your dream job or life because you’re too busy just trying to survive: fixing any number of health problems and fighting to keep crippling anxiety and depression at bay. I’ve learned that it’s far better to address it sooner rather than later, rather than letting it get worse. Preventive care is the key.

But rather than chase after every study and try every health notion under sun for the rest of my life, I am just going to focus on the next fourteen days and each of their featured paths to health and happiness. I am just going to dive into this article and see what works best for me. And what’s particularly great about the tips this article offers is that it doesn’t really offer any quick-fixes. It’s not about popping pills and supplements, it’s about changing attitudes and leading a more physically and socially active lifestyle. And so I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

Day 1: “Enjoy Frequent, Tiny Hits of Pleasure”

Today got off to a bit of a rough start since I started Day 1 of this project late. Late-in-the-afternoon late. And so it was a bit difficult to schedule “frequent, tiny hits of pleasure” throughout the day as it said in the article. Note to self: Don’t sleep in during project days. But not to worry,  the great thing about this project is that I’ll be building on these activities every day instead of just doing one activity each day. So I’ll have fourteen days to get today’s task right!

I didn’t get to enjoy every fun activity I had planned to do today but of the ones I managed to complete here are my thoughts on today’s task:

  1. Once every hour I tried to watch one funny YouTube video. Those who know me already know what a YouTube junkie I am. And so it should come as no surprise to them that I had trouble limiting myself to just one video. But it surprised me that I had a tendency to re-watch videos I enjoyed and that it was hard to remind myself that I was only allowed to watch it once. And limiting myself to just one video also caused me to be more careful in picking which video to watch at the next hour. I wanted to maximize my laughs and I didn’t want to waste my next chance on something less funny. That said, the videos worked pretty well if they were funny. A lovely distraction from stress. I’d just start thinking of funny situations related to the video and soon I’d forget about what was bothering me in the first place. But if it turned it out that the video wasn’t funny, I felt (slightly) disappointed and more tense.
  2. As I was performing other activities (reading a book, drinking my favorite tea etc.) I realized that sometimes planning these “tiny hits of pleasure” out might be a source of stress in and of itself because I’m expecting these activities to be a certain way and therefore make me feel relaxed. Maybe the book I’m reading brings up a stressful subject for me. Or maybe the tea doesn’t taste as good.  But what happens when what I’ve planned doesn’t happen the way I wanted it to and it’s less fun? Then I’m tense. So maybe the key to this exercise is to do something nice for myself without worrying about when and how. I should just enjoy these little  activities as they are, because I want to and without expectations.
  3. Honestly, you’ll probably laugh, but I think the activity that just involved me eating a small handful of semi-sweet chocolate probably worked the best. I don’t know if it’s the energy from the sugar or special chemicals in chocolate that release “feel-good” chemicals in my brain but I’d had an anxiety-ridden moment earlier and now it just seems silly. Chocolate seems like a decent short-term distraction. And I think using semi-sweet chocolate (for me anyway) helps curb my tendency to overindulge in it. Overindulging I think would dull the relaxation effect, in addition to breaking the rules of today’s task. As the project goes on, I’ll do more research to find out what effects if any chocolate has on the brain.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this post. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions, questions and stories! Or even if you have any other ideas for fun, happy activities to do, please feel free to tell me!

I’d also like to thank SELF Magazine for posting the article,“14 Days to a Happier, Healthier You!” which inspired this blog post.

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a lovely day!

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Culinary Experiment #6: Chocolate Root Beer Cake

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I almost don’t even need to write a post about this recipe. The photos speak for themselves.

It’s chocolate and root beer. Bubbly, cocoa goodness baked in a cake.

Biting into this dessert, you can’t help but imagine that this cake is the  love-child of a glorious union between a chocolate milk shake and a root beer float.

The combination of chocolate and root beer sounds kind of simple. But there’s a layer of complexity to it that will intrigue most foodies. And that layer is made of brown sugar and allspice.

Not only does that layer deepen and intensify the flavor of the chocolate, it complements the root beer nicely and takes a one-dimensional cake with a cloying soda-pop sweetness and makes it just a touch savory, reminiscent of a spice cake.

That said, it may not be for everyone. And don’t go into making this cake with the expectation that it’ll taste really sweet. You’ll be disappointed…for a little while. And then you’ll keep eating it because the longer it sits the better it gets. And then you’ll share it with your friends and they’ll love it, which somehow makes you love it more too.

That’s what happened to me. I thought it would be just as sweet as one of those grocery store bakery cakes. It’s not. But it doesn’t matter, the flavor of this cake is so rich you fall in love with it anyway.

I don’t have very many notes for this recipe as I ended up following the recipe exactly, as I really wanted to taste this cake in its unadulterated form:

  1. As the recipe notes, the batter will look lumpy. And to prove it, there’s a photo in the slideshow above that shows the batter in all its lumpy glory. Please don’t over-mix the batter just to get it perfectly smooth. You might ruin the texture of the cake that way.
  2. I didn’t have a skewer or a chopstick on hand to poke holes into the cake. I just used a spoon. It worked fine since the longer the cake sits, the more the root beer soaks into the cake. And it will soak all the way through. This is a very moist cake.
  3. Don’t worry if the glaze/icing turns out to be kind of drippy. It’s supposed to be that way. If you want a thicker icing, however, you’ll need to add more confectioner’s sugar. But beware, it might make the icing too sweet. If you want a topping that’s more spreadable, try whipped cream: It’s decorative, non-drippy, and has the right amount of sweetness.

Don’t forget to let me know what you thought of this post and the recipe. I’d love to hear your comments and questions!

I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

P.S.: I’d like to say thank you to  Jenelle of OneApron.com for posting this recipe!