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My Message to the Class of 2013

Graduation speeches are tricky. The balance between sentimental and silly can quickly turn into a goopy sticky smattering of clichés and awkward jokes if you’re not careful. So I wanted to share my message here, online—with no long intentional pauses or stares into the distance to represent the future to come. I’ll just begin with a few questions so just mentally raise your hand if you can relate. Have you ever said during the past four years, “I can’t wait to turn 21?” or “I can’t wait for summer?” or “I can’t wait for finals to be over?” I’m guilty as charged myself. I found out that many of us are postponing our happiness and wishing our lives away without even realizing it. I wanted to turn that around so I decided to write about a book about it, now called, The Sunny Side Up!. After interviewing hundreds of Bruins about what it is that makes them happy, I compiled a list of Sunny Suggestions, which are simple tools and tips for improving your life and I wanted to share a few of those with you today so that you can continue to find happiness in your life well after graduation.

So the first suggestion—make gratitude ever present in your life. I recently saw an interview with a graduate student named Aimee Copeland. She had both of her hands, left leg, and right foot amputed after getting a flesh eating bacteria from a zipline crash that nearly took her life. Yet what did Aimee have to say about it? “Regardless of what happens to you…there’s always so much joy out there, and you just got to find it,” UCLA has given us so much to be thankful for—now it’s up to us to continue to appreciate the journey ahead, even when challenges come our way, as they inevitably will. We can choose to stay positive and we’ll be happier for it.

Next, never stop setting goals. Graduating from UCLA is just the beginning. It’s time to dream big and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to start up your own company or follow through on an idea that inspires you, now is your chance. We live in a time where you don’t have to play it safe or go by the book—be creative and break out. Be different. You don’t have to wait for other people to tell you “yes,” The only person you need to tell that to is yourself. Always believe that great things lie ahead in your future and remember that you never have to settle. You are capable of more than you think you are.

Third, don’t lose sight of the people who have changed your life for the better. The friendships we’ve made here can last for a lifetime if you’re willing to make an effort to stay in touch. As we share this time together, don’t let these precious friends slip away from you. We need to continue care about each other and connect.

Next, never stop finding people in your life who inspire you to think harder, be kinder, and give more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out to people who amaze you. But it’s just as important to be a mentor. When someone comes to you for help, whether it’s with your time or advice, offer it to them. So many people in our lives have been willing to help us achieve our dreams—it’s so important that we help others accomplish theirs.

Lastly, give back. Find a cause you’re passionate about and put your heart there. Whether you danced for 26 hours at Dance Marathon or walked the track at Relay for Life during your time here—keep the spirit of service alive. The Bruin community is all about helping others and if we want to lead happy lives, we’ve got to begin by sharing and serving others. As Coach Wooden said, “Happiness begins when selfishness ends.”

Remember that happiness happens when YOU make it happen. Always believe in yourself and believe the best in other people as well. There is so much good in the world and it’s up to us to be apart of that goodness and share it with others. To quote from one of my favorite movies The Help, “You are kind, you are smart, you are important.” So don’t forget it! Congratulations Class of 2013!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

What I Learned When I Wrote a Book

This week has been the culmination of so many things in my life: the publication of my book, The Sunny Side Up!, the beginning of the end of my senior year at UCLA, and the preparation for my year as a Chi Omega National Consultant. But as I’ve celebrated this week, it also brings me back to how it all began—with the book that started it all. Let me take you back to my freshman year of college…

happiness-projectIt was at a family birthday party for my cousin. After eating homemade cake it was present time. She opened a book. Simple enough. “What book is that?” I said. “Oh, it’s Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project.” I commented, “I would love to write a book like that.” I remember I was mildly rebuked—Gretchen was a prestigious bestselling author…she had something to say. Her life, her age, her wisdom had something to offer. At 19 years of age, did I not have anything worthwhile to say? And if I did, would anyone even listen? Even though my cousin blew her birthday candles out that night, my candle had just been lit up. It was on.

I got a copy of Rubin’s book for myself (no birthday necessary) and I practically painted the book with highlighters and pink pen marks while eating salads, waiting for class to start, and before falling asleep in a loft bed that practically touched the ceiling. In essence, wherever I went, that book went. This book was my starting point and I wanted to make sure I understood it not just like the back of my hand, but like the birthmark on my left leg. By the time I got to the last page, I was convinced that I had to write. And I wanted to write with Gretchen—a teen edition to The Happiness Project. What a brilliant idea! Or so I thought at the time.

Now I’ve always been thankful for my courage. Sure, there have been times when I’ve been stung by it but it’s left me with no regrets. When there is someone I want to connect with, I reach out. Why not? Even if they say no or ignore me outright, I can still know that I have done my part. So I wrote Gretchen and told her my bold plan to partner up and be a New York Times bookselling team. And she wrote back, which I greatly appreciated. The answer? Thanks, but no thanks. I felt like the kid who got rejected to go to prom.

But it was okay. I don’t mind dancing alone. I simply decided that I would write my own book. Gretchen wrote from the standpoint of having a midlife epiphany to turn her life around—to shift her perspective. I wanted to take a different stance. As a 19 year old at the time, I wanted to help my generation find happiness now so that we could have fulfillment all along and not have that wake up call of dissatisfaction at a later point. Of course, times of trouble are inevitable but if you put positivity at the forefront of your mind, it will carry you through.

Fun fact: My best friend of 21 years, Lauren (we have the same name), has done all The Sunny Girl photography the past four years--including the cover of the book.

Fun fact: My best friend of 21 years, Lauren (we have the same name), has done all The Sunny Girl photography the past four years–including the cover of the book.

So I got to writing. And blogging (this post here is my 607th blog post). And interviewing. I wanted the book to be a commentary on my generation. I knew that people would critique me by saying—“You’re 20, who are you to say what makes for a happy life?” So I got my people to back me up. Or say it how they saw it. I asked my peers about what exactly made them happy and they gave me the honest answers. The most inspiring part of the writing process was seeing how happy young adults really are. Even though older generations like to tag us as entitled or lazy or dissatisfied, we are actually quite happy and we want to contribute to the community, give and receive love, and achieve our goals. My hope is that this book will give people of all ages faith in the Millennial generation.

I decided to self publish. Some people would have a semi-puzzled look on their face when I told them that—no traditional publisher? What do you mean? I was hard pressed to break out of the traditional mold myself. Sure, it would have been nice to have a literary agent and a publishing company eager to sign the dotted line. But ultimately, the road of self publishing made me a more independent, confident, and creative author. I had to do everything. Shoot and design the book cover. Find an editor I trusted (and could afford) and promote the book with all my might.

But I loved the process, I delighted in it. And more than anything, I wanted to self-publish because I wanted to get the book on the market as soon as possible. Part of the reason I wanted to write the book was to be a real and relatable young adult myself—not just as an author but as a peer. If the book didn’t come out till I was 25…well, mission not accomplished.

71u56jRapLL._SL1360_So now, after parsing through hundreds of interviews, writing, re-writing, and re-writing again, countless editing rounds, and cover designing, the book is done. Fin. You can buy it online—there it is on Amazon! Just like I imagined it. I think it still hasn’t hit me yet and I’m not sure if it will for awhile. I don’t want it to. Because the real work is only just beginning. Yes I have written a book, but now the new goal is getting people to read the book—on their own volition. The pen is out of my hands and the paper is in theirs.

While it would be great to see book sales summit (one can dream!), my real goal is that for the people who do pick up the book, they find a friend within the pages. Yes, young adults as a whole are happy but we have our tough days—just like anyone of any age. This book is to show you you’re not alone, even if it feels like you are. Sometimes it can be hard to have a real conversation with people about what you’re facing but this book has the answers that aren’t always said aloud. I hope my book is comforting yet I also hope that it inspires young adults to find their own dreams and follow through with them.

We live in a world now where anything is possible. You don’t have to wait for people to tell you “yes,” the only person you need to say that to is yourself. Give yourself the go-ahead to follow through on your goals and don’t give up on them, even if others doubt you. You can do what you dream. After having my book published on April 25, 2013, after four years of hard work, I did.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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