The Light and the Dark

Today was the last day of the fall semester as I work towards my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at USC. It just may have been the busiest few months of my life…but a time of tremendous learning and growth (or so I hope).

I recently received an email in my inbox that made me stop and think. Someone wrote to me, months after hearing me speak and asked a poignant question. She asked how one finds happiness even while depressed or anxious. She said that during my keynote happiness sounded like a switch to simply be turned on or off. No wonder she maybe felt frustrated or confused!

I wanted to share my answer to this audience member as she asked what I felt to be a very compelling question.

Here is my reply:

Thanks so much for reaching out. I can tell that you put a lot of thought into your questions and I love that you took the time to ask. 

I am a training therapist and I work with depressed and anxious clients on a daily basis. I understand fully how hard it can be to find happiness when experiencing either and having someone tell you to “just be happy” is not only insensitive, but aggravating. 

Happiness is certainly not an “on and off switch” but I do believe that good things happen in all of our lives. The difference sometimes between people who experience more happiness than others is that they can savor and appreciate those moments of joy a little more. When we are sad, and certainly depressed or anxious, we focus more on the negativity in our lives. It becomes consuming even when we don’t want it to. Unfortunately our brains can be wired to gravitate more toward these negative thoughts and sometimes we have to work hard to rewire our thought process so that we focus more on the positive. The good news is that over time, happiness can become more habitual as our brains adapt to a more positive mindset. Of course, this takes time and mindful effort, and sometimes the use of antidepressants depending on the person (something that a person should talk to a psychiatrist about first) but I believe that it can be done. 

Research shows that gratitude is one of the best way to do this. Just focusing and noticing the good things can make a big difference. Another way to find happiness when depressed or anxious is simply talking with others and owning how one feels. We often keep depression or anxiety a secret because it feels shameful to us and thus those hard feelings intensify and worsen. For all of us, happiness begins when others can know and love us no matter how we are feeling–happy, sad, mad–you name it. Finding those people who you can trust and who can love you for who you are and how you feel will make a big difference.

I think we also need to give that acceptance to ourselves and be patient with how we are feeling. Owning our sadness, our fears–naming them for what they are–not only gives respect to ourselves, it also often takes away some of their power. Naming our truth of what we feel can be a liberating feeling.

It’s important to be realistic about our human emotions. No one is happy all the time, but we can choose to face challenging situations with a more optimistic mindset. With this perspective, we can learn to savor those happy moments that we do have and those moments will give us that much more resilience for when we do feel depressed or anxious.

When happiness is a light switch—life is black or white. We either have the light or we are in utter darkness. If anything, life is all shades of dark and light. We need both to appreciate the other.

As I write in a dark living room right now, I’m savoring the bright lights of the Christmas tree in front of me. I am remembering tonight that there is still joy to be had even when pain and sadness still exists. We can hold both in our hearts.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 8.35.48 PM

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

How I Met Myself in the Sky

I used to be afraid of flying. I would white knuckle the seat and any little bump sent me into a tizzy. More than anything, I was claustrophobic in the cramped space—no escape, nowhere to move. Get. Me. Out.

And then I accepted a job that had me flying just about every week.

My face when I had just graduated from UCLA and was ready to head to the airport to start my job.

My face when I had just graduated from UCLA and was ready to head to the airport to start my job.

Wait, what?

At first I wouldn’t get on a plane without Dramamine, a sleeping mask, fuzzy socks, Emergen-C—whatever I might have encountered mid air, I was prepared. I remember feeling so nervous every time the plane would rumble to take off and eventually land. The minutes ticked by. How much longer I would think to myself.

Those first few flights were difficult. Remind me why I would eat McDonalds breakfast when I was worried about getting airsick? Bad idea. But these fears never came to fruition. Somewhere along the way I learned to chill out—to relax. I’ll admit that I have a Type A personality that savors control. Being in an airplane allows you nothing of the sort. And that has been such a good thing for me.

Over time as that year of travel went on, I realized that I might actually like flying a little. Those Biscoff cookies soften anybody up. I started learning my way around the airport and understanding terminal lingo. The frighteningly unknown became the comfortably familiar.

Flying to Seattle...Mt. Rainier

Flying to Seattle…Mt. Rainier

I’ve made memories in the sky. I’ve sat next to a shark diver, an actor, a tennis player, and a music manager among other careers. I’ve sat next to laughers (is that movie on your screen really that funny?), criers (yep, been one of them—that’s what long distance love does to you). I’ve watched moms coo their babies and then beg them for five minutes of quiet. I’ve seen crooners and couples that clash from takeoff to touchdown. I’ve seen the Italian soccer team (now that was a great day) and doctors step out of their seats to help those in need. From all walks of life, people come together for a brief period of time.

City lights are my favorite.

City lights are my favorite.

You can learn a lot about a person in the hours that you spend with them. Do they smile to themselves as they’re reading their book? Do they sleep with their mouth half open or fully open? Do they cheer for OU or OSU? (Found that out flying to Oklahoma City). I can’t say that I’ve talked to every person that I’ve sat next to a flight but I can say that I’ve learned pockets of wisdom from each one.

Memphis sunrise from the skies.

Memphis from the skies.

This past year I’ve flown over 50 flights. Now it’s a time I cherish. In a world of texts, tweets, instas, and snapchats, it’s finally a moment where I can celebrate silence. A time when I can listen to music and be with my thoughts. It is when I’m flying that I can let my mind run free. As a former dancer, one of my favorite things is to choreograph dances in my mind as I listen to my favorite songs. If only I could actually dance them!

Because traveling with glitter slippers is the best way to fly. I think I'll recommend these to the Captain.

Because traveling with glitter slippers is the best way to fly. I think I’ll recommend these to the Captain.

I’ve been able to catch up on cultural eras that eluded me (I’m looking at you, Tootsie) and I’ve been able to read the books that have sat on my shelf for too long. Ultimately, I’ve learned that people are nicer than we often think they are. We have learned to treat strangers like they are suspects rather than as fellow human beings trying to move along as best as they can. I have found that so long as I am friendly with my fellow fliers, they will be friendly back to me. Not many can meet a smile with a frown.

As a little parting, I thought I would include some of my favorite songs to listen to mid-flight. Maybe it will inspire you the next time you face the clouds.

  1. Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver: This song brings tears to my eyes. It reminds me of how sweet this life is and how lucky I am to get to see so much of America. I try to listen to this song when I’m flying home…”the place where I belong.” But maybe when I finally make it to West Virginia I’ll play it for good measure.
  2. 93 Million Miles by Jason Mraz: For when I’m feeling homesick. There were times with my traveling that I would be gone for almost a month at a time. This was hard for me since I’m such a nester. Granted, I’m very thankful that my job pushed me out of this nest but sometimes I still miss the comforts of home. This song reminds me that “wherever I go, I can always come home.”
  3. American Boy by Bonnie McKee: Not the classiest of songs, but this song just makes me feel like a go-getter. No time for timidity or fear. With my speaking, there are times when I’m scared to death to face the crowd. It’s me and 300 faces looking back. But how can I be afraid when I’m an “American Girl” and “ready to go?” Plus it just makes me want to get up and dance in the aisles. Haven’t actually done it yet.
  4. Miracle by KT Tunstall: Discovered this one mid-air watching “Winter’s Tale.” This song reminds me of the beauty of the journey. We cannot fear the unknown—we have to remember that even in times of pain and darkness, there is still light. I love listening to the song flying over city lights, especially over New York and my home city, Los Angeles. “A miracle—maybe when we leave it’s a rise and not a fall.”
  5. Come Back to Me by Janet Jackson: I’ll never forget listening to this song on repeat when I said goodbye to my boyfriend, Greg on a particularly rainy day in New York. The plane was stalled on the tarmac at JFK (as it often is) and I remember watching the droplets of rain roll down the window. It represented exactly how I was feeling saying goodbye for what felt like the hundredth time. That’s what three years of long distance will do to you. Now this song is nostalgic for me as Greg has moved back to Los Angeles. Goodbyes are never easy and while I know that someone is saying their happiest hello, someone else is saying their hardest goodbye.
  6. Lovely Day by Bill Withers: I love to play this song as I’m beginning the first leg of a trip. How can the day not be great with this starting me off? I feel bad for the person in the middle seat (I’m a window seater) because some dancing or a least head nodding may be in store when I hear this one.
  7. Forever and Ever by Randy Travis: Because I just love a good country song and this one brings out the romantic in me. I find this song completely endearing and lovable. It makes me think of Greg and how thankful I am for the love and life that we share together.
  8. Hold on We’re Going Home by Drake: Another great one when you’re on that home flight. Whether or not you’re off to see someone special, sometimes it’s a relief to get on that plane. This is also a good one when babies are crying, turbulence is high, or the man is snoring behind me…”just hold on—we’re going home.”
  9. White Dress by Ben Rector: This song just makes me want to run faster than the plane can fly. Why do we travel? To get to people or places that mean something to us. When I hear this song, I’m just ready for a new adventure to begin.
  10. Use Ta Be My Girl by the O’Jays: Another dance song. The beats in this era were just phenomenal if you ask me. I love a song with great rhythm and lyrics to match. The harmony is my favorite part. When I listen to a song like this, how can I not be happy with my cup of apple juice and peanuts? I’m good to go.


As you can tell, I listen to a little bit of everything when I’m flying. Variety makes the minutes pass by. Now I can say that I’m actually looking forward to my flight to North Carolina next month. Happy travels, friends!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Upcoming Speaking Schedule for the Fall and Spring

IMG_4427Hello friends! It has been a busy travel season and I’ve loved my time on the road. As we wait for my website to get it’s makeover (thank you so much to my designer, Lisa Elembee for working tirelessly!) I wanted to update you on my speaking schedule.

If you’re looking for a speaker for your school, your organization, your club–you name it–I am so happy to visit. Please feel free to email me at laurencook5@yahoo.com if you’d like more information and I’d be happy to send you a press kit!

Continue reading “Upcoming Speaking Schedule for the Fall and Spring”

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
Click here to book!