The Magic of Autumn

It’s so nice to be back in California before I head off to Ohio. Now that I’ve been on the road for a few months there are some things that I appreciate more than ever. This has been the busiest year of my life and so many blessings and challenges have come along with that. One thing I have missed more than anything is having time to not only settle my mind in a creative place, but to write without a sense of time. I love how writing keeps your senses sharp—you become that much more aware of your surroundings.

Today I’m remembering what exactly it is that makes me happy. Even though I haven’t had much time to type away, I actually have been very happy which I’m thankful for. I’ve caught myself saying out loud, “I feel so happy right now,” and that has to be a good sign. Fall is my favorite time of year and I have been savoring this season. You know I’m a list maker so needless to say I have to write a list about the happiest elements of autumn:

17c328b60529b894be97fc19d3c980f91. Strolling through Central Park: this was the first time in my life that I witnessed not only the changing, but the falling of the leaves in Central Park. It was sheer magic and I called it such when I saw it. Watching the yellow leaves fall like rain is such a beautiful sight to behold. You must witness it at least once in your life. Hopefully more though.

2. Apple cider: Preferably hot but iced works just as well. There’s nothing that tastes quite like fall than the smell of a spicy mug of apple cider. I would drink it every day of October and November if I were allowed.

3. Wearing fuzzy socks: They’re baa—aaack. Oh, how I missed them. The little warm booties from Bath and Body Works are my ultimate delight. A big sweatshirt, leggings, and warm socks with the above mentioned hot cider creates for the perfect afternoon.

4. Knit sweaters: This is new for me. I wasn’t much of a big sweater girl in years past but it’s official now. I love a cozy knit and having that crisp fall weather is the perfect occasion for it.

5. Pumpkin: Oh I know it’s cliché. Let me be a little cliché. I’m not going to say I like pumpkin spice lattes because that would be the ultimate cliché but I do love a good pumpkin macaroon. See I surprised you! Bet you didn’t think I was going to say macaroon. Well, I did, so try it sometime when you’re sick of the lattes or pies.

The magic of writing is closing just like the falling leaves that have almost all fallen at this point. I promise to return soon with perhaps some more clichés or comments on life. In the meantime, make the most of this truly magical season.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in My Sunny Side | Leave a comment

Days at UC Davis

I’m writing surrounded by the swaying trees at UC Davis that I can see from my bedroom window.  The sun is peeking through their branches, giving my bed that dusty glow. It’s peaceful, quiet. Perfect. What a beautiful little secret haven of California. I’ve been here for over a week now and I’ve fallen in love with this little town. The modern yet personal eateries, the children watching outdoor movies at the park—and yes, the desserts. How can you not be happy here?

IMG_1892I’ve been visiting the women of the Omicron Kappa Chapter of Chi Omega for Recruitment. The girls are very sweet and it’s nice how we share a mutual love for California and the UC system. I’ll be here for a few more days and then I’m off to Connecticut—which I am equally excited about. I’ll finally get to see what fall looks like since changing leaves aren’t really a thing in California.

I always like learning from the women I meet. These girls have taught me the value of self-worth. They trust in who they are and they shine because of it. Being different and unique is not something to shy away from, it is something to embrace! I love that.

IMG_1915We toured the Make-A-Wish office earlier this week, which is Chi Omega’s national philanthropy partner. It was incredibly touching and I’m thankful that such an incredible organization exists to bring happiness to children and parents who are experiencing an extremely difficult situation. We learned that not only do these wishes improve a child’s state of mind, it actually helps with the physical treatment as well.

As much as it saddens me that I haven’t found as much time to write recently, I feel incredibly thankful to have this opportunity to travel the country as a National Consultant for Chi Omega. I am meeting collegiate women who inspire me every day and it is my hope that I can bring a positive change to their lives as well. So as the sun is setting now and the twinkle lights about town are starting to turn on, I’ll bid adieu. Think happy thoughts, friends.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in Sunny Surroundings | Leave a comment

Making Memories in Macomb

With the ladies of the Gamma Kappa Chi Omega Chapter

With the ladies of the Gamma Kappa Chi Omega Chapter

Greetings from Macomb, Illinois! I’ve been here amongst the corn for over a week now and I head home tomorrow. It was my first official National Consultant visit for Chi Omega and I had an incredible time. I feel so happy to have that feeling—the feeling of knowing that you are right where you are meant to be at the right time. I had the opportunity to work with over 50 collegiate women as they prepare for Fall Formal Recruitment.

The reason I love my job is because I want to give people the confidence they deserve. I always write, “Keep Shining” and it’s because I want to help everyone find their inner sparkle and truly shine. I know I’m getting a little Tyra Banks-y here so I’ll aver soon; but ultimately, I want to be apart of the kindness movement going around our country. It’s about inspiring others to give more, act more thoughtfully, and open yourself to new friendships and love.

At the Town Square

At the Town Square

This job puts me out of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Visiting cities and towns I’ve never ventured to, meeting people that are different than me while still sharing common values, and of course, trying new food. This trip included Scotcharoos and chicken lips (more like chicken strips before you start envisioning actual chicken lips). I love seeing the spirit of America wherever I go and finding the little beauties of each town and the people within it.

Macomb is a simple but sweet place. With only 2,000 people living here, there’s only a handful of restaurants but with that comes familiar faces and mom-and-pop places. The women of Chi Omega here have more spirit and love for sisterhood than anywhere I have encountered thus far and they adorned me with sentimental gifts that represented my time with them. I am touched.

I don’t know if I will ever be back in Macomb but I do know that I won’t forget the memories I made here and the people who were in them. I won’t forget the sunsets, the savory restaurants, but most importantly, the sisterhood.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in My Sunny Side | Leave a comment

The Five Daily Gratitudes

This is my first ever video blog! I hope you enjoy! Today’s topic is about The Five Daily Gratitudes: what are they and when you need them most. Find out why you need to write your five down today!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in Happiness for Your Life, My Sunny Side | Leave a comment

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Click to play this Smilebox scrapbook
Create your own scrapbook - Powered by Smilebox
Another scrapbooking design by Smilebox

I went by train throughout much of Europe and saw the hills, the houses, the meadows all flash by my eyes at over 250 kilometers per hour. That is how fast it feels like time is flying by. I can’t believe that my trip to Europe has come and gone, but I will treasure my three and a half weeks abroad for much longer than that.

My college apartment mate and I did so much—we started in Prague, ventured to Vienna and Salzburg in Austria, visited the castles in Fussen, Germany, and explored Dachau and the Hofbrau House in Munich. Then there was Italia. Goodness. We spent time in the big cities like Rome, Florence and Venice but we also paid homage to the smaller ones like Siena, Verona, Positano, Capri, and Salerno (which were my favorites).

More than the museums or the artifacts, my favorite part of my trip was experiencing European LIFE. I loved trying the food, particularly the gelato, and attempting to talk with the local Italians in the sparse Italian I could sputter out. I loved spending more than an hour at dinner and not being rushed to pay the check. I love how they hang flowers on their windowsill (why don’t we do that?). It was these little things that made Europe magical.

I also loved fostering a friendship with my apartment mate, Sarah. She planned with such great detail and I’ll always be indebted to her for her sense of direction (of which I am immensely lacking, I have been told).

I wanted to detail my 10 favorite memories of my trip and I’ve included a slideshow below so that you can get a taste of my summer abroad:

1. Taking the ferry home after a day in Capri: The sun hit the water in a way that made it glisten and sparkle. The wind was just right—enough to blow your hair a little but not so much you couldn’t keep your eyes open. It was divine.

2. Eating gelato twice daily: I think I tried almost every flavor. Stratacella, blood orange, cherry amaretto, raspberry, cinnamon, peach, chocolate, cookies, shall I go on? There was never a flavor I didn’t like.

3. The David: We had this magnificent statue all to ourselves as we arrived at 8:00 am. I loved the long tunnel entrance and then seeing him up close. Everyone says it’s incredible and they’re right.

4. The Basilica in the Vatican: We went at the perfect time of day. The choir voices rang throughout the church because it was during their mass. The light was shining through in three equal parts, like the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, just as the sun was setting. A moment I’ll never forget.

5. Paddle boating in Prague: At sunset we rented a little yellow foot paddle boat and it was so fun being surrounded by swans and ducks while looking out on Charles’ Bridge.

6. The little birds: Europe is no stranger to birds but I especially love the little finches, who had a hankering for my apple strudel and risotto. They are bold little birds and they would often hop on our table and eat my food right in front of me! Still, it was somehow endearing.

7. The food: This is just an overarching statement. I have to admit, I was not as mind-blown with the Italian food but I was doubly impressed with the German food. I ate as much chicken schnitzel, spatzel, and strudel I could get my hands on. But I also had some amazing Italian dishes like shrimp risotto, a fresh pesto, and my favorite, the pasta Bolognese. I also had a fantastic hot cocoa in Siena that was as thick as chocolate pudding!

8. A gondola ride in Venice: Yes, it was ridiculously overpriced. But I genuinely did enjoy it. The lull of the boat in the tiny canals was so peaceful. It was eerie to see the steps slowly cover with water but fascinating nonetheless.

9. The Sound of Music sites in Salzburg: I love all things Julie Andrews and especially The Sound of Music. When I competed in pageants, “I Have Confidence” was my talent. So seeing some of the places where they filmed the movie was so thrilling for me.

10. An egg shop in Austria: Like I said, it was the little things in Europe that made the trip special. Sarah saw a decorated egg shop that was unlike anything I have ever seen before. They had decorated thousands of eggs in every different color, theme, and holiday. I was in heaven. Although not all of my eggs survived on the trip back home, I loved that store and I wish I could have bought an entire egg tree!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

See You Soon!

874a6f77f8360fb807541ad54e085ca6Hello friends!

I am finally achieving a lifelong dream and venturing off to Europe. I will be visiting Prague, Austria, Germany, and Italy. The blog may be a little quiet while I’m gone but I will return at the end of July. I can’t wait to share the adventures with you and I hope you have a wonderful summer!

I will have some access to email so feel free to contact me if need be.

Also, be sure to get your summer reading in and read The Sunny Side Up! here!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in My Sunny Side | Leave a comment

Part I: Looking Back on UCLA

993516_512083102180093_760647157_nGreetings from Memphis! It’s going to be an exciting year so get ready! I’m going to be traveling as a National Consultant for my sorority, Chi Omega, and I’m so excited to meet young women from around the country and help them foster their leadership, communication, and philanthropic skills. By the end of this year I will have traveled to Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio, and Oklahoma so stay tuned!

Yet in the midst of training in Memphis, I graduated this past weekend and I’m reflecting on my college experience at UCLA. A few words come to mind: gratitude, knowledge, stress (hey, I’m being honest), growth, passion, people (mostly good, some bad), and happiness. It was during college that I developed my passion to write and I’m so glad that I was able to publish my book before I donned my cap and gown.

Tonight, I want to reflect on some of the things I learned during the four years I spent in Westwood. Whether you’re about to start your freshman year, you’re in the midst of it, or you’ve graduated, I think we should maintain our love for learning throughout our lives. The Sunny Suggestions are back!

1. Go to class: Whether you’re there to learn or get the grade, neither will happen if you don’t make yourself physically present. Get out of bed, put on a nice outfit (you’ll feel better!), and be on time. Even if you’re lacking focus that day, making the effort to be in class will make the difference.

2. Get involved right off the bat: It can be overwhelming starting anything new, but jump in, don’t just dip your toe in the big pond of college life. For me, joining Chi Omega was a defining experience as it introduced me to a community of friends. Whatever you participate in, whether it’s a ballroom dance club (I wish I did that), or the Ocean Club, be active.

3. Write: No, you don’t need a blog. But I guarantee you’re going to have a million thoughts running through your mind during college. Class, friends, love, job. Usually not in that order. Keep yourself sane by thinking out your thoughts on paper. It will give you a paper trail to look back on when you feel unsure about the many decisions you’ll have to make.

One of my biggest mentors during UCLA, Lisa Bloom.

One of my biggest mentors during UCLA, Lisa Bloom.

4. Find mentors. Yes, that’s plural. One of the biggest mistakes I see college students make is letting their fear keep them back. I’m guilty of it myself—I had the hardest time raising my hand to speak in a big lecture hall. But with mentors, if you see someone who inspires you, talk to them! Sure, they may be too busy to offer you advice, but they may have the heart and dedication to help you even if they do have a million projects. You’ll never know unless you reach out.

5. Thank your parents: I saw so many students dedicate their mortar boards saying, “Thanks Mom and Dad!” My graduation felt more like a celebration of my parents than for my completion of school, and that’s exactly how I wanted it. I never could have succeeded without my parents’ investment in my life (emotionally, mentally, and let’s be real, financially). I will be eternally grateful to my family and I felt so thankful to have them by my side celebrating with me.

Well, it’s late here in Memphis. I’d love to keep writing but this may just need a Part II. Stay tuned for more to come. If there’s another thing I learned in college, it’s this: SLEEP.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in Sunny Suggestions | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Happiness for Your Life | Leave a comment

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

Posted in My Sunny Side | 2 Comments

Lessons from Maui

Day 3 Wed Snorkeling Lahaina Luau (66)It’s spring! I just returned from Maui for spring break and it was one of the best weeks of my life. Swimming with sea turtles, sipping pina coladas, and enjoying the sunshine—what is not to love? Even though it was hard to get on the plane to come back home, I know that I’m going to cherish the memories. Besides, the last few months of school are the best of the entire year. Sometimes when the clock is running out you treasure the time even more.

Still, I’m reminiscing about that turquoise ocean and the lessons Maui taught me. I think they apply whether or not you’ve been to the island. Spring Sunny Suggestions—here we go!

Day 6 Sat Dukes Haleakala Beach walk (165)1. Let new adventures inspire you: I went scuba diving for the first time this spring. While I was pretty nervous during that first descend, I soon found myself feeling comfortable 30 feet under and actually enjoying it! Taking healthy risks can be invigorating. Now I think I’d like to get certified! It’s always good to continue learning and beginning new challenges. Look for opportunities in your life that scare you but pique your interest—skydiving, anyone?

2. Go ahead—eat: It’s sad to me that so many of us are always on diets—girls especially. After spending several years of my life obsessing over every calorie I ate, I’m now very candid about how physically and mentally unhealthy it is to worry excessively about what we eat. Especially on vacation, it’s so important to live a little and just enjoy good food. In Maui we discovered a famous pie shop called Mama Leoda’s and we ended up visiting it three times because it was so heavenly! So what if I gained a few pounds? The food was great and I loved all the personality of the places we ate.

IMG_11463. Pause: In California we’re always on the go. It’s hard to really stop and enjoy the moment. Be aware. As I sat in Maui looking at the beautiful palm trees, the sunset, the whales breaching, I was so inspired by nature and all the amazing creations of this world. Remember that you are one small piece in an enormous puzzle—an essential piece, but a small one nonetheless. It’s marvelous to see beyond our everyday life and look at how magnificent our world really is.

4. Make every day count: I went with my family to Maui and we have always been the type to be on the move on vacation. We’re not the kind to lay on the beach all day. Trust me, I love just lounging but I realized this trip that you have to make the most of your time. You have to do what you can’t do anywhere else—sure, you can lay on the beach in California but can you go to a luau or go snorkeling? The same applies to being a college student—you have to do everything that you can now that you won’t be able to do later. Sit in those lecture halls and go to the events that spark your interest. This is the time.

No matter what you did for spring break, I hope you enjoyed it and are coming back refreshed and recharged. Let’s enjoy these spring days and celebrate!

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

Posted in Sunny Suggestions | Leave a comment