Why It's Cool to Be Unpopular

Real talk: I’ve never been the popular girl. I wasn’t homecoming queen or student body president. I didn’t date the hunky quarterback or even lead a local subculture.

And while I’m no longer in high school (thank the lord), I still don’t consider myself a “popular person” in the traditional sense. For the record: This is neither false modesty nor a cry for “but WE love you!” from those who do, in fact, adore me (muah!). Rather, it’s a recognition that we need not appeal to the masses to be happy, successful, and of service.

This is my attempt to explain why unpopularity isn’t a bad thing and why you should lean into it (in the *right* way, without alienating the people you love).

As those of you who know me personally are well aware, I have a lot of conventionally unpopular opinions — and I’m generally not afraid to share them. Here are just a few of my many controversial, polarizing, and perhaps downright offensive opinions:

  1. Animals don't belong in human beds

  2. Wes Anderson movies (post-Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums) are overrated and usually put me to sleep

  3. I strongly dislike multi-day festivals, particularly Burning Man. (No, you cannot change my mind on this. No really. Don’t try.)

These are fairly innocuous and totally apolitical samplings, and yet, chances are at least one of those made you go, “WHOA, hey now, that’s not right….” and maybe one also made you spontaneously stand up and shout, “Amen!” at your screen. The good news is I’m totally fine with you agreeing or disagreeing with all of those statements.

See, we’re complicated beings, each with our own unique experiences, full of biases and contradictions and, hopefully, a point of view. Having a point of view is a good thing, even when that view isn’t universally embraced. We can passionately agree on one issue (like the value of not having pet hair in your sheets) while fundamentally disagreeing on another (like whether Burning Man is a drug-fueled orgy in the desert OR a transcendental spiritual experience. I know, I know, “It can be both!” :/ ) Agreeing to disagree on most things in life is fine — assuming it doesn’t restrict the liberty or human rights of others. It’s when we start to think that we need to agree on everything all the time to merely function together that we get into trouble.

Dating is a useful example. There was a time when all the cool kids were dating on OkCupid (the pre-swiping era). One of the things OkCupid did was cleverly lure you into answering hundreds of (mostly inane) questions. Not just actually relevant questions like, “Is healthy living a priority for you?” or “Do you want kids?” but ridiculous stuff, like whether you love horror movies or if you’d order a sandwich or a salad at lunch. They’d have you weigh the importance of your answers and then score your match “compatibility” with other users based on your responses.

Don’t get me wrong, some of these questions provided incredibly useful mate-selection information. (My favorite response ever was by a guy who, when asked how many times a day he brushed his teeth, attempted to explain his non-toothbrushing ways by writing in, “There is no toothbrush for the animal kingdom.” Mmmmm, noted!). But while the responses provided endless hours of entertainment for users (and endless sources of sellable “data” for OkCupid), I believe they did a disservice to would-be connections. See, the old adage that we don’t know what we want until we find it really does hold up. Successful dating — and by extension, love and romance — is more of a feeling than a formula. We start with some basic fundamentals of compatibility, lifestyle, and connection, and then all the minutiae and irrelevant preferences fall where they may. If I go around eliminating every guy that eats sandwiches instead of salads and loves horror movies (I hate them), I may end up with no-toothbrush guy by default!

So what’s this have to do with popularity?

As with dating, we don’t always know what we want and need in life before we find it. Perhaps we’ve only ever been exposed to one way of thinking or operating — the “popular” way, in our particular context — or we repeatedly surround ourselves with individuals who reinforce what we already think. That neither pushes us to grow nor challenges us. As a result (and this may be another unpopular opinion) I don’t think matching ourselves exclusively with all things popular ultimately makes us happy.

You may be thinking, but I am popular! Or perhaps you are suddenly self-conscious about liking too much “popular” stuff. Don’t worry: I get it. And you’re fine.

A lot of really popular stuff is also culturally and intellectually “safe.” And safe stuff is, well, safe. Which can be nice. Hell, safe can be great! I love a perfectly fitted and worn white t-shirt and jeans. Does it get more mainstream popular than that?? I also admire public figures like Oprah and appreciate the mass-appeal of people like The Rock. (In case you didn’t know, the majority of men in your life have a massive man-crush on The Rock. It’s a fact. Just accept it.) Popular isn’t inherently bad. You don’t have to categorically reject it; just selectively embrace it, or at least occasionally challenge it.

And if what you’re selling isn’t mainstream popular or your point of view sometimes ruffles some feathers, don’t despair. You don’t need to bend toward conformity, and you may even be able to cash in — financially and socially — on stepping outside the conventional bounds. (Unless it’s an actual product that no one wants, like edible toilet paper or a wool bra. Abandon those immediately.)

I’m not suggesting that you start giving no f*cks and go full old-man-cranky-muppet-in-balcony. Many current anti-gurus (lucratively) peddle the “give no f*cks” mindset, and I definitely understand the allure — and I don’t disagree with a lot of what they’re selling. It’s hard trying to make everyone like you all the time. It’s exhausting, actually. And I know there’s a percentage of you saying, “I don’t need to be popular! I’m just me and I love who I am!” Ok. Maybe. But probably, deep down beneath that puffed up shell is someone who really REALLY wants to be invited to the house party on Friday — even if you don’t decide to go; you just want the option.  

So while that “screw it” rhetoric may be seductive, my hunch is it’s not actually how you’re living your life. Because we DO care — a lot, about many things. It’s not the caring that usually exacerbates us. It’s the constant campaign for Miss Congeniality that leaves us longing to run away from it all.


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What does it it look like to actively, successfully lean in to unpopularity?

The first rule of successful unpopularity is you have to actually believe what you’re saying or doing. Disagreeing for the sport of it is annoying and, rightfully, no one likes or respects you if you do that. So stop it.

The second rule is to embrace your unpopular opinions with the knowledge and grace that not everyone shares your point of view. This is a tough one. We reaaallllly want people to agree with us, in part, because it makes us feel heard and understood and valued. And who doesn’t want those things? But following this rule starts with a promise to both give up convincing other people to buy into your less popular opinions and to stop shaming them for their own thoughts and actions. “I won’t put my dog in your bed if you don’t make me help you bedazzle your art car” is a reasonable compromise, for instance.

Once you’ve comfortably got a handle on the first two rules, the rest is about trusting yourself. Have faith that if something isn’t rubbing you right — or, more positively, is really exciting you — chances are there are others out there like you. That opinion or way of living is valuable, and watering it down until it merges with the masses does a disservice to you, to those like you, and to those unlike you, who benefit from a plurality of thought (whether they want to admit it or not).

We want to be wanted. We want to be loved and embraced and adored and revered. In a sense, we all want to be our own version of homecoming queen until we die, even if we kind of hated the homecoming queen. It’s validating. But there is value in dissent. There’s often truth at the fringes and insight in unpopular perspectives. Greatness comes neither from blindly following nor from knee-jerk rejecting. Many of our greatest historical figures held really, really unpopular opinions. They did stuff that made people cringe or even retaliate against them. Going against the grain takes guts. And that courage is admirable, even if we disagree with what they’re saying or doing — but only when executed with integrity from a place of personal honesty.

I like to think of it in terms of Christmas lights. I’m a white lights kind of person — simple and understated, yet festive. But boy am I grateful for the dancing-snowman-in-the-yard, plastic santa-on-the-roof, colorfully-lit Clark Griswold style of decorating. I don’t want it on my house, but thank goodness it exists. I’m very different from that guy, but I really love him because of those differences, not despite them.

Popularity contests don’t end in high school. They follow us through our life, and if we let them, they will sabotage us. And make no mistake: This includes me. I totally want you to like me, even as I write this! But likeability at any expense is not the answer. The drive to be perma-popular stifles raw emotion, suffocates creativity, and cripples intellectual thought. It also leaves us feeling alone, surrounded by the masses but abandoned by ourselves.

When we let go of the need to be popular, we allow ourselves to have our own backs. And if you don’t have your back, who will?

I’d love to hear about your relationship with (un)popularity. Do you glide toward the center or flaunt your freak flag? How has either or both informed the course of your life and relationships? Find me in the comments to continue the conversation.

Coming Home: How to Bring Home Adventure, Even If You Never Left

Do you ever feel like you just need to shake things up in your life? I did. So for the last two years, I’ve lived a mostly nomadic existence. I’ve wandered across multiple continents, living out of two suitcases. I sold most of my already minimal belongings and keep a few remaining boxes in storage (and an obscene number of books in my mom’s basement in Iowa). I have a PO Box, but no actual permanent residence. “Where do you live?” is a complicated question. And the suspicious looks and confused grunts I receive when I try to explain how I live reveals that many think I must be on permanent vacation, am never working, and/or refuse to “grow up.”  

But the purpose of this piece is not to explain to you how to look like you’re always on vacation while constantly working your butt off (we can deep-dive into that another day). Instead, I want to talk about the journey home.

In Theodore Zeldin’s gorgeous book, An Intimate History of Humanity, he includes a chapter called “How travelers are becoming the largest nation in the world, and how they have learned not to see only what they are looking for.” (Yes, his chapter titles are the best. Another is called “Why there has been more progress in cooking than in sex.”) It’s a book that appeals to me in many ways, but I’ve always felt this particular chapter on the nation of travelers was speaking directly to me.

I’ve previously written about the value of experiencing foreignness to make you “better” and happier in your everyday life, and in the spirit of practicing what you preach, I’ve certainly taken my own advice and bathed in foreignness for these two years. That part comes easily to me. I’ve lived in a lot of places so far in this life, and I’m most “at home” when traveling. But now I want to grapple with a new challenge: Bringing the adventure home.

I am now in one general zip code, with the intention of staying for a chunk of time (even without a permanent address or a couch. Baby steps.) And while the place may change and I will eventually leave again, I am committed to learning to be adventurously at home.

For me, home is more of a concept than a literal structure. It’s a feeling, a moment, a person. This broad definition is both liberating and frustrating. While it makes it easy for me to be a global citizen, it makes it more difficult for me to take root and stay put. Because if I’m in one place, I’m missing all my other current and potential future homes. It’s like a weird type of home FOMO.

But there is value in finding an actual place to call home, at least for some period of time. Relationships — of all varieties — benefit from regular maintenance. And it can be difficult to do that with continents between you, even in the age of all-the-time smartphones. The same goes for community. Reaping the benefits that come from belonging to a larger community requires consistent participation — not just novelty tourism.


So maybe right about now you’re saying, “Look lady. It’s cute that you went on some Eat, Pray, Love journey, but I’ve got a job, a family, a mortgage, and I can’t plan a weekend getaway, let alone a two suitcase existence.” To which I say: Touché. BUT —

I promise I’m still talking to you here. Because bringing the adventure home (even if you never really leave) is something we all need more of. It makes us love our place and our people that much more. And it staves off mindless convention and boredom, which most people erroneously think are requirements to qualify for membership in the Adulthood Club (which, I promise, is grossly overrated).

However: bringing the adventure home does NOT mean you can no longer take pleasure in the small, mundane stuff. Quite the contrary. I just want you to both get a rise out of hate-watching The Bachelor AND find regular outlets for taking risks and making discoveries.

Because here’s the thing about home: it’s rooted in comfort. Familiar surroundings, beliefs, routines, people. But what pushes us to grow is the opposite of that. The unfamiliar. The uncomfortable. Greatness requires more than the confines of home. And yet, some type of regular home-like refuge nurtures and replenishes us so we have the fortitude to make the journey (if only in our minds) in the first place.

So what I’m saying is this: what we often see as an either/or choice is really both/and. I can either have an exciting life OR I can be a responsible adult. I can either raise a family and have a “real” job OR I can be a forever-22 wanderer.

Well, I want both. I want home — the comfort, the community, the familiarity — but I also want to be scared and clueless and get lost regularly. I reject this false choice and commit to consciously creating a life where these two seeming extremes can coexist.


Well, the first requirement is NOT that you need to become obscenely rich. I’m not and you don’t have to be either. Yes, money makes this mode of living easier. But it isn’t a prerequisite and it may actually be more rewarding without an endless supply of cash, because every choice is that much more deliberate; it matters that much more. And you’re less likely to take any of it for granted.

So while you need not be rich, you do need to start consciously (re)writing your own rules. I can’t tell you exactly what is the right home + adventure formula for you, and it’s likely that there will be moments or even long stretches of time when your life will skew further toward one end of the spectrum than the other. But you’re in it for the long game. And a perpetual 50/50 balance of anything in life is neither realistic nor particularly fulfilling (more on that in the weeks to come).

You may be thinking this sounds fine in theory, but totally confusing in practice. So here’s my current personal commitment list for bringing the adventure home. Yours may look a bit different, but perhaps this will get you thinking about where to begin:

  • Dive deeper into new hobbies. I got really into hanging upside doing aerial yoga (which makes my back feel amazing) and horseback riding (which makes my everything feel amazing) while abroad. I’m committing to making those a regular part of my life at home. Not to worry: you need not invert or hang with large beasts to make this work. Ask yourself what interests and activities make you feel great, but never seem to make it onto your prioritized to-do list. Schedule them and commit. Everything and everyone in your life will benefit when you make time for challenging, satisfying outlets that exhilarate you.
  • Stop overlooking the awesomeness at my doorstep. While I was living in Australia, I was constantly shocked by how few people had been to New Zealand, despite the fact that it is a short, cheap, 3-hour flight away for most Australians (many of whom make regular trips to Europe). New Zealand is the most beautiful place on earth (find me a prettier one and I’ll go there tomorrow), and yet, many Australians felt it was not far enough away or “exotic” enough to warrant exploration. We do this constantly: overlooking the bounty already at our fingertips. I happen to be making my home in Southern California, an area rich with nature and abundant in adventure. I don’t need a passport to find myself in awe on a regular basis and neither do you.

  • Remove logistical hurdles to adventure. Thanks to ride sharing apps and the fact that I’ve spent my entire adult life in major cities, I have managed to avoid one of the main adulthood rites of passage: car ownership. But sometimes the addition of one type of responsibility can actually facilitate an opening. I always thought of the car as a long-term commitment and a financial burden (it’s actually been cheaper for me to use Uber/Lyft for getting around town than to lease a car, especially with my travel schedule). But if I’m quantifying every car trip, it discourages a lot of everyday exploration. Whereas if I’ve already paid for it, I want to really get my money’s worth, so taking a day trip becomes the “responsible” thing to do… And with startups that offer affordable month-to-month lease options, I get the best of both worlds. Examine whatever your excuses are and find realistic paths around them.

You get the gist. It really doesn’t matter how similar your list is to mine. What matters is that you create one, commit to it, and keep adding onto it.

To be clear, this was not some grand life design. I didn’t plan to go on a two-year journey. It just sort of happened. Nor did I plan how long it should be or what would happen at the end (life mantra: plan less, experiment more). And while I don’t intend to retire my passport anytime soon, I am ready to move into a new phase.

I am and always will be part of Zeldin’s nation of travelers, which means I will not only see what I am looking for, but notice the weird, wild, unexpected stuff I’m not seeking and never could have imagined — even in my own backyard.

“Adventure starts in the imagination,” Zeldin reminds us. Dreams, curiosity, discovery, transformation. This is the stuff of travel. We burst with it in new time zones and foreign lands. But it can also be the stuff of home.

Where do/can you locate adventure in your everyday life? How do you continue to transform, even when submerged in familiarity? Tell me in the comments and share this with anyone in need of some homey spice.

Why Your Smartphone Is Destroying Your Life (And What You Can Do About It)

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Today I’m psyched to address an issue that plagues us all. It excites me so much, it even rivals karaoke on my personal passion scale.

But first, a question for you: Would you like to be smarter, more empathetic, and have better relationships? The majority of you would probably say yes. What if I told you you could improve all those things for free, with just one small act? Now you’re perhaps both intrigued and suspicious.

I promise, it’s not a trick. You can have all these things, and you need only do one thing: disconnect from your smartphone (not just set it down, but REALLY disconnect). Less excited about that prospect? Here’s some data to entice you:

New research found that our memory capacity, ability to process data, and general intelligence improves significantly when our smartphone is completely out of sight — in a bag or another room altogether. Think that turning it on silent, face down, will remedy the problem? Nope. The mere sight of the phone diminishes your cognitive resources.  

Additionally, a visible phone in a social setting measurably decreases the depth of the interaction, creating more superficial social exchanges.

This is huge: scrolling obsessively through social media isn’t the only smartphone battle you need to wage. Just seeing the overpriced device plays games with your brain (and your brain is losing, for the record).

Here’s another disturbing stat: This tally seems to increase daily, but by one study’s count, the typical smartphone user interacts with their phone around 85 times per day. And this often includes middle-of-the-night checks for work emails and new “likes.”

We’re so obsessed that there’s now a word to describe a fear of being without your phone: “Nomophobia.”

This type of long term heavy use comes at a price. Studies link it to hand, neck, and back issues, anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep, diminished attention span, antisocial behavior, decreased empathy — the list goes on.

So what should we do about this smartphone tsunami that’s wreaking havoc on our lives, bodies, brains, and relationships?

There are two paths to improving this situation. The first involves a transformation of the technology and the platforms that suck us into its incessant use. Fortunately, some companies are recognizing the addictive nature of their platforms and at least starting to pay lip service to designing for “good.” (Cause if you think the addictive nature of these designs is “random,” you are greatly underestimating the monetary value of your obsessive attention — and the desire of companies to capitalize on knowing how to attract and maintain that attention.)

And while the knowledge that too much technology can have very negative effects on our lives is not new, we are just now seeing the very technology companies that created these irresistible devices and platforms start to address the problem.

Recently, investors asked Apple to figure out how to help parents limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads, citing concerns over “long-term health.” Former Facebook employees are speaking out about the power of their platform and their concerns about how it’s affecting their lives and the lives of their children. And just this month, Mark Zuckerberg announced his intention to turn the social network into a force for good, in part by revamping its news feed algorithm to prioritize interactions with friends and family over articles and videos (stuff that induces more passive scrolling).

This change was sparked by new data indicating that using Facebook often — shocker! — makes people feel crappy, but that meaningful interactions and shared memories on the platform foster well-being. I’m sure the data deserve more nuanced analysis, and while making Facebook more like Instagram by minimizing links and amping up the visual quotient may diminish fake news links, it definitely isn’t a panacea for measured use and general well-being. (i.e. Find yourself “reminiscing” about and virtually stalking that ex you’re still obsessing over? Where does that fall on the social media well-being scale?)

How this new Silicon Valley call-to-action plays out remains to be seen. And debating just what sort of “responsibility” these companies have when it comes to designing and programming for optimal health and happiness is worthy of an article and book onto itself. The best we can hope for is they figure out how to monetize our healthy behaviors as profitably as our unhealthy ones.

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And in the meantime, I suggest you pursue the other solution:

Create boundaries. Implement rules.

First, let me be clear: Taking back control need NOT include tossing your smartphone in the ocean or having a smartphone destruction party (though secretly, I really want to throw one of those). Rather, it starts with acknowledging the reality of the incriminating data against your current use patterns and changing your habits and practices through actionable steps and enforced rules.

Feel too impossible? I disagree. No one’s telling you to stop using technology altogether, or to get off all social media or stop using the millions of useful tools for increased functionality, efficiency, and knowledge now available at your fingertips. A healthier, happier relationship with technology is about a peaceful, rule-bound co-existence, not a complete rebuff. And if you can truly say that you are not addicted to your phone, that probably means you are my mother and are yet to respond to my text from last week. (Hi Mom, you can stop reading now :)

For the rest of you who did not give birth to me, here are the ways I have personally designed a healthier relationship with my smartphone. I’m not bragging about my practices and I’m no technology saint. This is a work in progress, I definitely slip up and spiral into scrolling hell, and these rules and strategies are constantly evolving. But I DO notice a difference as a result of my implementation of each of them, and so I think they’re worth sharing:

  • Delete select social media apps: I recently decided to delete the Instagram and Facebook apps from my phone. I now only use Facebook from my computer — something I rarely do anyway. (I do, however, have Facebook messenger on my phone, as it is a popular texting app for my international friends; though I personally prefer to use iMessage or Whatsapp, as I don’t want Facebook to have a record of my conversations, which they can convert to data and in turn strategically market to me.) As for Instagram, I now must redownload it every time I want to post on Instagram, which averages a couple of times per week. That may seem like an annoyance for some of you, so I’m not saying it’s for everyone. But I found myself developing an unsavory habit of killing dead time in the app, scrolling, looking people up, inevitably comparing, judging…. It didn’t feel good. So now I redownload and log on to post content and do a brief catch up, then delete again. It feels cleaner and healthier and I already mentally feel the difference.

    I did, however, keep Twitter on my phone. I appreciate the articles and humor of the accounts I follow, am never tempted to stalk anyone on there, and don’t feel addicted or dirty after using it. Twitter is a “safe” app for me. I know that’s not the case for everyone, so I’ll let you decided which social media apps work for you and which should be deleted (if only to redownload regularly), and then develop your own boundaries and rules about engagement with them. But chances are, you need some social media app rules.

  • Turn off notifications: If deleting some apps is too extreme for you, at the very least turn off non-essential notifications: All social media notifications, news notifications, games, etc. Go into your settings > notifications and turn off pings from most of the apps on there. (I keep my calendar and bank alerts on, as well as any messaging, ride sharing, or delivery apps.) I also recommend setting your phone email app to refresh manually — not automatically. The goal here is that you should have to come to these things; they shouldn’t seek you out.

  • Put away your phone when socializing: This is a big one. I’ve long had a rule that my phone stays in my bag and out of sight when I’m with other people. The only exception to this is if someone is coming to meet us and I need to keep it out temporarily to coordinate (and once they arrive or the coordination is complete, the phone goes away). Sometimes the phone will come out to show a person a photograph or quickly look up a stat, but then it goes back to its place in my bag. And as we already established, merely having it facedown on the table is not enough. It needs to be out of sight. And if it’s in a pocket or bag near me, I like to turn the vibration off and put it fully on silent.

    For the record, I don’t officially require people I’m with to do the same, BUT I greatly appreciate it when they do, am more likely to make time to hang out again, and definitely notice the difference in the depth of our connection and communication when their phone is also put away vs. sitting in front of us, ready to demand their attention at any moment. If you have kids and feel you must always be on call, enable the “Repeat Calls” feature when your phone is on “Do not disturb” and get the best of both worlds (and at least keep it out of sight). 

    I promise, no one is so important that they must always be available to any and all phone notifications while with other people. And I’ve said this before and will say it again: Your full presence is the greatest gift you can give someone in the age of technology and distraction. Time for some generosity. (And while it might seem like a sacrifice on your part, you will reap the rewards, as well. Win/win.)

  • Turn your phone off at night and place it out of sight: I’ve been turning my phone fully off while I sleep for years, and on the nights when I don’t turn it off (usually when I need some sort of backup alarm clock), I don’t sleep nearly as well. Turning my phone off signals to my brain that I’m off-duty from responding to the world. It has a major mental effect on me and the quality of my rest benefits greatly. 

    I recommend getting an old school alarm clock — mine cost less than $10 on Amazon, folds up super tiny and travels everywhere with me, and lasts for years. If you MUST use your smartphone as an alarm clock (I’m trying to imagine why that would be, but I’m sure some people will tell me it’s a necessity) or if you are once again in the “I have kids, I have to be available” category, then again enlist the “repeat calls” feature from above or only allow certain numbers to come through. And if possible, put it on airplane mode (‘do not disturb’ will still deliver messages and notifications and you’ll be tempted to steal a glance if you wake up at night). 

    Regardless of which option you choose, place the phone across the room from your bed — out of sight, out of mind, and safely out of reach. 

  • Download a book app: I downloaded the Kindle app to my phone last year, so now when I find myself waiting or with a few minutes of down time, I can open up the Kindle app (which syncs with my iPad or Kindle reader to keep my place) and can pick up reading whatever book I’m currently into. It transforms the downtime to luxurious reading time, while avoiding any of the scattered app-hopping, mindless scrolling behaviors I am inclined to engage in without it.

    The other alternative here is to always carry physical reading material with you — you know, like an actual book or magazine. And pull it out instead of your phone when you have a few minutes to kill. But let’s face it: even if you still love the paper material (which I do), you don’t ALWAYS have it with you. The book app is a good backup. 

  • Change your phone from color to grayscale: This is one I haven’t yet tried, but which is a worthy experiment, especially for those of you who don’t need to publicly share and manage photos as part of your profession. The idea is that color manipulates our decisions, it tells us what’s important, and it grabs our attention. Greyscale, by contrast, facilitates more “controlled attention.” It’s not a simple task to change this setting, at least in the iPhone (of course), but if you are game for the challenge, here are some tips to successfully executing it on your phone. Bonus points if you also take away the sound.

Digital happiness is a topic I’ve been researching, teaching, speaking, writing, and coaching on for the better part of the last decade. It hasn’t gotten simpler or easier with time. Quite the opposite. But as more data pours in, it’s my hope that people will take back control and design the lives they want for themselves by consciously pushing back on the destructive habits and mindsets that erode our quality of life and ability to connect.

Your phone should be a conscious choice. A positive tool — something useful in your life, not something that detracts from it. There is life beyond the phone, but experiencing its richness requires mindfulness and discipline. So whether your goal is to be more meaningfully connected, to emit more empathy, or to be smarter, the data is in: Silence and put away your phone.

What are your smartphone rules? What boundaries do you have and which do you struggle with? What stories do you have of times you’ve said no to the phone? Please share them in the comments and pass this along to others in your life — who will likely read it on their smartphones :) 

Happy unplugging,


Purple to the People (+ Selfie Dysmorphia, Nose Hair Extensions & MORE)

Hey there,

By now your brain and your body are likely (mostly) back in action post-holiday. So I thought I'd give you a few things to ponder as we kick of the year. Here's a sampling of some of the Fashion|Body|Culture conversations we're having over on Instagram:

The Year of Purple: The 2018 Pantone color of the year is purple (or, more precisely, “ultra violet”). Color forecasting is a fascinating reflection of current cultural trajectories, and it is anything but random. Purple is revered as a “complex” color, a combination of red and blue (colors whose assigned political affiliations lead to an interesting metaphor when it comes to purple’s co-mingling of the two…). Historically, it’s the color of power, wealth, and royalty (FACT: once upon a time, only royals could wear the color).

But my theory is purple was chosen this year because it is the color of feminism. It was a color espoused by the suffragettes, a symbol of loyalty and a constancy to purpose, an unswerving steadfastness to a cause. If ever there was a year to wear purple, it’s this one. So go get your purple on.

Selfie Dysmorphia: Pre-social media, only models were airbrushed. Now we all have the pleasure of augmenting and perfecting our appearances through filters and apps.

What’s the harm in putting your best self forward?

One side effect is body dysmorphia — or its latest incarnation “selfie dysmorphia.” First it was the “Facebook facelift,” now this woman became addicted to plastic surgery to look more like her filtered selfies.

This is another instance where your 2D digital life is sabotaging your 3D “real” life. [Read more]

Conservative Fashion Trend: Is the current trend of “conservative” fashion a backlash against the culture of misogyny and harassment that has until now lurked beneath society’s surface? [Read More]

Weird Stuff

Dad bods taken to a whole new level

Nose hair extensions are a real thing

Craving more? Check out everything else that's on our radar and follow us here.

Until next time,


Your Complete Holiday Survival Guide [+ DISCOUNTS]

First, a little milestone: For those of you who have been connected with me for a while, you may recall that we've been sending you cultural commentary, image-related ideas, and generally sociologically-minded advice for over 5 years now (5!! I can't really believe it.) Thanks to those of you who have stuck around this long — we like to think that's a good sign :)

But whether you're a veteran SoS subscriber or new to the conversation, we thought it might be nice to dip back into some topics from holidays past. So instead of a traditional gift guide, here's a Holiday Survival Guide you can digest and "gift" to friends, family, and colleagues you think could use it....(and just when you thought you couldn't afford any more gifts?)


For the Holiday Jetsetter:

Holiday Travel: On the Road Again

What to wear, what to pack, and how to destress, hydrate, and stay healthy — ALL SOLVED.


For the Partier:

Holiday Bacchanalia & Collective Effervescence: The Social Significance of Partying

To remind you why we party in the first place (ok, it's less of a reminder and more of a scientific justification....as if you needed one.)


For the Clark Griswold In All Of Us:

The Holiday of the Spectacle

Holiday bling and visual traditions explained. History, tips, and why mistletoe might get you pregnant.

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For the Person With the Difficult Family:

How To Beat the Holiday Blues (and start the New Year stronger and happier)

Positively transform your relationship with the holidays — and your state of mind — with a few savvy, strategic choices.


For the Knowledge Nerd:

Maybe you are more interested in impressing everyone at your gatherings with your obscure knowledge, like why certain colors are associated with specific holidays? Your geek-out guide is here.

But wait, there's more! While forwarding these links to loved ones is a great gift, some of them may also appreciate a little...something extra. Give the gift of a life- or image-upgrade with one of our Sociology of Style online video courses or the Startup Your Life book. They're fun, affordable, and guaranteed to improve the life of the recipient beyond that scented candle you were planning to give them... 


And as a thank you for being a Sociology of Style subscriber, we invite you to take 30% off your course purchase (whether it's for you or someone on your list) from now untilDecember 31st. Just enter HOLIDAY30 at the checkout to become the santa worthy of all the cookies.


So, that's all for 2017. Read and share the survival guide, gift some courses and books, and after a little down time, charge into 2018 like you own it. We'll be back with more to contemplate and amuse in January.

Until then...Happy Holidays!


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How to enjoy a layover (and the secret to loving where you are, wherever you are)

I have a question for you: Is it possible to enjoy a layover?

I arrived in Taiwan just before dawn. It was misty and dark and the airport was more cozy than chaotic. After slipping into one of the extremely clean, free showers to spray my face with the shower nozzle and brush my teeth (with a toothbrush provided by my Taiwanese airline; how civilized is Asia?), I sat sipping my warm oolong tea, reading a great novel, with 3.5 hours all to myself. Submerged in foreignness, with comforting pockets of familiarity. Content as a clam.

My mind started to wander as I took note of how thoroughly I was enjoying this layover. What does it mean to feel foreign? How does that differ from being foreign? Is it just a state of mind or something more concrete? Is it fixed or constantly fluid?

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I felt foreign growing up in Iowa, despite the fact that I was born there. That was a foreignness that neither put me at ease nor excited me. But while traveling electively in certain places, the feelings of “foreignness” are often so clarifying. Challenging my existing paradigms. Delighting in unexpected ways. And in the vibrant observations, finding humor, always.

On the flight from LA to Taipei I was in the aisle seat of a three-seat row. An Asian woman (whose nationality I never learned) sat near the window. She didn’t speak a word of English (not a single one) and I don’t speak any Asian dialects. And yet, even before take-off I was interpreting what she needed and wanted to the flight attendant. She smiled at me warmly and offered me some of her white, puffy, styrofoam looking snacks. And both imagining the comfort of stretching out into the empty middle seat, opted to allow our unacquainted legs to intermingle (and occasionally spoon) over the course of the 14 hour flight, without ever verbally negotiating anything.

It’s when I step into foreignness that I feel most alive. That I have the most poignant “a-ha” moments. That I delight in the everyday. That I make the most meaningful connections. That I am most myself.

And yet we cannot all hop the next flight to Foreignville at a whim. And even if we do travel frequently, it takes conscious effort to retain that feeling of clear-eyed excitement and not slip into feeling like the sad Clooney character in Up In the Air. Sometimes it’s a fine line between thrilling and depressing.

So how do we capture the wonders of wanderlust within the everyday twin constraints of Adulthood and Responsibility? What can we yield in service to this desire? What’s to be gained in momentarily being “the other”? How does this prepare us to be so much more when we do return to wherever and whomever we call Home?

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We radically undervalue our connection to place and the role it plays in shaping not only the logistics of our lives but our psyches. We are a direct reflection of the diverse, often extreme locales in which we live and visit. We’re the dive bars AND the ancient temples. The cramped urban apartment AND the cabin in the woods. That’s not to say you need to move and be entirely one or the other. Nor do you need to take more exotic vacations (though if Fiji is calling you, then by all means go). But regardless of where you live and how embedded you are there, you, too, can immerse yourself in the geographic centers that tap into your internal happy place. Even with a family and a mortgage, you can capture the expansive freedom of loving the places you inhabit and feel at once foreign and familiar.

Have you ever thought about which tangible, geographic elements have a visceral effect on you? What pisses you off and what mellows you out? What inspires and what disheartens? I have. A lot. After years of not loving where I lived, I finally came to understand that my sense of place is grounded in specific principles, from the ocean to creativity to minimal driving to an avoidance of offices at all costs, to name a few.

These principles guide me as I move through the days that form my years. I know that if any one of them is lacking for too long, I become imbalanced and unhappy — and as a result, less productive and less emotionally available for those I love. Knowing how the elements of a place will affect you is an underrated exercise in self-care.

We often use the expression that we are “searching for our place,” and yet too often we ignore the literal meaning of that phrase. What is the environment you need to make your best contribution? To be the best version of yourself? And if your entire list of principles isn’t accessible 24/7, then which pieces can you accentuate and increase? And how can you create specific opportunities to top up on those things that are not immediately present, but through which you flourish?

If it’s too cold, where do you seek warmth? If it’s too urban, where do you reconnect with the earth? If it’s too noisy, where do you find peace? For some, this may mean a literal move. For others, it may involve a deliberate reworking of time and space to fulfill your place-specific needs. It’s a type of practical wanderlust you develop not as an exotic getaway, but as a satisfying, sustainable life plan.

Identify your place principles, then mindfully create a world where you can live a wanderlust-inspired existence without trading in your job/house/family. There is a happy-medium between a soul-sucking environment and a perpetual swim-up bar. But you have to know what you’re looking for before you can find it on the map.


p.s. Know someone who is fed by wandering or who struggles to connect with their everyday sense of place? Share this with them — it may give them their own personal place-specific “a-ha” moment.

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A Much Needed Reprieve (My Mental Gift for You)

Whether it's the latest natural disaster, Hollywood scandal, or "he said what?!" moment, sometimes we need to hit pause and reconnect with the minutiae of our everday lives — the cultural nuances that comprise and affect the majority of our days. At first, it might seem (at best) naively simplistic, or (at worst) offensively shallow, to invest mental energy and personal resources into the visual and material stuff of our lives.

Or is it?

The primary way we know and understand each other is visually — fleshy comrades in arms, charged equally with the task of making it through another day, and (if we get it right) managing to connect and flourish along the way.

It's the minutiae that bridges the seemingly insurmountable gaps. So often, the physical unites where the mental divides.

So this week I thought I'd catch you up on what we've been thinking and talking about over on the SoS Instagram (see below), where we ponder the larger significance of current issues related to fashion, the body, and culture. From the rise of "real" bodies to visual expressions of power, there's no shortage of cultural fodder — it just might not make it to the top of your mental priority list.

Today, I invite you to take 5 minutes and give yourself a mental break from your CNN news alerts to fill your head with topics and questions that, while both philisophical and visual in nature, are anything but mere superficiality. (If you feel so inclined, please add your voice to the conversation in the comments.) And if there's something cultural that you think we should be thinking and talking about, that perhaps isn't dominating the 24-hour news cycle, please send it my way.




 Gone are the days of working out in old t-shirts (unless they're artfully cut and layered). High-end "athleisure" apparel dominates not only fitness studios, but streets, cafes, and pretty much everything else (especially if you live in a place like California). So what are we really paying for with the high-priced spandex? What message are we sending?  (Read more)

Gone are the days of working out in old t-shirts (unless they're artfully cut and layered). High-end "athleisure" apparel dominates not only fitness studios, but streets, cafes, and pretty much everything else (especially if you live in a place like California). So what are we really paying for with the high-priced spandex? What message are we sending? (Read more)


 “Real bodies” are in, and Aerie is the latest brand to catch on that people like buying things from brands that reflect who they are. It’s not only body positive, it’s cash flow positive. What other brands are accurately reflecting your body and lifestyle?  Tell us in the comments.

“Real bodies” are in, and Aerie is the latest brand to catch on that people like buying things from brands that reflect who they are. It’s not only body positive, it’s cash flow positive. What other brands are accurately reflecting your body and lifestyle? Tell us in the comments.


The way our leaders dress shapes not only culture, but diplomacy. But how much power do they really have? Misha Pinkhasov interviews Anna Akbari for Vogue Arabia to explore the depths and evolution of the power of fashion. (Read the article)

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What the Balinese Teach Us About Being Happier, Better People

I want to share a few tales from the field with you today. I have lived and traveled extensively around the world, and what sticks with me the most after I leave a place is The Human Factor: Who are the people, what can I learn from them, and what kind of person do I become in their presence?

At the moment, I'm in Bali. And while many people travel to Bali for the beaches and island lifestyle, the local people play a huge part in defining that experience — and teaching some valuable lessons.

But you don't have to fire up your passport to reap the benefits. Here are 3 things the Balinese can teach us about being happier, better people:

  1. Everywhere Beauty

Even in this extremely poor country, beauty abounds and is prioritized. Sure, it's naturally very beautiful, with lush rice paddies and sunsets for days, but everything from food to architecture is crafted and presented in a way that says, "I care."

The Balinese are a deeply spiritual people and construct religious offerings from palm leaves, flowers, incense, and food, which are then placed throughout homes and public spaces. They labor over these, making new ones from scratch daily. Incense and flower offerings even make their way into public bathrooms and airport security. And even without knowing the symbolic significance of each offering, its beauty brightens my day.

Even the poorest of communities has elaborately beautiful temples, and no detail is spared on the top of roofs. Ornate expressions of devotion abound.

And in hip locations like Canggu, where I've been staying, every item is served in beautiful dishes with small little touches, like a frangipani flower. No occasion or moment is too mundane to make special.


2. Finding Calm in Chaos

As in many countries in Southeast Asia, most people in Bali don't drive cars to get around and instead hop on motorized scooters. And since I don't trust myself to drive one, I hail a scooter to zip to and fro. The scooters comingle with the cars and trucks, sometimes three to a lane. This style of weaving through dusty roads is definitely not up to U.S. safety standards, but there is a serene calm amidst the noise and dirt. To the uninitiated, it might look like a maddening scene. But you don't see road rage or angry exchanges – everyone falls into a continuous flow, a way of creating some semblance of peaceful order amidst chaos.

This type of orderly chaos does not rely on law enforcement, but rather awareness, cooperation, and trust of those with whom they share the streets. "We're all in this together," they seem to be silently communicating as they drive around following local, unwritten codes of conduct. If that code is disrespected, everyone loses.

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3. The Art of Patience

The Balinese are notoriously friendly, and their resting face is often a smile. Even if you're distraught or irritated, they are highly unflappable. Regardless of your mood or disposition, they look at you with grace and ease, and greet you with kind, gentle patience. As far as I can tell, no Balinese person has ever been in a bad mood. I am in awe.

I recently went on the Creative Warriors podcast, and as a final question, the host asked me to name the "warrior" I most needed to channel. I called on the Warrior of Patience, and I'm pretty sure that warrior is Balinese.

So assuming you aren't ready to up and move to Bali (which, for the record, would not be a bad idea), how do you similarly cultivate everyday beauty, find calm in chaos, and emanate patience? Which small pockets of your day could use a little aesthetic upgrade? Where do you feel out of control and long for inner serenity to take over? When does anxiety and impatience get the best of you? Please tell us in the comments, and let these questions linger in your mind this holiday weekend.



You're So Fancy

Conspicuous consumption rides a wave of public popularity and continually reinvents itself — but it never goes away. One year it may be driven by visible logos and labels, another it may focus on elite objects whose value only the socially initiated will recognize. But any way you slice it, it’s still about status.

Two of the latest entries in the conspicuous consumption game are real doozies:

How much is a paperclip worth? What’s its value? What makes it desirable? It’s not inherent in the object, but subjectively applied by the culture. And it goes beyond supply and demand or even beauty. This paper clip money clip is Prada branded, which elevates it beyond function and makes it a status symbol.

Maybe paperclips aren't your thing. Want to always look like you just shopped at Balenciaga? Drop a cool $1,100 on their leather shopping bag and give off that fresh-from-Fifth-Avenue vibe no matter where you are.

No one is exempt from the status game — we're always exchanging visual signs and symbols. The goal isn't to opt out (that's impossible). But to choose wisely.

What’s the most absurd status symbol you’ve seen? Tell me in the comments and be sure to follow us on Instagram for more realtime cultural analysis.



Want more style and life upgrade advice? Take the Sociology of Style quiz, or check out the Success With Style series for men and women.

Body Image in the Age of Instagram

If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Thanks to digital editing and airbrushed images, even supermodels can't live up to their perfectly polished 2D selves.

But the airbrushing isn't limited to the professional models. The rise of Instagram ushers in a time when everyone has an opportunity to pose and be praised. Senior pictures, your wedding day, maybe a family holiday card — these were once the occasions on which adults took formal photographs. But not anymore. We pose, post, and rate ourselves and others on a daily basis.

We're only beginning to understand the full effect this has on both our psyches and our culture, but its significance cannot be overstated.

What do we hope to gain via subtle tweaks like this?

And more importantly, what do we lose in this process?

That gap between fantasy and reality is rather humorously pronounced with formal gowns.

These photos remind us that fairy tales are best left in animated pixel form.

When it comes to poking fun at the airbrushed perfection and unrealistic scenarios featured on Instagram, no one does it as well as Celeste Barber. She is my Instagram hero.

So focus on what's physically, tangibly in front of you (and inside of you) and appreciate images as mere artistic expression (and occasionally a much-needed comic relief), not factual reality.



p.s. Who's your Instagram hero? Which accounts make you laugh or put things in perspective? Tell us in the comments!

p.p.s. Get more image analysis by following us on Instagram. And share this with your friends who would appreciate some real-talk on Instagram vs. reality!

Want more style and life upgrade advice? Take the Sociology of Style quiz, or check out the Success With Style series for men and women.

Insta-Analysis: Transparent Pants, Muddy Jeans, Digitally Distracted Dining

I have a very torrid relationship with social media. So much potential value, with so many difficult-to-avoid pitfalls. This is especially true of Instagram. And while I finally caved and created a personal Instagram account, I’ve been reluctant to put Sociology of Style on the Instagram bandwagon. I didn’t want to create another social account just for the sake of self-promotion — I wanted it to actually serve a purpose.

So this week we are launching the Sociology of Style Instagram account with this goal: To identify happenings and trends in culture and use that as a springboard for analysis and conversation. We’ll touch on everything from fashion to technology to cultural scenes, and pose some commentary and a question — all in the hopes that it may encourage you to think a bit more deeply about what you wear, see, and do. 

Here’s what the Sociology of Style account is NOT: It’s not advertising cute clothes or giving you inspirational looks to envy and emulate (I think we can all agree there’s already enough of that). Rather, this is a visually-driven, thought-provoking space for critique and conversation about visual culture.

Every few weeks, we’ll send out an email with some "Insta-Analysis" of recent posts, and we encourage you to follow us to participate in real-time and chime in with your thoughts.

Have an image / trend / scene you think is worthy of analysis and want us to weigh in? Just mention @SocofStyle in your post (or in the comments of an interesting post you spot) and we’ll give you our input and possibly feature it.

To kick it off this week, we’re looking at two unfortunate and peculiar fashion trends, as well as a technology-obsessed social epidemic. Check them out and let us know your thoughts:


Transparent Pants - Why? 

Distracted Dining: The Case for Unplugging


The Mud Jean: A Distressing Message? 

Want more style and life upgrade advice? Take the Sociology of Style quiz, or check out the Success With Style series for men and women.

Why You Don't Need to Be "Hot" to Be Effective

By now many of us have had the misfortune of reading the New York Post article, "Why I Don't Date Hot Women Anymore" (and perhaps also the Jezebel rebuttal). For those of you who escaped it, a quick recap: Average looking 30-something NYC finance guy Dan used to date bikini models, but found them vapid and too uninteresting, so has now settled for a "merely beautiful" woman (see photo below). Yes, you read all of that correctly.

There are so many directions one could go from there....but let us use this as an opportunity to talk about appearance: why it matters and how to use it to your advantage.

I didn't create Sociology of Style to make people "hotter" or attract someone like Dan.

I created it to empower people to maximize the power of their image as a social (and psychological) tool. How we're perceived — and as a result, treated — is determined through a compilation of what we say, what we do, and how we appear. As a society, we have no problem focusing on the first two parts of that equation — we deem them worthy of our time and investment. But the third piece, appearance, is often written off (particularly by educated individuals) as mere frivolity. Superficial nonsense. Insignificant. And we often judge those who do invest in their appearance as vain or insecure.

But denying the importance of appearance doesn't make it go away. Nor does embracing it relegate you to the unsavory realm of Dan and his modelizing cohorts.

We are visual creatures. Understanding and perception are largely filtered through a visual lens. Knowing is a multi-sensory experience. It's not either/or. It's both/and.

One objection some critics have to an emphasis on appearance is that it is not "substantive." But I reject that categorization. The nuances of our appearance are bursting with significance. From the intentional visual statement (a clever combination of artifacts from different cultures and eras, tattoos, power clashing, a full beard) to the circumstancially and historically revealing (scars, tanned skin in winter, over-developed biceps from manual labor, a run in hosiery due to a morning mishap). It's not that any single one of these visual attributes singularly defines us — but to call them frivolous or insignificant is to deny part of our identity.

We are invited to witness each other and ourselves daily. That witnessing is powerful. And persuasive. Sometimes what we witness attracts us. Other times it confuses, or compels, or – all the things that occur when we come to know and experience another human being in a multi-dimensional way.

The goal of attending to your appearance is not to attract Dan. But it also isn't to repel him. It's to be effective.

You must appear — that part is not optional. But the message you send both to yourself and others is largely within your control. What is the persona you want to project? And how will it be received by your audience? Establishing image efficacy is a combination of What I Want/How I Feel + What My Audience Wants/Understands. Over-rely on either one of those and your situational efficacy wanes significantly. Find a balance and wear it proudly.

Take back the power from Dan not by minimizing appearance, but by consciously upping your image game to foster connection and spotlight your substance.

Remember: To appear is powerful. Make the most of it.



p.s. Tell me how you use your image to connect and communicate. What's your image formula for social success?

Taking a beat (How to make the most of downtime)

Hey there,

Something wonderful happened this past weekend, and I want to share it with you.

I took a breath.

Well, yes, I take lots of breaths, but not often of this variety. Months of nonstop promotion and marketing and projects and travel and output finally s-l-o-w-e-d to the point that I could physically and mentally breathe. Phew.

At first I felt a tinge of anxiety, but I embraced it. I didn't make any advance plans, and still I wrote (for pleasure), rode bikes on the beach, checked out some art, went to yoga, attended a film screening, meditated, took a walk, cooked, read a book, slept — a "full" schedule that felt anything but busy. I even just sat and stared for a while. It was heavenly.

A festival of kites on my bike ride.

I've talked about our culture of busyness in the past, but making the most of downtime when it happens is equally important. It's easy to get anxious when things slow down. What if nothing else comes up? Why isn't anyone reaching out?

Whether it's a slowdown in your work or social life, taking a periodic beat is beneficial. It's the kind of head-clearing, soul-searching, heart-filling, blood-pumping, all-around replenishing gift of inaction that we must embrace when it's presented to us. Cause let's face it: it doesn't happen all that often. So dig in while you can.

This week, go to your calendar and look for an opening — even if it's just a day — somewhere in the next month. Circle it. Plan nothing (even if offers arise, and they likely will). Luxuriate in its openness. Bask in its stillness. Breathe.



p.s. Let me know in the comments how you spent that time and how you felt!

7 Steps to Developing Good Habits

by Matt Abner

Developing a good habit is not something that happens overnight. You have to work really hard to change yourself and your attitude towards life in general. Over time, you will develop the right habits and be a better person.

The first step is to discover what your problems are. Self-awareness helps you realize what is wrong with your habits so you can eradicate them. It also helps you in creating plans to change yourself for the better.

Once you have identified these problems, start changing your ways but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. These changes have to be gradual. Organic changes are better than drastic changes. They are ineffective as you might go back to your old ways.

After achieving a milestone, reward yourself. Go to a fancy restaurant for a nice meal or visit a place you have always wanted to visit. This motivates you to do better in improving yourself. Just don’t treat yourself to something you have been working hard to avoid like drinking alcohol or smoking.

Soon, you will realize that you have already changed as a person. The bad habits that you used to have are totally gone. You are now a better person with a more optimistic view in life.

The infographic below discusses more tips on how to develop good habits. Make use of this information to help you change your bad ways. Again, there should be no pressure to change right away. Just take it slow. This is how good habits are formed.

7 Steps to Developing Good Habits (SBO)

Infographic by Matt Abner

Survival of the Kindest

With the holidays now over, we may think it’s time to tuck away our gift-giving efforts for a while. But instead, let’s take the spirit of the holidays — altruism, generosity, empathy, gratitude — and find small, consistent ways to introduce it into our everyday lives.

In the first of our ANNA-LYZE THIS video chat series, I talk with my Sociology of Style cohort, Anna Lownes, about rethinking our competitive natures and promoting the “survival of the kindest.” Check out our conversation, chime in with your own stories of random acts of kindness in the comments, and let us know what you’d like us to discuss in the future.

Every day can be a holiday with the right attitude. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving to you and everyone you touch.