5 Days Until We Open Our Happy Jar!

I mention the origin of the name Our Happy Jar on my About page, but it seems like a good time to share the full story: on Monday, it’ll be a year since we started our “real” happy jar!

Happy Jar

The OG! 😉

When our first wedding anniversary came around, Matt and I had just recently purchased and renovated our current home (fun fact: this is our 5th place together in 9 years!). So to save a little money, we decided to make each other paper anniversary-themed gifts.

Matt stepped up his origami game and made monogrammed 3-D paper diamonds (my birthstone!):

Matt’s pretty crafty!

I decided to start a happy jar to store all our happy thoughts (based off of pins like these ones):

Where it all started!

At the time, it seemed like just a cute idea, but it’s turned out to be pretty great. It sounds silly and cliché, but appreciating the little things has made it easier to not sweat the small stuff (which is still a learning process for me). More importantly, it’s expanded into this blog! As I’ve said, it’s an extension of the physical mason jar—somewhere to document all the good things and good times (and the silver linings of not-so-good times) in my life.

Monday is our wedding anniversary, so we’ll be opening our happy jar to read all the notes we’ve made since last year. I’m sure there have been many moments (big and small) to be happy about and grateful for this past year… can’t wait to revisit them! ❤

International Day of Happiness: All the Good Things

In Grade 8, when Chicken Soup for the Soul was all the rage, one of our teachers decided to try something that was in a story called All the Good Things (Snopes outlines the story, which has been proven to be true).

We were told to write something we liked about each of our classmates, which would be kept anonymous. Our teacher then compiled all of these things into one list for each person and printed them out for us to keep.

To this day, there are 2 things that I always keep with me in my wallet (aside from the essentials): an old Polaroid photo of me with my parents and that list from more than 15 years ago.

All the Good Things

It’s a pretty sad-looking piece of paper now, and I don’t read it all the time, but I keep it there as a reminder of something really special: a memory of a time when we all stopped to think about all the good things we saw in each other.

It sounds really cheesy, but the concept is pretty much why I started Our Happy Jar. To me, being happy is about appreciating the small things and about seeing the good things in other people—even those who are different from you—and in life.

This brings me to the event that sparked this post: March 20th is the International Day of Happiness! I love Pharrell (and everything i am OTHER stands for), who is partnering with the UN Foundation to celebrate happiness and to raise funds for the Central Emergency Response Fund, so support the cause!

If not, then at least celebrate Happy Day: do something that makes you or someone else in your life happy!

I’m Going Honey Badger to Shed My Insecurities

I think part of the journey to being happy is feeling good about yourself, which hasn’t always been easy for me.

I’ve always been taller-than-average compared to most girls, especially in Asia, and I was really overweight at one point in my life, so I always felt like a giant when I lived in Hong Kong (I still do!). Hong Kong is also fairly unforgiving in that there is a constant ideal for girls to look a certain way, mainly stick thin. I vividly remember one time when a lady—a complete stranger—came up to me and called me a “pork chop”. Even some old-fashioned relatives and acquaintances haven’t hesitated to tell me that they thought I looked fat.

Summer 2002: taken the day a random stranger called me a “pork chop”
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I’m not saying that people should lie, but those types of actions weren’t very constructive, and they stung every time. I also think they contributed to self-esteem issues that I still deal with to this day. Things have gotten better over the years, though. I still have my “I feel fat and ugly” moments, but I don’t hate my body or how I look. I’m not quite at that point where I don’t have any insecurities or where I’ve fully learned to love myself, but I think that I need to, especially if I wanna make sure this happy jar stays full. 🙂

A Story About My Freckles…

When it’s especially hard to feel good about myself, I sometimes think back to this one time, many years ago when I was still in Hong Kong.

To give you some background, a lot of Chinese women are obsessed with having flawless white skin. One day, I was walking in a drugstore, when a cosmetics salesperson approached me and promoted a cream that could get rid of all my “unsightly freckles” (to be honest, I don’t even have that many, and they’re mostly sprinkled across my nose). I was pretty ticked off because A) she immediately assumed that I hated my freckles and wanted them gone and B) she pretty much insulted me in the process.

What she didn’t know was that she couldn’t have been more wrong. I actually happen to like my freckles. If you know me and have seen my parents, there isn’t a clear consensus as to who I resemble more. I think it’s because I’m genuinely a hybrid of them both in terms of appearance. One thing all 3 of us share in common, though, is our freckles, which is probably why I love mine so much.

So while I really wanted to tell that lady to shove that cream where the sun don’t shine, I simply told her “No, thank you—I like my freckles.”

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Rockin’ the freckles on my nose on our wedding day

The point is, I gave zero f*cks about what she thought that day. So every time I think of that particular incident, I remember that how I choose to look like is up to me, not someone else. Other people are entitled to have their opinions, but in the end, who makes the decisions about me? Matt sometimes jokes that I’m all honey badger, but in all seriousness, that mentality is probably useful for blocking out the people who only know how to cast judgement and for ignoring all that negativity. Those people can go f*ck themselves.

I feel a little insecure even just sharing this post (I’m laying it all out there!), but maybe someone out there will read this and know that they aren’t alone if they’ve ever felt fat or unpretty. I’m far from shedding all my insecurities, so I can’t really be a voice of reason, but if you’re reading this and if you’ve ever felt like I have and are trying to get past it, I’m sending you all my encouragement… I’m going through that same journey!

My Mom’s Battle with Breast Cancer and My Fight for the Cause

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I didn’t want to see the month end without a post on this topic. My parents play a huge part in filling my “happy jar,” so I wanted to take some time to write a blog post about my mom, a breast cancer survivor, and why I fight for the cause. Many of those who know me have heard variations of this story because I write about the cause every year on Facebook, but I couldn’t go without making it a part of Our Happy Jar.

Out of the many things I’ve experienced in the 29 years of my life, my mom’s battle with breast cancer is one event that still tugs at my heart strings to this day. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of my last year of university in 2005. My mom was back home in Hong Kong, and I was in Canada for school. She and my dad made the difficult choice not to tell me because they knew I would be too worried. When I did find out, it was after she had undergone a mastectomy. She called me from the hospital after the surgery.

At the time, Matt and I had just started dating long distance (he was in Toronto and I was in my 4th year at Western in London, ON), but he happened to be visiting that weekend. This is something that I will forever be grateful for because it meant that I was not alone to hear my mom’s news. Something I will forever feel guilty about is not being able to be there for my mom in the days, weeks, and months that followed. I was working part time while at university, but certainly not enough to afford a flight back to Hong Kong, and my parents—who always put me first and didn’t want me to drop everything in 4th year for her illness—weren’t going to fund that trip back. One of my biggest regrets was not trying harder to be there physically for any phase of her battle with cancer.

My mom fought the cancer like a champ and survived that battle. And because of that, she’s been able to celebrate many happy milestones in life, including her 60th birthday, her and my dad’s 30th wedding anniversary, and my wedding. Battling the illness and the journey to recovery took incredible strength and courage, and for that reason, my mom and the many cancer fighters and survivors out there are truly an inspiration to me.

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One of my fave family photos by Tom Wang Photography

Here’s Hoping…

Because of my mom and because we’ve had too many family members and close friends directly and indirectly affected by cancer, Matt and I are big supporters of cancer-related charities. While we aren’t able to take any huge steps for the cause, over the years, we’ve tried to do our part by participating in and volunteering for events, as well as through donations and fundraising. This past year, we got the chance to volunteer for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which is a truly special event.

At Relay for Life, Matt and I were working in the luminary tent. On the luminaries, participants and volunteers got to write messages to survivors of cancer and to loved ones who fought hard but lost the battle to cancer. The luminaries were then placed around the track and lit up after dark. We helped set up and light the luminaries, but also ended up being two of the few people who were asked to light a display of luminaries spelling out the letters H-O-P-E. I’ve participated in other charity events, but I’ll never forget how I felt that night, with all the luminaries and the word HOPE lit up. Everyone came together for one cause and because of their love for the special people in their lives, and I was part of that.

RelayforLife

Unfortunately, somewhere down the road, cancer will likely rear its ugly face in my life again (it has affected others in my life before, and it has continued to a number of times since my mom’s own battle with cancer). It fills me with dread and sadness, but I know it’s part of life as we currently know it. What I’m hoping is that there will be a day where we can say bye-bye to cancer forever. Until then, I’ll continue to remember the loved ones I’ve lost to cancer, cherish every moment with those who beat it, and join the many others in the fight so that we never have to see it happen again.

I know I’m not the only one with a story, so I’m sending out much love and positive vibes to all of you! xo

I have hypertension: blessing in disguise?

This is a bit of a long story, but a recent turn of events has led to a complete reevaluation of my health and lifestyle choices. The last time something affected my health in a serious way was when I herniated disc in my spine during high school!

It all started with unusually high BP readings at my annual check-up…

At the end of August, I went for a regular annual check up with my doctor. Everything seemed to be fine, except for one thing: my blood pressure seemed unusually high. Because white-coat hypertension is sometimes the cause for a spike in blood pressure, my doctor suggested that I visit a pharmacy/drugstore the next day to do a retest in a different environment. I did what I was told and called the doctor’s office with my readings the following day. My doctor called back later that afternoon, her voice full of worry. Apparently, my blood pressure was at hypertension urgency levels, and she urged me to leave work right away and go to the ER.

… which led to a long night at the ER and coronary care unit

That night, I was admitted into the ER with BP readings of approximately 200/130 mm Hg (to give you a frame of reference, 120/80 is considered normal levels!) While high blood pressure is dubbed the “silent killer” because it’s often asymptomatic, the doctors and nurses still found it puzzling that I wasn’t experiencing any symptoms (headache, dizziness, blurred vision, etc.) with BP levels that high. I spent the night at the ER being asked a lot of questions (probing for family history, potential drug use or pregnancy, among others) and undergoing blood and urine tests and a chest X-ray. During this time, I was kept on an IV drip in efforts to bring down my BP levels.

It was an exhausting night for me and especially Matt, who sat in a chair by my bed all night, only leaving briefly to get a change of clothes. I was eventually transferred to the coronary care unit upstairs. It was a bit of a sad experience–there were many elderly patients, some who were confused about where they were, while others were screaming in pain and yelling for their nurses. We spent a number of hours there, until a combo of oral medication and a medicated topical patch was able to bring my BP down to normal levels consistently for an extended period of time. Once it did, the doctor discharged me from the hospital, with a set follow-up appointment the following week.

and many weeks of subsequent tests

Because I am under the age of 30,  it’s a bit unusual to have high blood pressure, especially at the levels they were at. In addition to the tests in the ER, my doctor from the hospital wanted to do a number of tests to rule out any secondary cause for my hypertension (basically, any other medical conditions that might be causing high blood pressure). Over the course of the next few weeks, I had to do a 48-hour urine sample collection (this might be TMI, but collecting any and all pee over a period of 2 days is more complicated and inconvenient than it seems!), 24-hour ambulatory BP monitoring (this does not go well with driving or sleeping), and a renal Doppler ultrasound exam. It meant a lot of travelling to the hospital and a lot of time off work/working from home, but I know that health comes first. Because I also work with medical technology and healthcare content at work, I actually knew what conditions some of the tests were checking for, so it was extremely hard not to self-diagnosis and think of the worst!

The end and also the beginning!

Last week, I was finally told that all the tests–in the ER and in the many weeks after–came out clear! Because I had undergone so many tests, they felt confident that they had ruled out any secondary causes for my hypertension. I will continue to remain on medication to maintain normal BP levels, and I will need to monitor my BP regularly. It makes me a little sad, but I know that it’s not serious and that many people (even my age) are affected by hypertension. It also sparked some positive changes in my life (and Matt’s):

  1. Healthier eating and reading nutritional labels: Matt and I have been trying a number of healthy, low-sodium recipes, and there are a lot of delicious options out there! While Matt has always been good about reading labels, we’re now even more vigilant about what we’re buying and what we’re putting in our bodies.
  2. Everything in moderation: This might make me sound like an alcoholic, but I love to drink, so cutting down on that has been one of the harder changes. Fortunately, we aren’t still living the life where we down multiple beer towers on the weekends, and I know that this is a necessary change. It’s gotten better! The other side of the coin is trying new food places. As pseudo-foodies, Matt and I are still determined to try new restaurants, but we’re now learning to pick and choose our meals out. We’ll be vigilant about menu options, and we’ll only have food “splurges” once in a while.
  3. More regular exercise: Matt and I aren’t exactly strangers to the gym, but things sort of fell by the wayside when we bought our most recent home. Lately though, things have changed. Matt has been better about this than me (he runs 5K everyday in addition to at-home exercises and then often walks another 5k with me when I get home!), but we’ve been rebuilding our at-home gym to accommodate regular workouts.
  4. Leaving the stress behind (as much as I can): My team members at work, my parents, and Matt can readily attest to this, but I can be pretty neurotic and stressball-y (my mom calls me a “worry bug”). While I probably can’t do a complete 180, I can definitely try. I have been trying to let things go and to follow this flowchart, which my coworkers kindly shared with me 🙂 There are some things that Matt says I’m honey badger about, so I have to apply that a little more often!

Surprisingly, #4 is working out well for me. I still have occasional mini-meltdowns like everyone else, but I think I feel happier overall. So if some of the stuff I’ve already said wasn’t cheesy enough already, I’m going to one-up myself: maybe all of this was a blessing in disguise, and I kind of think my life is better for it.

Matt has been nothing short of amazing through it all, and I can’t ask for a better healthy-eating buddy/chef and workout partner! He was the one who encouraged me to start this blog to have a healthy outlet to voice my thoughts and to have something fun to do during my spare time (even though I write and edit all the time at work… haha), so we’ll see where this goes!

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