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happy // part 1: how to be


hey guys, ash here.  without a long cheese + whiiine story, i want to tell you that recently, i’ve been really unhappy.   and honestly, it’s been exhausting.  i want to talk to you about this in case you’re unhappy, too.

for months, i’ve been internally blaming my genetic make up + the  difficult circumstances that have been happening in my life, for this sad cloud that’s been looming overhead.  and i’ve been waiting around for happiness to happen to me.  and surprise surprise, nothing has happened.

research shows that our levels of happiness // depression come from three factors:

1.  50% nature: our inherited genetic set point.  good + bad things will continue to happen to us bringing us to a high or a low, but we will always return to our given happiness set point.

2.  10% circumstances: what our world looks like, our income, social status, what we have, where we live.

3.  40% intentional activity: mindful awareness + the self controlled act of releasing dopamine.

so let’s talk about dopamine. when we are in a state of happiness, simply dopamine is being released in our brains. but as we get older, we naturally lose dopamine and further, dopamine is a ‘use it or lose it’ neuron.  so basically, the absolute best thing we can do for ourselves – our present selves and our future selves – is to focus our energy into the constant practice of releasing dopamine.

this notion that i am in much greater control of my happiness than my life circumstances are, has been very empowering for me.  and through various sources (friends + mentors, documentaries, books, a possible alien), i’ve been collecting and playing with a variety of activities that fire dopamine.

these are some daily intentional dopamine-releasing goodies i thought i’d share..

  • change.  you know the saying that variety is the spice of life.  well, throw on the paprika cos change really is vital to your happiness.  this doesn’t mean that you consistently need to start your life over, but varying how you do every day tasks like taking a different route on your drive to work + exploring a new trail will have those dopamine neurons firing.
  • move your body.  you already know that natural high you feel when you sweat it out real good.  and extra dopamine bonus points if you do this in a new + novel way like.. dodgeball.  hey, if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.
  • be in the zone.  whether that zone is painting a master piece or like me, singing + dancing horribly along to your favourite 90’s music.. the point is to give yourself permission to get lost in a moment and to forget everything else.
  • act with kindness.  have you seen that episode of friends where joey tries to prove to phoebe that all selfless acts are actually selfish?  he’s bang on (but, let’s say ‘self-fulfilling’ rather than selfish ;)).  truly, small things like shoveling snow off a neighbour’s driveway, offering a meal to a hungry man, cuddling a homeless kitty, even just smiling + saying hello to a stranger, are all sure fire ways of turning up your own happiness vibrations.
  • cooperate.  our society reinforces the idea of survival of the fittest, but charles darwin actually theorized that cooperation // love is more essential to survival.  i’d like to do a full blog post talking about this but for now, it’s important to note that working together elicits dopamine levels.
  • smile.  did you know that even when you’re faking it, when you smile, the muscles in your face tell your brain that you are happy?  and laughter is even better.  so if you need to trigger some dopamine, here ya go. 
  • canoodle.  touch fires dopamine like it’s going out of style (especially certain kinds of touch.. *cough*).  even if you don’t have a special someone, there need be no shortage of touch in your life.. get out there + give your grandma a hug, cuddle a fur baby, get//give a massage.
  • be a part of the wild.  multiple studies have shown that patients who receive consistent sensory stimulation from the natural world (ie. viewing the forest, breathing fresh air, walking barefoot on grass) heal faster than those who do not.  so.  get.  out.  there.
  • explore your imagination.  our minds are like engines that never stop running, and in this modern, technology-based world, we are constantly being fed with information every millisecond. this is another topic i really want to explore further, but for now the point: allow yourself to pause in this busy, shared reality to wander in your own imaginative reality.
  • perspective. truly, we always, always, have a choice. a choice of how we see our circumstances, how we see other beings and how we see ourselves.  and we certainly always have a choice of how we react to our circumstances, to other beings and to ourselves. honestly for me, being a self aware driver of my perspective is a constant rollercoaster of grand failures + grand successes.
  • harness a gratitude attitude.  this goes along with perspective.. when life throws you a shit sandwich, you need to assess if it really is that much of shit sandwich and you can do that by checking your blessings.  i guarantee you have so much more good in your life than bad.

basically, happiness is a skill just like playing piano.  you may not be born with the natural talent but i’m learning that you certainly can practice it every day + become a pro.  :)

and because i want to document + remember the every day joy in our lives, here are some photographs of trav + i doing what we love most.. exploring.

a of t+a

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Katie O'Farrell - love the two of you and all the beautiful work and adventures you’ve been up to : ) love these images of you, too…

Andrew - <3

kiara [adopt a lovey wednesday]


her owner passed away and with no one else to care for her and her sister, kiara now waits at the LANGLEY ANIMAL PROTECTION SOCIETY.  when we opened the doors to kiara’s living quarters, she quickly hid near the bottom.  i figured she was scared and it would be difficult to take her photograph but she quickly popped her head up and was all like, “just kiddddding!”  she proceeded to rub her body against our hands and make all sorts of cute squishy faces against her blankies.  so damn adorable.

kiara is a 9 year old, female, domestic short hair cat.  she is a tad slow to warm up but super affectionate once she’s in her zone.  she could live with a calm dog or a male cat.  if you think you could provide kiara with an awesome next chapter of her life, please go on and call LAPS at: 604-857-5055.  if you’re unable to adopt kiara but are loving on those big green eyes too, we would love if you shared her.

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admin - thank you for the insights, lisa. we absolutely agree. :) such awesome news that these 2 have been officially adopted!!!

Lisa - Love Love Love little Kiara, and her sister Idgy too! ( These two girls are absolutely adoreable together! They’ve been at LAPS for 197 days as of 10/2/13. People often don’t want to adopt an adult cat, thinking that a kitten is more fun. But kittens become adult cats very quickly, and adult cats are often already well-trained, mellow, loyal and very affectionate. I hope someone will open their heart and adopt both Kiara and Idgy soon. They are sweet, beautiful girls.

Great photographs of these kitties, Trav + Ash! You surely caught their sweetness and personality in those little faces!

idgy [adopt a lovey wednesday] » - [...] passed away so now idgy waits at the LANGLEY ANIMAL PROTECTION SOCIETY along with her sister, kiara.  we met idgy as she chilled in the play area.  she was a little hesitant of the camera in her [...]

peanut [adopt a lovey wednesday]


it’s official.  we have turned into cat people.  not only am i currently canoodling with a fat cat named mister c but i am sharing another handsome kittehhh for adoption.  embrace all zee cats!

this fella’s name is peanut.  he’s been looking for his forever home for, well, forever.  he’s been cared for by the LANGLEY ANIMAL PROTECTION SOCIETY since he was a kitten in 2010.  at one point he was adopted but sadly, returned due to allergies.  as in, peanut is the one with allergies. turns out,  he actually loses his fur when not on a special diet.  so his future mama//papa will need to be vigilant with his food as well as vet care.  but other than this wee detail, peanut is the man.  he is a 3 year old ball of orange goodness, befriending other cats and all of the human kind, too.  he’s outgoing and affectionate and well, you really should just go adopt him now.  :)

go on and call LAPS at: 604-857-5055.  if you’re unable to adopt this meow meow but want to help find him a real home, we would looove you if you shared peanut!

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libby [adopt a lovey wednesday]


she was born in foster care and then waited for her forever family at the LANGLEY ANIMAL PROTECTION SOCIETY.  with hopes of gaining more interest, sweet libby was transferred to the Petsmart Adoption Centre in abbotsford.  she was adopted but sadly, returned as her new home included a bird that libby was just a bit too fascinated by.  so again, libby waits.

libby is about 1 year + 2 months old, female, kitty cat.  she is timid but very sweet.  trav was quick to get her playing and even got some snuggles in.. although that’s not much of a surprise, he always gets the ladies swooning.  ;)  with time and gentle patience, libby’s sure to warm up to her forever family.

if you think you could give the loving home that libby has been waiting for, please call petsmart at: 604-854-8132.  if you’re unable to adopt this little princess but want to help find her mama//papa, we would looove you if you shared her!

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rescuing pickles // pacific rim magazine

slurpee, our 2 year old rottweiler X mastiff, had recently passed when i first looked into her eyes.  trav + i were grieving and certainly not looking to adopt another.  but i couldn’t look away from the photograph on my facebook newsfeed of this skinny dog with a massively enlarged head and the saddest eyes, named faith.

out of morbid curiosity, i inquired as to why this dog’s head was so unnaturally big and learned that canine education rescue + adoption (also known as c.e.r.a; previously ocean dog rescue) had caught her as a feral street dog in taiwan and saved her life by removing a thick band that was put around her neck as a puppy, collapsing her trachea as she grew.  her head was so swollen due to a lack of circulation but with time, would decrease in size. in sadness + awe of learning about some of what faith had gone through, i continued to follow her progress online.  then i learned that after a few more weeks of healing at the vet’s office, faith was scheduled to be released back onto the streets of taiwan, as c.e.r.a does not have a shelter of their own nor did they have any space at their volunteers’ overflowing foster homes.

i just- i couldn’t.  i couldn’t handle the thought of not knowing if she would be okay, the huge possibility that she would be hurt again at the hand of a human being, that she would live always in fear, always starving, hiding.  i looked up from the computer screen and said to trav, “we have to help this dog.  please..” and being the wonderful man he is, he immediately smiled and said, “yes, of course.”

faith, renamed pickles, became a member of our family 2 years ago now.  she has taught us so much about patience, kindness, the ability to adapt and has brought so much joy into our lives.  so when lynda tierney approached me about writing a story on pickles // animal adoption for pacific rim magazine, i was all like, “helllllls yes!”  the special 25th anniversary edition of the magazine is available now and throughout the month of may with the globe + mail in vancouver.  go get yourself a copy or view online here (scroll down to page 62 for pickles’ story).

side note: at the time of adopting pickles, a local vet in chilliwack said to me, “there are millions of homeless dogs in north america.  dogs that are well behaved and happy that are going to be killed.  i encourage you to adopt one of those dogs instead.”  honestly, my immediate feelings to his words were anger, followed by a saddening frustration.. he was right.  there are millions of good, ‘normal’ dogs right in my backyard.  but the more i’ve thought about this vet’s advice, i’ve realized.. love has no borders.  a body of water separating the lands is not an indicator of who is entitled to be saved.  they all deserve to live.  pickles grew up wild and abused, so absolutely, she has fearful behavioural issues.  and not everyone can or wants to take on a dog like her.  but please, please understand, there really are MILLIONS of happy, well adjusted dogs (including pure breeds + puppies) everywhere, including at your local shelter, that need to be adopted.  we want to encourage you to donate to, foster or adopt any.  :)

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Sandra - Hi there, we took pictures with you guys this past Sunday :-)

Just taking a look around your blog, as I said I would, and came across this article. Happy we got a chance to meet Pickles. She’s very lucky to have been taken in by a couple like you both. I agree with you….ALL dogs deserve to be cherished & cared for. Their lives are so short & all they want to do is share what time they have with anybody who is willing to love them.

Totally understand why you’d choose to adopt a dog from overseas. There are so many millions of street dogs all over the world who are brutalized, tortured & murdered. It’s brutality on a scale that most people in Western & European countries could never imagine in their wildest nightmares….pure cruelty & twisted, unadulterated evil….and we are supposedly the ‘higher life forms’, with ‘morals’ & a sense of ‘conscience’. Seeing animals – and people – brutalized & murdered all over the world myself/ourselves, I’ve honestly come to hate a great deal about so-called ‘humanity. Which is why I’m so grateful when I meet people who truly are human beings, with ethics, personal values & hearts that could never allow them to act in such an abysmal manner. Obviously the two of you are exactly those type of people, and Pickles is a damn lucky dog to have the two of you.

Thanks again for taking the time & patience with Quasi to get some photos that can be used for LAPS upcoming benefit. We are beyond grateful to them to have saved Quasi & to have trusted us to adopt him….literally to have trusted us with his life. He has changed our own lives for the better, without a doubt. And we’re very glad to have gotten to meet the two of you, who are doing such a great, generous thing in volunteering your time, effort & money to promote all the spectacular things the people at LAPS are doing. They are a far better facility/organization than the SPCA, with hearts to match. We hope that a great deal more people will take the drive out there to see all the wonderful things they’re doing & to adopt a dog or cat of their own. Best non-profit animal rescue organization we’ve seen in the Lower Mainland.

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