Some Thoughts on Editing

Recently, I edited an article written by Lawrence Binns, the Director of Business Development for My Aircraft Reporting System (MARS). He had gone on a trip to the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva and wrote an article about his experience for the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA).

As any writer will tell you, the best writing comes from editing. All of my first drafts are awful. I usually just throw ideas at the page with no regard to structure, grammar, or correct spelling. Then come the edits. This is when I make broad changes to the structure, add and remove sentences, play with new ideas, and spend hours finessing the words. It’s my favourite part of the writing process.

Editing someone else’s writing is similar, but with a few notable differences.

When someone sends you a piece for editing, it usually means they’ve already gone through some edits themselves and are happy enough with the overall composition and message to have someone else look at it.

With that in mind, I don’t make substantial edits to anyone’s work unless explicitly asked to do so—especially when it’s meant to be personal. It’s one thing to make heavy changes to fiction, but with articles based on real-life experiences, you would lose out on something by making significant changes based purely on personal preference.

Mainly, I focus on structure, clarity, and in some regard, grammar. You shouldn’t change what they’re trying to say, but you can shuffle around sentences to make it more coherent, change a word here or there, and fix small grammatical errors. Stick to what’s there, just make it more.

This can sometimes involve research. For this piece in particular, there were a lot of terms and acronyms I had to learn (see the first paragraph of this article) to properly edit.

The most important aspect of editing a piece written by someone else is maintaining voice. I would argue that maintaining voice is more important than proper grammar. I’m not saying don’t fix “your” when they meant “you’re.” It’s something deeper than that.

A perfect example from this article would be in the first sentence where Lawrence wrote “…filled with high anticipation.” Proper grammar might suggest “….filled high with anticipation” or even just “…filled with anticipation.” But there’s something about “high anticipation” that’s so quirky and great. Voice is what gives the piece its truth, its charm, and its originality. Everyone has their own way of speaking and writing, and there is beauty in that. If everyone sounded the same, then reading would become boring. So if you’re editing a piece, and see something that feels slightly off—but the meaning is clear and it doesn’t distract from the piece—consider leaving it alone.

You can read the article on the EBACE website here:

25 Years of RioCan Blog + Gallery

This year marked the 25th anniversary of when Sutton Integrated began working with RioCan—and specifically for this blog, the designing of their annual reports. To commemorate the occasion, I decided to do a little write-up and retrospective of the last 25 years, creating a gallery to look back on all past cover designs.

It wasn’t easy.

Finding quality jpgs of some of the covers, especially the older ones, was a difficult task in itself. Back in the day, Sutton used different programs and storage devices (Quark? CDs?) that have of course been updated and replaced several times over the years. In the multiple shuffles of nearly three decades, it proved difficult to find old files that weren’t corrupt or using an extension that couldn’t be opened with modern design software, but with some digging, I was able to find all of the covers.

The most challenging part of this blog post was designing a gallery using my limited HTML and CSS knowledge. I first thought a carousel would work well enough, but some of the existing javascript on the site was causing the page to jump whenever you clicked to the next image. Also, the image file sizes were quite large, causing the page to load slowly. A coworker mentioned that a carousel was limiting in that you have to start at the beginning and work your way through to the end. He suggested laying out all the images so you could click on individual years. This thought led me to some research on how to best go about it. I discovered Lightbox (Modal Image Gallery) which was the best of both worlds. I typed up the code for Lightbox and resized and re-uploaded all the images. Low and behold, it looks great and works great. Check it out here:

Sutton Integrated News Releases

I currently work as a content strategist for Sutton Integrated Solutions, a corporate marketing and communications company out of Toronto who specializes in design for digital and print. Part of what I do there is writing news releases. Every time they land new business, release something exciting or are featured in a publication, I write a news release on it. The tone for the news releases is always formal with just the facts laid out, which usually makes for a quick and easy write-up.

I think the most exciting project I’ve worked on so far was for Mitsubishi Motors. They started using a technology called the DPG which, put simply, is a fully functional website that can be exported as a PDF for high-quality printing. It’s useful for industries that need to modernize traditional print media sales tools such as brochures, catalogues, reports, magazines, or more. Mitsubishi signed up to use the tool to help promote some of their new vehicles. I browser tested the sites and wrote up this little news release. Read below or check it out (along with the rest of the news I write up on the Sutton Integrated site!) here:

Mitsubishi To Use Sutton Integrated’s DPG To Promote New Car Models

Toronto, ON: Sutton Integrated has announced that Mitsubishi Motor Sales of Canada, Inc. have teamed up to promote the new Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross using Sutton’s Dynamic Print Generator (DPG).

“We here at Sutton Integrated are very proud that such a large and innovative company as Mitsubishi has embraced the Dynamic Print Generator,” said Gord Sutton, CEO of Sutton Integrated. “The future of communications is not just about throwing away tried and tested marketing and sales tools, such as brochures and catalogues, but using technology to bring them into the future.”

Mitsubishi will be using the DPG to help promote their Outlander PHEV and Eclipse Cross models. Using the DPG, Sutton will be turning the pre-designed brochure into a fully customizable and interactive website, complete with links, carousels, animation, audio, and video. Mitsubishi can make changes to the site at any time, be it prices, new features, or add-ons, and the online brochure will reflect the change instantly. Customers can browse the brochure while at home or on the go and print off copies at their own leisure. At Mitsubishi dealerships, the sales team can use the DPG to personalize the brochure towards each client so that every person will walk away with something unique. Printing individual brochures at each location will also prevent waste from large print runs.

Writing for Buro

For the past year, I’ve been working with Buro, a peer-to-peer rental marketplace app. Buro connects those who have to those who don’t in order to create a sharing economy that everyone can benefit from. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve written a few blog posts, updated web content, app store blurbs, in-depth FAQ’s, and more. They recently published the first blog article I wrote for them. I have reposted it below, but be sure to go check it out on their site here. 

Sugar and the Sharing Economy

Remember back in the day when you were in desperate need of some sugar, you’d simply go next door and ask your neighbour? Me neither. But I’ve seen it on TV and it looks pretty swell. Don’t get me wrong, I’m friendly with my neighbours, and I take pride in the fact that I can mostly remember their names, but unfortunately, we’re not close enough to knock on each other’s doors if the coffee isn’t sweet enough.

It’s just, well, a little weird, right?

How did this happen? Like every other soap-box ranter on the internet, I blame the medium itself: the internet. With the rise of the web, we’ve all grown a little more introverted. I can only just remember a time when the only way to talk to someone was to, you know, actually be with them. These days, social interactions are awkward in a way they never used to be. It became easier to make friends by clicking “add friend” on someone’s profile with shared interests than to somehow meet someone out in the wild. The thought of asking out someone IRL is more panic-inducing than seeing a shark fin while swimming in the ocean. Awkward lulls in conversations are a thing of the past when you speak via messaging apps. It’s certainly easier to skype with a group of friends than to all go to someone’s place. But things are changing—again. Humans are, for better or worse, a social bunch, and we’re finally starting to realize that online interactions aren’t cutting it. Some social networks user bases are in decline, and some are no longer used to actually socialize. So how are we changing our ways? Ironically, the same tool that’s dug our hole is the same tool helping us to dig our way out of it.

The sharing economy has become the new norm for my generation, and it’s helping to reintroduce us, physically, back into the real world and give us a sense of community that we’ve lost. While meeting people still might not be incentive enough to get us out of our bedrooms, the little monetary bonus the sharing economy provides seems to give us a kick in the right direction. I could rent out my apartment through AirBNB and have strangers stay in my spare room, show them around the city, and just like that, I got out of my house, had an experience, and made some new friends from around the world. On a recent vacation, I learned more about Portland from two Uber drivers than I did from hours of googling, and shared a few good laughs while we were at it. When I need to borrow a Camera for a music video shoot, or anything for that matter, I go on Buro and search for people in my neighbourhood who have what I need. I arrange a meetup, make a connection, and maybe get some tips and tricks on how to use the camera in real time, not from clicking through 50 frustratingly long YouTube videos.

We went from one extreme to the other, from only knowing real social interactions, to fully embracing the internet a little too much. But we’re finding common ground. I’ve felt more connected to my city and it’s people in the last year than I ever have before, and it’s all thanks to the experiences brought upon by these sharing economy apps and services. Who knows, maybe someday my actual neighbour will be the one lending me that camera, and through that small interaction, our small talk in the halls might develop into something more. Maybe then I could ask for some sugar without feeling weird about it, because it’s not just my coffee that needs sweetening.

How to Avoid Last-Minute-Management

Originally published on the Sutton Integrated Blog.

There is nothing constructive about handing out a project, disappearing, and coming back at the end only to be unhappy with the results. This is what I call last-minute-management. You set a bad precedent by doing this. On their next project, a disgruntled employee might be wary of putting too much time and effort into their work because they know you’re just going to come back at the end with changes. This unrest causes an unproductive and negative environment that no one wants to work in.

Here are some tips to avoid last-minute-management, increase productivity, and create a good environment for your employees.

Start on the Same Page

Have a clear plan from the start, and make sure both you and your employees are on the same page. You wouldn’t give a painter a canvas and say “paint me a tree”, only to be disappointed for them coming back with a painting of a maple tree. If there are specifics you want covered, then state them from the beginning. What kind of tree? What season is it? What colours do you want? How much of the canvas should the tree take up? The more detailed you can be, the better the end result.

Set a Timeline

The only way to get something done on time is to set up a timeline. A timeline should not be just a finish date. Think smaller. Break up the work into chunks. If you’re building a website, talk to your developer and ask them how much time they think they’ll need. Then how much time they’ll need per page. Go even smaller if you need to. Set a deadline for the home page to get done, then for the about page, etc. To be on the safe side, give yourself an extra week or two upon setting your initial finish date and, if need be, make adjustments on that time while you work. It’s better to be earlier than expected than later.

Get Everything in Writing

Memories are fickle. They warp and change in time. Just because you told your employee a change yesterday, doesn’t mean they’ll remember today. They’re people, just like the rest of us, and sometimes they have other things on their minds. So even if you speak with someone about an important issue related to the project, follow that change up with something written. An email has the added bonus of a date and timestamp of when you talked in case any discrepancies occur. This also creates a line of contact. If anything comes up, they can email you questions and you give answers, and you can follow the chain of events as they go.

Ask for Updates and Check in

If you want something done right and done on time, you have to make sure both you and your employees are held accountable. This can be as easy as a project update or check in email. Depending on the size of the project, ask for daily or weekly updates on their work. Checking in is also beneficial as it shows that you’re just as invested in the project as they are.

Be Open and Trusting

The most important thing is to be open and trusting. Have a relationship with your employees that is comfortable enough for them to come and ask questions if they need. Use positive reinforcement instead of being harsh. Focus on what they’re doing right, and offer advice in anything that’s not quite there yet. However, trust in their ideas as well. The employee was hired because they carry a certain skill set, so trust that they know what’s right too. In fact, they may know even better than you do. Be open to the possibility that you’re wrong. Be the manager you would want to have.

We Are All Gatsby: Social Media Marketing and The Great Gatsby

Originally published on the Sutton Integrated Blog.

Despite nearly a century having passed since its release, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic, The Great Gatsby, remains relatable in many ways. I reread it at the beginning of every year to exercise my mind after the lazy winter holidays. Fitzgerald’s complex yet fluid sentences—both lasting forever and never long enough—are the perfect exercise for the lethargic mind. On the most recent reread, I noticed a connection between Gatsby, modern culture, and social media marketing. Namely, this: we are all Gatsby.

For those unfamiliar or needing a refresher, The Great Gatsby is a novel set in the roaring twenties about a rag-to-riches man, Jay Gatsby, who broke out of poverty to win back the woman he loves, Daisy Buchanan, from her wealthy husband, Tom. Gatsby’s master plan is to throw giant, elaborate parties for anyone and everyone with the hope that one night Daisy will wander in and fall back in love with him.

Sound familiar?

How many tweets have been posted, Instagram pics uploaded, Facebook statuses updated, or snaps put into a story just in the hope that the one person will like, comment, or even see it? If we’re being honest, the answer would be the majority of them.

It’s the same with what many companies are doing now with social media marketing. They’re blogging, tweeting, instagramming, throwing up ads everywhere, and putting in so much time, money, and effort into growing their consumer base—but are their efforts paying off? Are their Daisy’s seeing them? There are tested methods available to help maximize advertisement reach. Luckily, Gatsby went through it all first, and we can learn from his successes and failures.

First, you need to have a clear goal in mind. For Gatsby, the goal was acquiring Daisy’s love. For your company, that goal might be to increase sales by a certain percentage or to get a certain number of clicks on your site. However, learn from Gatsby’s mistakes. His expectations far outweighed the reality of the situation, and he paid the price for it. Be realistic about your goals.

You need a plan. Born into a poor farming family, Gatsby thought the only way to win the heart of a southern belle was to become just as wealthy and influential as her. Then his plan was to buy a house across the bay from her and throw wild parties in the small hope she might wander in, recognize him, and fall back in love. Needless to say, that’s not a solid plan. However, by learning from his failures and tweaking the plan, it paid off.

The first thing Gatsby did was get his brand on point. He changed his name from James Gatz to the ritzier Jay Gatsby. Branding is important. It’s how the world sees you. Create a unique brand based around the aesthetic your customers gravitate towards. Look at the marketplace and your competition and focus on what makes you and your product unique. You may not be able to do this on your own. Gatsby served under Dan Cody, a copper tycoon, to learn how the wealthy dress, talk, and act. Having help isn’t a bad thing. Your concentration should be on delivering the best possible product, and not everyone has the resources to do everything on their own. If you’re having trouble with this yourself, look up companies who specialize in branding in your area.

Through some shady business dealings, Gatsby got rich. He became the well dressed, well spoken, and confident man he always dreamt of being. But having a good brand doesn’t automatically get you noticed. You have to put yourself out there. This is where marketing comes in. You can apply Gatsby’s experience to any type of marketing, but from here, we’ll focus on social media marketing.

Gatsby started advertising himself. He would throw the biggest parties anyone in New York had ever seen and everyone was welcome to attend. However, it wasn’t enough to capture Daisy’s attention. You can write amazing articles, funny tweets, clever ads, but if you’re just throwing them into the world hoping for the right eyes to see it, it doesn’t always work.

This is where Jordan Baker and Nick Carraway come in. Gatsby began inviting people who knew Daisy directly, Jordan being her friend, and Nick her cousin. We can group this into two different categories: Targeted Advertising and Influencer Marketing. Targeted advertising allows you to advertise to specific groups of people by using keywords, phrases, locations, ages, gender, etc. Most social media platforms have their own targeted marketing with built in analytic tools that allow you to track how your ad is doing. It’s no longer enough to post your product on your own blog, your own instagram, or pay to put it on random websites. Know your demographic, and target your ads to those people. Gatsby inviting Jordan to his parties is a good example. She is Daisy’s age, a wealthy socialite from the same city that hangs around in the same circles. With any luck, she would have brought Daisy out to one of the parties, or at the very least, mention the parties to her, which does happen early in the book. With Influencer Marketing, you pay for a person with a following to advertise your product. A bigger following doesn’t necessarily mean a better following. Try and pick an influencer that already interacts with your demographic. Nick Carraway, for example, does not have a large following, but he is in direct contact with who Gatsby is after. Nick also provides something else: legitimization. Since Daisy trusts the opinions of Nick, she is more inclined to trust Gatsby. Nick eventually does re-introduce Daisy to Gatsby, but it took another step.

Simply inviting Nick and Jordan was not enough to get Daisy to Gatsby’s mansion. So Gatsby then approached Nick and Jordan, told his story, and asked them to make the connection. By sharing his story and becoming friends, he was finally able to get his meeting with Daisy and make the pitch he waited 5 years to make. More than likely, your company is probably not trying to reach just one single person, but the same rule applies. The important thing to take away from this is communication. Marketing on social media should not be you shouting out your message, but actually having a conversation. Speak with your consumer base, listen to what they’re saying, their wants and needs, and grow and change accordingly. Develop relationships. Make friends. People like being heard and understood.

Of course, things didn’t end well for Gatsby, and there are a few reasons for it. He had unrealistic expectations when it came to reuniting with Daisy and what that would mean to the both of them. Partly, this was due to lack of communication. He never asked her what she wanted from their relationship, but instead made assumptions, which lead to conflict and their eventual falling out. Finally, he had no real plan in place once he got her, only a vague hope of happily ever after. To succeed, you must set a goal, have a plan to achieve that goal, communicate and listen, and follow through with what is promised. Social media, if used correctly, is the perfect tool to help you achieve that goal, but you have to be willing to fail, learn from your mistakes, and try again. Then, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

Happiness And The Fish: An Experiment

Originally published in Exit Left Magazine.

On my 10th birthday in the dining room of my childhood home, after the candles were blown out and a wish was made, my older siblings presented me with a gift. Beneath the coloured paper and a card hardly read were my first two CDs (Truth be told, I owned Backstreet Boys’ Millennium and, ironically enough for this article, Prozzak‘s Saturday People, but I don’t often admit to that). Those CD’s were Beautiful Midnight by Mathew Good Band and Our Lady Peace’s Happiness…Is Not A Fish That You Can Catch. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I preferred the former to the latter. Happiness is an album I come back to often, and not just for the music. The title, even from a young age, captured my attention. It became a mantra to me in my teen years whenever sadness struck. Not that I understood it’s meaning then. Something about it just calmed me. Naturally, when deciding to do an experiment on how to create happiness in life, the title, like a boat in the current, came drifting back to me. I wouldn’t say I’m depressed. Moody? At times. Brooding? Maybe in a Bruce Wayne kind of way. Begrudgingly content would best describe most days, never too thrilled about the current state of things. A part of me blames the music I listened to in my eyelinered teenaged years that made misery seem so appealing. Or maybe it’s the immediate gratification my generation has gotten from the internet that has made it so we cannot be happy unless we are being entertained. It could just be a chemical imbalance. I don’t know. All I know is I’ve been this way for quite some time and thought it might be time for a change.I decided to try an experiment on myself. For 30 days I would follow a self-made, decently-researched regimen that would lead me towards a more fulfilling lifestyle. My goal was not only to become a happier person but hopefully to learn a lesson about life that I could share with others. Most people can hardly wait to spout off advice on how to be happy. There are thousands of books, videos, lectures, and articles on the subject in all forms of media from before “media” was even a word. Since money is one of my problems, and I’ve been told it can’t buy happiness anyway, I decided to do all my research online and in a way that the general public would if they themselves were feeling low. Google it. I simply googled “How to be happy” and looked through every result on the first page, because if it isn’t on the first page of Google, it might as well not exist. The majority of posts were “Top (insert number) ways to be happy” type lists. I skipped one because it claimed to have over 100 ways to be happier, and I don’t trust like that. I had 9 sources in total, which I’ve linked to at the end of this article.

From those 9 sources, I compiled a list of about 87 things that supposedly would make me a happier person. Obviously, I had to trim that down substantially. There were many things on the list that were not possible for me to do on a daily basis, like wear yellow, treat myself, or, to my dismay, have sex. Some were just kind of stupid, such as “Be optimistic”. Thanks for that gem. Of course, there were many suggestions that appeared on multiple lists, if not in exact wording then by definition, and because of this, I tallied up the repeaters and picked out the most popular, assuming that meant legitimacy. I also chose based on what I thought was doable on a daily basis. Of the 87, I narrowed it down to 10 rules I would have to follow every day.

Below is the list of rules I followed for 30 days with a brief explanation of each. Most of the rules on the list are, in modern times at least, well-known paths towards happiness. I gravitated towards those because they seemed most likely to work. I won’t go into the science behind them, but if you would like to read up on it, I’d recommend this article by Alexandra Duron or this one by Jeff Haden.

The Rules

1. Get More Sleep:
I must sleep 8 hours per night.
2. Exercise and Eat well:
Pretty self-explanatory. Not sure why I grouped these two together, but I felt like they go hand in hand.
3. Meditate:
At least 10 minutes daily, increasing by 5 minutes per week.
4. Show Gratitude:
Write out something I am grateful for on that day, and one thing about life in general.
5. Maintain and Create Good Relationships:
Make new friends, keep in contact with the old, try for more face to face interactions.
6. Stop Complaining:
Stop giving negativity a voice.
7. Get Outside:
I will go outside for at least 20 minutes a day.
8. Glass Half-Full:
Take something negative from the day and turn it into a positive.
9. Smile:
Fake it till you make it. Smile until you’re happy.
10. Pick a Skill and Master it:
Work on a chosen skill for minimum 1 hour a day.

These were the 10 commandments I lived by in order to, hopefully, after the 30 days, arrive in my own personal heaven. I kept a daily journal of my life, as well as listing which of the 10 rules I followed that day. I tallied up what I did and kept a score out of 10. I also kept track of my mood during the day and in the evening in order to see if there were any correlations between my happiness and following the daily rules. My day and evening moods were also scored out of 10. I conducted the experiment between February and March.

I won’t bother writing out my daily ramblings or scores from the month, because that would make for a boring read. Instead, I’ll just tell you what worked and what didn’t.

What worked for me.

Get More Sleep: I found that if I slept for around 8 hours, I was more affable, positive, and calm the following day. If I slept for anything less than 7 hours, then I would spend the day red-eyed and sluggish. Anything more than 10 hours and I was groggy and miserable, mostly because I felt like I wasted time.

Exercise and Eat Well: While I didn’t see much physical change in the 30 days of following a meal plan and working out 4-5 times a week, I did end up feeling more confident about myself mentally. For the first three weeks I hated having to free up an hour and a half to get to the gym, but after every workout, I felt immense pride. It’s nice to feel like you’ve accomplished something in the day, and the gym was always that something. I also believe that working out helped me sleep better at night.

Maintain and Create Good Relationships: The days I actively hung out and engaged with my friends (I say actively as opposed to passive small talk with roommates or co-workers) were days that I felt happier, if only for the time I was in their company. It didn’t matter what we did, just seeing friendly faces and laughing and conversing was enough to fill me with positive vibes. I also attempted to send messages to people I hadn’t spoken with for some time, but not as often or to as many people as I should have.

Pick a Skill and Master it: For this I chose writing. Any time I feel like I’ve put forth an effort into what I love, my mood brightens. I wish that I completed this more often than I did. The days I did not write were the days with my lowest mood ranking. But on the days I did write, even when the writing itself was terrible, I felt proud of myself for having been productive, which made me happier.

What didn’t work for me.

Meditate: Meditating was the least followed rule on my list. I find it very difficult to sit still for any long periods of time. I just can’t shut my mind off. I do believe that meditation, if done right, would work. I used the guided meditation setting on my Calm app, and found that after the first few sessions, I would stop listening to the guiding voice and I would let my mind wander, which in turn, frustrated me and, often times, would cause me to stop midway through. My meditation needs practice. It’s not something I plan to give up, but for this experiment, it didn’t help.

Show Gratitude: Halfway through the month, I began to struggle with this one. While at first, it felt easy, I would later repeat points already written down in previous days, and wondered if there were so little in life to be grateful for. I would sit for minutes staring blankly at the blinking cursor line, willing my brain to come up with something I was grateful for that day. More often than not I forced myself to write something even if I didn’t fully believe it. Perhaps it was good to force it, but it didn’t feel right. I think my problem was that I looked too narrowly at it. If there is a next time, I might try showing gratitude for the little things, like sunshine or a good song. Those would add up quickly.

Stop Complaining: Not giving a voice to negativity was supposed to stop it from having any power. Eventually, the negative thoughts should have subsided. This was, at least, the goal. It didn’t work out that way. I cut back exponentially on my complaining, and I think the area it helped most in was my relationships with others. Often when I complain to people, I regret it later, as the problems are never that big or life-threatening. They’re mainly the small annoyances of life that everyone goes through and everyone hates hearing about. So when I stopped with the complaints, I didn’t later have to regret what I said. What I didn’t find, however, was an absence of negativity in my thoughts. Perhaps this is because my brain is trained to think negative. After my 30 days were complete, an article about negative thinking made its rounds on social media, which has inspired me to keep trying to correct my thinking.

Get Outside: This one I believe would work if it were summer or if I lived somewhere more temperate. Toronto in February and March can be pretty miserable. Often, the only time I went outside was the walk to work or to the gym. Even on those 10-minute walks, my head would be held down in an attempt to hide my face from the cold and the wind. But on the sunny days when I was able to walk with my head held high, I found it hard to be sad. Something about the sunshine and warm weather is enough to put a smile on your face. This particular experiment made me a believer in seasonal affective disorder, which I might look more into next fall/winter so I can avoid the cold season blues.

Glass half full: I’ve already mentioned that positive thinking is not my strong suit. I thought that maybe putting a positive spin on a negative might help, but much like showing gratitude, much of the time I forced it. While some of the positive spins worked well (“Lonely walks have the best soundtracks”), or even put a smile on my face (“Leo won the Oscar. The glass is full, baby”), nearly half the days I just couldn’t do it. Again, this is a brain training thing, and I assume it would take more practice.

Smile: At first I liked this one because the effects were noticeable immediately. Just smile and bam, things felt a little better. However, I found this had diminishing effects.

I suppose the ‘science’ behind it is that you’re attempting to trick your brain into thinking you’re happy. Again, it’s that fake it till you make it mentality. Not long into my incessant smiling, I began to think, aside from how creepy I must look, that it might have the opposite effect. Wouldn’t smiling through the negative thoughts have an effect on when you’re smiling from happiness? If I kept smiling through the sadness, then wouldn’t smiling when I’m happy eventually conjure up negative thoughts? I’m not sure, but the thought made me paranoid. Eventually, smiling for the sake of smiling just stopped having any effect.

My Results

Of the 30 days…
– The “Rules” I followed daily ranged from 1/10 to 9/10 with an average of 7/10
– My mood during the day ranged from 3/10 to 7/10, with an average of 6/10
– My mood in the evening ranged from 4/10 to 8/10, with an average of 7/10

I found there was some correlation between the number of rules I followed in the day and my level of happiness, but it also could be inconclusive. In retrospect, I didn’t document my thoughts as thoroughly as I should have. Looking back on my notes and journal, it’s hard to tell whether my mood influenced what rules I followed, or if the rules I followed influenced my mood. Did my bad mood during that specific day stop me from going to the gym, or did not going to the gym cause my bad mood? I never thought to take note about it at the time. What I did find, however, is that my happiness levels were invariably higher in the evening. I could conclude then that doing this experiment throughout the day helped me at night, but again, it seems mostly inconclusive. It could just be that at the end of the day I was able to unwind after a long day of work and stress. To test this thoroughly, I would need a control group. I would have to monitor my mood for 30 days while not following any of these 10 rules, but that would be nearly impossible. I would have to eat junk, not work out, not see and or speak to any friends, stay indoors watching trash, and never sleep. Actually, that doesn’t sound half bad.

I believe the biggest downfall of the experiment was that 10 is too big of a number. To tally up the amount of time to do each of these 10 things would be minimum 4 hours a day, with the additional 8 lost to sleep. Then to factor in work and life, it would leave no time for anything else. Seeing a bad tally at the end of the day always made me feel guilty, as if I weren’t trying hard enough. This was counteractive to my goal. From the get-go I was setting myself up for failure. If I had limited it to 5 rules or less, then perhaps the experiment would have turned out differently.

In Conclusion…

Am I happier since completing my 30 days? No, I wouldn’t say so. Am I any more miserable? No, certainly not. I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad, just like every day before the experiment, and just like every day going forward. So what, you ask, did I even take away from this? How can you, the reader, justify the time spent reading 3000 words of lazy pseudo-science only to leave with no conclusive results?

I’ll tell you.

I’ve learned that happiness is indeed not a fish that you can catch. It is not something you can touch or hold. It is not some trophy to be won by completing some silly 30-day experiment or reading clickbait lists on the internet. Happiness is not something you can just acquire and then you’re done, you have it, and you no longer have to worry about it. So what is it? Well, for me, it was the experiment itself, and not the end results. Or, if you prefer, it is the fishing, not the fish.

You can either spend your time on the water being miserable that you haven’t gotten any bites, or you can find happiness in the ritual. The slow rock of the boat, the sound of the waves lapping against the shore, the gentle breeze blowing up your sleeves, and the rising sun causing your cheeks to blush. Our Lady Peace was right; happiness… is not a fish that you can catch. Happiness is enjoying the act of fishing whether or not you get a bite, because let’s face it, you won’t always catch a fish.

My Sources
Duron, Alexandra. “25 Science-Backed Ways to Feel Happier” Greatist.
Haden, Jeff. “10 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Incredibly Happy” Inc.
Heyne, Alexander. “How to Be Happier Without Really Trying” Tiny Buddha.
Parton, Steven. “The Science of Happiness: Why complaining is literally killing you” PsychPedia.
Ruben, Gretchen. “10 Ways to Be Happier” Real Simple.
Rudolph, Kelly. “How to Totally Master the Art of Being Happy in 6 Steps (Or Less!)” Your Tango.
Valeo, Tom. “Strategies for Happiness: 7 Steps to Becoming a Happier Person” WebMD.
“How to be Happy: Tips for Cultivating Contentment” Mayo Clinic.
“3 Ways to be Happy” Wikihow.

The Best Year of My life

Originally featured on Exit Left Magazine.

The question I am asked most since returning from my year in England is, ‘How was it?’‘It was the best year of my life’ I say. It’s the only answer I ever give.

This is inevitably followed by the question ‘Why?’; a single word asking me to condense a year’s worth of life into a simple answer that can somehow justify my claim. I’ve never been able to give a satisfying answer to them or to myself. It’s not like I can just list all of the things I loved most: family film nights in A4, Rasda with the Rats and collapsing into bushes, paranoid night walks up Eliot footpath, trips to London and beers with my brother in pubs older than Canada, all night write-a-thons, doing nothing in the SMC, Labeless Tuesdays followed by an ice cream Mars Bar, initiations with the Knights, a road trip to Cornwall, the Curzon, the lights and festive stands in town during the holiday season, a pig fucker, Primark… especially Primark. I could go on, but I would feel foolish. Only a few people would understand or care about any of it. It’s too sentimental. Too subjective. Too ‘you had to be there’, which no one can hope to draw any enjoyment or meaning from. So here are some broader reasons that I hope will justify why my year abroad was the best year of my life.

The first reason for why I loved my year abroad so much is that I was terrified to go. It was, if not still is, the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make. To leave behind the familiarity of home for the unknown is not a choice to make lightly. I went back and forth on the decision hourly in the months before my departure, mostly claiming financial reasons as my main deterrent from going to England. Though money played a major role in my decision, there were bigger fears at work.

My father told me that, as a child, he was scared of flying, so to get over his fears, he got his pilot’s license. Even now that I’m older and warier of tales like these, I’ve never bothered looking into the validity of this story because the lesson is far more valuable than the truth. Don’t let fear run your life. One night during my internal battles of to go or not to go, I thought of this story and realized the decision was already made. I was terrified to do it, so I had to do it. Even if the year was more disappointment than enjoyment, I could still be proud of myself for making the choice and not having to wonder ‘What if?’ for the rest of my life.

My fear stemmed not only from financial worries, but the thought of being alone for a year, as well as how my leaving would affect those at home. Not the type to quickly make friends, I’ve always feared loneliness above most things. I’ve mostly had the same friend group since primary school. Before leaving Toronto, I began feeling less and less like I belonged. I’m not sure how to explain it. All of my friends had other friends outside of our clique, and were beginning, or already in, careers and long-term relationships. They seemed to have life figured out. It put me in a bit of a panic that I should be more self-realized.

At the time, I thought my year abroad would be a transformative adventure, like in a film, and, after the year-long montage set to powerful upbeat music, I would arrive in Toronto, unrecognizable from the uncharacteristic wallflower I once was. Mature. Cultured. Sexy. But in retrospect, I wasn’t just leaving to become a better me, I was also running away from the old me. The old me was scared of the looming lifelong nine to five. Scared of any sort of commitment. Scared of being alone in England, or being forgotten at home. In some ways, I’m still scared of all those things. However, the distance I created from escaping my life for a year allowed me to view it in a different perspective and grow.

Friendship in England, however, came quickly. Almost instantly. My five flatmates, from around the globe, were some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. We would go out, watch movies in the shared common area, share meals from each of our countries, celebrate holidays, go shopping, and everything that friends do. They were very much like family to me. From there my friendship group branched out. One flatmate introduced me to his group of friends and encouraged me to join CSR, the community student radio station, through which I made even more friends. I also joined the University’s Hockey Team (being Canadian, I pretty much had to) and met more people from that. Not to mention classes, where I found many like-minded people and, hopefully, lifelong friends. I tried to stay active and always say yes to any opportunity that arose, and in doing so, I never really felt alone.

In meeting all these new people, I found out something about myself. I hadn’t changed. I was still the same person I was in Toronto, just in England. Still a wallflower, still not the charismatic leading man I hoped to become, but all that was okay. People liked me for who I was. There was growth in my character along the way, sure, but the fundamentals of my being, my morals, and the little things that made me, me, didn’t change. So of course, when I came home after a year, I was pretty much the same person. The ‘I can’t believe that’s Gavin!’ climax never happened. I just came home and settled back into my old life. My friends from before I left were still my friends now that I was back. Nothing had changed. The only difference was that I had more life experience, more stories, and more couches to crash on if I ever decide to travel the globe. All of my fears and worries from before I left had now felt silly and unwarranted, just like most fears in retrospect.

So I faced some fears, gained perspective on others, met some amazing people, had an adventure, and grew to accept myself for who I was. While all of that certainly adds to my reasoning, there is one more thing that I believe to be the most important.

The best part about England is that it ended. I thought about staying for good. Truly. I looked into all the different ways I could extend my stay, either for a few more months, or years, or perhaps forever. In the summer after classes finished, I had started to miss home. I became sentimental and began realizing how great of a city Toronto is. My friends. My family. My city. Now, having been home for seven months, Toronto, once again, doesn’t seem all that special. I long for England again and the days of busing to Spoons on a Thursday to get curry with the boys, movie nights with the flatmates, or wandering the streets of London. While I miss it every day, I don’t think going back would satisfy this longing. If anything, it might ruin the memory of the amazing year I had there.

In 2009, a professor at the University of Toronto stood in front of five hundred freshmen and asked why a real rose was more beautiful than a fake one. I sat in the crowd and pondered the question. He made a joke about giving your significant other a fake rose and getting slapped in return. The room filled with sounds of laughter. He then got serious and said the real rose will one-day wilt and die. That’s what made it beautiful. My year in Canterbury was the best year of my life because it lived for a year and it was over. There is beauty in that. I went into my year knowing that it would end, and because of that, I took more chances, said yes to more things, and I lived more in the moment than I do at home. Home is infinite and never-ending. For all I know, I’ll be here until I die, and perhaps that makes me appreciate it less, but it also makes me appreciate everywhere else so much more.

I wish that I could look at my life in the same way I now look at a rose. Being only 25 years in, it’s hard to see an end. The petals of my life have only just bloomed, let alone began to wilt and fall, so I still take my time alive for granted. If I could somehow change the way I see my life, and view it through the same eyes I had for that year in Canterbury, then maybe every year could be the best year of my life.