Gratitude: the ticket to happiness

joe previte and stacey fawthorp at imagine dragons concert

On Monday night, my girlfriend treated me to the Imagine Dragons concert in Phoenix at the U.S. Airways Center as her Valentine’s Day present to me. Towards the end of the show, the lead singer Dan Reynolds dedicated a song to a boy named Tyler Robinson who, he said, passed away at age 17 this past year after battling cancer for four years. Even though he was fighting for his life, Dan said he always had a smile on his face and was just happy to be alive. The story and song reminded me of the lesson just recently: the key to happiness is gratitude. 

I learned this lesson from teachers, professors, and speakers over the years but it never really hit home until I watched these two TED talk videos about happiness.

The first talk is titled The happy secret to better work by Shawn Achor. Basically, he explains how society teaches us that success leads to happiness. If we are successful, we will be happy. However, he says that studies have shown that once we reach our goal, we feel satisfied but the feeling is only temporary. Later, he explains that we can do 5 simple tasks everyday to train our brain to think differently and to be happy with life. Here they are:

  1. 3 Gratitudes (Write down 3 things you’re thankful for. Brain begins to write a pattern to see the world more positively.)
  2. Journaling (About one ore more positive experiences you have had over the last 24 hrs teaches your brain to re-live these moments.)
  3. Exercise (Teaches your brain that behavior matters)
  4. Meditation (Detaches you from multi-tasking. Increases your focus on the task at hand)
  5. Random Acts of Kindness (ex. 1 positive email thanking someone)

He challenges you to try these things for 21 days see if you feel happier as a result. From my own experience, I  try to do these things everyday after having watched this video and feel more positive and happier in life.

The second talk is titled Want to be happy? Be grateful by David Steindl-Rast. The purpose of his talk is to remind us to slow down and be grateful of everything in life. The one idea that I really agreed with that he repeated over and over is the idea that every single second in life is another opportunity to live. It’s another chance to be thankful that you can breathe and experience life. I, myself, have been taking that for granted all my life and it made me stop and remember that I could die any second. I have no idea when I’m going to breathe my last breath. No one does, which is why we should be thankful for every opportunity given to us.

The last thing I want to mention about gratitude is the expression, “At least…” that we use in English. Think about it-when do we use this expression and why do we use it? It exists, in my opinion, specifically for us to point out the positive aspects of any given situation. To look at the bright side. To stop and realize, “Hey, this could be worse.” Think about that. The next time you’re talking to someone, consider this phrase and see if you can use it. See if you can hold back the corners of your mouth stretching out into a big, wide smile after you say it and maybe you’ll surprise yourself 🙂

Sharing Arizonian culture with SUSI exchange students from South America

joel vega y thomas de bolivia y peru

[Photo of Thomas on the left and Joel on the right from cultural presentation]

Tomorrow, Joel and Thomas, two new friends, along with 18 other exchange students from South America will head to the East Coast to and to Washington D.C. for two weeks after having spent the last three weeks learning about the culture in Arizona and attending classes here at the University of Arizona.

The 20 students are participating in a program called SUSI(Study of the U.S. Institutes) for Student Leaders. They come from Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay and range in age from 18-26. None of them knew each other before coming here and they all come from different places.  The programs are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with the purpose to “promote a better understanding of the people, institutions, and culture of the United States among foreign students, teachers, and scholars.” The University of Arizona regular hosts these programs twice a year. The students visited Nogales, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Sedona and a few other parts of Arizona, I believe.

I happened to find the opportunity by chance during winter break when I received an email from one of the directors of the program here at the U of A who was looking for mentors. I remembered I had signed up for the Latin American Undergraduate email list and that was the reason the email landed in my inbox.

I received a spot as a mentor and was paired with Joel from Bolivia and Thomas from Peru for the three weeks that they spent here at the U of A.

We hung out together a few times in Tucson, maybe once or twice a week. I introduced them to friends here one night and brought them to my dorm one evening to show them what it’s like living on campus.

My favorite part was showing them around Phoenix last weekend. Since my car is broken, my dad let us drive his Polaris Ranger. I brought them to my high school and my elementary school and also around that neighborhood to show them where I grew up as a kid. I think they really enjoyed it because they could compare what they saw in movies to real life and see what an “American” high school and elementary school actually look like.

I also introduced them to Arizona burritos(an extremely delicious fast-food burrito from Federico’s), horchata(a sweet drink made of rice), AND Girl Scout cookies-specifically “Thin Mints” that take your tastebuds to heaven. My mouth waters just thinking about pulling one out of the freezer at home and munching on it-MMMM!

From participating in this program as a mentor, from my own experiences and from what I’ve learned at the university, I have realized that the media misrepresents the United States and other countries around the world, which is why first-hand cultural experience is so important and valuable. By learning about a culture for ourselves, we deconstruct the generalizations and presumptions that we hold within ourselves as a result of listening to the media, or one story.

I hope the U of A continues to host these types of exchange programs so I can contribute to improving the cultural experience for the students to come. I also recommend to anyone, student or non-student, to check out the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Exchange Programs website because there several ways to get involved with these programs or to even visit another country as the exchange student. It’s a great way to open up your mind and even learn a little bit more about your culture and yourself 🙂


Day 45: Door knobs are just for looks

puerto madero buenos aires argentina

Day 45 in Buenos Aires, Argentina and here are more cultural observations- hope you enjoy!

“The bus comes when it comes”

When it comes to transportation, it seems as though there is all the time in the world. People simply wait at the bus stop or at the subway platform and get on when the bus or subway arrives. No one seems to be in rush. However, the reason for that may be because the public transportation is really useful and the most time I’ve had to wait for a bus or subway is 15 minutes.

A lot of Argentinians talk with their hands

Not everyone uses their hands to talk but those who do paint a picture of what they’re describing with their gestures. I believe this is because a lot of people have Italian roots and Italians talk with their hands.

“Muy amable” expression

This is my favorite expression in castellano. After someone gives you directions, or really shows you kindness in anyway, you hear this expression. I interpret it as “That’s very kind of you.” I love it because I don’t feel like there’s an expression in English that we use to express gratitude in the way an Argentine person might. It’s really cool!

Description words are used as names

Instead of using the person’s name such as “Nico” or “Sara,” people sometimes call a person by the adjectives one might use to describe that person such as flaco(skinny), gorda(large), linda(pretty)etc. I wouldn’t consider it “labeling” a person but rather using words that actually relate to what the person is. An example would be, “Oi, flaco. Vení acá,” which directly translates to “Hey, skinny, Come here.”

You always greet the people that live in your building

I live in an apartment and every time I see someone walking out the front door, in the elevator, or on the stairway, the person always greets me and says hello. I wouldn’t know if it’s the same in New York or Chicago or another big city in the United States but it was something that stuck out to me.

Most doors in restaurants don’t shut automatically

I’m not exactly sure this falls under the “cultural” category but one thing that caught my attention is the fact that at some restaurants, the doors don’t close automatically. You have to actually shut it and this is something I’m not used to in Arizona.  There are doors that do shut automatically but I also see a lot that don’t compared to in Phoenix where I hardly see any. 

Door knobs are just for looks

It amuses me that there are numerous doors that have door knobs just for looks. By that I mean you need to turn the key like a doorknob to enter the building. This also means that if you forget your keys and no one is home, you can’t get in.

Feel free to share any thoughts below 🙂


Be the blue umbrella that you are and smile

Last night, I saw Monsters University with a few friends and one of the films included in the previews was a short film by Pixar titled ‘The Blue Umbrella’ which was one of the most creative short films ever! The story is about a blue umbrella and a red umbrella that fall in love.

I would love to be able to share the entire short film but I think you can only see it in the previews before Monsters University. Basically, everything- the mailbox, the walk-sign, the sidewalk- has a face and is an animate object in the short. As the blue umbrella, who is cheery and smiling for being alive, travels in the hands of his owner down the street along with tens of other umbrellas, everything smiles as a result of him smiling.

If the author meant to include any lessons or messages for the audience, I would infer that these are them:

Smiling is contagious- if you smile at a stranger, chances are he or she will smile back at you! Most people would probably say they already know this but I think more of us could do it, including myself. What’s the worst that could happen? The person doesn’t smile, we feel awkward and quickly look away and then laugh quietly to ourselves and say, “Well…At least I tried!”

Be yourself– the blue umbrella sticks out from the rest because he is acting himself. He’s not trying to mirror the black umbrellas who are boring and act like the next umbrella to avoid being different. Instead, he curiously looks around and ends up seeing another umbrella, who is red and enjoying the feeling of rain on her face. As a result of him not focusing on conforming to the social umbrella norm, he is able to notice life, enjoy it, and even meet a lovely red umbrella 🙂

Now, I could be completely wrong about the message of this short film but this is how I interpreted it and I only wanted to share my thoughts with you because I loved this short film and thought it had meaning worth sharing.


If you saw the film, how’d you interpret it? If you didn’t, what did you interpret from the 30 second clip?

Differences in San Francisco

Before I start this post, let me apologize because I’m a day late! I simply forgot that yesterday was Wednesday because Monday was memorial day and I mixed up my days of the week-oops!

As of today, I’ve been living here in San Francisco for 13 days and I’ve started to notice a few things that are different compared to living in Phoenix and here there are:

Public Transit

Since San Francisco is a city where everything is close together and the public transportation system is well organized, it’s easy to get from one place in the city to another place in the city. I take the light rail(Muni) every day to work and I love it! It’s so much better than driving to places like I have to in Phoenix. The other cool thing is that I can read on my transit to work! I read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh last week and this week I’m reading Learn Startup by Eric Ries because about a 40 minute commute to-and-from work. I’ve used the public transportation in Phoenix but the buses do not come as often as the light rail does in San Francisco(which makes sense) which is why I don’t use it.

Public Chairs?

I thought this was a little strange and maybe it’s only near the neighborhood I live in but there are chairs that are meant for the public. They look like this-chair in the street of San Francisco

I think they’re more there to match the style of San Francisco but I wouldn’t know because I’ve have done any research or tried to look deeper. It’s interesting though because I don’t think people in Phoenix would react the same way-I bet they wouldn’t use the chairs at all. Who knows!

Walking and Bicycling

More people tend to walk or ride a bike in San Francisco- I think this goes back to the whole “everything is closer together” in San Francisco. I think it’s awesome and I wish there was a way to make it more feasible for everyone to walk or ride bikes to work. I’m sure one day we’ll get there one day though.

Another weird thing is that since walking is so common in San Francisco(and I don’t have a car) I feel more inclined to do it. I live closer to the grocery store in Phoenix yet I always drive there-always. But here, I don’t think I would drive even if I had the ability to. It made me realize that I don’t really need a card. I could use the public transportation system in Phoenix as well if I had too.

B.Y.O.B(Bring your own bag)

I was told that this was made a law recently in California(like before, I haven’t researched so I’m going off what someone told me) and now grocery stores must charge per paper bag a grocery shopper needs if he or she does not bring their own. I know the do this in Spain and other parts of Europe and I think it’s a great idea! We could save so much plastic by buying and bringing our own cloth/plastic bags for when we grocery shop. The hard part is simply getting into the habit of bringing in the bag every time you go shopping. Nonetheless, it’s another thing different about San Francisco than Phoenix.

I thought I’d share these with you because I’m always intrigued by the little things like these subtle differences in activities, customs or whatever you want to call it in these two cities that I’ve compared briefly.

If you’ve ever lived in another city or state, what are some interesting differences you noticed compared to your hometown? Feel free to share below! 🙂

Forgetting to explore the beautiful corral already around you




Tomorrow will be two weeks since I blindfolded my girlfriend and brought her to the Sea Life Aquarium at Arizona Mills mall. A week before that I didn’t even know we had an aquarium here in Arizona. I found out about it on Tripadvisor while researching fun activities to do in Arizona.

I feel like this is normal. It’s normal for us locals to not know the touristic places of our home town or home city because we’re so set on the idea of “visiting the Eiffel Tower,” “eating pizza in Italy,” “snorkeling in Hawaii,” or “walking the streets of New York.” We never put on our tourist shoes or to explore our native places. We’re too obsessed with the idea of getting away. Going somewhere else. Somewhere that is as far away as possible.

I used to be the same way. I thought “Gosh, I REALLY want to visit Spain and Italy and backpack through Europe” and I did. But I have yet to visit the East Coast. Doesn’t that seem odd to you? I have traveled to a place over 5,000 miles away yet I’ve never traveled to one of the most popular places in my home country: New York City.

I never thought twice about this until I was talking to my friend Lenon one day while eating lunch and he asked me, “What is there to do in your home city? What should I do when I go visit there?” 

As a member of the Phoenix community for over 19 years, I couldn’t think of anything to tell him besides, “You should climb Camelback Mountain or hike the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.” I honestly couldn’t think of anything else that might be interesting to a college student from another country. That’s when the epiphany hit me and I thought to myself, “Wow. I don’t even know what I would visit in Phoenix if I were a tourist. That’s because I don’t even know Phoenix, or even Arizona, myself and I’ve lived here my whole life!” After that light bulb lit up in my head, I made it a goal to explore my home town more during the summer and doing the school year. And that’s exactly what I’ve started to do. The first place was the aquarium and the next places on my list include Havasupai Falls, Cathedral Rock, and many others.

I chose to share this story with you to make you stop and think: How well do I know the ins and outs of my hometown? What would I recommend to tourists looking for things to do?

Feel free to share your thoughts below and any places you recommend visiting in your hometown! 🙂