The Key to Happiness: Building An Atmosphere of Growth

I read a quote the other day that seriously stuck with me.

It also motivated me to share this story with you today. 

"If you have a creative mind, it’s like owning a border collie. You have to give it something to do or it will find something to do, and you will not like the thing it finds to do.” -Elizabeth Gilbert


In 2015, my border collie brain went totally rogue when my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. When he died at the beginning of 2016, I tried to be my usual, proactive self and "re-train" my brain: I read books, saw a therapist, listened to podcasts and probably broke the Google search results on "recovering from grief." I thought I had it totally under control. My husband and I moved across the country, I launched this wonderful copywriting business and I thought I was fully-equipped and ready to tackle this "New Year, New Life, New Me" approach. (Spoiler: I was wrong.)


In late 2016, nearing a year without my dad, I was, by all definitions, a mess. While attempting to maintain an "I Got This" appearance, I totally neglected myself, my health and my personal needs. "Self care" became about laying on the couch, eating bad food and crying. Somewhere around November, my mom flew to Denver for a pseudo-intervention. She and my husband lovingly pushed me off the couch and into various doctor's appointments until we got a grasp on why I was completely losing touch with the person I used to be. 


On this path to recovery, I reopened some of the books I had picked up on happiness and self-development and I found two concepts that really resonated with me. 

1. Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project" talks about a person's need to live in an "atmosphere of growth" to be happy. Meaning, if you aren't learning, growing and experiencing new things, you're more likely to be unhappy or feel "stuck." 

2. Mel Robbins' "Stop Saying You're Fine" discusses the major reason people fail at Rubin's "atmosphere of growth" quest. Our brains are wired to be lazy and value repetition and routine. When a new opportunity arises, it is often our brain's first reaction to reject it altogether, pushing us into the path of least resistance. For me, that's crying and the couch. 

When I first read about Rubin's atmosphere of growth, I thought I had it down. "Well, I've changed everything in my life this year. How's that for growth?" I thought to myself. What I didn't realize was although I altered everything externally, internally I wasn't growing at all. I was letting my brain take the path of least resistance in every aspect of my life: mind, body and soul. While the newness of the move helped initially, it wore off quickly. Not pushing myself personally lead me down a darker hole of depression. I've always enjoyed learning and growing and sharing that experience with others, but somewhere along the road I'd lost it. 

I'm not going to lie to you: part of my problem was a thyroid imbalance. But, I'm also not going to lie to myself: the biggest part of the problem was me and my mindset. So, thanks to encouraging friends, family and therapy, I changed it. 


In December, I took full inventory of my life. I found a new therapist, had my first physical in probably ten years, restructured my business, found an accountability partner (hey, Kenan!) and bought Lara Casey's Powersheets - a helpful workbook/guide for setting and maintaining meaningful goals all year. I talked to my husband, family and friends about what used to fire me up, and ways I could get back to that feeling. 

I broke this down into categories and areas that my "border collie brain" needed to work on: heart, mind, body and wallet. I built mini-goals within those bigger buckets that I could implement each day/week/month in an attempt to get my life back on track. Here are a few of the goals that I've built into my routine, if you're interested:

    • Make a to-do list
    • Walk, exercise or stretch - I've learned I love Barre 3!
    • Eat at least one fruit and one vegetable  
    • Drink more water
    • Free write (not for public consumption) 
    • Schedule an activity with a friend  
    • Schedule a phone-free date night 
    • Call and catch up with an out of town friend
    • Listen to a podcast
    • Read one book 
    • Have a family and business "financial meeting" 
    • Meet with my therapist
    • Skype with Kenan, my accountability partner

I am by no means perfect at hitting these marks, but my monthly check-ins with Kenan sure do help! At the beginning of each month, we discuss what worked, what didn't and how we can improve moving into the next month. I track my progress on each goal so I can hold myself accountable and celebrate progress and success as it arises. 


The past two months haven't been total smooth-sailing, but they have been two of the best I've had since that dreaded diagnosis in July 2015. I'm waking up happier, I've lost weight and I'm regaining clients and purpose in my business.

I know that people like to talk about happiness as this abstract idea that you can't always grasp, but through trail and error, I've learned you can create it for yourself if you're mindful and willing to put in the work. Proactively and diligently working on my own "atmosphere of growth" has been a real game-changer for me, and I'm sharing it today in hopes that if you're lost, you can re-train your "border collie brain" too. 

Starting next week, we'll be back to your regularly-scheduled, business-focused blogging. But, I believe before you can talk about where you're going, you've got to be honest about where you've been. Thanks for hanging in there with me.