Defining Happiness

What is Happiness?

“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like & celebrating it for everything that it is.” -Mandy Hale

“You will be exactly as happy as you decide to be.”

“Happiness is a way of mind. It’s just according to the way you look at things.” -Walt Disney

Our society has defined this word in many different areas. It can be linked to a stage of life, a feeling or a mentality. This makes sense to us.

But what doesn’t make sense is where society has told us to find that happiness.

I’ve recently realized that, in my life in particular, I find my happiness in the people I love. My family, my cousins and my friends.

I love to entertain them. I love to feed them. And when Christmas comes around, I get so excited to give them presents that I almost spill the secret. Every time.

But what do I really enjoy? Making those people proud.

My favorite five words in the human language are, “I’m so proud of you.” And when those words come from my Dad or my Grandpa – I can’t even think about it without crying.

That’s good and all, but what that really means is that I’m looking for my happiness in someone else’s opinion of me.

Why do I do this?

Well, it probably has to do with the way I’m wired – which isn’t going to change unless God does a miracle of sorts. And it’s good that I love to make people happy. But what happens when they’re not impressed with me?

To some extent, we all want to impress those around us. That can be dangerous, though. There are certain decisions we need to make for ourselves.

Now, don’t get me wrong, life is not supposed to be all rainbows and butterflies. I’m a firm believer in growing through the hard times. I think the most valuable lessons come from being uncomfortable.

But if we’re looking to find happiness in someone else, we’re never going to find it. Although we all want everyone to think of us in a positive way, sometimes that can’t happen. You can’t please everyone, Maddie.

Because of this, I really want to try to be happy with what I’m doing – not worrying about what others think. This is usually pretty easy for me, but I have my moments just like everyone else. There are times I just want to make my friends happy, so I don’t say what I’m actually thinking. Or, although I hate to admit it, there are times I think I need to act a certain way to impress that certain guy.

But, the reality is, everyone’s going to have their opinions of you. And, most of the time, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“You can be the ripest, juciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Teese

So go ahead, say what you want to say. Be who you want to be. The only opinion that truly matters is that of yourself.

Define your own happiness.


A Route that Defines

The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa.


Each year, thousands of bikers make their way across Iowa. They battle hills, wind, rain and the occasional bump-in-the-road for seven consecutive days at the end of July.

Megan Oliver and her family are just a few of those thousand riders. Six years ago, Megan decided to hop on the two-wheeled bandwagon and participate with her family.

“I remember reading about it in fifth grade and my brother talked about it a lot, and it sounded really cool. My brother knew for sure that he wanted to do it and eventually recruited my mom so I thought, ‘Well heck, I’ll go!'”

This year, the route will cover 428.1 miles and will climb a total of 12,576 feet. Towns included in the route are Onawa, Denison, Jefferson, Ames, Newton, Sigourney, Iowa City and Davenport.

Because not everyone rides 428 miles in a week, training for the race is suggested.

“Since I’ve started, I try to ride 100 miles before we go in. But even that is not nearly enough, but it’s some. A lot of the ride is just powering through. You’re going to be sore every day.”

While biking across Iowa, the riders get to experience little gems right under our noses, in our very own state.

“I love seeing all the new places. New towns I’ve never been to, meeting new people, it’s just a really cool experience, a whole lot of fun.”

The dates for this year’s race are Saturday, July 21st, through Saturday, July 28th. Or, as Megan’s countdown shows, 171 days until the start in Onawa.

“You go at your own pace and just enjoy yourself across the state of Iowa.”

Although it’s a week full of competitive nature and intense exercise, Megan and her family don’t look at it as a race to win, but time to spend together as a family.

“It’s a party on two wheels! In a responsible sense, you’re partying all across the state of Iowa. People talk about Iowa nice and that’s so true on RAGBRAI. We even have this joke that you could leave $5 on your bike seat, go walk around the town, come back and your $5 would still be there. It just embodies what Iowa’s all about.”


I think we often take for granted just how great our little state is. If you’ve never experienced “Iowa Nice,” let me tell you, it’s a real thing. There’s just something about the people of the Midwest that’s different from the people of other areas of the nation.

So why not take a 400 mile ride across our great state to see what it has to offer? It might be a challenge, but anything worth doing is challenging. Why not see what Iowa’s all about from the seat of a two-wheeled bike?

Defining the Future

Future can be a scary word. A word that’s thrown around way too much between the years of 17 to about 22-years-old.

Every college student is always thinking about that one word.

The future.

So when questions and second thoughts arise, we as college students are quick to panic about our dangling future.

Kaci Johnson is all too familiar with that panic. Although she may be 22-years-old, Kaci’s considered a sophomore at Simpson College because of many defining moments in the past three years.

“I had my heart set on being a nurse since I was really little. My dream job was to work at St. Jude Children’s Hospital helping kids,” Kaci said.

So, that’s how she started, attending Mercy College as a nursing student in the fall of 2014… but not for long. After her first semester at Mercy, Kaci transferred to DMACC, where she studied nursing until the spring of 2016. She then took a break from school that next fall.

“During my semester off, I had started working at Methodist Hospital in downtown Des Moines as a patient care tech on the colon/rectal floor. I remember having 14 patients one night, and you’re expected to walk each of them three times and do vitals twice in an eight hour shift. It’s a really tiring job, and that’s when I realized that’s not what I wanted to do with my life.”


Struggling to find her niche, Kaci took a personal inventory of her qualities and interests.

“I have a real passion for kids, and I knew I needed to do something I was interested in. That’s when I started to look at what Simpson had to offer.”

Kaci started attending Simpson in the fall of 2017 pursuing a degree in elementary education. Since then, she’s joined Best Buddies and has become a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Through these groups, she has made friends and memories that will last her a lifetime.

“I was really looking forward to coming here, but also really nervous because I was completely changing my major and attending yet another different school. But it’s been really, really good.”

Kaci’s not the first, and surely won’t be the last, to feel stuck – whether that’s in a major or in a school. But how many students have the desire to change? How many want to put in the work to be happy? Kaci easily could have taken the easy way out, sticking with her nursing degree to make things a little less complicated.

But she knew she wouldn’t be happy there. She knew that wasn’t the future she wanted to make for herself.

So, she did something about it.

How many of us are willing to put in the work to MAKE our future? Our future doesn’t define us, we define it!

“It was tough, but I’m a lot happier than I was. I know I made the right change.”




Social Media – Is It Defining Us?

Look at today’s kids compared to the kids of the 70s and 80s. What’s the biggest difference? Social media. Technology. Almost everyone from age 10 and older at least have cell phones. I was one of those, but my situation was different in that I received a TracFone (more for tracking purposes) instead of the expected smart phone of today’s children.

In a world where everyone is glued to their phones, this epidemic looks to begin to start early. It’s not long after they have their very own smart phone that the child begins to beg for a social media account because they simply “cannot live without it.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “pediatricians often hear from parents who are concerned about their children’s engagement with social media.”

Social media often brings about a negative vibe, but it’s not always a bad thing. I know I would have little-to-no contact with my best friend living in Aberdeen, South Dakota, if it weren’t for sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

But, I’m 20-years-old. I didn’t grow up with my face glued to a screen. I grew up playing outside in the sandbox. In my opinion, its normal for people my age to use social media.

But again, I’m 20-years-old and probably biased to my generation. When those of an earlier generation think about us “millennials,” they are inclined to roll their eyes and think we’re all frying our brains at the mercy of Facebook and Twitter.

This is anything but true.

My generation is learning how to use social media professionally. We’re finding the tips and tricks of Facebook pages, WordPress blogs, and tweeting in hopes of teaching both the earlier and later generations… if they’ll listen to us.

This is the positive side of social media – connection, engagement and professional use.

But, with any good thing also comes a list of the bad.

Everyone is addicted to the likes and favorites they receive on a post. And, if they don’t receive that expected level of interaction, it can have negative effects.

According to Social News Daily, “social media can contribute to a negative self-perception.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a heavy Facebook user or if Instagram is your “drug,” we all want our followers to believe we are happy, successful and living a fulfilling life. This leads to comparison and self-doubt.

Social News Daily describes this as “smiling depression… used to describe people who are depressed but do not appear so.” We all know everyone has their flaws and bad days, but social media masks that reality. Why are we comparing ourselves to each other if we know that, in the end, we’re all just one like away from deleting our accounts?

This “smiling depression” can be dangerous for younger children, particularly girls. Growing up, I remember comparing myself to my aunt, my dad’s sister. We’re 13 years apart in age and I thought she had hung the moon (and still do sometimes).

That is where my comparison happened. I wanted to be just like her, just as many girls my age would look up to their older sister.

But this tends to look a bit different in the minds of today’s little girls.

Instead of looking at real people, they find the trendiest Instagram face and desire to have her body, her job and her beyond perfect boyfriend.

How sad.

This is not just a call for the young girls of today’s generation to look elsewhere, but a call for the ladies my age to step it up. If we provide a positive example for those girls to look to, they won’t need to find a fake, too tan Instagram model to look up to.

They’ll have us. Real people who make mistakes and fall down sometimes, but always will get back up and dust ourselves off, ready for whatever life throws next.

So, here’s my conclusion to the question, “Is Social Media on the Whole a Negative or a Positive Social Force?”

Yes, yes to both!

There’s no one answer, and there never will be. It’s going to be a problem future generations will continue to deal with.

I have no doubts we will become more tech-savvy in the years to come, but for now, all we can do is keep doing what we’re doing – improving and learning more each day.

A Defining Change

My roommate, Courtney.

She’s smart, she’s driven and she’s determined.

I knew this even before we became roommates in August. She gets things done and does them well. She knows how to have fun, but also how to focus on her education and her health.

Recently, Courtney made a change. A change that would directly impact her health for the better.

“Part of my wakeup call was that I tried to run a single mile, four laps around this park near my house, and I physically could not do it. So I decided I needed to make a change.”

Starting a healthy routine of diet and exercise is not as easy as it sounds – something Courtney learned quickly.

“It would have been harder if my family wasn’t behind me. Both of my parents supported my decision to start eating healthier and workout more. I don’t think I could have done it without their support.”

During the summer of 2017, Courtney started going to CrossFit in West Des Moines. Here, she began to see first-hand the effects of her new healthy lifestyle.

“It doesn’t make sense, but when I don’t work out, I notice that I’m more tired. I don’t have motivation. I’m just kind of… bleh. But when I do work out and get it done, I’m ready for the day. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to take on the world.”

But that’s not all. Courtney not only began regularly attending CrossFit classes, but she also began running on a regular basis.

“I didn’t think I would like running as much as I do. But the more I got used to it and the more endurance I built up, I really enjoyed it. It’s my stress-reliever.”

In the past year, Courtney has ran three 5Ks and is training to run the Des Moines Dam-to-Dam half marathon that will be held in June. But she’s not planning to stop there.

“I decided that a year from now, I’m going to run a marathon! But I’m going to really try to do it the right way. I’m going to eat what I need to eat, I’m going to run when I need to run, and I’m going to make sure that I do everything for myself.”

Courtney is an inspiration to me. Because I’ve known her since my first week here at Simpson College, I have seen the difference in her. She’s happier. She’s more active. And when she decides she’s going to stick to a certain diet or exercise program, she does. Courtney inspires me to be the best that I can be.

So, because of my dear roommate, I will begin training WITH her for the Des Moines Dam-to-Dam half marathon. It sounds SO scary, but I know that Courtney will push me and motivate me.

This is the benefit of having healthy friendships. She pushes me, I push her. All because of one change she made last summer.

My challenge for you today is to look at your friendships. Do you have that person who will push you to be your best? If not, why can’t YOU be that person? YOU can make a defining change to help your friends be the best they can be. And who knows? Maybe you’ll do something crazy, like sign up for a half marathon.

A Defining Turn

Each of us have moments that define our lives.

Each of us make decisions every day that impact our lives for better or for worse.

In my last post, I introduced my topic for the entry I posted previously and those I intend to post in the future.

Defining Moments.

They don’t have to be big. They can be as small as waking up at 8:00 a.m. or 8:15 a.m. They don’t even have to be decisions we directly make. Sometimes, the defining moments come from the way we respond to a decision someone (or something) else makes for us.

This brings me to the topic of this post.

Now, usually, I would tell you a story about someone else and how their decisions defined their lives. But since I’m still getting the ball rolling, I decided to tell a story that happened to me so that we can continue to get to know each other.

So, like I said before, sometimes the moments that define us are brought about by another situation; an action that causes a reaction.

In my case, the action was brought about by a horse. A 1,200 pound tank of a horse. This horse came with the name Julio and was a powerhouse compared to me who was, at the time, a 14-year-old girl who paled in comparison to his height and weight.

Nevertheless, we were a team. He was my baby. Our favorite thing to do on the weekends during the summer was to barrel race. Sixteen fast-paced, adrenaline filled seconds that were as addicting as vanilla Diet Coke. 😉

On May 29, 2012, my perception of a fun, lighthearted activity would be changed forever.

As I, the first rider of the night, rode into the arena, Julio began to get excited. He knew what was coming and if that horse loved anything, it was to run.

After he calmed down a bit, I took a deep breath and turned my beast to start my pattern.

We had a little trouble around the first barrel and because of that hiccup, I was not paying as close attention as I should have been – a reaction that would be defining seconds later.

In between the first and second barrel, Julio decided to turn on a dime, sending me – his rider – plummeting to the ground, but not without getting in the way of his monstrous hooves.

My family and friends rushed into the arena, called an ambulance, and began reacting to Julio’s actions and my lack thereof.

I ended up being taken by LifeFlight to Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, where they would later discover I suffered only from a sprained ankle and a massive concussion.

Moments of impact.

I had little reaction time during the accident, but it was not the choices I made while making my descent off my horse that would define the way I lived my life from there on.

I had many decisions to make. Was I going to get up and walk around the hospital so that I could go home? Was I going to take my medication?

Was I going to get back onto the beast who hurt me?

Long-story-short, I ended up getting back on Julio a short week and a half later. I was not going to let his mistake keep me from the sport I loved.

And it didn’t! Because I got back on a week and a half later, I kept learning. I kept improving in my riding technique. And now, almost six years later, I’ve been known to drop the reigns and let my horse take charge as I shoot at my target.

These moments of impact are the ones that define our lives.

The decision of whether to stay down or to get back on the horse are ones that can change your life forever.

So what will you choose? Stay on the ground? Or get back on the horse?



Defining Moments

“Either define the moment or the moment will define you.” -Walt Whitman

“There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realize nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts, before this and after this.” -Unknown

“Don’t make the mistake of believing that your future hangs on one big defining moment. Every moment is defining you, whether you realize it or not.” -Kerri Weeks

We’ve all had those moments that could change everything. Whether it’s a big decision, like where to go to college (Simpson College is pretty great for anyone in that situation), or a small one, like whether to eat the cookie or the apple. Each of our lives are made up of moments that end up defining who we are and what we do.

These moments may be a bit daunting, but they fascinate me. I’m the type of person who likes to lay down and look at all the decisions I made in a day and play out the situation if I would have decided differently. Just think, what if I would have decided to be an exercise science major? I wouldn’t be writing a blog post right now, that’s for sure.

Or what if I would have decided NOT to try on my ACT tests? I wouldn’t have gotten a score worthy of Simpson standards and I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Or, what if once I got to Simpson, I decided to stay in my room all day working on homework – not getting out into the campus community where I would eventually meet some of my best friends.

While we’re on the topic of me, the author of this blog, here are some more fun facts about me before I begin sharing my life with you.

  • I’m a second year student at Simpson College, pursuing a major in multimedia journalism and a minor in coaching.
  • I’m the oldest of 15 grandchildren. We all live within a two mile radius of each other. It’s constant chaos, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  • I have one horse of my own. His name is Trouble (and no, I didn’t choose his name).
  • Vanilla Diet Coke and peanut butter M&Ms are my weaknesses.
  • I love to laugh and end up laughing so hard I begin to cry at least once a week.
  • I am the Vice President of Communications for the Iowa Beta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi.
  • I love to sing and am currently the worship leader for Indianola Light Company.
    • The inspiration for this blog actually came from a message taught by Geoff Safford during a Light Company meeting about a year ago (S/O to you!).

It’s crazy to think about all the small decisions we make that end up impacting our lives. Just one small change could have impacted one of the things I just told you about me. Like, what if I hadn’t decided to go to Light Company that night? I wouldn’t have heard Geoff’s message and I would still be deciding what my blog post would be about.

Defining Moments.

They don’t have to be monumental. They don’t have to be life-changing. But, I hope that the light I intend to bring to both the small and the big decisions will open the eyes of my readers to see that your life is what you make it.

So drink your water, eat the apple, and choose Simpson College. You never know how one decision will impact your life forever.