Top Menu

The Sunset Project: A Month of Finding Happiness in the Ordinary

sunset washington dc

Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with something in your life that you start to feel suffocated? Like the days seem so endless like you’ll never get through them all?

I used to feel like that in college, super stressed and stretched out, like I was always on a breaking point, mentally and physically exhausted all the time. Then Spain became home and most of my anxiety floated away, simply because stress is such an abstract concept there, at least compared with America.

Now that I am back home in the US, that ugly monster has started creeping back on me, thank you corporate America job. Right now my plan is to live at home for a while and squirrel away as much money as I can before moving abroad again this summer; I have got to be a grown-up for once and get my student debt and savings under control before I embark on indefinite round-the-world adventures in June.

sunset washington dc

Being home is challenging for me; I feel like I lost my freedom and independence. Now that I have a goal of becoming a professional travel blogger and writer living around the world, being holed up in my parent’s house outside Washington D.C. is like a prison sentence, even though I know I am doing the responsible thing and I’m happy to spend time with my family after being gone for years. But every day on my newsfeeds I see pictures from my friends and fellow bloggers doing amazing things around the world, while I put on ugly black slacks and a button-up and drive to a windowless office where I end up staring at a cubicle wall for 8 hours a day. Shoot me now.

I was doing really well up until Christmas, then after that I started to get really depressed. I felt like I was at the bottom of a big hole looking up at a mountain that seemed so far away it will never happen. I had nothing planned, nothing to look forward to for months and months. I felt out of touch with my friends in the US and even with my family, who I still think don’t understand my dreams. I felt sad and alone for the first time in years, a feeling I never want to experience again. It’s like I went back in time and became a whiney, moody teenager again.

Boo hoo, woe is me.

sunset washington dc

It didn’t help that I was experiencing my first proper winter in years. It was dark when I got up and went to work in the morning and it was dark by the time I got home in the afternoon. It was also cold as fuck and sometimes my hair would freeze by the time I got to work. The icing one the cake was one day the air compressor in my car broke, crippling my car and costing me the equivalent of a first class flight to Europe to repair for a car I don’t even want to drive to a job I hate.

Bottom of the hole. I’m a little ray of sunshine today, right?

It reminds me of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! I felt like I was stuck somewhere between a Lurch, Slump and the Waiting Place. Does anyone else love that book or is it just me?

sunset washington dc

Then one day I realized something. Two things actually. Nothing profound, nothing special, nothing unique. I realized that I needed to man the hell up and look on the brightside. I realized that instead of being depressed that I spend every hour of daylight cooped up in an office like some corporate chicken in dress pants, I got to drive to and from work during a spectacular sunrise and sunset every day. This realization hit me in the rearview mirror of my car on my way home from work.

It all started out with this photo.

sunset washington dc

I have a beautiful drive on the back roads of Maryland over the hills and through the woods, literally, even past a lake and a bunch of farms. All of this beautiful, wide open space I never had in Spain. Spain, being comprised of mostly urban spaces and people closed up together in apartment buildings and blocks, is bereft of the long drives just to get from one side of town to the other. America is much more spread out. When I was in Spain, I never got to see big sweeping sunrises and sunsets like I do when I’m home.

Being unlucky, I drive away from the sunsets every afternoon so I never took the time to stop and turn around to really appreciate them. Then one late December day, I was sitting at a traffic light on my way home and looked in my rearview mirror and saw the most spectacular orange sunset behind me. Grabbing my phone, I took a quick picture if it from my sideview mirror before the light changed to green. Then everything changed (figuratively).

sunset washington dc

I started thinking, hey, things aren’t so bad; I’m privileged enough to get to see a beautiful sunrise and sunset every day, and I’m going to take advantage of it. Then and there, somewhere on 115 around 370 between Rockville and Olney, an idea popped into my head. I would take a picture with my phone of the sunset everyday for a month. This would give me something to look forward to everyday, and a project to keep myself occupied and to remind myself that being home isn’t so bad.

Of course the next day it rained so hard on my way home there was no sunset at all.

Revised plan of attack: the sunset and sunrise project. Over the course of January, I spent a few minutes every day, either at home or on my drive somewhere, stopping and looking for a sunrise and sunset, tapping away on my iphone to remember it later. My goal was to collect 31 days worth of sunsets and sunrises and then share them on my blog. 

sunset washington dc

One girl’s quest to find a little slice of happiness in the ordinary.

A project so simple, yet fulfilling. So whether you a world wandering stuck at home with the blues and not traveling or you feel like you are stuck in a hole, or a rut, or even a Lurch, a Slump or god-forbid, the Waiting Place, my advice is find a little project. Think of something that makes you smile and turn it into a hobby. Do something to distract yourself and give yourself something to look forward to. Whether it’s take iphone photos of the sunsets every day for a month, trying a new recipe a week, or joining a dance class, find something small and simple you enjoy and work on it. Trust me, it really works.

Check out my 31 days of sunsets (and sunrises) outside Washington D.C.

What do you do if you ever find yourself in an unhappy place? Are you a big traveler? How do you cope when you aren’t traveling?

Tip: I took all these photos with my iphone 5. Anyone can take great photos with a phone. My favorite photo-editing apps are the following:

  • Camera +
  • Picfx
  • Pro HDR
  • Snapseed
  • PS Express
  • Pic Stitch

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

sunset washington dc

, , ,

51 Responses to The Sunset Project: A Month of Finding Happiness in the Ordinary

  1. Megan February 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    glad to see someone else who enjoys sunsets and sunrises just as much as i do. it is what i look forward to everyday kidding. life in norway is boring and monotonous, but the sunrises and sunsets NEVER are 🙂

    glad you found something to make you smile again and cheers to many more beautiful sunrises/sunsets! <3

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      Yay! another example of how alike we are haha! I really look forward to them to, winter ones are my favorites. I bet the ones in Norway are spectacular!

  2. Julika February 3, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    I can relate to this so very well, Liz! I’m at a similar point in my life right now – stuck in a temporary solution (moved back in the parents to save money and focus on finally finishing my Master’s degree). It was the smartest thing to do for now, but it feels just totally wrong… And the fact that we had exactly one hour of sunshine in Germany during the whole month of January didn’t really help me out of my winter depression.
    But reading this made me smile! What an incredibly beautiful idea! Thank you so much for sharing! Your photos are gorgeous!

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks Julika! Chin up, we can get through this together 🙂 Winter can be so bleak, just find something to cheer up, that’s what I’m trying to do at least!

  3. Jennifer February 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Very cool project, Liz! Hang in there. It will be summer and you’ll be off on your indefinite adventure before you know it!

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

      Thanks Jen! I am literally counting the days!

  4. Trevor Huxham February 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    This post is another example of why I love reading your blog, Liz—you are so honest about your experiences. The pictures are great, too! They make me miss the wide open spaces of Texas 🙂

    BTW excited to hear you’re going to Turkey soon!

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

      Thanks Trevor! I’m glad someone appreciates my honesty around here haha!

  5. Caroline February 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

    Great post. I think modern life is so hectic and full of pressure. We should all make the most of the little things in life and slow down with our thoughts and worries.

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Definitely agree Caroline!

  6. Tina February 3, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Truly inspirational!

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Thanks Tina!

  7. Cole @ February 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    You live in a beautiful place! Great project and I might steal it 😉

    • Liz February 3, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Thanks Cole! It took me a long time to appreciate the beauty around me! Glad you liked my idea, be sure to link me 🙂 I need all the help I can get!!

  8. Ashley of Ashley Abroad February 3, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

    I love this post. Good for you for finding a way to be happy with your life no matter the circumstances. And don’t worry- you’ll be traveling again soon enough, that’s for sure! Beautiful photos too 🙂

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

      Thanks Ashley 😀 Just what I needed to hear!

  9. Flora The Explorer February 4, 2013 at 1:03 am #

    What a lovely post Liz! Sorry you’re feeling so bummed out about being back in your parents house (I know the feeling, living with my dad again has literally driven me crazy these last few months), but it’s projects like this that make you feel like you’ve got a bit of purpose again 🙂

    Chin up and keep counting down the days! Adventurous times are just around the corner…

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      Thanks Flora! Feels good to know I’m not in the boat alone! I just have to keep my eye on the prize!

  10. Petite Adventures February 4, 2013 at 2:38 am #

    I’m sorry to hear you’re feeling down, this time of year has a way of doing that, but soon it’ll nice again! Just keep your eye on the prize and very soon you’ll be out adventuring and living the dream!

    Kate xo

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:12 pm #

      exactly 😀

  11. Alex @ ifs ands & butts February 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    Dang! Way to find some positivity in the simple things! I know I’ll have a really hard time whenever I move home, so this is certainly something for me to keep in mind.

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      I’m trying girl! It’s been rough!

  12. Rebe February 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

    Love it – thanks for sharing. I, too, have had to remind myself to appreciate the simplest things to make it through this Wisconsin winter (after moving back to the Midwest this fall from Madrid). That depressive state hit me earlier on, mixed in with the reverse culture shock my first couple of months back, but I’ve since adjusted. I started a Thankful Thursday series on the blog to bring more gratitude (read: more happiness) back into my life. Gratitude is everything.

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

      what I good idea! I am trying to do the same thing here. Appreciate the simple things 😀

  13. Katherina February 4, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    What a great idea for a project! It really helps to enjoy the little things that are so easy to forget when you’re at home.

    • Liz February 4, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

      Thanks Katherina xx

  14. Christine February 4, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Oh the places you’ll go! I love that Dr Suess poem too. Have you seen this youtube video?

    I love watching it over and over again and it’s given a lot of inspiration to my friends 🙂

    p.s. I love the photos and the positive attitude. Great job with this blog.

    • Liz February 14, 2013 at 4:06 pm #


  15. Season February 5, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Although I love living in Spain, the sunsets and sunrises don’t have anything on the ones from the States. I’m from Nevada and I always say that we have the best sunsets in the entire world (although yours in DC look pretty great too!). The skies are just so much bigger in the States without all the tall apartment buildings and I think we appreciate them so much more. I loved looking at your pics…they remind me of home!

    • Liz February 14, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

      Exactly! So nice to hear someone feels the same way!

  16. Lisa February 5, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Look at being at your parents’ place not as being holed up, but as an opportunity to get things done before you jet off again, like writing a few posts to have in reserve for when your adventures take you so far off the beaten track that you have no connection (horrifying, I know) or to edit and organise your photos so that you are ready to insert them straight into posts when needed. And what ever happened to catching up to old friends? Won’t they be excited to hear what you’ve been up to?

    And on top of everything, remember two things: 1. it isn’t forever, and 2. All those people who are swanning around the world right now had to stay with their parents place until they had the “pasta” too – and they all know what you’re going through.

    Beautiful photos, by the way; very nice project 🙂

    • Liz February 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      Exactly, that’s what I’m telling myself everyday 🙂 well put!

  17. Geri Dreiling February 6, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    I can relate to feeling restless. Just as a writer is compelled to write, a traveler is compelled to travel. But I think your sunset project is a wonderful way to cope with wanderlust.

    I have tried to take a similar approach. I find that grabbing my camera and pretending that I am tourist in my own city helps me appreciate my surroundings. I see the beauty that I sometimes miss while going about my daily life.


    • Liz February 14, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

      That’s my next project 🙂

  18. Laurel February 7, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    Such a refreshingly honest post. I love how something so simple made a big difference in how you felt. Kudos to you for keeping it up, rather than just admiring the sunset for one day.

    • Liz February 24, 2013 at 8:22 am #

      thanks 😀 xx It was fun!

  19. Jenn February 9, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Wow Liz, I felt like part of your post was me talking. I’m currently a “corporate chicken” and am working to fight depression every day. What makes me happy is thinking about travel and the places I’ve been fortunate to visit. My project as of a month ago was to create a blog documenting it all. It allows me to escape back into the happiness and excitement of seeing a new country and having those priceless experiences.

    “I felt out of touch with my friends in the US and even with my family, who I still think don’t understand my dreams. I felt sad and alone for the first time in years, a feeling I never want to experience again. It’s like I went back in time and became a whiney, moody teenager again.”

    AMEN! Again about the “corporate chicken” thing, I HATE it! Right now I have a 9-5 job with benefits, which allows me to have a cozy roof over my head, and it’s hard to imagine giving it up, but realistically I’m not happy. I hate even waking up each day and I do feel like a miserable, moody teenager.

    Who wants to stay stuck in one place all the time with the exception of two weeks of vacation a year? I feel like my family doesn’t understand me either, telling me that I don’t have my priorities straight because I want to quit my job and travel, but I don’t want to blink and be 40 with regrets.

    Getting more into twitter and social media and reading other peoples travel blogs has really got me wanting to do it myself and travel for a living and blog about it, but the thought of actually doing it feels like I’m “at the bottom of a big hole looking up at a mountain that seemed so far away it will never happen.” I think just taking that first step is the hardest. Over-thinking the down side is a problem I have with every new alternative I think of.

    Reading your blog and others proves its possible. For me, it’s just justifying my decision and having a means of income in order to travel elsewhere. It’s actually ironic that yesterday I was looking into ESL jobs around the world, and then today I came across your blog about being an auxiliar in Spain. I take it from some of your posts that you aren’t going back, LOL. It also has me second guessing the idea.

    I’m just curious, what are your plans after you ditch the cubicle life again? I’m trying to find realistic solutions that would accommodate living in a different country for a few months.

    Thanks again for this post, this was a great outlet for me to relate. Hope to hear back! If you want to have a private convo feel free to email me,

    – Jenn

  20. Laura R Segal February 10, 2013 at 2:04 am #

    I love taking pictures of sunsets! (Of sunrises, too, but FML if I’m up that early.) Your pictures are absolutely gorgeous! I also try that kind of method – for example, this weekend as been unbelievably crappy, possibly the crappiest since…November? Early December during finals? Because I’m realizing that my study abroad plans might not work about because of stupid oversights, and I’ve been all teary for a good 48hrs now, so I’ve been trying to focus on other ways I could travel in the next year or so of undergrad before it finishes, along with the ridiculously good price my school has for studying abroad. It’s kept me distracted, I guess!
    – Laura 🙂

  21. Paula February 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    Lovely! Thank you.

  22. AnnTran_ March 13, 2013 at 2:16 am #

    Hi Liz,

    Absolutely love this post!


  23. Coti April 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    I love this! I’m such a sucker for a sunset.

    You also inspired me to buy Camera+. Thanks for the recommendation!

  24. Ami May 8, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    This reminds me of the pursuit of happyness :’)
    don’t ever stop blogging!
    Keep going, you can do it!

  25. Noor - Desert to Jungle February 2, 2014 at 11:26 am #

    I love the photos and the idea behind them.

    We can’t always control the events going on in our lives or around us but we can control our reactions to those events and your sunset project is a great illustration of that. Instead of spending your commute feeling sorry for yourself and miserable you made a decision to have something to look forward to each day and to take some joy from the journey.

    I think that’s great. And it’s the sort of decision we can all choose to make 🙂

  26. Nikita July 11, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    This is so relatable, it’s kind of scary. This was me last winter. Stuck at my parents’ house for the first time in five years, saving money to travel but feeling like I would never leave, becoming a moody teenager again, haing this happen in the dead of winter when it was constantly -30°C, trying to comfort myself that I would leave the waiting place and move mountains shortly… And using sunsets as a pick-me-up. Though I didn’t turn it into a project. And now I’m wishing I had so I could have that collection of beautiful pictures. Guess I’ll just have to creep yours!

  27. Alexandria D. August 16, 2015 at 2:42 am #

    I feel you when it comes to feeling like you’re living in a prison in your parents’ house. I was happy to be done with graduate school because I could spend more time with my parents and my little sister. However, I love being on the move all the time and staying at my parents’ place trying to find a place to live and searching for a great-paying job wasn’t working out. I had my chill days then I got my sad days. It was becoming a cycle. Right now, I simply continue to do what I love and keep my focus on my desires. So far, things have changed for the better since I’ve graduated.

    I’m happy you have finally gained the freedom you deserved. We’re never meant to stay in one place! ^_^

  28. Shalmali K September 27, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    Hi Liz,

    I recently started following your blog and i truly enjoy it. I learned something very important from your post. I recently moved back to my parents’ in India after being in the US by myself and i felt all of those things that you wrote about. I lost my freedom, my confidence and just like that i became a woeful teenager. I kept saying I want to go back to the US for grad school and finally I am here and I feel like I got my life back. I could breathe again. So reading your post, I realized place may not have a thing to do with it ( i always believed, it was here IN AMERICA that everyone felt free, i know silly me). Parents may not have a thing to do with it either (again i thought mine specifically challenged my freedom). But now i start to think it is such a relative feeling. We all feel that way, no matter which country, no matter with who we live.
    Its very de stressing to know that we are not alone in anything, even in feeling this suffocation and aspiring for the breath of fresh air.

    Thanks a ton. Keep writing.


  1. Young Adventuress is going to Turkey! - Young AdventuressYoung Adventuress - February 5, 2013

    […] the midst of my January depression, aside from taking photos for my Sunset Project, I downloaded the Skyscanner App on my iPhone and would tool around on it between meetings at the […]

  2. How Not to Be a Douche Online - Young AdventuressYoung Adventuress - February 28, 2013

    […] of your Instagram stream are of the same pictures over, and over, and over again, maybe with a sunset photo thrown in for good measure (I’m a total hypocrite here). Is originality dead, people? […]

  3. 5 Sunset Stories from Jordan - Young Adventuress - May 14, 2013

    […] so I kinda have a thing for sunsets, but still, after a long day of travel and exploring new places and spaces, I love nothing more […]

  4. One of Those Days | - February 26, 2014

    […] as I was pondering what could inspire my Monday morning, I remembered reading a blog post called “The Sunset Project: A Month of Finding Happiness in the Ordinary.” Young Adventuress is one of my favorite travel blogs to read whenever I want to daydream about new […]

  5. The Pursuit of Happiness: 16 Everyday Tips for a Happier Life - Helen in Wonderlust - September 15, 2014

    […] into your every day life. Or set yourself a little project. For a great example of this, read this post by Young Adventuress. Make every day a little […]

Leave a Reply