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

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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

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53 Comments on “The Sunset Project: A Month of Finding Happiness in the Ordinary

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  1. 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.

  2. 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 petite-adventures.blogspot.ca

  3. 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…

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