How Stories Change the Brain/The Importance of Narratives

As I wrap up the online/science of happiness component of this semester’s independent study course on acting and positive psychology, and in the warm afterglow of the IIM major proposal (it still hasn’t quite sunken in), I was so pleasantly surprised to see that narratives and storytelling were included as a large portion of the final Science of Happiness unit!

I look forward to continuing some of the happiness practices that we learned in this online course, and applying some of my understanding of happiness to more positive day-to-day life. The course has also really helped me reflect and re-shape some of my goals, as well as fueled discussions between my advisor and I about what positive inspirational works look like, and how we can work on more of them!

The video and article below, from this last week of the course, really reinforce our interest in this subject matter, and underscore the importance of stories and narratives as well as their potential for more change. I look forward to continuing this independent study and finishing up by reading and reflecting many books on creative storytelling as well as coming up with a final performance and a final reflection project! Hope you had a day filled with the things you are passionate about and that make your heart sing! ❤

Article on how stories change the brain:


I had the chance to see SUFFRAGETTE at an early screening at Brandeis, and I wanted to pass along the following!

The film opens this Friday, October 30, in Boston and it is important that we guarantee full theatres at every screening.
· It sends a powerful message of female empowerment of which we all need to be reminded and that tomorrow’s generation needs to see

· The issues it addresses are timely and relevant to our continued struggles for equality today

· In an industry (Hollywood) where females are under-represented, SUFFRAGETTE is one of the only movies whose DNA is all-female: its director is a woman, screenwriter is a woman, producers are women and lead cast are women

· If we want to see more women-focused stories, shaped by female voices, we need full theatres for SUFFRAGETTE this weekend. Not next weekend or the week after, but this weekend.
One person – You – can make a huge difference. Together, we can guarantee sellouts.

What can you do?
· Buy out a film screening. An average screening costs only $2,600 to ensure a full house (200 seats x $13/ticket). You can buy the tickets and give them to employees, non-profit groups, college students, high school students, etc. and use it as a tax write-off.

· Commit to getting 10 friends to go see the film. If buying out a theatre isn’t an option, commit to getting 10 friends to go see the film this weekend. Twenty people, each committing to get 10 people to see the film, would fill a theater.

· Forward this to friends. Ask them to do the same

Big Announcement/Update :)

Still overwhelmed by the fact that this happened today, but happy to announce that my IIM (Independent Interdisciplinary Major) of Human Development, Creativity, and Media has been approved by the Brandeis faculty committee!
I’m proud to be able to devote my time to studying how the sharing of people’s stories can inspire positive individual and societal change. This video also seems like an appropriate one to share in conjunction with my news 🙂 Thanks to everyone who’s supported my journey in declaring this major (as I’ve been talking about it incessantly)- such a personal project that links so many of my passions and hopes and dreams for the world. In case no one’s told you yet today, you and your story are important ❤

Think Dirty- Interesting Name, Great App

I follow Amanda (@organicbunny), an organic beauty blogger, on Instagram. Today in one of her posts, she mentioned the app Think Dirty (click here to download for FREE), which is described in the App store as “the easiest way to learn about the potentially toxic ingredients in your cosmetics and personal care products. It’s an independent source that allows you to compare products as you shop. Just scan the product barcode and Think Dirty will give you easy-to-understand info on the product, track dirty ingredients and shop for cleaner options”.

Normally, I try to buy products with natural, recognizable ingredients whenever possible, but it can certainly be easy to purchase beauty products (not just makeup- body wash, shampoo, lotions, etc.) after seeing an ad on TV for them and thinking that their ingredients must be super safe and healthy if they really have all of the promised benefits! Even the natural ingredients on labels are usually surrounded by other ingredients that I just assume are okay for me because when I’m shopping and need a beauty product, I don’t necessarily have the time or money to research the top quality ingredients. This app looked promising, so I downloaded it as a way to know and understand more about the products I own and so I can become a more informed shopper in the future.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.58.59 PM

When I made a free account to go along with the app and subscribed to e-mails, I received an informative (and scary) e-mail from Think Dirty. Here are some of the highlights.

Only 10 Chemicals are banned in US.

Canada has banned just over 600 and The European Union Health Commission has banned over 1,300 chemicals.

There is lax government regulations when it comes to cosmetics

There’s no pre-market approval requirement for cosmetics to be on sale in US and Canadian markets.

Laws do not regulate the use of words like “Natural” and “Organic” on cosmetics and personal care products.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose specific fragrance ingredients on the product label. Instead, the generic term parfum is listed, representing a mixture of potentially dozens of chemicals.

Luckily, this app can help break consumers out of their rut of buying available products that look neat. Here are some of the features I already love:

  • Barcode scanner- it’s so easy to scan products! Once you’ve scanned them, the app comes up with a “Dirty Meter,” a rating of the product, with 1 being the cleanest and 10 being the dirtiest. The explanation of the score for that product is provided and easy to access, and is based on ingredients and health impacts, including carcinogenicity, developmental and reproductive toxicity, and allergies and immunotoxicities.
  • If a product isn’t listed, you can quickly add it to the database by typing in some simple information, and soon it will be rated on the app. You will also receive a notification when it is rated.
  • Once you’ve scanned a product, you can add it to customized lists or to “My Bathroom Shelf”. This way, you can keep track of products you currently have.
  • The home page of the app displays the overall rating of the products you’ve added to your Bathroom Shelf list. This is a fantastic feature because you can go back and remove products from your shelf as you replace them with less dirty products.

Once you’ve gotten acquainted with the products you currently have (and find out you’re probably not too happy with their ingredients and ratings- at least that’s what happened in my case!), you can  go back to each product and go to the tab labeled “You May Also <3”. This has similar products listed that have cleaner ratings than the product you currently have (example from my bathroom shelf below). You can make shopping lists from these product suggestions, or buy them from Amazon through the app.


I’m looking forward to replacing as many of the “dirty” products that I currently own with cleaner products, so my bathroom shelf can eventually achieve a green number/status! I know this process will take a little bit of time and I don’t want to waste everything I have now, but this app makes it so much easier to compare ingredients, prices, and overall just reduces the hassle of shopping for beauty products that will be kind to your body. Think of the time you spend scanning these products and using this app as an investment in your long-term health. The Think Dirty app is better than any game- and hey, seeing your score go from red to green is kind of like getting points in a game, right? Except infinitely better for you 😛

Best wishes ❤


Use Your Words for Good


Pieces of a reflection essay I wrote three years ago (for more about the short film, head over to my About Me page here):

She has a big nose. Her eyes are spread out weird. I don’t like her face. Sweetheart, don’t even try to be Katniss.

Seeing the comments appear on the previously innocuous page, like angry bees whose honey had been stolen, a similar buzzing swarmed to my ears, and I felt heat swimming to my forehead.

It is only natural for viewers to measure other interpretations against that of the official cast. I’d hoped fans would be able to see the effort that had gone into each and every frame. I had auditioned for and landed the role of a character I related to and admired. I had spent countless hours working with a professional team and meeting artists and actors who threw themselves into their work and perfected every minute detail. I had flown all the way to Tennessee to shoot the film with original costumes and props that had been carefully planned, and afterwards helping the team plan out how they could publicize the film to best reach fans. Another comment pulled me back to reality: “This kid is ugleee”.

The shocking part of the audience’s reaction was not the extent to which they attacked my physical features. Instead, it was the rate at which they whipped these comments at the computer, attempting to dismiss months of hard work in a few seconds of mean-spirited typing. There were a few good comments too, but the ones that resonated with me were the ones whose venom was meant to sting. One bitter comment stuck with me: “Sweetheart, don’t even try to be Katniss”. This random Internet user was condescendingly telling me to stop reaching for my goals and that this experience had been a waste, and I had a problem with that.

Every situation gives others the opportunity to judge and tell you it can’t or shouldn’t be done. There will always be someone who wants to stand in the way of your dreams, but it’s how you respond to these obstacles that carves the path to your future and makes a statement about your essence. Watching the finished short film, I didn’t see the “ugleee” face of a girl who would be stopped by others. Instead, I saw a girl who took risks regardless of the chance that others might disapprove. I saw a girl whose hope would open doors that would leave her satisfied that she hadn’t (and would never) let anyone else determine what she could accomplish in her life.

The sting of these comments has gone away as the years have passed. I learned pretty quickly not to read comments about my acting, and to take constructive criticism from people I trusted but not be tempted to find it in less moderated, anonymous locations. I’m so grateful that I’ve always had the support system to be able to deal with the type of comments that I received without it affecting my happiness or motivation.

Brad McCrary, who played Gale in the video and remembers the negative comments, says,”People… should never approach fights or arguments through a screen…. (it) leaves everything emotionless and then nothing comes across the way you want; everything is read the way the person wants it to sound and grossly misinterpreted”.

Jonathan Parris, the creator of the short film, says, “It’s interesting that the negative comments almost stopped after Mockingjay Part One came out. In fact, the Facebook page for it (The Mockingjay Propo) has received over 800 likes in just the past week alone. From what I’ve seen, it (the quick negativity) appears to be mostly late Elementary through Junior High kids. Right there in the prime ages where kids are the most insecure about themselves. Granted, adults can do pretty well insulting one another online too, but that age range is what seems to be doing most of it. Again, based just on my observation”.

I don’t think people are genuinely, inherently mean or bad- in fact, that’s what makes it so much easier for them to choose to comment online instead of pursuing aggression in person. They can elect to not see the hurt that they cause.

I’m also not saying my acting was great or top notch in this short film. I did the best I could, wholeheartedly. I worked really hard to maintain professionalism and pick up on cues from the talented people working with me on the short film as I transitioned from theater to film acting. I like to think I’ve grown since then, and I’m trying to continue to learn and grow as an actress and a person as I am exposed to more diverse people and experiences. Regardless of any negative comments, I’m so proud of the work the entire cast and crew did on the propo. We were all really passionate about the books and the short film that we made, and we all love the movies that Lionsgate has made. I am extremely thankful to have had the experience and the opportunity to work on the short film and interact with the trilogy in so many ways.

As users of the Internet and people with the power to lift or to harm, please think about the impact your words will have on someone or what you’re actually trying to express before you comment negatively and/or shallowly. Don’t perpetuate hate; perpetuate love. You never know how whether your words may come at a time or in a way that cracks someone’s armor when they’re most vulnerable. Choose to crack that armor with light instead of carelessly causing destruction.

Check out one of my favorite TEDx videos (above)

Why I Want to Lose a Sweatshirt

Today in my Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation class (which is incredible, by the way- our first reading by Cynthia Cohen was about how the arts can aide the process of reconciliation after suffering, trauma, and/or war- you can find it here if you want to read more), we were encouraged to take a sheet of poetry and walk outside and observe the world for ten minutes. We let the sights and sounds wash over us and reflected about the world. I realized I let myself walk so much slower during this activity, and I realized how much of my environment I miss on a daily basis when I didn’t have time to truly absorb all happens on campus around me. However, what really got to me in the context of this activity was the sight of a blue sweatshirt tangled up in a tree on the side of the road. I got to wondering about the person who had left it behind and hadn’t noticed- where was he (or she) rushing off to? In my mind, I created a beautiful story about someone who was so focused on rushing to pursue a passion that they didn’t realize when their clothing was ripped off by a tree (which, admittedly, takes a lot of distraction).

I realized how much less beautiful the story would be to me if the person was just running late to something they were halfheartedly pursuing and didn’t have time to stop and fetch their lost item. This class has also sparked my reflection about how I think everyday lives are beautiful. I think part of that beauty is the capacity to pursue dreams and passions. There is definitely something to be said about creating a sense of security for yourself and making sure you have the means to get by, but society engrains us with this need from such a young age that we sometimes end up overvaluing its role in our lives. Personally, I’ve been given so much and so many opportunities that success is something that I want to reach, both for myself because I like pursuing goals, but also to be able to give back to those who have supported me my entire life. I’ve been so supported that failure is something I think I was afraid of for a long time, and stability was something I planned for and actively sought. Then I thought about the reasons the people I loved wanted me to succeed in certain ways- they wanted me to have enough stability to be able to relax and follow my passions. They support anything that makes me happy but worry if what makes me happy doesn’t guarantee future stability.

It’s kind of a vicious cycle- who knows if we’ll ever get the chance to follow our dreams again if we give them up in the name of stability, but who knows if we’ll have enough security if we follow our dreams wholeheartedly now. I  used to put a time stamp on my dreams, saying I’d follow a “plan B” if they didn’t work out, but now I think that’s silly. I’d rather push my dreams to the very limit of my potential, for as long as I can. Of course I want to be secure enough to be responsible and take care of myself and pay my bills. If I give up all of my dreams now and pursue something that doesn’t incorporate my passions purely for the sake of security, though, I think life will lose its vividness for me, and I won’t be able to throw myself into work in the way that success in a preordained path requires me to. I don’t want to give up. I want to blend my passions and find a way to balance them so I can find happiness in every day AND in the long run. I want to lose my sweatshirt not because the harshness of my watch’s ticking commands me to a pre-ordained path of timeliness for something I lack interest in, but because I’m spinning through the woods, losing my breath, winter air coloring my cheeks as I think of all of the possibilities I have to do things that I care about and follow my heart. And I hope that when I get cold without that sweatshirt, the people I care about will be there to warm me with their hugs, as they always have been before.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 6.28.40 PM *P.S. I love John Green and the vlogbrothers-you can purchase this wonderful poster here.