“We are the mothers of this industry” – Empowering Women With Technology

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A room full of women is often a magical space. But a room full of women who are inspiring, passionate, fascinating and fiercely intelligent – speaking on their careers, their influences, and their heartfelt advice – is a truly uplifting space to be.

As part of the first ever Leeds International Festival, with themes of moving image, music and technology, we had the pleasure of attending the Empowering Women With Tech conference, featuring an impressive lineup of speakers – including the head of technology at Sky herself, Natasha, through to the legendary Lauren Laverne.

Here at Girl Gang, we’ve always positioned ourselves as ‘creative’ – our community is heavily made up of artists, writers, musicians, so a tech conference felt like it would be an unusual and alien space to be. We wouldn’t get it, we worried.

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One of the most important messages I took home from these amazing women was that working in tech is an inherently creative thing.

We learned that being a creative person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an artist, a musician, a writer, and being an ‘artist’ doesn’t tie you to a stereotypically creative industry. Girls need to keep pushing to develop and share the skills and confidence to work in tech, and to feel like it’s a space that’s as much for them as anyone else.

Tech creators are creators too, just with a different set of skills – and it’s that set of skills that women often feel they can’t access. 

Anne Marie Imafidon co-founded Stemettes, a social enterprise for for the next generation of girls, gave some insight into getting hold of these skills, telling us they’re more accessible than we might think (see Skillcrush, She Codes, TreehouseCode School  and Ladies of the Round Table). She said accessing resources that teach skills such as coding is a great way to upskill and future-proof yourself.

Emmy Lovell, VP of digital for Warner Music, spoke on how the music industry goes hand in hand with technology, the industry shifting and developing with new technologies alongside it, and I felt this rung true of many industries. Technology penetrates everything we do and everything we consume, and it’s only right that women should be just as prominent in leading developments that impact all of our lives.

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We saw this even more when we heard Susie Bubble, a fashion blogger, self-proclaim that she was the ‘least technical’ speaker, but went on to speak about how she has expertly used technology throughout her career. Using social media and running a successful blog might not be what you’d traditionally consider a techy role – but it’s engagement with tech we could all relate to, and really hammered home how tech permeates all we do.

Debbie Waskow, founder of Love Home Swap and co-founder of Allbright, spoke on how many women want to start their own businesses, but don’t. They lack the confidence, or they lack the skills, or they feel the skills they have don’t measure up. She spoke on the importance of getting more women to invest in business, and shared her three-Gs mantra of success – graft, grace, and grit. Work hard, have patience and be persistent. 

Dr Sue Black OBE, founder of BCSWomen (amongst numerous amazing accolades!) talked about the codebreaking women from WW2 who are finally getting the recognition they deserve – google Bletchley Park if you want to find out more on this amazing story. 

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Sue also spoke on the value of creating spaces in which women are the majority – it creates an environment that’s so much easier for women to network than a male-dominated space, and therefore maximise the opportunities for businesses to meet and collaborate, simply by feeling more at ease in the room. We totally felt this, with the complete strangers we had sat down with quickly becoming friends.

She also spoke on having a family, and how mothers should be seen equally as amazing role models in tech – words which encouraged a well-earned round of applause.

However, one of the biggest take-home messages we saw repeated throughout the conference, which resonated so deeply with us, was that of mutual support. Find your girl gang. 

Finding women who support each other is probably the most important thing about what we do, and we were just so, so inspired to hear such powerful and successful women speak on this. 

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The incredible woman who organised the conference, Natasha Seyce Zelam (head of technology at Sky) says “help women up the ladder, and when you go up the ladder yourself – take other women with you!”

Communities like ours are integral to forming relationships and giving women opportunity to network, collaborate, meet and share skills. We came away buzzing with inspiration, and we’d love to see more opportunities to engage in a skillsharing narrative and see more women in technical, highly paid, managerial, fierce-as-fuck positions.

LIF_Day5 81 [Web]Do you have a skill you could share? We host workshops, please get in touch at girlgangleeds@gmail.com

A call to action – Hannah Collins

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So, Theresa May’s announcement outside Number 10 came early yesterday; just like the general election. Now that we’ve all had a day to process our initial feelings of shock, outrage, glee, or satisfaction, it’s imperative that – now more than ever – we distance ourselves from political apathy at this crucial time.

Seven weeks from now, you have the opportunity to cast a vote which will determine the UK’s political, economic, and social future. The importance of the young person’s vote cannot be overlooked or discounted by those vying for a position, nor can we afford to shrug it off as a waste of time. We owe it to ourselves to take action and exercise our democratic right. Moreover, it is our responsibility to demonstrate to future generations that voting is an effective action which facilitates change.

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Ok, let’s get it out there – Brexit. Brexit has pervaded British politics, the news, and social media for what feels like decades. At this point it is embedded in our daily lives as we see everywhere constant squabbling between political parties, the world’s reaction, the triggering of Article 50, even the ever-present #Brexit.

But this is not the only issue on the agenda: the NHS, education, defence, the environment, employment, and welfare all deserve our attention and consideration when deciding how to vote. Yes, Brexit is undeniably one of the sovereign concerns of our time but it is critical that we do not allow this to blind us to the multitude of other matters at stake. This is a general election, not a referendum.

Be curious, find out about what various parties stand for in relation to the aforementioned issues. Google the Conservatives, read Labour’s manifesto, follow the Liberal Democrats on social media, look up the Scottish National Party’s website. Think about what is important to you and see which party (and not just the ones listed here) seems to fit you best.

Cast your vote with confidence by reading widely, knowing that you did everything in your power to be informed before scribing that all-important ‘x’.

 

I implore you to (always) think critically and consider the source. The Guardian and the Daily Mail are probably going to differ on how the events of the next seven weeks are portrayed. Even broadcasters which claim to be impartial can sometimes show the cracks in their veiled bias. Arm yourself with knowledge and ask questions.

Perhaps the most important part of this process —  register to vote. Whether it be in person, by post, or by proxy, get yourself on the electoral register.

We cannot afford apathy. Cast your vote.   

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote  

 

By Hannah Collins @hunkamunka

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): how to loosen its grip – Tara Rawson

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When I was a little girl, winter was my favourite time of year. Sure, summer was great for water fights and bike rides but as far as I was concerned, winter had it all: Christmas, Halloween, Bonfire Night…. all of the sparkly, quirky, over the top fun!

But after my grandparents died and my parents divorced, towards the end of the summer, I would feel this huge sense of dread washing over me, knowing that the sadness was coming and there would be nothing I could do to stop it. I had always assumed it was the familial loss at Christmas that hurt me and bled into the change of the seasons, but I realised later on, it was much more than that.

SAD is a depressive illness, causing a wide range of unfortunate symptoms including lethargy and sadness, caused by the lack of daylight as a result of the shortened days. Whilst reading up on the subject, I had a flashback of going to work one evening at 6pm, the sky pitch black, and feeling a terrible moment of panic and claustrophobia. The more I read, the more vindicated I felt. I wasn’t a scrooge! My brain wanted the sunshine!

These days I know that it’s coming, I know how to handle it and I actually look forward to all the cosiness and fun that the winter months can bring.

There are some habits I’ve picked up over the years to make winter more bearable.

Get outside

When the winter starts to creep in, we all have a tendency to hibernate. After all, who really wants to go traipsing out and about in the cold and wet.  When winter gets into full flow, it’s likely you’ll be waking up in the dark and coming home in the dark – so use your breaks wisely.

Pack some lunch, wrap up and get out of your workplace over lunch…even if it’s raining! A brisk walk blows the cobwebs out anyway. For those less able bodied, find somewhere outdoors where you can sit and watch the world go by.

And see your friends! Nothing will make you feel better than a natter with your besties. Force yourself to leave the house.

  

Exercise

I’m not suggesting running marathons (unless that’s your bag in which case I salute you) just something to keep you active, as strenuous or as relaxed as you like, or, as much as you are physically able.

It’s true that the real endorphins kick in after a really good work out but I always feel fabulous after a pilates session or a relaxed swim. Plus, it’ll get you out of the house and give you something else to focus on.

 

Roll with it

Looking over the precipice of winter and trying to figure out how many days you have left to go before the days get longer can be incredibly daunting. As hard as it is, try and look only at short segments at a time.

My favourite thing to do after Christmas is to start timing the darkness creeping in. This might sound terrifying but you’ll soon notice each day it arrives a little later. We’ve already got past the shortest day – so the only way is up!

 

Buy a UV lamp

I work in a recording studio with no windows and they give us a UV bulb to simulate natural daylight. It’s made a huge amount of difference to me and I really recommend getting one for your home or desk. Some of the appliances are a little pricey but definitely worth it.

 

Get support

Don’t try and get through this on your own. Speak to friends, family and your GP if you think you need medical help with it. There are lots of online support groups as well so don’t suffer in silence.

Check out SADA as a starting point. They are a charity who deal specifically with SAD and have plenty of information on their website. If you think you might be suffering with SAD, why not take a look at http://www.sada.org.uk/index_2.php

Stay smart and stay happy, fierce Femmes and ally gems!

 

On world mental health day – Vanhessa Longley

To honour World Mental Health Day, we’d like to extend a special hand of strength, love and solidarity to anybody affected by mental health issues.

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It’s been 3 years since i was properly diagnosed.
16 months since my last hospital trip.
5 months since my last “incident”

Mental Health is a tense relationship to have, one that I genuinely believe is a curse and a blessing simultaneously.

It’s a shadow that lurks in the darkest places, quietly waiting to drag you away from the light, but it’s the impetus that makes me crave the light and run, arms open, towards it.

It’s kept me hidden, but allowed me to reach out.

It’s taken my independence, but given me freedom.

It’s stifled creativity, but has been the catalyst for new ventures.

It’s taken my identity, but allowed me to create a new one.

It’s made me selfish, but generous with whatever I have left to give.

It’s destroyed my body, but forced me to find new ways to love it.

It’s broken relationships, but given strength to new ones.

It’s made me insecure, but allowed me to seek out confidence.

It’s made me weak, but helped me to be stronger.

It’s made me silent, but allowed me discover my voice.

It’s taken away my purpose, but given me a new one.

It’s made me grieve, but allowed me to heal.

It’s stolen precious memories, but added importance to the things that remain.

It’s made me impatient and angry, but it’s given me a greater depth of love and understanding.

It’s given me a reason to not live, but given me more of a reason to keep going.

My mental health is something I have spent the majority of existence trying to avoid, but will spend the rest of my life trying to embrace. It is, without a doubt, the essence of who I am and the driving force of who I want to be.

So today, like most days, I’m thinking of everyone who feels the weight of mental health issues, wherever you fall within the vast spectrum of it.

Whether you’re someone who has suffered or you continue to do so, whether you care for someone who does, or have never been exposed to it, we should all be fighting for better access to support, understanding and help.

Everyone deserves the chance to be happy.

Power and strength to everyone.

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Feeling Myself: reclaiming the flesh – Anonymous

Content warning: contains references to sexual assault and the emotional impact of sexual assault.

Throughout my life I have always been conscious of my body and its proportions, its changing shape and dimensions, but I have never been obsessively, acutely preoccupied with my flesh. That is, until I was raped.

My once (mostly) positive relationship with my body became barely an acquaintance; my entire physical being was now a stranger, it was foreign, unfamiliar, and hollow. I had always enjoyed my classic hourglass figure, my shapely strong legs, and my full breasts. I would look at my naked self in mirrors and cock a cheeky smile at what appeared: I was solid, voluptuous, and – perhaps most importantly – pleased.

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This was never vanity but merely an acceptance of and appreciation for my physical form. After the sexual assault, however, this practise stopped and my body became just a vessel for the torrent of thoughts and emotions that plagued me relentlessly.

“I can’t look at myself”

“My body is tainted, it’s trash”

“I’m dirty”

As trivial as it may seem to some, I couldn’t even face applying make-up. It felt as though I was banned from that now, that I was somehow marked with the shame of what had happened and therefore couldn’t participate in such a ritual. Fitted clothes, heels, anything traditionally ‘feminine’ (whatever that means, it’s open to your interpretation) was completely off limits to my used flesh and, what’s more, I didn’t want any of these things.

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I remember the first time I went to meet a friend in a public place and had chosen to make an effort, or at least attempt, to present myself as I used to: full face, bright lips, flowing hair, heeled black boots, a bodycon dress. This was what I used to look like.

Not long into the outing I was defying the tears I could feel collecting in my eyes. I constantly looked around to check if anyone was looking at me, I pulled my coat closer to cover my chest, I kept my gaze down. My body was taking up too much space in the world, space that I felt I no longer deserved.

Of course, these feelings of shame and disgust were nothing to do with me – I had not done this to myself – and it took time for me to not only realise this, but to really come to terms with it. I came to realise that this ugly cloud of negativity and self-doubt that engulfed me was one of the ways in which this person, the man who raped me, continued to assert power over me.

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His actions had overpowered me before and now I was living in a vice-grip, restricting myself from my self. Once this thought occurred to me I was furious. How dare he. How dare he not only use my body, but also take it away from me? This flesh was mine and I wanted to reclaim it in the most assertive, powerful ways possible.

I could go outside.

I could walk home alone.

I could drink.

I could be loud.

I could take selfies.

I could dance round my flat in my pants.

I could touch myself.

I could fuck boys.

I could face myself in the mirror.

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I have never considered myself a ‘victim’ in relation to all of this and, truthfully, I’m not keen on the labels of ‘brave’ and ‘strong’ either (though I have no problems with others using this terminology).

What I did – with much healing and support – was take back what’s mine.

I will be kind to myself, give myself time, let my body rest and recover. I will not allow this unthinkable experience to stifle me.

Who’s pulling the trigger? An interview with Louise Orwin – Jessie Beaumont

Who’s pulling the trigger? Louise Orwin on the allure of girls and guns

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Louise Orwin is a London based performance artist, writer and researcher, making video, sound and performance work.

One of her main preoccupations has been looking at how femininity and the ‘feminine’ is created and dealt with in society – particularly the more masochistic strains of femininity and she spends a lot of time working with pop culture, and trends in film, TV and on the internet.

After finishing an MA in Performance Research at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, she threw herself into the live art and experimental world.

Her last project, Pretty Ugly, kick-started her career as a solo performer, not least because of the media stir that it caused.

Her latest show, A Girl and A Gun, looks at Jean Luc Goddard’s namesake ‘All you need to make a movie is a girl and gun’ and wonders whether he was right.

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JB: How did the project begin? Did you set out to study girls and guns on purpose or was it something you just starting noticing in everyday life? 

LO: The project came about fairly organically. I’m a big film fan, so I suppose the kind of images I explore in the show have been living with me a long time. However, as I started to get older and my politics developed I began questioning what I was watching, or what I was drawn to watching more and more. Probably one of the best and worst thing about my feminism developing is that it has a tendency to ruin things that used to be a big part of your life, as you start to see the inherent misogyny that can underlie so much pop culture. So, there’s that, and then there’s the fact that wherever I looked in 2014 (when I got the idea to start making the show) I felt like I was seeing guns and girls everywhere: in Beyonce videos, both trashy and art house films, in music videos, in porn. And there’s no doubt about it, there’s definitely something very alluring to the image of the girl with the gun. I wanted to make a show about that image: why it was repeated so often in pop culture, why I was so drawn to it, but also so repulsed by it, what the image says about women, and violence and the society we live in.

 

JB: Jean Luc Goddard undoubtedly remains one of the most enduring figures in cinema. Do you think that the respect he and his contemporaries command as cultural icons means that we still find the idea of girls and guns cool and sexy?

LO: Well, I think there’s something very naturally alluring in the combination of girls and guns: it’s basically sex and death, which, when it comes down to it, is the premise of most artistic output. It’s not necessarily that Godard brought guns and girls to us, it’s more that he packaged them in such a way that made them tantalizingly cool. I would say that The French New Wave definitely had a lasting impact on culture, with devices and images from it reproduced over and over again in film, television, and increasingly, in advertising. There’s a power that comes with repetition, it creates familiarity, it embeds images in your brain, and eventually it creates hegemony. When that happens, it becomes difficult to separate the image or the symbol from its true symbolic meaning- it becomes harder and harder to see it for what it really is. That what I try to do in A Girl and A Gun, I try to get you to see again. 

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JB: Has film really not moved on since Goddard’s heyday? With problematic video games, music videos and continuous reports of sexism in Hollywood, could it even be getting worse?

LO: I find it quite difficult to answer this question, because its always difficult to stand back and get perspective on the time you’re living in. However, I can say that I would disagree with anyone who says things have moved on. Yes, we have more dialogue and good thinking about feminism, about gender, about politics readily available to us, but seemingly this hasn’t changed the output of the Hollywood machine too much. Feminists like Ariel Levy and Natasha Walter write convincingly about how in recent times there’s been a backwards motion: that progress in feminism halted around the early 2000s and society quickly reverted to less progressive times. They both attribute this to the misunderstanding and misappropriation of post-feminism by the mainstream- but that’s another conversation altogether.

If I’m honest I’d say that a day doesn’t go by when I see something disturbingly sexist or misogynistic in the press, or on television, or in the cinema. But I think we have to hold out hope that things are changing, just slowly. I think we live in interesting times: generally I’d say most people are much better read and understanding of feminist politics (thank you Internet), but the big corporations who put out these kind of images over and over again, feeling they are winning formulas working in capitalist structures, haven’t quite caught up with this. The chasm that opens up between these two things, and the flow of power and money that lies between them is really interesting to me… And maybe the basis of another show!

 

JB: A Girl and A Gun stars a different male actor in each city it’s performed in. Is this a way of turning typically male and female roles on their head?

LO: The show tries to interrogate the kind of roles set out for men and women on film, and asks how easily we adopt these roles, how easily gestures or feelings associated by these roles might become supplanted in our psyche and our bodies, whether these are roles we can really live up to. By placing an unprepared male in the stereotypical role of the macho hero, asking him to read lines and play with toy guns, it’s my hope that the there can be a physical manifestation of all the aforementioned questions. How easy is it for a man to pick up a gun and play (answer: very easy for most men!), how easy is it to act like a ‘hero’, how easy is it to act out violence on stage in front of a live audience? How easily can we slip in and out of these roles? And what are the consequences if we do?

The act of a female artist asking a male performer to act out a role, on her terms, according to her rules, also creates a nice tension. Yes, I might ask you to assume the dominant role on stage with me, whilst I play the whimpering female submissive, but who’s in control here?

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JB: What do you think about the idea of ‘A Girl IS a Gun’? 

LO: It feels to me as if it is an extension of the idea of the ‘femme fatale’. The idea of a woman being something dangerous and sexy, and powerful. But perhaps once again, we need to ask who the image is created for. Who holds the gun? Who controls the gun? From what I’ve seen of the hashtag and the tumblr trend online, it also looks like just another ‘sexy’ entrapment for women- an image that may at first seem empowering, but then you start to realise that all the girls in the pictures are big boobed, tiny waisted Instagram models and you might think again.

 

JB: Have you found any films that manage defy this ‘sexy entrapment’? 

LO:  Yes, I absolutely loved Ghostbusters when I saw it in the cinema. It was wonderful to watch funny, flawed female characters running around with massive guns, NOT having to be sexy, NOT there in service to other male characters. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a very long time. It’s great to think mainstream cinema might start following suit… Maybe there are good things on the horizon!

 

JB: Can you tell us more about your idea of your own ‘doomed sense of femininity’ and how this informs your work?

LO: I have quite a thorny, ambivalent relationship to my femininity. I’m a queer woman, who I guess you could say is femme-presenting, and I’ve always been drawn to images of hyper-femininity both in my work and outside. I’m someone who loves fashion, wearing make up and high heels, but also at times have grown out my body hair. Over the years, I’ve come to see all of this as a choice of mine, but for many years I felt like my femininity was a sort of gilded cage: it can act as a wonderful protective shield of armour, but it can also entrap you. My work always come back to this: how can I feel empowered presenting myself this way and ensure it is truly a choice of mine, rather than something which is foisted onto me by society. ‘Doomed’ sounds dramatic, but its more a playful way of saying that I think however I present myself society will predetermine how it is received. I guess in my most cynical moments there’s a sense that you can’t win if you present this way: there’s still a second-wave hang over of feeling that you’re somehow not doing your bit for the cause, and then on the other side in a world run by men with grey hair in suits, there’s the risk that people might not take you ‘seriously’. How do you let people know that this is your choice?  

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LO: Much of my work reflects this kind of thinking, particularly the more masochistic work in nature. A Girl and A Gun in particular sees me take up the mantel of the iconic ‘femme fatale’. I find her interesting because from the outside she seems so empowered: she’s beautiful, and dangerous, and makes men quake in their boots. And yet, she is nearly always sad, longing for something that isn’t there, masochistic, and ultimately, dying or dead. She seems like she might stand for women, but is nearly always a role created as a plot-device subservient to a male character’s narrative arc. I have always found this image very alluring, and yet quite disturbing. The show tries to explore this dichotomy, and unpack it a little. It asks viewers to question this kind of role set out for women, and further more, to consider these questions within the framework of a show written by a woman, who places herself in this role, and manipulates a man into playing along with her. Again, we come back to this question of choice- how does this change the game?

 

JB: What are you currently working on and how we can keep up with what you’re up to?

LO: I’m currently touring A Girl and A Gun, with dates through Autumn/Winter 2016, as well as a few sporadic tour dates for my last show Pretty Ugly. You can keep up to date with my movements here: www.louiseorwin.com/diary

 

Other than that, I’ve also just started work on a new project concerning female desire, the early stages of which have been supported by Arts Council England and Live Art Development Agency. I can’t say too much, but the research so far has seen me talking to women all over the country about sex, kinks, and turn-ons which has been absolutely fascinating. I’ll be announcing a bit ore about the project soon, but for now watch this space!

Ways to make every day happier – Chrissy Thomas

I think feeling happier is something that many of us strive for, and at times the constant pursuit of happiness can leave us feeling a little burnt out or dissatisfied that our lives are not as happy as they ‘should be’.

This post from Stylist magazine notes that constant happiness is not achievable and that’s ok because all emotions are valuable.

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Realising that constant happiness is not possible and shouldn’t be expected at all times, sounds obvious but it has really helped me to try and get as much happiness into my days as possible, instead of feeling that the only way to be ‘successfully happy’ was to be happy all the time.

So, with this goal of getting as much happiness as I could from each day (even the bad ones) I decided to get proactive about happiness. During my degree and through reading various self-help books (I’m reading The Happiness Project at the moment) I have picked up a few tips and tricks to increase feelings of happiness every day. Here’s some of them, and I’d love to hear your tips for feeling happier.

1. Write down 3 things that made you happy today – the founder of positive psychology Dr Martin Seligman noted in his book ‘Learned Optimism’ that people often ask him the secret to a happier life, and that they are often somewhat disappointed to hear that having a happier life could involve something so simple. I’d urge you to try and see how you feel, I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now with the help of my ‘Happiness Planner‘ and it has definitely made a difference!

2. Live in the moment – finding happiness in small things each day can make a big difference. Think things like singing along to your favourite song, a bubble bath, a call from a friend or family member, a compliment or finding a few extra chips that you didn’t realise were in your McDonald’s bag😉

3. Do something for others – this doesn’t have to be anything big, it could be making someone a cup of tea, making conversation in the queue for your shopping (even if it is only to talk about the glorious British weather!). Another option could be to volunteer, something that not only helps you feel happier but can have a massive impact on the lives of others. One of my closest friends has started dog walking for the local rescue center as a way to give back.

4. Have goals to aim for – having goals for the day, the week, the month, the year can be really helpful for motivating us and helping us to feel happy. Having regular goals can help us to be more productive and give purpose to everyday.

5. Think positive! – This is something that I’m really trying to improve on as I am quite quick to worry (or complain!), but actively looking for the good in situations can be really beneficial for feeling happier generally. Actively looking for things to be grateful for, even when times are hard can really help to see things in a different light. I absolutely love Keep it Bright a really inspiring account that always sees the best in everything.

 
For more information on action for happiness see here🙂 I’d love to hear from you,  leave me a comment or send me a tweet @makingitmindful