Wednesday, 29 February 2012

leaping on the bandwagon

Blimey, it seems Feb 29th is good fodder for bloggers...Blog Fodder, reminds me of an old Ned's Atomic Dustbin album...Anyway, sorry, random digression that probably only a very small handful of people will get anyway... I think almost every blog I subscribe to has managed to weave in something to do with it being a leap year into their posts today, and despite having only just written a new post myself last night, I felt a bit left out. So I have decided to launch myself wholeheartedly onto that there bandwagon, as I have so clumsily punned in the title of this here post.

However, given so much has already been said by so many on the subject of it being an extra day, a once in every four years chance, a day for ladies to propose to their men, I thought that rather than reinvent the wheel and try to claim I have any original thoughts on the subject, I would share my favourite bits of other things I've read today.

So here goes.

First up I quite liked this I saw from Innocent on Facebook a few days ago:

Exciting news. Our friends at the Department of Time are offering an unlimited number of our lucky drinkers the chance to win a free day this week. That's right - one whole day, absolutely free. All you have to do to take us up on this once-in-every-4-years offer is let us know what you plan to do with your free day. Claiming your prize is easy - just wake up on Wednesday 29th February.

Simple, fun, non-commercial and very Innocent. It made me smile.

Next up was Seth Godin's blog this morning. As it's such a short one I'll share it in full:

Leap year meditation

Once in four years, just once, perhaps we could:
Forgive, forget, relax, care, stand out, speak up, contribute, embrace, create, make a ruckus, give credit, skip, smile, speak truth and refuse to compromise--more than we usually do. Pick just one or two and start there.
Hey, it's just one day.
Careful, though, it might become a habit

His blogs are always brilliant, as you'd expect, you can find them or subscribe here
I particularly liked his message today though. I saw several things suggesting that today was a good day to try something new, turn over a new leaf  etc but I thought he managed to sum it all up perfectly in so few words.
There were similar thoughts captured in a daily message I receive from Moodscope is a web tool that allows you to track your mood over time so you can start to spot any patterns and whatnot. I've been doing it for just under 2 weeks and am planning to review on here when I've been doing it long enough. Anyway, their post this morning was also about making the most of a free extra day by doing something different or spontaneous, whatever that might be. To really seize the (free) day and make it count.
But I think my favourite was one I received this evening from a company called F**k it... essentially workshops, retreats, books, a philosophy all around just saying "fuck it" to the shit that goes on in life as a way of letting go of stress et other words a more down to earth less flaky way of looking at things like meditation, mindfulness, spirituality, awareness, acceptance, resilience and the like. Find out more at
Anyway, whilst potentially a little saccharine for some, the general gist and intention behind their post was lovely, and so true.Well, for me anyway. It was based around the idea of ladies being able to propose today but with a twist that perhaps today we could all propose to love ourselves unconditionally. That normally our love for ourselves is conditional upon getting thinner, more successful, more popular etc which is quite harsh really. They propose instead we don't need a reason to love ourselves and they've written out a reworked marriage vows written to 'myself'. I don't know if this link will work but hopefully if you click on the below it should take you to their full post which is a lot better than my garbled re-hash!

 This was my favourite of the day because not only did it make me smile, like innocent's, it made me nod along, like Seth's, but  it also made me stop and think a little more than any of the others. 

Anyway, enjoy the rest of your extra day whatever you're up to.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

netbooks and coffee

My netbook died. Less than a year after I got it. Which I had to do because my last netbook exactly the same way.

This annoyed me.

Buddhist teachings tell me that my computer dying is not a problem. The unpleasant feelings its dying provokes in me is the problem. Yes. I agree. It has provoked very unpleasant feelings and yes, they do feel like a problem.

I took the netbook to PC World, with fists and buttocks firmly clenched in anticipation of the mindless conversation I knew I was about to have.

Various spiritual teachings (and actually this is now being echoed in scientific and social research) tell me that this would have immediately been generating the wrong sort of energy and subconsciously by behaving in a negative way and anticipating the worst, I was in fact unwittingly willing the worst to indeed happen.

It did.

or not
I will cut a very long, boring and intensely frustrating story down to its bare bones for you. PC World messed up. Again. I drove to Slough and back twice to get it booked in for a repair. I got texts to say it was ready. I went back to PC World to pick it up (cue further clenching and just knowing something would have gone wrong) to be met with blank stares. Nope, it's not here. We don't know why, or where it is or when it will get here and (subtext) we clearly don't care either. We'll phone you when it gets here (subtext) so go away now please. I went on the online repair tracker thing. Oh, we need to speak to you about your repair please call us. I called them. Oh yes, there is a note, to say it wasn't delivered yesterday. YES, thank you, I'm aware of this. sigh. Why? Don't know. When will it be delivered. Don't know. oh, actually tomorrow. No, Thursday. Ok. fine thanks. Hang on, any news on how the repair went. Yes, there's a note. We managed to recover all the data, no problem. Super, what about the repair? Oh, we haven't repaired it.


we know how to annoy you. a lot.

It got worse after that but it was painful enough the first time so will spare you.

Those of you who know me can imagine perfectly well the outburst from me that followed, the cutting sarcasm and abuse I gave the (not bothered) bloke on the end of the phone. Words like shambles, chaotic, incompetence and useless abounded.

Now, I'm trying very hard to be a better person, to be more mindful, to build my own internal resilience and peace of mind (literally) so that I am better equipped to deal with and bounce back from external problems. But I'm sorry, I clearly just haven't reached whatever level of zen one needs to be at to breathe through this level of nonsense.

Although. I did spot a few differences today compared to previous similar episodes:
1. I realised I was being an arse and didn't like it. So stopped...a step forward at least!
2. I did also manage to politely thank the man very kindly for his help...another quite major achievement
3. I did not spend the entire rest of the day fuming and blood boiling over the incident, and got over it almost immediately
4. I realised that my own pre-programming from previous PC World experiences and subsequent negativity around the whole event, starting before it had even begun, probably wasn't helping proceedings so decided to change it and forced myself to believe instead that I accept PC World's processes and that I trust them to do the job well now.
5. I analysed why it was such a problem in the first place and realised it wasn't. It's just mildly inconvenient but it's not the end of the world and it's not going to kill anyone and now, like the buddhist teaching said, having gone someway to clearing my own internal 'unpleasant feelings' around it, the external computer problem no longer seems like such a problem after all.

I can't promise to retain this new state of calm over the incident if it sinks to new depths of ridiculousness, but I will fact, I will start by stating that there will be no further nonsense, I trust it will all go well now, and if it doesn't I will remain unperturbed by it.

However, I really would rather PC World were more like Starbucks. I got a voucher for a free coffee to reward my loyalty. I went in to get it. They greeted me by name, asked if I wanted my usual, congratulated me on my voucher and then asked if my coffee was hot enough or would I like a new one. They asked me how I was and wished me well on my way. 

Perhaps I could now start practicing the law of attraction as well to deal with that one?

What's the major lesson of the day? It is the deeply profound thought that free coffee served by jolly people makes me happy.

Sunday, 26 February 2012


Have you ever been so absorbed in what you were doing that you lost all track of time? Got so involved in your task that you forgot to eat? or didn't notice you needed the toilet?

some of the re-potted bits and bobs
It happened to me today. I'd decided to repot the rose Alex had bought me for valentines day, and a few other bits and bobs while I was at it. But I ended up spending near enough 5 hours out in the garden sweeping, pruning, potting, weeding...just pottering about by myself.

Before I'd gone out there my mind had been whirring with various things, as usual. What I needed to do today, tomorrow, this week, month, etc. What the scales had said this morning after a week away. Going back to work. Appointments I need to arrange and rearrange. Whether the third trampolining session in as many days had hurt my back or not. Whether to get my useless tenants out of the flat or not, the cons and cons of letting them stay vs eviction... Nothing new or unusual, just a normal day inside my head.

But I noticed that while I was out in the garden, concentrating on the task in hand, my mind went quiet. In fact it went so quiet it didn't even bother to let me know when I was hungry, thirsty, achey or tired or remind me to take a photo for my other blog.

Apparently this is called 'flow', a term coined by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow really means being 'in the zone', getting so lost in the task at hand that we focus on nothing else, so our one track minds don't have room to think about anything else. Any negative thought patterns or George like gremlins are silenced, we stop thinking about how we feel and about what's going on around us, we stop being self conscious and are totally in control.

And the good news is, those of us who experience 'flow' regularly tend to be happier.


But hold on, as soon as I'd finished gardening, and noticed how hungry/achey/tired I was, the cogs in my head started to whir again, and round and round went all those same thoughts from before. So was the gardening really helping to make me overall more happy as the concept of flow would suggest, or had it just helped distract me for a few hours?

I had a closer look at Csikszentmihalyi's flow and discovered something fairly crucial missing from today's gardening experience.

Today when I was in the garden I was totally absorbed in what I was doing and I was being physically active...both good for dopamine levels and positive energy. It was something a bit different for me. Another tick.  It was rewarding because I was outside in the fresh air, messing about in nature, I got stuff done and the garden looks better now than it did.

All good so far.

But I also wasn't really sure what I was doing, or if I was doing it right, and until the plants flower or don't flower I won't know if I was successful. And even then I wont know why or how or what to do differently next time, which is actually quite frustrating and unnerving, especially for somebody who has never much liked doing things I'm not very good at.

Turns out, then, I wasn't really experiencing true 'flow' as Csikszentmihalyi describes it today because not only was the task not properly aligned to the level of skill, but the crucial element of immediate feedback re success or failure was missing. This was interesting for me because I already know that I'm somebody who needs a lot of feedback. No wonder it felt more therapeutic last time when all I was doing was watering and dead heading!

Ok, so bum. No flow for me.

But, wait a minute, am I not experiencing 'flow' every time I go out with my camera? When I go out taking photos I get just as lost in the activity as today, and can wander around for hours without noticing the time and forgetting to eat, but I can also see there and then the photos I'm taking and whether they're any good or not, and if not, try again, and that adds a whole other layer. Plus I actively enjoy taking photos and I'm not bad at it, so another two more layers on top. I honestly feel more calm and rested after a good old photo session, more so than I did after today's gardening episode. Ah ha! So that's good, I'm regularly experiencing flow when I go wandering with the camera...had I just done that earlier today instead of getting all covered in mud I might actually be feeling better in general right now and would have had a photo for my other blog as well. Ho hum.

All of this said, I'm still glad I did the gardening thing and am pretty sure pottering about out there was a lot better for me than sitting around on my arse doing nothing all day, in lots of ways.

Firstly it was on my list, and now it's not on my list anymore, and we all know list ticking is good for the soul. Secondly,  who knows what level of catastrophising my brain would have worked itself up too without being forced to shut up for a few hours earlier. Plus I wouldn't have had the chance to distract myself for another few minutes writing this otherwise, would I? Weirdly writing about it has added to the sense of achievement somehow, like it's served another purpose other than just pushing some mud about.

And it's given me an opportunity to test drive not only Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow, but also to prove first hand Dan Pink's theory of motivation from mastery, as now all I can think about is finding me some gardening lessons so the next time I feel the urge to get all green fingered I can do it safe in the (as it turns out very important) knowledge that I'm actually doing it right!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

moany moany

I have always thought of myself as a really positive person.  I tend to look on the bright side when things go wrong, to focus on finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems, to bounce back fairly quickly when things go wrong. I prefer to be active rather than sat around doing nothing. I like to have and to be fun. I know plenty of people of whom the same cannot be said, but I've always been sure it could be said of me.

the girls on our weekend away
Which is why it has always rattled me a bit whenever I've been referred to as "moany". Most recently was on a weekend away with my girlfriends from school.  We were talking about skiing. I said I had never been skiing and one of my friends said "oh god I'd hate to go skiing with you, you'd just moan all the time". I was totally taken aback but managed to point out that in fact I hadn't moaned the entire time we'd been away (save to 'observe' I had a spot of tummy ache the day before). My friends went quiet for a bit and then admitted, yes it was true, I hadn't been very moany this weekend.

So why had it taken me aback? For two reasons. Firstly because of the moaning thing, I don't know where it comes from. And secondly because I'm not one of these girly girls who has to be surrounded by creature comforts and doesn't like getting mucky/cold/falling over etc. I love adventure, going fast, snow and the cold so surely I'd be a right laugh skiing...wouldn't I? As it happens I've never actually wanted to go skiing for some reason but this wasn't the point at the time.

In the past moments like these would have sent me off into some quiet, dark place of introspection whilst I contemplated how misunderstood I was, and wondered why my friends, after 22 years still appear not to know me at all.  This time though, coming on the back of about 3 months of my already started journey of self unravelling (and hence the lack of moaning on said weekend), I took a different view. Perhaps it was in fact me who had always misunderstood me. Perhaps I just didn't know myself as well as I thought, or as well as they knew me. Maybe I was (or at least had been for a vast proportion of my life) a moaning old minnie afterall.

A few weeks later, having entirely forgotten this incident, I found an old app on my phone that tracks facebook status updates. I had a quick scroll through for a laugh. But bloody hell, a laugh it certainly was not. And somewhere in my head a very bright lightbulb was switched on.

This was the 'me' I'd been putting out there for the world to see. This was the 'me' my friends were experiencing. And this 'me' was a right old whinge bag! My back this, a snotty cold the other, late trains here and long days at work there. Headache, headache, headache. Blah blah blah woe is me. Dear oh dear. I wouldn't want to go skiing with me either! It's no good turning up and being jolly for 2 days on a weekend away if for the entire rest of the time all you're doing is moaning on facebook!

What's weird though, is I don't remember feeling that negative, ill, moany in 'real-life'. I still maintain that in 'real-life' I'm happy go lucky and positive. I have bad days, and I have very bad days but I'm generally an up rather than a down person. So why was I being so down on facebook!?

I don't really know why this happened, to be honest, or when it started, it doesn't really matter right now, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. So many of us end up caught in negative thought patterns, casting ourselves in some kind of victim of life role, it's almost like we actually compete with each other for how rubbish a time we're having sometimes, and we don't even realise we're doing it.

I think we tell so many stories about our lives and about who we are, to ourselves and to others and I'd got so used to telling this particular story, always talking about my back and how rubbish everything was, that it had totally taken over and somewhere along the line the 'real' me had got lost. Without my even realising it. It had become a self fulfilling prophecy and one that was really hard to break because everyone around me, including my best friends, had been taken in by it as well.

Interestingly, my husband was not taken in by any of it. He was very much still following the story of, and keeping in touch with the 'real' me. And I love him for that.

I spotted that it was as I too began to rediscover the 'real' me that  these dreary negative posts eased off. Thank goodness.  I made a vow never to let them creep in again

And as soon as I realised what had been happening, and made an effort to stop, all the things I'd been finding to moan about magically went away. The less I go on about my back, the less it hurts. The less I complain about random this and thats, the more things I find to be grateful for instead. This life lesson of mine is backed up by plenty of science and findings from elsewhere. Most of the books written on the subjects of suffering and/or happiness whether from a religious, spiritual or psychological point of view all reference self talk, the subconscious, storytelling and the law of attraction as being major players...and ones I'm sure to be coming back to here time and time again.

But for now, I think my most important finding from all of this has been that the less time I spend telling the story of this other 'me', the more both myself and my friends can get to know the 'real' me....

...and I know I certainly like her a lot better, skiing or not.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

bounce, bounce

In an attempt to kid myself that I would be keeping fit and active whilst up with the in laws this week, I crammed my mini trampoline into the back of the car as we set off. Alex, bless him, remained silent as I did so but I can imagine what was going through his mind.  This, by the way, is nothing.  A few years ago my mum and I drove to the South of France, and I managed to ram the trampoline into the car then too. My mum was not so silent on this matter.

Not terribly surprisingly, I didn't find any time between baguette munching, vin quaffing and chateaux admiring to use my trampoline whilst in France. But, times have a changed and boy did I make up for it the other night.

Alex decided to go for a run. This makes me jealous. I can't run (not as in I physically can't, as in my lower back condition means I shouldn't). So while Alex gets to run along with the wind in his hair, getting fresh air, a burst of energy, clearing the get the drift, I get to sit on the sofa.

Well, not anymore! Out went Alex and out came the trampoline. I found a little secluded spot at the end of the garden, stuck my headphones in and off I went.

For anybody who has never tried trampolining, you are missing out! It is impossible not to smile, nay grin inanely from ear to ear whilst leaping about on it.  There is something so ridiculously liberating about bouncing up and down to your hearts content, and bouncing about outside (cue more cliches about wind in hair etc) added a whole other dimension to the proceedings. I can't begin to imagine what the neighbours thought, but hopefully it made them smile too! Actually, Alex can't help but smile whenever he's watched me doing it so there's an added benefit of spreading the cheer here too.

Alex also tells me that 10 minutes on the trampoline is actually equal to a 30 minute run in exercise terms. Plus it's apparently super good at cellulite blasting and since it's low impact it's all good on the back. So what's not to love?

Everybody knows that exercise is a mood enhancer, this is not news, but I honestly can't think of any other exercise that has left not only my bodily muscles aching from the workout, but also my facial ones aching from all the smiling to boot!

I just loved it and can't wait to get back on and do it again, especially when I next need cheering up.

Give it a go!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

location, location

I've been reading about this latest survey that says Carlisle is the happiest place to live in the UK. And I've got a bit of a problem with it.

As it happens, and as usual, the media has somewhat distorted what the survey actually says. The survey is not about how 'happy' people are, it's about how happy people are with where they live...which is different. It is possible to be a very happy person by nature but to be dissatisfied with aspects of where you live. And it is possible to be a person of a more generally cloudy disposition, but to be fairly happy with where you live. 

That's my first gripe.

The second is that, as mentioned before, the concept of happiness is rather a subjective thing so if you don't agree with the criteria Rightmove have chosen as being the most critical determinants of being happy or not, then it's all a bit meaningless.

Of course, it is meaningless anyway isn't it really. It's a bit of PR from a company keen to boost the housing market. Last time they did it Bournemouth came out on top.

But if it gets people thinking and talking about happiness and whatnot, then I'm all for it, despite the above!

It's particularly interesting to read the comments people have posted online in response to the findings. On the Guardian there is a bit of a mass ranting session between residents of Carlisle all basically slagging the place off. Complaints range from it being full of ignorant idiots, to it being littered with boarded up buildings. The general consensus is that actually it's a bloody miserable place to live and the survey is all wrong. Yet the article they're responding to focuses on a whole raft of other residents full of the joys of Carlisle life, celebrating its diversity, its beautiful surroundings and describing skinny-dipping laughter club outings.

So who are we to believe?

Both is the answer. They're all drinking from the same glass, some have it half full, some half empty. 

The whole thing reminded me of a conversation I had a few days ago with Alex. We were musing, randomly, about moving, and if we were to move somewhere else, where might we move to. I mooted the idea of somewhere up North. Alex pointed out that there is not the same economic growth or opportunity as there is in the South, as a reason for not moving there. But I thought actually, that was more of a reason for than against. I thought to myself that economic opportunity and wellbeing are not the same thing and that, as I saw from the stories of Japan versus Bhutan the other week, the pursuit of one can in deed cause major problems for the other. For me, there is always a sense of pressure, of the daily mindlessness of the rat race hovering in the air in the South (until you get as far away from London as Cornwall  that is), that I just don't feel when we're 'up north'. Maybe that's because when we are up north, I'm essentially on holiday but I think  there's more to it than that. 

So it is no surprise to me that (as flawed as the survey is) 7 of the top 10 'happiest' places to live are in the North. And all of the least happy places bar one are in or around London.

As it happens I'm writing this from Walney, an island off Barrow in Furness in Cumbria. And earlier on this evening I did one of my favourite things to do, I walked along the bank watching the sun setting over the sea. And whilst I was out I stumbled upon this. and it made me smile. And I thought to myself, they've all got it wrong, this is the happiest place to be.

Friday, 17 February 2012


I have a gremlin. His name is George. He perches on my shoulder and jibber jabbers at me non-stop. He is a massive pain in the neck.

Actually, he really is a pain in the neck, and shoulder. He must be a particularly fat little gremlin, he weighs a tonne. He jibber jabbers on at me all the time about what I've done, or have yet to do, or have forgotten to do, or should be doing, or shouldn't have done. He thinks he's being helpful, but I'm not so sure.

It was actually my coach, Kathy Reeves, who introduced me to George. She didn't like him very much. Every time she had managed to make some progress with me, got me to make some decision or take some action or other, George piped up and undermined it all again. George thought that decision was stupid and told me I wouldn't be able to take that action. Kathy could spot whenever George had entered the room or when he had butted in... I wasn't so good at recognising him. So, Kathy gave me some homework to do which was to try to notice when George was about, listen to what he had to say, take it with a pinch of salt and get back on with my day.

Stupid I thought. But tried it anyway.

Problem is, George knows me uncomfortably well. He knows what buttons to press. He even started berating me for being useless at being able to spot him. I was beginning to really hate George. And starting to go ever so slightly mad!

But I persevered.

I learned that George really was only trying to protect me, in his own weird little way, but that I no longer needed his help. I explained to him that actually his incessant chitter chatter was holding me back not helping me move forward.

I learned that, as real as they sound at the time, thoughts are not the same as facts, and that my imagination is not an accurate representation of what is actually going to happen...despite George's most convincing arguments.

I also read a chapter of William Woollard's book 'Buddhism and the Science of Happiness' called 'strangling the parrot'. Turns out George was my parrot! So I started practicing mindfulness, really the same advice Kathy had given me, just described with different language.

Over time all of this helped me to quieten George and his meddling jibbering and jibing.

But most fun of all? I learned an NLP trick, that if I made George sound like Donald Duck instead of the voice of impending doom he was much easier to get along with!

I don't hear from George quite so much these days, maybe he's lost a lot of weight or something, as he no longer weighs so heavily neither on my shoulder, nor on my mind.

The lovely Kathy has written her own blog post on the subject as well, so should you fancy a bit of further reading from somebody rather more experienced and qualified than myself, please check out her blog too: Quick confidence booster, speak nicely to yourself

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Bye bye Boden

Look what landed on the doormat today! How very fitting (unlike their clothes which often don't!). A bit miffed though, my friend Cath had a personalised version with her name on. Where's my special named one, eh Johnnie?

Normally a new Boden catalogue would indeed make me quite happy, as would flicking through the pages ogling all the beautiful new things, ordering some, looking forward to them arriving and then excitedly stripping through all the lovely spotty paper to get and try them on.

Not this time though. Straight in the recycling bin for my catalogue this time.

And that's for several reasons.

Firstly because my bank account is giantly unhappy at the moment thanks to tenants who have stopped paying rent. So any mention of money, spending, new clothes etc currently sends feelings of fear, anxiety and guilt, as intense as the feelings of excitement and anticipation it used to conjure up, racing through my body.

I think my husband prefers this new view point!

Secondly, and more importantly, I've worked out 2 things.

One is (and this won't be news to many people) that I have too much stuff. I don't need any more stuff.

I might still think I want it, but I know that the excitement will wear off soon enough and then I'll need to satisfy the 'wanting something new and exciting' itch again as soon as the next catalogue falls through my door.and the next one. and the next one.

slippery. slope.

So the second thing I worked out was that it's not really the 'stuff' I'm after anyway. It's the feelings the 'stuff' gives me.

But on closer inspection, I don't really need 'stuff' to get those feelings, do I? In fact all this 'stuff' actually sort of gets in the way of them. And if I'm really honest, those nice feelings normally get replaced by the guilty type ones pretty quickly anyway. Not least because ,even before my tenants stopped paying me, my bank account has never really been that happy!

So, Mr Boden, the upshot of all of this is thank you for your nice, shiny, happy, yellow catalogue, but I'm afraid you just ain't doing it for me anymore.

I've had enough of your stuff landing on my doorstep thank you very much (beautiful though it is). So back in the recycling it is for you.

I'm getting my happy elsewhere from now on. (and hopefully my bank account might cheer up a bit in the process too!)

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentines day

People have been asking me all day if I'm going out tonight for Valentines day.

We never go out on Valentines day. Although we did try it once.

We're not being bah humbug, we're not boycotting valentines, and we're not being un-romantic. In fact we are both very romantic. And super cheesey. We just find that going out en masse and sitting in rows of couple after couple all eating pink heart shaped food for twice the price it would normally be, all desperately trying to make sure we're enjoying ourselves as much as we should, being as romantic and loving as we should, in public, is actually not that romantic. For us anyway.

To us, it all feels a bit forced. And empty. And commercial.

It just doesn't feel right, and neither do the supermarket shelves filled with random valentines themed tat.

To us it's more of an intimate, personal thing. So every year we set the table all nicely, light a load of candles, and we either cook together or Alex cooks for me. We cook a meal that we've designed and planned together, that we take at our own pace and we just enjoy by ourselves. Maybe that sounds boring to some people but we like it.

The one year we did go out we were rammed up so close to another couple we ended up spending most of the night listening to their (slightly forced) conversation and sniggering at the gifts they were swapping (without much enthusiasm on his part).

In fact that is one down side to not going out, not being able to laugh at all the other couples! Oh, and the washing up, but Alex looks after that so all fine by me.

What has this got to do with being happy?

Well, quite a bit.

It's all just about finding what's right for you and being true to that. It's not about doing what's expected of you or conforming to somebody else's idea of Valentine's day, or of happiness. It's about finding the right formula for you.  Just because everybody else wants to go out, doesn't mean we should. And just because we don't like going out, doesn't mean nobody else should. I think the more we live out our own formula the more comfortable and happy we will feel.

And if you're by yourself? Today's as good a day as any to start loving yourself a bit more too, and we could all do with a bit more of that couldn't we really.

So, Happy St. Valentines day everybody, whichever way you choose to spend it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Happy Movie

Yesterday I had a little day out by myself into London to go and watch 'Happy', a new docu-film being previewed all over the world to help celebrate World Happy Day. I made the most of the day by walking from Paddington to the Coronet cinema in Notting Hill and taking plenty of photos along the way without feeling bad for making anybody else with me stop and wait every two seconds while I fiddle about with focus or experiment with composition.  The cinema itself was one of those real, proper old cinemas and I settled into my seat ready.

The film was fantastic. I was wondering if it would be a bit cheesy or happy clappy given it's American but the tone was perfect with a really good balance of psychological research, human stories and more spiritual insight.  It followed the stories of people from Calcutta to Denmark, to Japan examining levels of happiness and the conditions that contribute, interspersed with scientific comment and findings. There were some really lovely light hearted moments of comedy, such as listening to the elders of Okinawa discussing the merits of sake and lots of sleep for longterm health and happiness, but balanced with moments when the whole room fell silent at some of the quite harrowing stories being shared.There was a beautiful lady who had been run over by a truck, losing her entire face in the process and having to spend the next 10 years undergoing surgery to have it rebuilt. The trauma had unearthed memories of being abused as a child and if that weren't enough, she also lost her husband along the way. But  the experience had really grounded her, made her more in touch with what matters and with herself, leaving her able to say now that she is honestly happier than ever before. Or the fact that in Japan the phenomenon of working yourself to death is so commonplace that they even have a special word for it; Karoshi. The story of one young father who worked himself to death at Toyota was shocking. The point here was that beyond meeting our basic means, our happiness does not increase with our economic or financial circumstances.  Economic growth has been steadily on the rise, but levels of happiness have not. Since the war Japan has focused on building economic growth at the sake of all else, and it's had its toll.

On the flip side, I particularly liked Bhutan's refreshing positioning, which is to work to a central objective of not GDP like most other nations, but gross domestic happiness and this is at the centre of all decisions they make.

There was so much else in there, so much wisdom and some really interesting scientific findings, far too much to share here but maybe the most interesting to ponder was that when it comes to our happiness, 50% of our ability to be happy is down to genetics. We all have a genetic baseline happiness. Another 10% comes from our external environment, so things like our job, our wages, our social circumstances. Interesting that this element is so low. But that leaves 40%. 40% of our happiness unaccounted for by our genetic make up or our external circumstances. And that 40% is totally down to us. The exact formula will be different for everybody, it's just up to us to solve it.

So I enjoyed my day out and I really enjoyed the film, but I have to say my own particular happiness had been shifted. I walked back to the station 'happily' taking more photos and enjoying the sights and sounds and on the face of it was having a great time, but underneath my mind was in a total spin. There had been so much to take in and contemplate in such a short 75 minutes that my mind was working overtime to process it all, leaving me with a really frustrating underlying sense of anxiety. Now I hate feeling anxious and cannot help but try to question and rationalise it which I know is nonsense and I should just notice it and let it be, but sometimes I cant. This then, clearly, makes me both more anxious and then angry on top. Then I start to berate myself for feeling anything other than 'happy' having just watched a film called 'happy' on World Happiness Day. This is also a nonsense...there is no such thing as 'should' when it comes to emotions. Knowing all of this doesn't actually help sometimes. So I walked back into the house all bristly and uptight and weird and was given rather a large berth until I'd calmed down enough to ask for a massage...which turned out to have been exactly what I needed. So thank you to my lovely husband for pummelling away the frustration and giving me the space to put all my thoughts and feelings back in order. And having spent all day watching happy, and thinking about happy, for reminding me more importantly, what happy actually feels like.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

What is happiness?

I thought we should start with first things first, and by that I mean, what is happiness anyway?
 So many of us would agree we are searching for happiness, but how many of us have stopped to consider what happiness might mean to us personally? So it's probably a good question for us all to ponder.
There are many theories and thoughts out there. For example, the dictionary offers us this:
"good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy."
Before offering us a range of synonyms like bliss, delight, exhilaration.
But I'm not sure that's a fully satisfactory answer. For me anyway. Nor one that I necessarily agree with actually.
Happiness, like all things, means different things to all of us, and rightly so given it's a truly personal state.  For example, and roughly speaking, younger generations are more likely to equate happiness with excitement while older generations tend to link it more closely with peace.  So to try to achieve somebody else's version of happiness would be entirely missing the point and not lead us to anything like real happiness anyway.
But to kick things off,  I'll tell you what (I think) it means to me.
To me, the synonyms the dictionary gives us feel sightly off-kilter, they feel a bit too active and lively for what happiness really means to me. To me happiness is a much softer, slower and relaxed state.
To me, happiness is less frantic than fun, more comfortable than content and more substantial than safe. It is more joyous than joy, more peaceful than pleasure and a lot more in our own hands than something like 'good fortune' would have us believe. It's less exciting than exhilaration, more satisfying than satisfaction and certainly more down to earth than 'bliss'.
Really, I think it's all of these things. And more. And less.
I think for me being happy is just being, and not wishing it to be any other way.
Why not spend some time really considering what happiness means to you. Once you know that, it will be much easier to find.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

World Happy Day!

Well, wasn't this a good time to start a blog about all things happy! It's World Happy Day this coming Saturday and I've just bought myself a ticket to a screening of the film 'Happy' in London via Action for Happiness.

I've also discovered a whole load of courses and retreats and all sorts and am having to exercise extreme self control and not book myself onto all of them...I am already very aware that overloading myself and trying to do too much all at once is one of the things that very certainly does not help in the old happiness stakes! No matter how much of a good idea it seems at the time.

Actually, its not self restraint, it's my new friend intuition. I've ignored him for many years but am beginning to discover what a useful ally he can be when it comes to making decisions...and not regretting them afterwards.

So, panic buying and overloading = no friend of happiness
intuition = big friend of happiness

Anyway, what will you be doing to mark World Happy Day?

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Get Happy

So, my first post is about The Muppets!

Well, not really, it's about  what's splashed in big yellow letters all over this week’s Time Out London as part of a big Muppets promo.

‘Good times guaranteed with our gloom-busting guide to feeling great’ is the promise of the sub-heading.

So eagerly, having an interest in all things happiness related, I flick to page 12 to see what’s in store.

But I’m disappointed.

Not because they don’t have a whole raft of fun filled activities to cater for all tastes. They do, there’s all sorts from magic shops to comedy shows to singing, cake making and all manner of jolly, joyous and bonkers things to do.  Undeniably fun stuff... in fact I've already signed up to a few of them!

What’s disappointing though  is they promise 78 things to make you happy...not 78 things that will be fun.

And I think there’s a difference. A big difference.

The pursuit of one will likely have us rushing from comedy show to cakemaking class wondering why we can’t quite find or hold on to the other

When really, there is only one thing that will make you happy.

And that’s you.

But I guess that doesn’t make for such a fun Time Out feature!