Friday, 27 September 2013

The yours

I've just seen an article entitled "if being happy is a choice, why are so many of us unhappy?".

There are many answers to this question and none of them are particularly clear cut.

But I think the main answer is this:

Because not all of us know it IS a choice.

This is pretty fundamental in my view.

and when I say know, I mean really know. Not just on an intellectual level. I mean know and understand and appreciate and assimilate and internalise. And believe.

And even just getting to that point can be incredibly hard work and take a lot of time.

It takes a huge shift in belief systems and thought processes to get to that point. It takes a lot to go from truly believing things are as they are in your life because of other people, because of circumstance, to believing that even in the face of those things you have the power to react differently.

It takes courage to be able to get to that point. Because in a way getting to that point means also admitting you previously had the choice to react differently, but didn't. It means considering the possibility that it's not everybody else's fault all of the time.

The thing about change, is that regardless of whether or not it's a change for the better or the worse, with it comes the loss of 'the before' All change is loss. All change is hard.  People become wedded to the way they are even if they don't want to be that way. And this is a big one when it comes to change.

The best way to help somebody make the choice to be happy, is to help them realise they have that choice in the first place. Once they realise there is a choice, it is much harder to actively choose unhappiness.

But until that person really, truly, fully embraces the possibility that there is a choice, it's just not theirs to make.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Stock taking

It's just gone 18.30 on the night before I start my teacher training. About 15 years after I didn't do it the first time I thought of it.

This time last year I was a month into a brand new job that I turned out to hate and that turned out to hate me just as much.

This time last month I had just finished another new job as an Early Years Practitioner at a local nursery.

Funny how time flies and how so much can happen along the way.

I feel like a lot has happened along the way over the last 18 months.  Some of it good, some of it bad and some of it downright ugly.

I had planned to use today to get myself all ready for tomorrow. Ready in terms of practical things like work out what I'm going to wear, get my lunch all made and pack my bags in advance. Ready in terms of physically; eat well, get enough sleep; keep active but not overdo it - rested but energised. Ready emotionally, if ever such a thing is possible. Relaxed, calm, excited.  Reflect on the journey that's got me to this point, take stock of what I've achieved with my time off over the summer.

And like all the best plans that's not quite what has happened.  I've just sat down now having spent pretty much the entire day trying to sort out documents and forms for a rather late in the day DBS check.  I can't even bring myself to explain the intricate and totally farcical chain of events that took place, suffice to say the hours spent at the bank, on the computer, yelling at the printer and traipsing to the Town Hall were not part of the original plan.

BUT, it has served to keep me occupied.  A part of me was really scared about today. How was I going to keep myself busy. What, of the million things I could do to prepare myself should I choose? Read my EYFS framework again? Make notes for my assignment? Go to the gym? Watch a film and just relax?  Whatever I chose I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn't be able to shake the feeling that I had therefore chosen NOT to do all the other things and that was making me panic a bit. 

So, on reflection, all has not been lost today. Luckily I had managed to fit in a spot of meditation before the farce began so was able to remain a little calmer than otherwise. And I decided to get up 10 minutes early every day to ground me for the new day ahead as I start this new chapter.
I now know all my documents are sorted for my DBS so I can put that one to bed in my head.
All my uni application forms are filled in and ready for the post box.
All my course info is all printed off and filed neatly.
My new diary and notebooks are in a nice pile ready to pop in my bag tomorrow.
There's a massive roast chicken just out of the oven ready to make into various lunches and dinners for the week ahead.
And I managed to get to the doctors to get some more medicine for this chest infection that won't shift and the sciatica that has noticed stress is in the air so decided to join the party.

Which brings me to now and the point of sitting here writing this. I wanted to look back and reflect on my August.  I put quite a lot of pressure on myself in the lead up to August around all the things I wanted to achieve with my time off.

I had a list of chores around the house. I had a car to get fixed. I wanted to spend time with friends, especially old friends not seen for a while, and spend time with mum whilst we were both off for the summer. I wanted to get a head start on my reading list for my assignment and I wanted to get my eating and exercise back on an even keel. I also wanted to just be, to get some headspace back before launching myself into my new career.

Did I achieve everything I set out to? 

No. Of course not.

The deck in the back garden still isn't oiled.  The bathroom cabinet still sits on the floor rather than hanging off the wall. The assignment still looms. The riding stables I had a voucher for has been somewhat elusive and so the ride I'd been looking forward to never happened. And so on.

On top of that I got ill. I've had a revolting chest infection since pretty much my first day of freedom.  And even before that I injured myself at the gym meaning I missed my last week of work at the nursery and setting me 10 days behind on my exercise and chore timetable.  I've now got sciatica and aching down both sides too.

But aside from that, what have I achieved?

I've spent time just with myself, just being me. Reading, swimming, watching films.  I tried something I've always wanted to try and went open water swimming in the local lake.  I picked up something I always used to love for the first time in decades and went on an outdoor sketching workshop.  I spent some lovely time lunching with my grandma.  I met up with old, current and new friends for walks, for coffee, for lunch, at the swings, just to chat.  I embarked on an online coaching programme and am starting to consolidate some great new habits around eating and exercising. As a result I have lost 6lbs and 13cms and gained a load of definition and determination as well as rekindled my love of the gym. And that's just the start.  The garden is transformed into a lovely oasis full of plants and loveliness we actually want to spend time in. The front garden too. The spare room has been cleared and sorted and put back together so it now has space for all my teaching and Phoenix bits and bobs and is a lovely place for me to just go and be.  All my drawers have had the same treatment, I now know where everything is, a huge relief.  I signed myself up as an ambassador for Happiness Happens month, wrote more blog posts than I've ever written before and picked up a load of new followers on The Happy Catalyst and Twitter.  I've been for walks and picnics with Alex and I have spent some really lovely time with my mum. Shopping, gardening, craft fairing, lunching, outdoor musical-ing, celebrating her birthday to our heart's content.  I couldn't have done much of what I've done without her help, in so many ways.  And she's even just brought round my very own pale blue bunny mug for the staff room...what more could I possibly need?

Download photo.JPG (127.8 KB)

So I say goodbye to my August, my summer, my time off with a touch of sadness that it's all come to an end, but with much more of a sense of achievement, of contentedness, of gratitude, of satisfaction and of feeling blessed for all that it brought.

And while the year that lead to August was a bit of an odd one, with plenty of twists and turns and ups and downs, I am grateful that it's lead me to here. To 19.05 the night before I start my teacher training, 15 years since I first thought of it. The night before I go back to school again in more ways than one.

The night before the rest of my life.

I still don't know what I'm going to wear, but I do know, having now spent the time to sit and reflect, that I'm ready.



Wednesday, 28 August 2013

What Madonna knew about happiness

As much as I love Madonna (and I mean LOVE), it's not often that I find myself drawing upon her lyrics for inspiration of any kind, let alone for this here blog. I say often, in fact, ever. It is not something I ever envisaged myself doing.

Yet, here I am on day 28 of Happiness Happens month, about to do it.

Today is my mum's birthday and we put our full efforts into celebrating in the appropriate fashion, as we always do.  It felt like a really lovely holiday all day as we sat in the sun, swam in an outside pool (in England, a rare opportunity), drifted along the river on a boat...aaah, lovely.

So you'll understand why  'Holiday, Celebrate' popped into my head.

In the song 'Holiday', Madonna suggests we should all take some time out of life just to celebrate. To forget about all the bad times and the problems and just celebrate all the good stuff. Bring back the happy days.  Why? Because that would be so nice.  (I am actually singing these lyrics in my head as I'm typing them by the way!)

It would be SO nice.

And she's right, it really would. It would be more than nice, it would....release the pressure. She knew that too.

We are so pre-programmed to notice and dwell on rubbish stuff that it's too easy not to stop and take time to celebrate the good stuff.

And I don't just mean birthdays, anniversaries and the like, I mean little every day things too.

My family do celebrating like it's going out of fashion. If there were an olympics in celebrating things, we would enter.  I think it is SO important to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate any positive you can get your little mitts on.  A passed exam, a good day at the office, an extra weight added at the gym, a birthday, a reunion, a weekend, an evening, a sunny morning...whatever you can get your hands on.

I've heard many people say something like "oh, I don't really do birthdays/valentine's day/insert excuse for celebrating here" and I don't understand it. They may as well as be saying "oh, I don't do life".

Why not take every possible excuse for feeling good and having fun and celebrating each other as possible? In whatever way. I don't mean throwing huge parties and getting drunk and eating too much...although certain celebrations may also call for that...I mean stopping and spending time together, dwelling on whatever it is that you're celebrating, letting whoever's good news it is know how proud you are of them.

We often wait for that big pinnacle of success before we celebrate.  The big new job, the magic number on the scales, the golden wedding anniversary, the 4,000 A*s at GSCE or whatever other thing we're aiming for tomorrow.

What if tomorrow never comes? What if we're so busy heading for that big golden goal in the sky that we miss all the little signs along the way that we're already winning?  What about that interview you rocked (regardless if you got the job). What about that habit you stuck to all week (even if the stupid scales didn't shift). What about every day you wake up together and smile (even if you never make it to the big 50). What about all the effort and the hard work and the late nights spent studying, even if you didn't quite make the grade.

It's one thing being grateful for 3 things every day but surely we can do even better than that.

Life is so precious. Surely the least we can do is to do as Madonna says and, just once in a while take some time to celebrate it.

It really would release that pressure. It really would be SO nice.

Because happiness happens when we take time to celebrate the little things as well as the big.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Nevermind the lights and the camera, just take action

It's rainy. My head is full of cold. My tummy is full of last night's chinese. I'm pretty sure I can feel a little twinge in a muscle somewhere if I think about it hard enough. I just want to curl up on the sofa and watch TV.

But I have a gym workout scheduled.

I don't want to go.

At all.

In the slightest.

I have absolutely zero motivation to get myself out of the house, through the rain puddles and into my own puddles of sweat.  I can think of nothing I want to do less than spend several hours heaving and puffing and panting and straining.

Despite it being day 24 of Happiness Happens month, I am not at all feeling 'motivated.'

Mr. Motivator is NOT in my house at all today.

But, I still go.

How, I ask myself did I do this? If I can workout how I managed it this time maybe I can bottle it and call upon it next time I want to crawl into a dark hole until long after the gym has shut.

Here's what I came up with. My top 10 tips to give yourself a kick up the bottom when Mr Motivator hasn't showed up:

1. Find the intrinsic motivator, as opposed to fighting the external stuff.

External motivators are things like reward, pay, rules. Intrinsic motivators are all about you. Or me in this case.  My external motivator here was that I was supposed to go today, it's written on my programme that I go today. Whatevs, I could mix up the days and go tomorrow, no biggie. Not very powerful a kick up the bum.  The other external motivator is a societal one. Fat/unhealthy people are supposed to go to the gym if they want to get thin and healthy ergo I 'should' go to the gym.  Mmm, that has 'should' in it and therefore the only effect it has on me is to make me want to rebel and sit in a bath full of chocolate cake instead.
However, beyond all of that, deeper down somewhere a little voice says 'but you promised me'.  It's a quiet voice but I can't help but hear it and I know what it means. I have made a promise to myself that I will maintain my routine and I will be active 5 days out of 6.  I have made a promise to myself that wherever I have the choice, I will choose the option that best meets my needs and moves me closer to reaching my goals. My goals are to be stronger, leaner and happier.  Whether I like it or not right now, going to the gym is defo going to move me closer along towards my goal than lying down and eating more things. No question. I can't control my fat cells, or the scales, or my muscles, but I can at least try to control my behaviour. I can take action, and as long as I'm doing that I'm fulfilling my promise to myself.
So even while I'm paying lip service to cancelling, or going another day and just hibernating for the day, I'm putting on my gym kit and I know I'm going anyway.

2. Put on your gym kit...or take that first teeny step

It was filling me with fear and loathing in Maidenhead just sitting here thinking about the entire workout. Every rep of every set of every exercise, plus warm up, plus...snoooooooore. It was all a bit much to think about and was really putting me off going at all.  All good goal setting advice tells us to break unthinkable massive tasks down into manageable chunks. Great advice. But I'm going one step further.  Don't just break it into chunks, identify the one little thing you can do, not just today, but in the next 5 minutes that will help you get where you want to go.  In my case, very literally, the very next thing I could do to help me get where I wanted (or not) to go, was to get out of my pyjamas and into my gym kit.  An easy step to take but an important one in the right direction.  Once I'm all dressed up and ready to go, I'm much more likely to take that next step out of the door and much less unlikely to go backwards, take it all off again and get back into bed.

3. Just show up.

So, here I am in my gym kit.  All I have to focus on now is just showing up. Just getting to that gym. Once I'm there I'll do the workout. I'm hardly likely to get there and sit down for a few hours until it's time to go home.  Just showing up is the most important part.  Even when I was injured and couldn't do my workouts, I still just showed up. I went to the gym and walked very slowly on the treadmill so as to maintain some kind of routine, build up that "I'm the kind of person who goes to the gym regularly" muscle in my mind.  Just show up.

4. Don't aim for perfection.

Ok, so I'm not feeling my best, I'm unlikely to perform at my best...I may as well not bother. Incorrect.  Bother. Drop the perfection act, it doesn't exist.  Give yourself a break and accept that 100% is totally unattainable. Aim for 80% if you have to aim for anything.  I gave myself permission to not do my best workout ever today, as long as I showed up.

5. Just try to do/be a little bit better than yesterday.

For me, long term this means not falling down the 'I can't be bothered to go' hole and getting out there anyway. For me today, this meant increasing my weights on one of my exercises. Not all of them, and not by a lot, just a little on just one.  Another teeny step in the right direction.

6. Reflect on how far you've come and not how far is still left to go.

At one point this morning it flicked through my mind how pointless and hopeless this all was. As if one stupid little gym workout was going to make any difference in the long run. As if I was ever going to have the fit, lean, size less than it is now body I wanted. Sigh.  Then I thought about how far I've already come, I wondered if the 30 year old me would ever believe that the 36 year old me could squat, lunge and deadlift with the rest of them, wearing size not mahoosive gym gear at that. I remembered how hard today's workout was the first time I tried it and how not as hard it is now.  And that helped. Every day I notice something: a bit more flexibility here, a bit stronger there, a little more definition the other. I may not have reached the final shining pinnacle of my overall goal, but there are great signs all along the way that I'm heading in the right direction as long as I'm alert to them. But I didn't get to this point by some massive miracle all of a sudden. I didn't just wake up one day like it. I got here by showing up, taking the next little step and every day trying to be or do a little bit better than before. Today was no different, I just needed to do it....

7. Start today

...and, if there was one piece of advice I could give that 30 (or younger!) year old now, it would be to just start today.  It doesn't matter how long something will take, the time will pass anyway.  There is nothing more disheartening than reaching that time that originally seemed so far off into the future as to almost not really exist, and realising, if you'd just started way back then, you'd be there by now. Instead of still wishing, still hoping, still dreaming.  If you'd just taken action, just showed up, just started, you'd be there by now.

Nike were really onto something when they came up with that slogan weren't they?

8. Drive

Dan Pink, in his book Drive, talks about his view of motivation, largely based on Self Determination Theory and the importance of intrinsic motivational factors. He lists the three biggest drivers of human behaviour (and what is motivation if not a driver of behaviour) as: Autonomy, mastery and purpose.  What he means by these is a) having a say for yourself b) getting good at something and c) feeling a part of something bigger than yourself.  All three of these played a part for me today.

Knowing that I was choosing to go to the gym because I said so and not because somebody else said so and then giving myself permission to not perform at my best really helped.

The fact that I'm steadily mastering the moves, getting gradually better is a great motivation.

Plus, the programme I'm following is also being followed by a whole online community and I want to keep up, I want to chat about it in the forums. I want to feel a part of it.  If I don't go, I won't.  A gym class or an exercise club would probably have had the same effect. In fact just being surrounded by like minded people all exercising helped.

9. Strength training

Martin Seligman and countless others talk about focusing on your strengths for motivation.  Strengths are something that give us energy whether we're great at them or not. When we're using our strengths we don't mind keeping at it, we're less likely to give up. In this instance, my strengths are determination, resilience, stubbornness and competitiveness.  I called these into play to argue against and cajole my 'I just want to stay at home today' rebellious streak.

10. Oh go on then, reward.

I promised myself that when I'd been to the gym, if I still wanted to, I could lie on the sofa for the entire rest of the day. I pointed out to myself that I would enjoy the lying on the sofa part a whole lot more if I had actually done something useful and active first and I used that promise as the final push to get me out of the house. It might go against the whole thing about rewards not being the greatest driver, but added to everything else, it was good enough for me.

So in short, it's simple. Next time you're feeling a bit meh and can't quite summon up the energy you need to do whatever it is: Find your inner drive, ask yourself why you're doing this and focus on that. Work out what you can do in the next five minutes to move you a little bit closer and then do it a little bit better than you did before. Do it for yourself, not anybody else. Summon up whatever strengths you have in your armoury to get you through it.

And then just do it.

Just take action.

Just show up.

And then look back and thank yourself in 5 years that you started today.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

I can't get no...

...Oh yes I can!

It's day 21 of Happiness Happens month and today's happiness topic is 'satisfaction'. 

I've had a huge long list of 'stuff I want to do when I'm off work in August' for months.

The list covers a myriad of tasks. The good the bad and the ugly. Little quick things and big yukky things. From 'phone so and so' to 'get my diet and exercise habits back in order'. 

 Its been just sort of sitting in my notebook down the side of the sofa leering at me, ready to pounce on me as soon as August arrived. 

Which it obviously did a few weeks ago and I felt really under pressure and panicked that I wasn't going to get all, nay any of it done. And find time to actually relax and enjoy myself at the same time. 

I felt like every time I sat still instead of rushing through the list I was just wasting time so wasn't really able to properly relax. And every time I got the list out it felt a bit hopeless and too much to tackle. 

But I've noticed this week that lo and behold its actually all been slotting into place, slowly but surely. 

The tasks are getting ticked off, or crossed off because I can no longer be bothered to do them. They felt important when I wrote them down but actually, there's more important/better things to do with my time. 

And most importantly I feel relaxed and relieved, I'm enjoying myself and my time off. A big phew. 

For example. My clothes had managed to tie themselves up into a big knotted heap in all my drawers and everything was a big mess. (Ahem, ok, I made the mess, the clothes didn't do it themselves).  I never knew where anything was, bikinis in with woolly jumpers and dresses shoved in a heap with shoes. Whenever I found something I wanted to wear it it was all crumpled. I couldn't find half the things I knew I had somewhere. But one day I whacked on the radio, threw it all out onto the floor and put it all back again properly and neatly. Or threw it away. 

Oh my goodness what a difference. Getting ready every morning is so quick, easy and stress free! The simple things :)

Every day I've made sure I've tackled one little corner of the list. Some days I've had the whole day spare so have launched head first into a big task. I even wrote "relax" and "have fun" on the list so when I took time to do that I still felt like I was doing something useful not lazy. 

Doing nothing has always seemed lazy boring and a ' waste of time' to me so I have to work extra hard to let myself do it. And enjoy it. 

That said, nothing is more satisfying than getting stuff done. Putting effort into something and reaping the rewards. It's a really, well, satisfying type of happiness and so so much better than feeling the pressure of an as yet unstarted task or the regret of a wasted opportunity. 

I'm glad I made the list to keep me focused but I wish I could learn to trust the process, trust that I will always find the time to do the things that need doing and dump the ones that don't instead of worrying and stressing about everything first. 

But most of all, after a day spent first at the gym (tick), eating well (tick) and then in the garden (tick) I'm very grateful to my mum and grandma for all their help, and very very satisfied with the results. Lovely. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

How amusing

So, here we are on day 18 of Happiness Happens Month.

I haven't written for a few days.  My last post was about finding balance between trying to do everything and lying around on the sofa doing nothing.  In writing it I stumbled upon a rather large irony.  I realised that having accidentally set myself the task of writing a post every day of Happiness Happens month, covering one of the 31 types of happiness every day of the month, I'd unwittingly added a big fat weight on the wrong end of my see saw and was steadily slipping away from my comfortable balance spot towards my 'aaaggghhhh, panic, hide, freak out make it all go away' spot.

So I decided to redress the balance and stopped writing for a bit. I decided if something came to me I would write it down, but if not, hey ho, nevermind.

What have I been doing instead? Pleasing myself that's what. Amusing myself however I fancy; with a silly book, a daft TV programme or a visit to meet my mum's new dog.

Especially the last one.

I indulged in that last one just this morning.  The visit went like this: 5 fully grown adults standing around/lying on the floor staring for long periods of time at a tiny ball of black fluff and delighting in every movement/non-movement, whimper, slip and shuffle the little thing made.  Her name is Buttons by the way, not 'little thing'.

I looked around. Everybody was happy.  What type of happiness is going on here? I asked myself...Amused, that's it.  We are all well and truly amused by this little critter.   Even when she's not really doing anything. Her mere existence in the world and in our lounge is utterly amusing to us.

(Well, to most of us. Lilly, her soon to be long suffering sister and existing resident in the family home, didn't find her in the least bit amusing thank you very much.)

The puppy's name is pretty amusing was the day long debate that went on before mum settled on Buttons. I think the low point was when my brother suggested 'Twig', or it may have been my 'Storm' idea. Either way, it was all hilariously amusing.

So, I had my inspiration for the day and I had my post.

So I got to thinking about this whole being 'amused' thing.  It ties in with the posts I've written on being playful and humour. But I think amused is a bit different.

Being playful is quite sort of active, out and out silly in a lively, physical, joyful way.  Buttons was being playful but we weren't really. Unless you count grandma waving a string of plastic sausages at her.

Humour is specifically about something being purposefully funny, making and laughing at jokes, comedy etc.  The dog is pretty funny to watch, but she was rubbish at telling jokes and to be honest her 'stand up' is more wobble over.

Being amused has a slightly more laid back, passive type of feel to it for me. It's not as roll about funny as funny is.

But it's also conversely a more active process for us the beholder. The thing in question isn't necessarily amusing, but the way we see it is. We're able to look at something that isn't innately on purpose funny, and see the funny in it. The dog wasn't trying to entertain us, but we found her to be amusing...we did that in our own heads.

Which just goes to show that a lot of this happiness stuff is in our own heads and we have the choice, the power to conjure it up ourselves.  If we can make an innocent little dog just doing it's thing amusing (even when she weed. And even when I then stood in it with bare feet), then what else can we do it with?

Whichever way you look at or define it, being amused is a very handy thing to be. Being able to find life's little whims amusing rather than irritating, see the light in or make light of life's serious stuff is a great skill to have.

The world and the people around us (and in fact us, ourselves) are full of weirdness, silliness, nuance and foible, but only if we can see them and appreciate them as such, allow ourselves to be amused by them.

There's plenty of stuff to get all serious about and given our natural negativity bias it's all too often easy to get hung up on these so they fill our world and blind us to the other stuff. The nonsense and the fun.  We need to find a way to take the boring blinkers off and put the funny specs on.

People often say "it'd be funny if it wasn't so...", or "that would be funny if it wasn't true".  Well, it probably is funny even if it is true, you just have to choose to see it like that.  In fact it's probably its being true that makes it so amusing.  I think there's something about amusement that suggests a wry knowing sort of feeling.  We recognise something in it...that's why seemingly mundane observational comedy about day to day stuff is so funny. Because we know it's true. In fact, it's normally life's crappy bits that comedians get the best material from.  So if we can laugh at it with them, what's to stop us laughing at it in real life?

We're pretty good at laughing at ourselves after the event, so maybe we just need to try a bit harder to laugh at ourselves or the situation during the event. It'll probably make it a lot easier to get through it and move on if we do.

There are, of course, times when lighthearted froth and amusement, just trying to jolly yourself or somebody else up isn't going to work, and isn't even a good idea.  If somebody is really down in some deep emotions, they just need to feel them and being urged to 'cheer up' or laugh at videos of pandas sneezing on youtube is really not very helpful.

But for all the other times, especially those times when we're just being a bit stubborn and ranting and raving for the sake of it. Desperately trying not to smile or forgive or be amused by anything (we've all done it). Just stop it, get over yourself and see if you can reframe what's happening as something highly amusing that you'll laugh at not just later, but now. I don't know, maybe imagine Michael McIntyre (insert your favourite comedian here) prancing about on stage re-enacting it in his next sketch. Or do a bit of a quantum leap and imagine how much you'll fall about laughing about this when you tell your friends later. Or imagine how funny it'd sound if it were happening to a friend instead of you...nice bit of schadenfreude for you there.

Sod it, even if it's not in the slightest bit amusing at all,  just pretend it is. Fake it 'til you make it and all that.

Or if all else fails, just buy a Scottie dog puppy. And call it Buttons. That works too.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

See saw, marjery daw

So, poor Johnnie can't work any faster.

Well, I know that feeling.

But really, Johnnie could probably do with slowing down a bit anyway. All that see sawing back and forth like a headless chicken can't be doing him any good.

Well, I know that feeling too.

I spoke yesterday of my penchant for keeping busy and a tendency to overload myself.  I have to work really hard at s  l  o  w  i  n  g  d  o  w  n.  I'm going to guess I'm not alone here.

Here's an example.  I have known for some time that I'm going to have August off work before starting my teacher training. So for the last however many months I have been saying "oh, I'll do that in August when I've got my time off". Apparently I said that quite a lot because my 'time off' has become anything but.  I seem to have spent quite a large proportion of the first few weeks of it feeling uptight and panicked rather than relaxed and carefree.

I'm not saying it would be better to spend the whole time lying down doing nothing, but I expect there's a balance somewhere in between both extremes.

And so, on day 15 of Happiness Happens month I find myself, not lying down, but writing about that 'balanced' happiness feeling the Secret Society of Happy People talk about as one of their 31 types of happiness.

In between all the see sawing, I am learning over time to try not to cram my days and weeks and months full of stuff.  I'm learning to be more realistic about what I can achieve and compassionate when I don't manage everything I'd hoped to.

I'm learning that sometimes the best bits are what come from the spaces left in between.

Take my flower bed for example (stick with me on this one). When the gardeners first did it for us I was hugely disappointed. It looked pathetic and empty. It most certainly did not resemble the bustling, blossoming cottage garden I'd briefed.  There were some weedy little bits in between massive great spaces of boring old, nothing to see here mud.  They told me to be patient (they didn't know me very well) and to watch and marvel as it grew into it's full potential.

And well I never, they were right.  Had those beds been filled to busting the plants would have been choked and suffocated.Those delicate little plants they first put in needed time and space to grow and to flourish. To bloom and to fulfil their potential.

And they're not the only ones.

When I manage to leave some space, it tends to be where the magic happens.

How are we to grow if there is no space to grow into? Sometimes, our best work happens when we let our foot off the gas a little. Our best ideas come when we stop trying so hard to come up with them and give our brain a break, some head space.

My old boss and I used to laugh because just when we were at our absolute busiest and stressiest, up against a deadline and absolutely did not have time to have a break, enjoy ourselves or relax (potentially over a bottle of wine. or three), just at that point, we normally ended up in the pub.  And somehow or other, got not just our work done, but our best work done.

So there's a balance to be found, between rushing around like a loony on one end of the see saw, and lying about like a sloth on the other.

But what about in other areas of life, not just diary/head cramming. I also find myself flying frantically from one end of the see saw to the other in other areas too.  Diet (eat like Gwyneth Paltrow one minute, and like a lard choffing horse the next), exercise (enter every sponsored run and swim going, injure myself, lie down a lot) and so on and so forth.  It's probably because I try to do too much all at once rather than make little baby steps and get used to them one at a time. Because I want to see results now (did I mention the impatience thing?) and not in a year when everything has grown and blossomed. Because I'm a perfectionist so if after eating one recipe out of Gwyneth's book I don't actually look exactly like Gwyneth Paltrow, I may as well give up and dive head first into the nearest party sized box of maltesers.

That 80/20 rule never quite sunk in apparently.

It's just that the little spot in the middle of my see saw is just a bit slippier than I'd like, it makes it
tricky to find my balance and stay there without sliding off again.

But I am getting better, and I'm determined to keep trying, and that's the best we can hope for.

That's a good balance.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Me, myself and I

All by myself, don't want to be...
I used to absolutely hate being by myself.

I thought of being by myself as being lonely and boring.

If I was by myself it was obviously because nobody else wanted to be with me. Because I was boring. It was a sign I had nothing interesting to do. It meant I was a failure in some way.

Whenever I was by myself I would spend hours imagining all the fun everybody else was having, all together, out there. Without me.  I would text everybody in my phone book in the vague hope that somebody somewhere might want to do something with me. Which of course made it worse if nobody replied.  I didn't even like arriving to a party/pub/gathering by myself. It made me feel stupid and friendless.

I hated being single. So I never was.

And then a few years ago something happened. I woke up one morning and I just couldn't bear the thought of leaving the house, of meeting anybody, of talking to anybody.  The thought that kept going round and round in my head was "please just make them all go away".  So, to cut a long story short, I went to the doctor and asked her to make them all go away and she signed me off work with 'stress'.

Which meant I was now, quite firmly and of my own doing, by myself all day every day for three weeks.

Horror of all horrors and dread of all dread.

But during those three weeks there were two people I did spend time with. One, a lady the doctor had referred me to for counselling and secondly, my chiropractor.

Both of whom kept trying to make me talk about myself and deal with my issues.

I had no idea how to talk about myself and didn't want to think about issues, let alone deal with them, thanks.

But between them they managed to eek and creak me back into shape, little by little.

And while much of that period is a big blur, I very clearly remember one day in particular.

I had been for a chiropractic appointment and had missed the train home so I decided to go for a walk along the river while I waited for the next one.  I sat on a bench in the sun and watched the world go by.  And as I sat there I thought to myself, this is the first time I can ever recall being totally content with being totally by myself. Not doing anything, not talking, not thinking about anything in particular, just being here. With me, myself and I.

And, since I'm writing this during Happiness Happens Month and covering one of the 31 types of happiness each day, I'll tell you exactly what it felt like. I felt, for the first time in a very long time, 'peaceful'.

This feeling, or realisation was so powerful that I decided to miss the next train as well. And the next one.

I slightly ruined it by feeling the need to text my husband and share the whole thing with him thus bringing other people into it again. But what can I say, pobody's nerfect.

The point is, it was seriously the first time, aged 30 something or other, I can truly remember actually being happy to be by myself, actually enjoying my own company. Feeling at ease with myself. Feeling peaceful. Yeah, sure, I'd been to the cinema by myself before, but only "because I had nobody else to go with" not because I actually wanted to and that always coloured the experience somewhat.

So I started to use that time off work, as well as getting to know myself better in the counselling room, to get to know myself better full stop. To spend more time with myself.

And guess what, turns out I'm pretty good company!

I started going to coffee shops by myself and just watching the world go by. I started scheduling in 'just me' time and actually secretly looking forward to when Alex was going to be out rather than moping about the house missing him.

And I got rather used to it.

So much so that when I went back to work I made one day out of five a working from home day to give myself some of that me space.

Now I just can't imagine not spending time just with myself.  Being able to go to a coffee shop and read my book by myself is a real treat now (every mum reading this just wholeheartedly agreed with me!). In fact I start to feel quite anxious and claustrophobic if I go without for too long, I start to really crave some 'me time' and that 'please just make them all go away' feeling starts creeping back in. I think I would go stark raving mad in the Big Brother house and am slightly dreading going back to working 5 days a week because that means there is not one single day in the week where I get to just be by myself.

Weird.  So totally different to how I used to feel.

And thinking back to that time, to how I used to feel about being by myself, I think there were several things going on. They're all muddled up together but if I try to pick them apart:

1. I guess I just didn't really like myself very much before so why would I want to spend time with myself? Which then bled into assuming nobody else liked or wanted to spend time with me.
2. On some level I knew I had 'stuff to deal with' and didn't want to.  By keeping myself surrounded with other people meant I didn't have to really bother thinking too hard about myself
3. There are attachment, separation and comfort type things going on for one reason and another I won't go into right now.
4. I have always thought of myself as an extrovert but the more time goes on I think I'd got that wrong. I think perhaps I'm a closet introvert trying to live an extrovert life...which is going to get pretty uncomfortable really.
5. I had some really classic 'thinking errors' (mind reading, cause and effect, blame) clearly it's because I'm boring/friendless etc.
6. I'm something known as an HSP, or 'Highly Sensitive Person'. And yes, that does exist and it doesn't just mean crying at every sad film or whatever (although I do that too). It means, in brief, that too much crap going on all the time just gets overwhelming and makes you run for cover.  There are 2 types of HSP, those who avoid all the busy-ness to avoid feeling overwhelmed, and those who seek it out thereby burning themselves out and needing to hide in a dark room to recover afterwards. I'm the second sort.  Helpful.  The waking up one morning wanting it all to go away was my burnout, the three weeks off with 'stress' was the dark room I recovered in, the 30 odd years before that? The busy-ness seeking.
7. And most importantly: I totally saw my happiness as something derived from and in the hands of other people, not as something I could own myself.

And now I understand all of that stuff a bit better, I can try to manage it:
  • So if we're away from home or staying with family I go for regular little walks by myself
  • I try not to overload myself, to accept every invitation or sign up for every event going because although I think I want to keep busy, I know I'll regret it later
My space
  • I keep a little space just for me in the house that I can escape to when I need to
  • I try to keep to a routine, I have little rituals, like my morning tea
  •  I do things just for myself (new hobbies etc) just because I want to
  • I attempt, but usually fail miserably, to keep some kind of mindfulness practice going to keep my head clear
  • And most importantly, I try to notice what's going on with me instead of focusing just on other people and bottling myself up. I try to talk through how I'm feeling if and when I'm feeling out of sorts. I let off steam bit by bit instead of exploding and needing that dark room again
I suppose, in short, I'm much kinder to myself and so I like myself a bit better in return. And somebody who's kind to you and who you like is an ok person to be around.  I'm also, thanks to all the learning I've done on positive psychology and in writing this blog, much much better at taking responsibility for my own happiness and not seeing it as something totally controlled by other people.

One of my little solo walks
That one's a biggie.

I find it quite sad that I used to hate my own company so much, but I'm so glad now that I've grown to love it.  And given my change of view on the whole thing, it's quite interesting to come up against people who still feel the same way I used to. Who see being by themselves as some kind of thing that's done to them, as the rubbish option, as a by product of not being good enough for everybody else. Instead of as an active choice.

None of this is to say that I've become some kind of recluse, or that I now prefer my own company to that of anybody else. Far from it. Now that I'm more comfortable with myself I'm also more comfortable with other people. Instead of going out of my way to surround myself with people, anybody, all of the time regardless of who or how or what or whether or not I'm actually enjoying it, I can now have better, more quality time with people I actually want to be with and relax and enjoy it more than I would have done before.  I find it easier to meet and chat to new people because my head isn't as full up and whirring around as it was before. I just find it easier to say no to things and to not fret about not having anyone to play with too.

picnic lunch for one
I've had more than one conversation recently when somebody has said to me something like "aaah, look at that poor bloke over there having lunch by himself". But why is he a poor bloke?  IF the reason he is there by himself is because everybody else he knows refused to go with him, he has no friends, and he got stood up and he feels sad about that, then maybe so. BUT, if he has actively chosen to go by himself then there is no poor about it. In my eyes, poor is the man who needs other people from which to draw strength and happiness, but strong is the man who is confident and happy enough in his own skin that he needs nothing more than his own company to enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant.

Even if the reason we're by ourselves is because we really couldn't find anybody else who wanted to be with us at that moment, we still have a choice.  We can choose to feel down and lonely and fed up and bored and play the victim. Or we can choose to see it as an opportunity to kick back, relax, read a book, have a bath, do whatever we want. We have nobody else to answer to at all.  As I say, ask any mum out there (and by the way, I'm not one but I know plenty) and they will all agree that being alone is a rare thing to be treasured, not scorned. So don't waste it feeling crappy, switch it in your head into something happy.

Being by yourself is such an important thing to do. It's like pressing a 'reset' button. It gives us time and space to clear our heads, to work out how we feel about stuff, to wind down.  It makes us much better people for everybody else to be around in the long run.  Why should anybody else want to spend time with you if even you don't want to!?

And if, like I did, you get the sense you're avoiding being by yourself because you just don't really like yourself very much, or you know if you're alone all those thoughts you're trying to avoid will have time and space to bubble up to the surface, then address it now.

It won't be easy.

But it will definitely be worth it.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Love the silly

Life can be SO serious some times.  And sometimes rightly so.

But other times, it's much better just to be silly. To lighten the mood. To let off steam.  To be a bit playful.

I can take things as super seriously as the next person, maybe more so, when I need to.  But I also can't help being very very silly when it suits too.

I can't imagine a day without a silly walk or two, a daft face pulled, a hearty giggle, an innuendo.

Humour and silliness can be such a good venting tool.  I remember some really god awful meetings where there was such tension in the air, all totally released as soon as somebody made a light hearted quip.  It's like a balloon being popped.  If my team didn't have a laugh as well as get the job done, if we couldn't see the funny side in the drudgery, if we didn't laugh at ourselves, well then I wasn't doing my job as a manager properly.

And the same at home.  There are bills, housework, chores, sometimes arguments. We've all got our fair share of problems.  But I love that we also behave like a pair of demented monkeys at the zoo; like children let loose in a toy shop; like very very silly people and not at all like fully grown adult people who should know better a LOT of the time.

We make up stupid words for things. We show off with daft dancing and prancing about. We play silly games.

We play.

Like joy, awe and delight and other things I've been talking about recently, children do all of these things naturally. Children's natural instincts is to play, freely, without direction and for absolutely no other reason than to have fun. They don't even need to let their guards down, they have no guard up. They are relaxed and un-bothered by life and free to play to their hearts content.

But actually, in the process they are learning and developing and growing as people all the while.

And we could learn a lot from that.

So next time things are getting a bit heavy, sod it, throw caution to the wind, call on your inner child and get
your playful on. Have a pillow fight, jump up and down on the bed, turn the music up and dance like a nutter, blow a raspberry, swing in the park.

Who cares what it is, just get rid of that guard, let off some steam and play.

For the pure heck of it.

For fun.

Because it's good for you.

And that's good for other people too.

Sunday, 11 August 2013


I started this 'post a day' for Happiness Happens Month*  a bit by accident.


I started talking about the 31 types of happiness one by one every day and, for those I hadn't already written about before, I naturally wrote a new post. Then it just seemed a good idea to carry on. But as I got into it I wondered both how on earth I was going to come up with something new to say every day and, on closer inspection of the
31 types of happiness poster, how on earth I was going to cover some of the subjects on there.  Some of them I'm pretty comfortable with, things like gratitude and kindness and optimism. But how on earth was I going to cover things like 'relief', and never mind that,  how on earth was I actually going to choose which one to talk about each day.

Choosing and making decisions is not something I terribly famous for. In fact, my one and only guest post on Tiny Buddha is in deed on the subject of the very opposite: indecision and not knowing what to do**.

But every day of doing this I realise more and more that rather than force the answer, it just sort of trots along of its own accord at some point during the day. Like most decisions we need to make, if I sit down and try to force myself to decide which to cover, nothing happens. All I get is the 'out to lunch' sign my brain has left for me. That and some tumble weed.

This is a really good lesson for me. By lesson I mean something I already know but need repeatedly spelling out for me on an ongoing basis.  And I know I'm not alone because of all the amazing feedback I had from the guest post. Turns out many of you are just as rubbish as me when it comes to making, sticking to, believing in and not then regretting decisions...of any description.

So I may know and be able to write about the fact that decision making is not always an active, conscious process but something that has to be left alone to work itself out, quietly at the back of the mind before leaping out onto centre stage yelling "TA DAAAAA!" all of it's own accord. And having that knowledge certainly helps but it doesn't mean it's always that easy just to relax into the process.

So seeing it happen day after day has been really helpful. 

It's turned this month of posts into an exciting challenge rather than a chore.

Watching these little ideas just pop up from nowhere and seeing how easy it is to then write about them from the heart rather than force something has been really, interesting.  

So really what I'm talking about is 'inspiration'.  Every day I'm being 'inspired' by what's happening around me and going from there. The 'planner' in me has had to sit back and relax because inspiration crops up unexpectedly. It can't be planned for. We just have to be open and watching and ready to take what we're given and work with it. It's a bit scary because I'm leaving it to chance. I'm risking no inspiration striking that day. There's always that little worry that I'll be sat starting at the screen at 23.59 tearing my hair out still not knowing what to say. But                                                                actually I'm starting to see that as part of                                                                  the fun.

And do you know what? Even when I started to write this post I absolutely hadn't expected to write about the happiness we get from feeling 'inspired'. I thought I was sitting down to write about relief, the sort of happiness we feel when we're 'relieved'. I guess I was inspired half way through to change tack, and relaxed enough to let that happen.

I thought I was writing about relief because 'relieved' is how I felt when I realised 'choosing' a post subject every day wasn't going to be quite as arduous as I expected. Because 'relieved' is how I always feel when that elusive, agonising decision has finally been made. Because 'relieved' is how I feel when inspiration strikes

And relieved is most definitely how I felt earlier today. 

I had been quite upset, sad, uptight, nervous and panicky this morning and it wasn't nice. (It actually popped into my head in the middle of it "how are you going to write a post on happiness later when you've got yourself into this state you stupid woman"...not helpful self talk there).  But,  when it was resolved, when it went away, when I'd had a cuddle and everything was ok again, I sat down on the side of the bed and I actually felt my shoulders soften, I felt the tension leave my body, I heaved a huge sigh (of relief) not even having realised I'd been holding my breath, and a gentle smile found its way onto my lips.

'Relief' I thought to myself. That's what this is.  It may not be as exciting, as rapturous, as joyful, as exuberant as any of the other types of happiness, (mmm, I guess that depends on the 'type' of relief!?). But it sure does feel nice. In that moment I was 'inspired' to write about 'relief'.

And in that moment I was grateful for the 31 types of happiness because, had it not been for having them on my radar every day, I don't think I'd have stopped to notice or appreciate that feeling of relief.  I think it's probably a very mundane, underrated type of happiness but one that deserves a big fat mention and one we could all do with appreciating more. It's these day to day simple moments that all add up...but only if we notice them.

So, thank you relief, thank you 31 types of happiness, thank you inspiration.

And thank you Alex for the cuddle.

*Happiness Happens Month is a whole month dedicated to talking about, spreading and inspiring happiness created by The Secret Society of Happy People and celebrated throughout August and I signed up as a Happiness Happens Month Ambassador. For more info have a look here 

**You can read my Tiny Buddha post here

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Joyful Joyful we adore thee

Another day into Happiness Happens Month, another blog post.

I've tried not to be too prescriptive about which of the happiness states I'm going to write about it until it happens. Rather than force it, I've waited to see what inspires me.

And today, spending time with our little nephew has inspired me to write about the type of  happiness The Secret Society of Happy people describe as 'joyful'.

Yesterday, when talking about awe, it struck me that babies naturally experience everything with awe and amazement.  Everything seems wonderful and magical to babies.  Everything is shiny and new.

Babies find joy in places we no longer even look.

And having both thought and written about this yesterday, today I watched it first hand.

Our nephew, little Thomas, bubbles with wonder and joy. All day.  Actually, speaking of bubbles, he finds them pretty special too.

But what was even more special than watching Thomas bubble with joy, was watching his joy bubble over onto everybody else. If Thomas finds something funny, everybody finds it funny. If Thomas is enthralled by a butterfly, we're all enthralled with Thomas. There is no need for chat, or TV or any other means of passing the time other than experiencing Thomas experiencing life for the first time.

Eyes alight, smiles and chuckles, belly laughs and silly faces.  Surely joy has to be the most contagious type of happiness there is?

Or as Shakespeare put it, "joy delights in joy".

Well it certainly did today.  We were all joyful joyful, and Thomas, we adore thee.

Friday, 9 August 2013

When feeling small is a good thing

Have you ever experienced one of those moments when you feel totally and utterly overwhelmed by the sheer amazingness and wonder of something? When suddenly, the world and all its wonder feels so big and you but a small but equally amazing part of it? Where you just think: "wow".

You could be standing looking over the grand canyon, feeling the spray of Iguazu falls on your face, marvelling at a newborn baby or simply watching the sunset from the bottom of your garden. Or watching your husband sleep. Or your child walk for the first time.

It doesn't matter what it is, how big or small. We're all different. But whatever it is, it makes you sigh and think: "wow". It moves you. Maybe even to tears. It makes you really feel. Feel so much you might just burst. It makes your heart sing so loud you can't understand why nobody else can hear it. You feel elevated. Uplifted.

But not in a frantic, excited sort of way. Instead all this in a calm, content, peaceful sort of way.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call 'awe'. Real, proper awe. Not the every day overused 'awe' that crops up every time anybody proclaims something as 'awesome'.

And awe, is good news.

Really good news.

Awe is a big old feeling. A really big positive feeling. It warms the vagus nerve and produces oxytocin, both super stuff for our happiness levels.

But awe is so much more than that...awe actually really is quite awesome.

Awe has this amazing power of making you feel like you have all the time in the world, so you're more likely to slow down and be more can't really experience awe unless you're really present in that moment. Studies have shown that you're also more likely, given you now feel you have more time on your hands, to donate that time to other people, to use it kindly.

When we experience awe, we feel somehow more connected. It doesn't matter what to, connection is a good thing to feel. And awe is such a huge feeling, we feel connected to and a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

And given that awe makes us take stock of the bigger, wider, wonderful world out there beyond our own little brains, it has the ability to take our minds off our own issues, the minutiae of our day to day lives and to put things in context a little bit. It encourages us to literally look up and out.

Now, I won't claim to know what you're thinking, but if I were reading this I'd be thinking "wow, that's all really great stuff. Except what on earth am I supposed to do with it? I can't be jetting off to Niagara and the hanging gardens of Babylon every five seconds to recreate this whole 'awe' thing. So thanks for that".

The point of this here blog is to find ways we can use what we know from the science of happiness to help us get more of it, more often in our every day lives. And we can do the same with what we know about awe.

Firstly, we can trick our brain into getting similar feelings, especially good for the getting out of our own brains part.  Go outside, preferably into a park or field and let your eyes drift upwards. Then let you eyes go slack and soften your focus so you're using your peripheral vision (ie you can now see out to the sides as well as just forward, albeit a bit blurry. Your field of vision is enlarged).  You are now, literally, looking up and out. And it should have the effect of making you feel really rather small in the grand old scheme of life, thereby putting what's going on inside your head into context. If nothing else it's good for a bit of headspace and fresh air.

But what about the real 'awe' stuff.

It's all about getting to know yourself and diary management again.

Work out what it is that uplifts and inspires you. Write a list. Notice every time it happens and write it down. Mine are pretty much anything to do with nature and if you scroll back through my blog you can find post after post eulogising about the beauties of conkers, the awesomness of Autumn, the simple but highly effective pleasures I get just from walking through the park. Or hearing parakeets tweeting outside my window. Or watching the sun go down, wherever I am, with my husband.

Once you know where your little (and your big) uplifts come from, do everything you can to squeeze more of them into your life. Scrub that - into your day. And when they happen, do everything you can to squeeze even more out of them.  How can you make that thing you love even more awesome? How can you enhance that feeling, lift up that uplift even higher?

The simple adage, work out what makes you happy and do more of it, remains true here

It's true that the word 'happiness' comes from the 'hap' stem and therefore has connotations of spontaneity.

And it's true that the type of happiness you simply stumble upon is often the best, but that's not to diminish

the rest.  Just because I've eaten lobster doesn't mean I don't still enjoy cod and fact not so long ago I experienced a moment of awe sat eating fish and chips out of the wrapper, gazing out at the vast sea beyond just as dusk was falling, the wind whipping my hair around my face and the seagulls circling. Just then, with the salty batter on my lips and the sweet tangy bubbles of shandy to wash it down, I thought to myself: "wow". Just, "wow".

So go find your wow, and then work out how to get it as much as you possibly can.

But in the meantime, try one of these


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Do you remember the time...

My husband and I used to enjoy eating at a particular local restaurant. I forget the name, but I will always remember the words printed on their menu:

"We create memorable memories to remember"

Not sure what other sort of memories there are, but it was the next bit we always liked:

"You will enjoy our food three times: In the anticipation; in the eating; and in what comes next".

Now, in our entirely mature way we used to snigger at that last bit because, given it was an establishment serving food of the quite exotic and spicy variety, what 'came next' may well have involved several long trips to the bathroom.

But now I look back on it with a slightly wiser head on my shoulders (!?) I think I now know what they meant.

They had cottoned on to Gretchen Rubin's 4 stages of happiness before even she had. Their food, like all pleasurable moments, can be enjoyed in the anticipation, in savouring the event itself, and in reminiscing about it afterwards. (They could have got extra points for adding in 'sharing' and 'recounting' but we'll let them off).

The point is, remembering good times after the event brings back all the happy feelings you felt at the time,
again and again. In fact sometimes, given we're often a bit rubbish at being present, we're actually able to appreciate and enjoy the moment even more when we look back on it later from a calmer, more mindful place.

The reason I'm mentioning all of this is because today is day 6 of Happiness Happens Month and  every day this month I'm talking about a different one of the 31 types of Happiness as defined by Pamela Gail, founder of the Secret Society of Happy People and Happiness Happens Month. Given that yesterday we were talking about anticipation, I thought I'd round the circle off with 'nostalgic' today.

Although, actually, I'm not sure 'nostalgic' is quite the right word.  Nostalgic does have a little hint of yearning, of wanting life to be something other than it is, of wishing you were back when times were happier and that's not at all what we're after. We want people to be able to relax and be content with exactly who they are, where they are and how things are to be truly 'happy'...that's not to say they can't also aim for growth by the way.

Maybe 'reminiscing' would be better?

Anyway, I'm letting my pedantic love of semantics get in the way of the point here (although I do think that was quite a good point I just made, even if I say so myself).

The main point is, like I said yesterday, one way to get more happiness is to eek as much out of what we already have. So, just like looking forward to something before it happens works, so too does looking back fondly on something afterwards.

Like anticipation, this remembering past highs is also used in therapy. You often hear people talk about "going to their happy place", or being encouraged to replace negative worries about the future with positive experiences from the past.

In NLP we talk about the 'circle of excellence' which we fill with as many positive experiences, images, sounds we can so that every time we step into it, we can trigger the positive emotions we felt the first time round.  You can create a simple anchor just by remembering the time you felt most happy and amplifying those feelings until you think you're going to burst, then amplify some more.  Just before you reach the absolute peak of those feelings create an anchor for yourself - it could be clenching your fist, twiddling your wedding ring, something you can do easily and subtly for yourself. Keep embedding the anchor over and over again by repeating this process. After a few goes, next time you need a little happiness boost all you'll need to do is 'fire your anchor' and the feelings you attached to it should flood back in. FYI you can do this with whatever emotions (or resources to use NLP speak) you confidence for an interview etc.

Here are some other ways we can all take advantage of the 'nostalgic' happiness state to eek out more of that happy stuff:

1. Take photographs...anyone who's been following this or my other blogs or who knows me will know how much of an advocate I am of this one. But more importantly, look back at them often.

2. Don't like cameras? Take mental photographs. Make sure to stand aside from the happy thing happening and just take it all in so you can replay it in your own mind again and again later

3. Pick up a souvenir. Great for holidays and days out. Every time you see it again you'll be reminded of the
fab time you had

4. In fact to build on those points, decorate your house with it all. My house is like a living tour of my memory. There are photographs, nick nacks, little random pebbles I picked up from a special place and all sorts so everywhere we look we are constantly reminded of all our happy times. (Actually, Alex is constantly reminded that his wife collects too much clutter and doesn't dust enough, but apart from that it's a lovely sentiment!)

5. Talk about the event/day/whatever it was with other people

6. Keep a diary.  You don't even have to drivel on for ages listing everything that happened, just write down what it was you did on that day. When you look back at it the emotions you felt then will flood back even without the additional narrative. In fact, the less words you use to describe it the better because to put an experience or an emotion into words it has to go through your language filters which takes some of the shine off the original feeling...think of it like Chinese whispers from your heart to your head to your mouth to the page.  It's actually for this reason that whenever anybody asks me what my wedding day was like I just sort of sigh and smile (in an annoying wistful dreamy sort of way) and say 'perfect'.  It might be quite an annoying reaction but it saves me trying to boil down a massive emotional high into a few rubbish words about white dresses and pink peonies.

7. Does anybody know the 'alphabet game'? You know, you're on a really boring car journey and the kids are asking "are we there yet?" every 2 seconds?  We used to play a game where you go through the alphabet and race to be the first to see something beginning with that letter.."Audi!", "Bench", "Car" etc. Well, I make my husband play the holiday/nice day alphabet game with me after the event. We go through each letter of the alphabet and come up with something that had some relevance that day that starts with each letter. It may sounds super silly,but it's a great way to remember and keep remembering all the little things that made that day so special.

They say the devil is in the detail, but I think that's where the happy is too.

8. Do your 'gratefuls' every night.  Thinking of three things you're grateful for at the end of every day brings back to mind those three things. If you keep a grateful journal you can then flick back through it and recapture those little highs again and again.

But of course, we'll only have memorable memories to remember if we're in the habit of making memories in the first place. So rather than just looking back to the good times you've already had, be sure to stay present and create good times today that you can enjoy again tomorrow.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Wait for it...

My Dad often quips, "I don't know why anybody bothers to go on holiday when everybody knows that all the research and the planning and the looking forward to it is by far the best bit".

And I think he has a point.

Happiness, having fun, pleasure is all very wonderful stuff, but often, that bit that comes before the wonderful bit, is just as and on occasion, even more wonderfuller.

Even Winnie the Pooh knew this:

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.” 

Well, we do know what it's called. We're talking, of course, about anticipation.

And whether the anticipation equals or surpasses the event itself, there's no denying that anticipation is a really super, important, special bit of the whole happiness mix. Since we know that anticipation of a negative event can be so powerful, in the form of worry and anxiety, it stands to reason that the same can be said of positive anticipation.

Gretchen Rubin, author of 'The Happiness Project', defines the four stages of happiness (in the same way Kublher-Ross defined the stages of grief) as anticipate, savour, express, reflect.

There are many reasons why this anticipate stage is so important.

Firstly, an important thing to know about happy people is not necessarily that they have more happiness, but that they both notice it and make more of it. One of the best ways to get more happy is to a) notice it more and b) eek it out and amplify it as much as possible.

So, looking forward to, or anticipating something is an excellent way of squeezing more happiness out of something.  Every time you think about what's coming up you experience a little tingle of excitement and all these little tingles contribute to our overall sense of wellbeing. This works in the same way as talking over an event after it has happened, reliving memories, looking back over old photographs of good times and recounting what we're grateful for.  They're all about savouring, and savouring is key

BUT, with one added benefit. Anticipation has one over on reflection, and it's called imagination.

Our imagination is a powerful thing. I can prove it. Imagine your perfect holiday. Picture it, put yourself there. What can you hear? What can you see? Smell? How does it feel?

Notice I didn't say "imagine you're lying on a pure white beach with a beautiful turquoise sea lapping at your feet". That's because everybody's ideal is different and your imagination is far more powerful than any words I could write. So before you've even been on that holiday your imagination is conjuring up your most ideal perfect version of it for you to look forward to.

It doesn't even have to be something as exciting as a holiday. Imagine you have a lemon. Imagine cutting into the lemon and then squeezing it and dripping some of the juice onto your tongue.  If you do imagine that, you'll probably notice your mouth filing up with saliva. That's because just imagining and thinking about something, anticipating it, lights up the same bits of your brain as actually doing it.

Anticipation is so powerful a tool, in fact, that it often forms part of therapy, especially with those people who have no particular routine and nothing to speak of to look forward to. The recommendation would be to get a diary and go through it putting in some little things to look forward to. It doesn't matter what as long as it's something they will enjoy. Going for a walk, having a bath, reading a good book. 

For the same reason it can be a useful tool when we've got something a bit grotty coming up that we're not looking forward to. One strategy I learnt on an NLP course a few years ago for dealing with the dread of, say, a big presentation was to focus on the moment straight after the presentation and the relief/high you'd feel when it was over rather than the fear/panic you'd feel just before going on. But a positive psychology course I went on run by The Happiness Consultancy went one step further and suggested 'planting little treats' to come after a yukky time to help you 'see beyond the wall' of that yukky thing coming up.

In fact, we use anticipation strategies all the time without really realising we're doing it. Advent calendars are a great example and a much better lesson in happiness with their little by little building up to the big day approach, than Christmas morning itself with its big frenzy of present opening all in one go.  Unless of course the presents are tickets to an event later in the year you can look forward to.  TV cliff hangers work in the same way, as does delayed gratification which, generally speaking, has been linked with a whole host of positive outcomes.

So, on the most part, anticipation is a jolly good thing and something we can all take advantage of to maximise the happy.

But I do feel I should just mention a few caveats.

1. Firstly, we are known to a be a bit rubbish at judging how happy something is going to make us feel. That, coupled with our vivid imaginations and all this anticipating can sometimes leave us a little disappointed with the event itself.  But given we also adapt pretty quickly, I'm sure we'll get over it.

2. Adaptation is also a bit of a theme when it comes to anticipation. There is another cycle whereby we anticipate a big change coming, it arrives, we adapt to it and it becomes normal so then we anticipate the next big thing, adapt, normalise, anticipate etc. In other words, a vicious circle where we never really reach 'happy' because we keep anticipating the next big thing instead of just being happy with where we are now.

3. While we're so busy anticipating and looking forward to whatever it is we've got planned tomorrow, next week or whatever, we could be in danger of missing out on today...commonly known as 'wishing your life away'

So, anticipation is an excellent tool, used wisely and mindfully. Here are three simple strategies we can all use
to make the most of it to eek out the most happiness:
1. Plan things to look forward to in your diary, even silly little things and flick through it often
2. Plant little treats to come after stuff you're not looking forward to
3. Chat over things you're looking forward to in the same way you might reminisce with friends and family

And the good news? You've got 26 more days of #HappinessHappens Month to look forward to and get practising :)