Friday, 21 June 2013


I like today.

Today I have listened to children chattering and chuckling. I have danced and sung. I have been 'fed' some special new recipe and been asked to walk the plank. I have helped and shared and I have observed. I've been told that 5 and 5 is ten and that the noise inside a seashell is actually the sea. And when it was time for my lunch I was asked if I was going to the mountains. "Why not", I said, "I shall see what I can see."

I didn't quite make it to the mountains, but who needs the mountains? I saw a bumble bee wearing pollen trousers. I saw a kite circling overhead. I saw the sun peeping through the clouds and I heard the jolly little chirruping of the birds in the trees around me. All whilst tasting delicious, sweet mango.

And I sat here and I thought: "I like today".

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Secure your own mask first

Something has been bothering me recently. I've been noticing an ever growing number of a certain type of happiness quotes and posts cropping up.

And whilst overall I most certainly agree with their general gist, I am left feeling a little uncomfortable every time another one (and another one) pops up.

I'm talking about this sort of thing:

"Happiness isn't happiness unless it's shared"

"The point of happiness is to give it away"

"if you want to make yourself happy, make someone else happy"

"spend less time thinking about yourself and more time thinking about others"

I'm paraphrasing but you get the gist.

Now then, these things are all true. To a certain extent.

But a huge, massive, giant part of being happy is all about self.  Looking after yourself, understanding yourself, being kind to yourself, liking yourself, spending time with yourself, giving yourself a break. Understanding what it is that truly makes YOU happy.

One major reason why happiness eludes many of us is because we don't ever put ourselves first.  I worked on an ad campaign several years ago which centred on this very insight. At the time we had some research showing that women, on average across the course of their lives, spend 21 years looking after other people rather than themselves. 21 YEARS! When interviewed they found it nigh on impossible to talk about themselves. Really about themselves - not about their children, work, husband, friends.

One major reason why I set out on this happiness quest of my own was because somewhere along the line I had lost 'me'.

Ok, so both of those facts are only about women but we're not alone!

There's a reason why the safety information on an aeroplane advises we put on our own oxygen masks before helping others.

It's because if we don't look out for and after ourselves we are in absolutely no fit state to even contemplate looking out for and after anybody else.

We owe it to other people to care for ourselves and concern ourselves with our own happiness first and foremost.  It's not selfish, it's just the decent thing to do.

So yes, it is true, that one of the ways to boost happiness is to share and experience it with others. But first it is really important to be able to cultivate it and enjoy it ourselves, in our own company.  There's a quote I love..."if you smile when nobody else is around, you really mean it" (Andy Rooney). Learn to really smile by yourself... and then share it.

And yes, another sure fire way to make yourself happy is to make somebody else happy...but not if by making somebody else happy you are stifling yourself, ignoring your own needs or in some way undermining your own happiness.

I know there are many many general rules of thumb when it comes to happiness and not all of them will work for all of us, that's fine. But this particular flavour of general message, in my opinion, just doesn't sit so well. It needs to come with a little bit more context to be more helpful than potentially harmful. Sometimes it feels as if I'm being told off for wanting my own happiness when I read some of these messages and that absolutely shouldn't be the point.  In fact, one of the very best ways to spread happiness is just to be happy yourself. It's contagious.

So, happiness, yes, do share it, absolutely.

But first make sure you have it to give in the first place.

And whatever you do please don't just give it carelessly away.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Filling the bucket

Everybody has a bucket.

Some buckets are full of joy and happiness. Hobbies and friends. Love and laughter.

They're the lucky ones.

Other buckets are full of sorrow and despair. Bad habits and vicious circles. Clouds and regret.

All our buckets are different  but have one thing in common...they're OUR bucket. Whether we like it or not, we feel quite attached to our bucket.  We feel a bit weird and out of sorts if something goes missing from our bucket, we prefer to keep it full.

So, it's all very well taking the sad and lonely, the negative thinking or even the self medicating out of somebody's bucket...but what does that leave? Not a lot. Those things, as unpleasant and uncomfortable as they are, are what that bucket keeper knows. What they're used to. And without them? Their bucket is empty.

Help someone quit smoking without understanding the underlying cause and it's very likely they'll find a new outlet or vice...I've seen it happen.

Cut out all the junk food and drinking without realising what need it was fulfilling, or finding a healthy new source of pleasure or a satisfying new diet and lifestyle to replace it, and you'll end up feeling deprived and miserable. And reaching for the cake...I'm living proof that it happens. Again. And again

To put it another way: The absence of dis-ease, does not at all guarantee the presence of ease.

Which is, of course, why the very field of positive psychology began.  The whole of psychology, until the positive lot came along, is based on a 'disease' model, occupied with what's wrong with people. With easing hardship and misery. On weakness. On removing pain.

But if all somebody is used to feeling is pain, what are they supposed to feel when the pain is gone?  Is feeling empty supposed to be any better than feeling sad?

Martin Seligman and co. didn't think so. And neither do I.

I absolutely love that positive psychology focuses not on what's wrong with people, but on all that is right with us. Studies not weaknesses but strengths. Focuses not just on removing hardship, but on cultivating happiness to flourish in its place.

the photo that inspired this post
Or in short, positive psychology is all about re-filing that bucket with sunshine once all the muck has been
tipped out.

Identify your muck. Dig it up. Throw it away.

let the sunshine in
But don't stop there.  Don't leave your bucket empty. Once the clouds are gone, work out how to fill your bucket back up, but this time with sunshine. Once you know what that bucket needs, what you need to do, then fill it right up. Right up to the top. And keep on topping it up every chance you get.

Cos every little gap in that sunshine, is room for the muck to seep back in.