How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it

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Desires? Moi?





There’s a message in my inbox.  ‘Submit to your desires, Jane’ it says.  (I’m not kidding).

Ooh, I thought.  (What else could I think?) A melty feeling washed over me.  Nice.  I watched it doing it’s melty thing, recognising an unusual experience.  And in recognising it, the thought came in; ‘what desires?’

The thing is, as nice as the thought of submitting to them was, in that moment I didn’t actually have any.  I was desire-less.

It was beautiful.

Last year my values became my motto.  Authenticity and simplicity.  I’m aware it could sound pompous and lofty, but it works.  When I’m not sure, I go back to it.  I test my thoughts (my wants, generally) against it to see where they fit.

I’m a shopper, hands up.  I was trained by shoppers disguised as bargain-hunters (now there’s a skilful deception) and I’m left with a trolley-load of meshed consumer habits to unload.  I’m skilled and abhorrent about shopping.  It’s a tough life. A day shopping could feed a month in therapy for me.  But ‘authenticity and simplicity’ sorts the men from the boys.  It’s put the brakes on. It’s given me space.  Sure, old habits die hard.  But I see them for what they are, at least.  It’s a relief to walk away.

I have no idea what the content of that email was.  Or who it was from.  Some gifts are best left unopened so I pressed delete and sent it packing.  On this occasion, no content could have exceeded the packaging.  I’m a grateful receiver of a large slice of wrapped space with a label attached, like an illustration from Alice in Wonderland.  A sensual reminder of how stuff consumes me and how not pandering to it leaves space for a whole lot of other stuff, of a much better kind.



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Heroes, powers, and 7 billion ways of seeing.

“Mum”, Daniel asked me, “If you could be any superhero, which would you be?”

“Wonderwoman darling, obviously”

“I knew you’d say that.  And what superpower would you have?”

Good question.

“I’d have the ability to read people’s minds”.

“Why’s that?”

“Because then I’d understand how people worked.  I’d know how to talk to them.  Learning how people think differently helps you look at things in different ways.  And it would teach me how to help other people consider how they are approaching things too. Also, I’d know who to be scared of and who not to be scared of.  Which is a good thing if you’re a superhero.  It saves time.”

I didn’t need to ask Daniel who he would be.  It’s Bear Grylls.


I passed the superpower question to Paul.

“Time travel.  That would be mine.  Seeing comparisons gives opportunity for reflection.”

“To increase your sense of gratitude?”


“You don’t need to time travel for that.  Any sort of travelling brings that awareness.”


It’s not rocket science.



Don’t wish you did it. Do it.

Once my house was broken into. They took the kids’ DVDs, rifled through my underwear drawers looking for cash (none found, obviously) and through my jewellery box. None taken.

They made a mistake there, because amongst my small collection of insanely cheap jewellery that no one but I would choose, lurked the valuable gold charm bracelet my great aunt left to me.

Aunty Win was my godmother and a very special lady. She was tiny and twinkly-eyed, with a false hair-piece and a black poodle. She loved a cocktail and had a wicked, ready and throaty laugh. The kind you don’t hear any more.

When I wear the bracelet I can see and hear her.  The charms are tokens from Uncle Frank and keepsakes from exotic travels. Her life.  There were five unattached charms when I inherited it.  My friend Matt, a goldsmith, added them for me.  My present to Aunty Win; an intention completed.  A thank you, for a beautiful gift and a beautiful person known.

There are two other pieces I value.  One is my own silver charm bracelet, given to me when I was eight with a solitary St Christopher charm.  Over the years others were added from holidays with my parents, birthday gifts.  They are tiny.  Running my fingers over them each one has a familiarity and a story that makes it feel huge.  Each is a small world within my life.  They evoke rooms, smells, events. When I wear it a soft tinkle accompanies me. The weight of it reassures.

I used to wear it every day. But the safety chain broke, and a charm fell off.  It seemed tired.  So I returned it to the box with an intention.

The other is a silver bracelet I made as a student 25 years ago. My friends still remember the sound of the saw I used to shape it. It’s a distinctive, weighty piece and the only remaining piece of silverware I made. It looks good with black and gives me a sense of my skills, resourcefulness and creativity. I feel taller when I wear it.  The design is asymmetric and one piece is very slender. A few years ago it wore through, and was also resigned to the box.

Last week I passed a jewellers. I’m not one to spend out on items, but was conscious of the absence of specialness. Time, perhaps, for something new. A treat.

I let the thought sit.

It sat.

Today I called in on my friend Matt. I collected a beautifully shiny hoard of silver; a bundle of trinkets assembled on a simple chain, and a smart, proud bangle beautifully resurrected and polished.

It cost a fraction of what I’d anticipated to be mended, and I have a priceless gift in return. My bracelet is back on my wrist, and I can stroke the charms with my fingers as I walk. My whole life revisited, brand new.  And a magical tinkle to boot.

Intentions are only that, until they’re actioned.

Things are really just things, but small actions can resurrect lives.

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A very Sunday post….


This is so true, isn’t it? It reminds me that we really are capable of moving through our difficulties and beyond. Once we’re at that point, the former fades away. All that angst, all those tears…gone. Passed through, into the new.

That line in Desiderata by Max Ehrmann;

“Avoid loud and aggressive people, they are vexatious to the spirit”

Too true. We always have choice, and that includes the company we keep. Some are so busy appearing to help us. Those that help us, nurture us, care for our hearts and our thoughts; they’re the ones to value and hold close.

Here’s to good people. I hope you find them, and they find you.


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Don’t hold on too tight


You need only look at the history of medicine (for one) to recognise the profound truth of this statement.

Things change, minute by minute. You and I included. But knowing that we are very likely to be proved wrong in the future doesn’t always stop us spouting off. Sometimes my arrogance can shock me. It dances on my tongue and there it is, a rabble of unleashed words and statements freshly laundered from my ego.

If my memory was half-decent, I’d hope it could present this quote before my next outpouring. If it did, I’d be enormously grateful.

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Smoke, mirrors and the short path to happiness


Seeing this reminded me of a study published years ago.  When asked what they would change about their appearance, over and again people really only wanted to change minor things; the line of their nose, a freckle, hair texture.  In all, despite our general perception that people were unhappy with their appearance they were in fact quite happy.  Their self-image was familiar and reassuring. They felt ok. They were happy.

We might be fed too much by the media. There might be fashions of body type. We might feel undertanned. But things pass and trends change. Ultimately, our faces and bodies tell our stories. That pleases us. We are confirmed.

For most of us, the vision of true happiness is only a small shift away; a slightly better car, another bedroom, a more interesting view.  On the whole, we are happy with our lot. Especially if we have friends or family around us.

My hair’s never behaved itself, but when I look back at old photos I’m surprised at how good it looked. A reminder that today’s less-than-perfect present will one day provide glossy nostalgia. Sometimes it takes the passage of time to reveal the perfection of the present.

Perhaps in time I’ll reconcile that understanding, and learn to sustain the art of mindful awareness.

True happiness isn’t far away. Just a blink of the mind’s eye. Just a smile in the mirror, and maybe at a pinch a short trip to Paris.



Does happiness grow on trees?

money-treeA few days ago my youngest said to me “Mum, I’m glad we’re not poor”. I think that’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever heard (aside from him saying “Mum, why do people write diaries? Why don’t they just tell their mums instead?”).

It resonated because I’m one of those people who grew up hearing ” money doesn’t grow on trees”.

In reality, I’m a single mum and whilst I’m creative, conscientious and hardworking we actually don’t have much cash. Our lifestyle is very simple, and we’re fairly solitary. I don’t buy much for them and we don’t go overseas for our holidays. In fact we don’t do much at all!

But when things come up at school or clubs I always ask if they are interested and if so I pay up, no question. (After all, paying for one child to go to France is cheaper than all 3 of us going, so I’m grateful). The upshot of that is that they don’t feel guilty, and they feel they can have what they want. Somehow, despite my frugal economics, they feel they’re living the life they want to lead. And I hope this will see them into a positive relationship with money, not an anxious one.

There are habits around money I’d like to teach them; looking after the pennies, and staying aware of debt, but if they learn these in an atmosphere of clarity and confidence I will be happy.  Meanwhile they’re forming the habit of not having new stuff all the time, and recognising that, actually, they have everything they need, and there’s not much they want either.

It’s difficult to shed messages that cloak every desire for growth with guilt. I’m still battling with it, and struggle with every purchase. If that pattern stops with me, I can pat myself on the back. For now I’m delighted that my son doesn’t feel impoverished, and feels secure in the world.