How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


How our thoughts define our experience

F.E.A.R.  False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s a helpful tool at times, when our minds take us to scary places.

Stories can be great illuminators too. Here’s a lovely one to illustrate how our thoughts can affect our everyday lives.  And I do mean every day. You may have heard it before.  This version is from Philippa Perry.  I like Philippa, not least because she’s married to Grayson.  It’s from her book How to Stay Sane, a pocket-sized jewel.

The Jack Story

The deserts of America are lonely places; miles can go by without any other cars or a single house.  In one of these wildernesses a driver heard his tyre blow.  He was more annoyed than worried, knowing that he kept a spare tyre and a jack in his car boot.  Then he remembered; he got the jack out last week and forgot to put it back.  He had no jack.  But things could be worse, because he passed a garage about three miles back.  As he started walking, he talked to himself: ‘There aren’t any other garages around here.  I’m at the garage man’s mercy.  He could really rip me off just for lending me a jack.  He could charge me what he wanted.  He could charge $50.  There is nothing I could do about it.  Goddamn, he could even charge $150.  People are terrible to take advantage of others like that.  Hell, what bastards people are.’ He continued absentmindedly telling himself this story until he got to the garage.  The attendant came out and said in a friendly way “How can I help you?” and the traveller said “You can take your damned jack and you can stuff it.’


We all carry personal versions of this story with us.  The trick is to recognise them when they rear their heads.  If we did, the world we experience could be a very different place.

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reviewing the curriculum





I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t tough enough.  I came across as being very student centred (tick) very approachable (tick) with excellent ideas about well-being and aspiration (tick) but just not tough enough in the discipline department. I concur. Fair cop. In my world, a good mentor doesn’t need a whip.  They inspire.

What’s interesting is that this was advertised as a mentoring post, in a UK secondary school.  They were clearly making good progress in student support – but as they said, they were fire-fighting. And as the appointed mentor in the sister post confided, they don’t do much mentoring.  It’s disciplining.

That’s what we do, it seems.  In crude terms, we sit on students to get them through to the end.  In this case what the school wanted was someone who could do that with a friendly face.  Someone to sit on the students whilst smiling.

Is it me, or is there something missing?

The Donaldson report on education in Wales wants to see six areas of learning and experience embedded into the curriculum: expressive arts and health and well-being are two of them.  Funny that; I seem to remember Sir Ken Robinson’s report on the Arts in Schools, when I was training way back in the late 80s, recommended much the same thing. Round and round we go.

At least there’s a recognition out there.  At least schools and heads want to see student welfare being prioritised.  But we’re not there yet on the implementation front. Nearly, but not quite.

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A beautiful story about love, time, and spoons

In Africa I learnt how ancestors live on until their name is forgotten, which resonated with me.  This story is by Philippa Perry, with a similar theme.  I’ve lifted it word for word from her gorgeous book ‘How to Stay Sane’ published as part of a series by the School of Life.  It’s my kind of story, now shared 🙂 I hope you like it.

My Wooden Spoon

I sometimes look at a busy street and think: in a hundred years, we will all be dead.  On this same street a hundred years ago, perhaps another woman thought the same thing.  Perhaps, however, like me, she consoled herself with the thought that love is generative and lives on in the next generation, passed on in the habits of love we inculcate in our pupils, children and friends.  I have my late aunt’s paintings around me, my late mother’s ring on my finger and her words inside me still urging me to tell my daughter to ‘be careful’ every time she leaves the house.  My grandfather’s gruff sarcasm lives on in my father and in me, so he is not really dead.  When my daughter lays out a sewing pattern, my fondness for needlework lives on in her.

This deeply moving process, that connects human to human in a cascade of memory passing through generations, can be symbolised by particular objects that are passed down along with the knowledge of our ancestors.  I am the proud owner of a wooden spoon that is worn into an un-spoonlike stump.  In the pre-electric whisk days of the 1960s, my aunt taught me to cream the butter and sugar for a cake mixture; we always used the same spoon.  Even then the spoon was worn out.  My aunt had, in her turn, used it as a child.  I use a whisk now; but the sight of that spoon in the drawer brings tears to my eyes if it catches me unawares on an hormonal day.  My aunt will be forgotten eventually; my daughter will teach her own children to make cakes.  Along with cake recipes she will pass down the love I received first from my aunt.  Oh yes, my aunt will live on, even if her name gets mentioned less and less and her spoon is thrown away.


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The fundamental truth to remember

more I’ve been mulling. In essence this is what I’ve been mulling about, primarily, for a long time. The more I consider it, the further it takes me into other areas of my life (the nature of love, the meaning of humanity, the function of creativity…) and I need to work on how to systematically convey these relationships. Writing helps give clarity and a sense of purpose and, most importantly, sharing.

Happiness isn’t something we tend to examine too clearly. We hold assumptions about happiness, but we don’t look at them all that hard. I wonder why?

A friend looked shocked the other day when I stated my belief that philosophy should be a fundamental building block of the school curriculum. And her response shocked me. Philosophy has historically been intrinsically linked with education. A base pulse of humanity. Why do we consider it a redundant or indulgent element now? Surely we need to consider what it is to be human to ascertain what makes us happy? Without questioning, we’d all be seeking to fulfil our surface desires, and not our true ones. Base happiness rather than fulfilment.

My son is choosing his options for GCSE. At a recent meeting for parents of other 14 year olds making their choices, the questions ran thus;

Why does my son have to take religious studies?

Why is religious studies compulsory?

Why do they have to do religious studies instead of something useful?

Seriously, most of the questions were along this line. The poor head was batting them off: “We have to… it’s compulsory…it’s required…I’m just doing my job”. Once he said “it’s not just religion…it’s kind of humanistic”. And again “it covers relationships”. My head was in my hands. Can’t he stand up tall, this well-meaning man, and say what he means? Can’t he defend the educationalist passion within, to strive for the best?

Do  I, though? Do we, generally? Just how much do we tow the line, and pay lip service to our true values, our true beliefs about what it is/ could be/ should be, to be human? It’s worth looking at.

Keep smiling, dear friends. Keep looking out, and looking in. And do it properly, thoroughly, and with your best and most honest intent. Hold onto your integrity 🙂

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Placing value on improvement

As a teacher, I’m a firm believer in the importance of communicating to children and adults their ability to grow. The baseline of my teaching is that facts, knowledge, perception and perspectives are (and should be) transient, flexible and expansive. And that is the basis of creativity. Awareness brings ideas, which drive humanity and individuals forward.

So here is a talk to share with you. A little piece about a gentle but expansive concept from psychologist and educationalist Carol Dweck; a ‘not yet’ approach to progressive learning. The basis of this is providing motivation through awareness of our ability to improve, that success is a journey. A recognition that goals can take time.  It applies to all of us, and might touch a note with you. I hope you enjoy it.