How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


Why we need to say small things


Here’s an account of a chance introductory encounter between two economists and a dentist, from Nick Powdthavee’s book ‘The Happiness Equation’.  It’s a small mind-blower:

‘So tell me, are you happy being a dentist?’

‘Happy? I’m miserable as a dentist’, replied the man.  

Chuck smiled to himself.  ‘What? If you’re so unhappy, why on earth did you choose to become a dentist in the first place?’

I didn’t choose to become a dentist.’ The man took another swig of his drink before delivering the final hammer blow. ‘Its that stupid kid eighteen years ago that chose to become a dentist. Not me.’

Here’s the thing; as children we go about growing up. Much of that process is working out who we are. We find out what we like. We search for what we’re good at, and we use that information to form our habits. And that’s where we start messing up, because we look for external indicators. We watch our mum, dad, teachers and friends to see where our talents lie (we’ve not been on this planet long, so it makes perfect sense). We listen, and form our self-view; I’m this and that. I’m not that. If I work hard I could be this…ok I’ll do that. We move from I-like-animals to she-thinks-I-like-animals to I’d-make-a-good-vet.

Job done.  I’m a vet.  Or a dentist.

All from what we perceive others can see in us. It’s all perception. And perception is as tenuous as the wind.

This week was a small mind-blower for me.  I don’t promote my blogs on facebook (I forayed.  It felt wrong).  But my friend Tony did for a recent post, and two others took up the mantle.  It blew me away.  The icing on the cake was a beautiful, generous comment a friend added, that came from nowhere and left me standing gob-smacked with my shoes half a kilometre on the road behind me.

I had no idea she ever reads my posts because, as she said, she hadn’t ever commented.

That’s the thing.  We don’t know, because we don’t say.  But the things we don’t say could have been the things that make the enormous difference; the things that take people off the path of being a dentist and on to the path of being a trapeze artist, or economist.  The small comments that can take our breath away.

Thank you so much Claire.  Thank you Charlie, Laura and Tony.  It makes all the difference.  And that’s well worth sharing 🙂

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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.


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30 secrets for starters..

here's a secret..

here’s a secret..

Occasionally it helps to write things down. These are reminders.

  1. Find out who you are.
  2. Say thank you. And mean it.
  3. Parents are just people in disguise.
  4. Giving is really important.
  5. It’s up to you. No excuses.
  6. Ask. Learn. Be smart.
  7. Redefine problems.  There are challenges, obstacles, blocks, surmountables, learning curves, new experiences, growth curves, different viewpoints.. all these are positives. Choose one of these instead of a problem.  Much nicer.
  8. Friends are family you’ve chosen yourself.  Let them know you value them.
  9. Expect more from yourself than from others.
  10. Grace is seriously underrated.
  11. Think big.
  12. Learn when to shut up.
  13. Don’t wait for others. Get on with it.
  14. Exercise is key. Walk to the shops.
  15. Your mum was right about food. Eat well.
  16. You are really, really amazing. Honestly.
  17. There’s always help.
  18. Asking for advice is a good move. But you don’t have to act on it.
  19. Look people in the eye and smile.
  20. You have one mouth and two ears. Use them in that proportion.
  21. There’s always a way.
  22. Don’t wait for others to invite you. Call them.
  23. Everything’s connected.
  24. Learn the difference between belief and focussing.
  25. Staying in bed solves nothing.
  26. Go one step at a time, all the time.
  27. Think first (your actions might bite you on the bum one day)
  28. Other people notice.
  29. Greetings are important.
  30. So are goodbyes.

That’s just a few. Do share yours.

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The grumpy guide to happy food


Many of my best memories are butter-fed.

Gigantic foil-wrapped potatoes, baked in the fire embers all evening until singed,  burst open symbolically with a deep cross-cut and excitedly stuffed with slatherings of Slightly salted. Bliss. (Years later, at uni, I had my first and last microwave-baked potato. Stunned by its fibrous texture and thick odourless flesh, I developed an immediate, irreversible aversion to the appliance). Dad’s egg sarnies, delivered with love for Sunday tea, were legendary. Thick fresh bread, soft yellow, melt-in-your-mouth. Made as the sun went down over the church, somehow a little of its warmth fell into the filling. Unbeatable. Even mums charcoaled toast was made delightful by the boats of butter that swam on the surface.

Somehow butter, custard, egg, yellow, sun and happiness all became an infused entity. Just as deep green foods to me represent calm and sustenance, and pink foods (beet root, tomato, red cabbage, onion) warmth and vibrancy. It’s a colour thing.

Never margarine. Not ever. Not in our house. Our food was resolutely wholesome, homemade, local, thoughtfully cooked and presented. Mum knew food mattered. Wonder products and cholesterol threats come and go. Good food and margarine didn’t couple easily.

Do anybody’s eyes light up at the sight of toast dripping with insipid marg? I don’t think so. If food doesn’t make you happy (the sight, the smell, the look and the taste) then in my book, it can’t be good for you The proof is in the pudding. If it tastes good, and delivers beyond its promise, then it’s good food. Job done. (Clearly there’s no scientific substance behind my theory. I simply uphold a suspicion that if what goes in makes you happy, it must be good for you).

Does that mean I should consume shed loads of chocolate and marzipan?

On one level, perhaps but Ive tried it and the result wasn’t happiness, not even the second or third time. No, experience tells me that a small amount of fabulous food is, simply, fabulous. More of the same isn’t more fabulous, or fabulous-er. in fact it makes you feel sick. Nothing fabulous about that.

A thin square of dark chocolate, then. Just the one; eyed with pleasure and expectation, experienced with the nose, melting on the tongue, savoured.

That to me is happiness. And I know (though I’m still not wise enough to follow) that a second piece only brings nostalgia of the first. Nothing beats the first sip of Baileys at Christmas, the first crunch of roast potato. Subsequent helpings are simply a clamour for a repeat hit of joy. It never comes.

Moderation, then. Lovely food, small helpings, enjoyed and appreciated.

This week I’m elated. I’m vindicated. It’s official: Butter is good. Not only that, but it seems that exercise isn’t the key to good health after all. Food is.


I wouldn’t uphold for a minute that exercise isn’t good for you. I know that my 15 minute cycle ride into town leaves me happier, stronger, and flatter-stomached. Again, moderation. I’ve no desire to do the Tour de France, and I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t make me all that much happier. Being fit is good. Super-fit just doesn’t seem necessary or desirable.

It’s tiresome, all this coming and going. Jumping from one uncertainty to the next, one fad to another. Are we looking at things from the wrong angle?

Instead of cholesterol levels, calorie intake, fibre quantity, in a culture that has the enormous good fortune to be able to do so, shouldn’t we be concentrating on enjoying food that is very simply delicious? Food that makes us happy? Have we forgotten how to celebrate? Is it taboo to enjoy taste?

I’m on a campaign to love food, and be thankful for it. I didn’t ‘get’ saying grace as a child, but I do now. I’m thankful for avocados, pineapples, mangos and fresh peas. I’m thankful for lime, coriander, mint and nutmeg. I’m gloriously thankful for raw chocolate, raspberries, blueberries and emmental.

But I’ll pass on the margarine, thanks. And you can keep the microwave, I’ve no need of one. Ever.



‘Proper’ info on happiness boosting foods available here:



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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.


Hmmmm. Happiness..


I like this.

Often we think of happiness as something that’s out there to be got. Something elusive and evasive. Something others have and we deserve.

Nobody has a right to happiness.

What we should have, though, is the freedom to make our own choices. And it’s choices that bring happiness.

We learn what works. What brings us together. What feeds our soul. What makes us smile.

We are all responsible for our own happiness. No-one can do it for us. Others can show the way, sharing opportunities, actions and fortunes, but ultimately our happiness is self made.

The Dalai Lama attributes gratitude and altruism as primary source of happiness. No-one else can feel grateful or give on your behalf, or mine.

I guess he’s looking straight at me. Another pointer on the road. Hmmm.