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.




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 🙂


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.


this is a truth


All my life I’ve had the uncomfortable feeling that I never really knew what was going on.

Instead of  dissipating, (which I hoped/ expected to be the case), the further I progress along the mortal coil, the more this observation holds.  In fact there’s a recognition of such massive complexities around me that any given situation seems so far beyond comprehension or opinion as to be almost out the other side.

The enormities of my un-knowing have reached so far that I stopped watching the news several years ago.  Now it seems radio too is so steeped in judgement that all I pick up is the judgement itself, and not the content.  So again, I reach for the ‘off’ button.

Conversation on current affairs sees me backing into corners.  Asked for an opinion, all I can offer is ‘it’s more complicated than that’.  Because I know it is.  There are truths, more truths, individual and collective truths.  And all the feeding and steering in between, that we participate in and strengthen with each opinion voiced.

I’m conscious that this could sound like an anti-propaganda rant; an anti-them, us-against-the-state stream of bitterness.  But it’s not that.

I’m looking at the judgement we seem to enjoy so greatly.

How would it look if our urgency to express an opinion, to belong in a camp of thought, to be on this side or that, wasn’t such a driving force?  I’ll bet the content of articles on our news programmes would change.  It seems to me that each news article exists primarily to create judgement, to generate strong feeling.  And I suspect that without this driving force, the programmes might disappear altogether.  I wonder.

My son is saturating himself with history.  He knows so much about world war 2.  More, and differently, I suspect, than those who participated in much of it.  How confusing that must be to them.  We talk about war crimes.  We discuss judgement, and punishment.  The need people have to punish for a crime committed in a different time, a different place, an altogether different set up, that we really can’t comprehend, in the here and now.

I wonder about that.

I wonder if the reason we object so strongly call so vehemently, isn’t purely the fight to have one’s opinions venerated and accepted.  And if it has anything at all to do with the crime itself.

I hear there’s a Buddhist philosophy of ‘no blame’.

I like that.  No blame.  If we removed blame, what are we left with?  A little empathy, perhaps, some compassion, an effort to understand, to deal with, to mend, learn, and grow?  Is that really so scary?

I don’t know.  I know less and less.  But it’s worth considering.



More ‘out’ than ‘in’

Some days things hurt a bit.

On those days it’s good to look out the window , beyond yourself.


Knowing yourself is a really good thing. If you don’t know and accept who you are, you can’t move forward. Knowing yourself is one of the key things needed to be happy. you can’t be authentic if you don’t know who you are.

That doesn’t mean you have to stay being that definition. We’re not static beings, and we need to grow. Personal growth is a key element of happiness too.

But just as it’s good to know yourself, too much looking inward can tie us in knots. In can isolate us, and we’re social beings. It can distort our perspective. Writers and musicians are highly prone to depression, and it’s easy to see why. We need to watch out.

Watch out, not in.

When we’re preoccupied with not receiving enough, we need to exercise our own giving. When we’re focussed on being poor, we could be grateful for what we have. You know the story. Turn it round. Get outside. See real people around you. Let the grumpy faces be a lesson and the smiling ones inspiration. Exercise your own smile. Practice your outness.

You’ll be glad you did.

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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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You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…

I confess. I’ve been lamenting.

I’m pretty good at focussing. I’m not a dynamic whirlwind of materialisation like my friend Tamsin, who can manifest a second house by the sea, move internal walls to create spaces where none ever existed and organise a party for her inlaw nephews and nieces – all 13 of them – whilst smoking a roll-up and downing a tumbler of Shiraz. That may be my aspiration (and she’s an excellent role model) but I’m not there yet. I get stuff done though. I move forward. I tick boxes and enjoy accomplishments. Life’s there to push against, to find what you’re made of.

But I lament nonetheless. I lament the dreams I held as feasible goals, that now seem less so.

In my head are telling fragments of lyrics (I’m not clever enough to pinpoint my moods without internal prompts);

This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife……………. my God! How did I get here?’ (Remember that? Talking Heads).

And on my iPad, 5 open tabs brandish my state of mind:

  1. 5 bedroom riad in Marrakech (my most extreme vision)
  2. 3 bedroom riad in Fez (there’s some flexibility.  Not much, but some)
  3. My local used car dealer ( my car broke down irrevocably today. RIP car. ‘Oh dear’ says bank account)
  4. Youtube (for complimentary inspiration and distraction)
  5. This one. Edit Post. Which could be a metaphor for my life at this point (any point, if I’m being philosophical).

A clear demonstration of goals and reality at odds.

I’m a great one for advocating steering our own ship, or we end up in the wrong harbour. But I wonder sometimes: are dreams really our raisin d’être, or are they just a habit, an idealised form of a vision we had when, let’s face it, we had a very small view of what life was, what humanity is, how people behave and what formulated beauty?

I don’t know. I’m simply pondering.

But what if the vision you had, the one you strive for and value, the thing you seek, the thing that gives you purpose and drive, isn’t actually what is good for you? What if your desert island proved an unbearably lonely place? What if Tamsin gets burnt out by her efforts? And isn’t that why some of us just keep on pursuing the wrong partners, to the exasperation of our friends?

What’s more important? The beautiful pursuit of a dream and accomplishment if our life’s purpose, or the pursuit of reality and accomplishment of a life understood?

You tell me.

Here’s the Rolling Stones from 1969 with a silver lining on the subject.  Wise young sages they were.