How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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Desires? Moi?

 

 

 

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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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Would you be happier if you won the lottery?

 

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Apparently, lottery winners tend not to report themselves any happier ten years down the line.  In fact, within just three months of a significant lottery win, statistics show we return to the level of happiness we had before.

Oh dear.

Do I buy that ticket, then, or not bother?

Well, buying a ticket is our way of putting our hand up; “yes please, I’d like to be happier”.  No harm in that, aiming for happiness.  We all want to be happy.

You’re right.  But I’m sure I’d be happier if I won just a bit. Enough to pay off the mortgage, or get a deposit on a house.  That would do it.  I could relax a bit.

Sounds good, I agree.  I met a man once who did just that, and bought an extra field and a horse.  He took his horse and a cart around the village every day after that, and was very happy.  A simple life.  That’s all he wanted.

Cool.  But didn’t he want anything else?

No, he was happy enough.  He’d lived in the village all his life, with his family and friends.  That was enough for him.

There you are then.  You only need a bit.

Yes, but how much is a bit?  I met another man who had won £2,000.  “Lucky you”, I said.

“No, he complained.  It’s a kick in the teeth, £2k.  What can I do with that?  That’s only enough to keep the wife happy for a couple of weeks”.

“A kick in the teeth?”

“Too right.  I’d rather not have won anything”

“But for some people that’s life changing.  They could buy a car which could get them a job”.

“Yeah right”.

OK I get your point.  If you’re miserable by nature perhaps money can’t help.  But that was only £2,000.  The other guy obviously got more.

He did.  He won £80,000 in a syndicate win with his friends.  But I got the feeling that the first would have very happy with an extra £2,000, and the second probably wouldn’t have been any happier with the jackpot win.  It’s just the way they were.

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Is that it, then?  Just the way we are?

I think so.  It’s nice to think that a magic ticket would change our level of happiness just like that.  But imagine… say you got your gold lamborghini, did your round-the-world-trip, bought your dream house and had champagne for breakfast.  Six months later you’re sitting in your dream kitchen and your champagne breakfast is nice, granted, but it doesn’t have the same wow-factor that it did the first week. And you realise that breakfast is breakfast, wherever you are, and you are still the same you.  You might have a touch more tan and whiter teeth, but you’re still the same underneath.  The only difference might be that you’ve nothing left to dream about because, frankly, you’ve done it.  So what now?  What’s left?

Another holiday?

And then?  That’s the trouble; we keep chasing our tails.  Once we’ve got something, we want the next fix.  It’s like an addiction.  A habit we’ve got ourselves into, that we all subscribe to.  We link money with happiness without thinking.  Our whole society’s bound up in it.  Ultimately, money fails us on a personal level.

Point taken.  But I could give some to my friends, too.  That would be nice.  And some to charity.  It’s not all bad.  A few million could go a long way!

Yes, altruism is certainly a contributor to personal happiness.  Giving is good.

But lottery winners get hassled, don’t they?  Everyone asking for money.  And working out how to distribute it.  That’s a big responsibility.  Hard to do the right thing.

Sure, there’s a lot of thinking to be done.  And a lot of discernment.  Working out who’s genuinely motivated, where best to focus your money, all those things.  Not a bad problem though.  Not if you can do good with it.

A tough one, though.  You could lose a lot of friends and be left very untrusting.

Yes, it happens.  And our friends are one of our primary ingredients for happiness.  So it can be a major loss.  Being without friends can make us more unhappy than we were before, very quickly.  We’re social beings.

It’s not looking quite so attractive, winning the lottery…

Well, there’s a lot of good that can come of it.  But as superman said, with great power comes great responsibility….

Maybe it’s responsibility we should be working on, then.  You don’t need money for that.  And friendships.  Friends are free.

Not a bad idea.  We could put the money we saved on tickets towards self-help books to share with friends.  A self-help library!  Then we might not feel the need for a ticket! 🙂

Is that the answer, do you think?  Work collaboratively with our friends towards a happier society?

Funnily enough, they’ve been doing that in Bhutan since 1972.  They made ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ a priority above economic wealth.

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You’re kidding!  For real?

Yes, and they’re officially the happiest country in the world (the UK is about halfway in world ratings).

Why can’t we do that?

Why indeed…  Here’s the World Happiness Report, compiled in 2013 by Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs. Their aims are to end extreme poverty, achieve environmental sustainability, embrace social inclusion and operate under good government. Maybe you could use your lottery winnings to propel these aims?

Good idea, if I win.  But I’ll start at the source.  I’ll think more carefully about what makes me happy every day, and make sure those things feature regularly in my life.  Friends, yoga, walking, making cakes… all that stuff…. perhaps I’m happier than I thought!

 


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Why we need to say small things

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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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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.’

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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

 

 

 

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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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How to respond nicely to an aggressive encounter (forgive me, I couldn’t help it)

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Dear _____

It was good to see you in the corridor the other day. Sorry I didn’t have chance to say hello before you shouted at me.

I do appreciate just how cross you were that my eleven year old son and his friends woke you when they came up the stairs at 5 30 from their camping expedition in the garden. It is a shame that the sun rises so early in the summer and they felt compelled to get up and dressed.  When I offered advance warning of his birthday party and said they might come upstairs in the night for the toilet, or if they were scared, I hadn’t considered this scenario.  I do apologise.

When I said they were nice boys (all five of them) I sincerely believed it. I fully understand from your comments that this is not the case. Clearly nice 11 year olds do not jump on stairways. However I am immensely relieved that no other residents heard this atrocious behaviour.  Again, please accept my apologies.

It was lovely how so many residents (some I’d never met before) expressed how delighted they were to see the little camp hidden under the willow tree.  One even said how relieved he was, as he felt he’d made the wrong move coming here. I felt truly welcomed by this and other positive responses. It was encouraging that others share my belief that children should enjoy the freedom of a night in the garden.  It is such a dream spot, under the willow tree by the brook.  I had it in mind that all the boys would treasure such an experience. Especially being woken by a snuffling badger – how rare that must be these days!  Perhaps it was selfish of me.

On a minor note, I hope you will not be offended by a positive suggestion.  I generally find it helpful, in unexpected meetings, to offer a positive greeting before any grievances are unleashed to those clearly unknowing of a situation. Luckily I am fairly perceptive and was able to perceive how aggrieved you were by your face and gesticulations.  Not everyone is so fortunate, and others less sensitive might have felt threatened by the unusual volume .  I do apologise for my response, but I was caught off-guard by your assertion that placing a tyre swing under the tree has brought ‘undersirables’ to the area.

I’m relieved that, like me, other residents haven’t noticed any such types around.  This is puzzling as unlike you my balcony overlooks the tree.  I have been pleased on 3 occasions to see families on the swing (once with the grandparents taking photos) and I did once see two men who I mistook for the tree surgeons. It turned out one had brought his friend to see the spot, as he had fished there frequently as a boy and loved it so much, which was nice. I am sure you were trying not to worry me but If you do see more ‘undesirable’ types, I would consider it a neighbourly gesture if you could warn me.  Meanwhile I am sure you are right that they are being drawn by the swing, although it’s not visible until you’re under the canopy, and so I will of course remove it.

This is such a lovely secluded spot and my boys regularly remark on how lucky we are.  I had thought it a positive thing to encourage my children to enjoy the tree and the wildlife it brings.  We all share such a delight when the heron visits.  I hadn’t considered that locating a swing wouldn’t be a good idea, but perhaps they should just watch the squirrels from the balcony in future.

I do hope we can continue to maintain a good relationship and put this behind us.  Do feel free to say ‘hello’ any time.

Warm regards, Jane

PS I had considered putting a table and chairs under the tree for residents to share tea and a chat.  Would this be a bad idea, do you think?

 

Grrrrr 🙂