How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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For Grandma

I’m choosing some flowers for my Grandma’s funeral.  I’m thinking of Grandma, and looking at photos of arrangements on a website.  None fit.  None are quite….Grandma.

Grandma loved flowers.  She loved vigorous colours; jubilant, tenacious, glorious, audacious.  The bolder the better.  She tolerated sophisticated subtlety, bowing to good taste, but a canary burst of daffodil would really do it for her, or a splurge of violet iris on a dim spring day.  These formulaic wreaths try their best – all good intention – but even the more colourful versions; carnations, iris, yellow roses, don’t have it.  They don’t push through with the sheer joy that pulled Grandma’s heart.  They don’t scream ‘I’m alive, just for a short while, and I’m glorious’, which is what she loved.

My Grandma loved life.  Loved people.  Not just with interest, but with care.  She knew the fragility of their souls and conditions.  She recognised dreams, and wrong turns.  She knew disappointment.  She witnessed mistakes.  Everyone she met, she would soon know.  Asking questions, being interested, caring.  My Grandma was special.

She saw her own failings more than most, and would sigh – just a little, and shake her head.  But she would laugh too.  Such a great laugh.  And brush the sadness away with the candour and the knowing and the sheer power of it all.  Until you were left with ‘these things happen, even though we try so hard.  It just is’.  All of us together, trying and noticing.  Being alive.  Being colourful.

I don’t believe you get to be 97 without loving life.  And she did.  She should have made 100.  At least.  And she would have, if she hadn’t done the ‘stupid thing’ and not waited for help getting to the bathroom, and lost her footing.  Because she was proud, and independent.  And not stupid at all, but just wanting to live her life.

So what wreath, what flowers, for the lady who wanted her funeral to be full of them?  Grandma, I looked at them all, and I picked one that had a hint of show, a touch of sobriety, a hint of natural colour and a generosity of spirit.  I chose one that I liked, genuinely, because I felt that was the best I could do for you.  To choose the one that felt right, even if it wasn’t quite you, and not quite exuberant enough. Because in the end you knew as I do, that we do the best we can.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s not exactly right.  We just try our best, and enjoy the colours.  All of them.

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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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the heart of the matter

Did you grow up hearing the words ‘religion is the main cause of war?’ and do you still hold this view?

Differences, yes. We have them. Across cultures and ideologies. But is that religion? And do we dispose of a glorious pursuit of what is good simply because of that viewpoint?

A lot of our stumbling blocks are around labelling, and our learned responses to them.

What if we were to push aside the word ‘religion’ and instead insert ‘the pursuit of understanding how to be good to each other’. Even simpler, we could call it ‘love’ or ‘relationships’. Could we try that? Could we make that our purpose? Could we practice that every day, and make it our life’s work?

Keeping it simple can cut complexities to the quick. And it can remind us how to focus, expand and nurture.

Keeping it simple is my number 1 rule. Working out the heart of what matters. If you know what’s at the heart, you can work outwards and make it count.

Please share your number 1 rules. We all learn from each other’s insights, and they never stop coming.

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