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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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 🙂


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It’s in the name

Next month my passport’s up for renewal. The question is this; do I make a straightforward renewal in my married name, or revert to my maiden name?

This wouldn’t be an issue at all if

a) I’d stayed married

b) I hadn’t taken my husbands surname or

c) it didn’t matter. But here we are.

I guess that

a) was ultimately my decision (I never should have gone there, though I loved him to bits).

b) also my decision, though long deliberated over. My guiding thought here was having the same name as my children, who already had their father’s name.  Goodness, we complicate things.

c) in a way doesn’t matter, because who I am remains unchanged no matter what name I answer to. But having adopted authenticity as my guiding principle, it kind of does. I was given a name at birth. That is my name. But to change back requires an immense rigmarole, affecting all my accounts and trappings.

I’ve no preference to either. They’re both fairly standard, get-on-with-it kind of names. Very practical.  My married name’s longer, so my signature drops off the planet at the end, which my first never did.  There was a directness, a vibrancy, in a short surname that I liked. Only two syllables in the entire name, which is as punchy as you can get. It irked when I was young, but now that simplicity appeals.

If I had my ex’s attributed name, things might be different.

My ex likes his coffee.  A lot.  He likes it particularly hot, so walks backwards and forwards to the counter in cafés getting it re-steamed.  This earned him the honorary title ‘Walks with Fresh Cup’, which is poetic for an expensive habit that became less poetic over time.

Thinking about it, I could have been Jane-who-walks-with-walks-with-Fresh-Cup once we married.  You’d walk tall with a name like that, but it would be harder to fit on the signature line. Logically, post divorce I’d be Jane-who-used-to-walk-with-walk-with-Fresh-Cup, which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue but is certainly memorable.  Not a name to mess with.

I’m digressing.

Its a mystery to me why the Western world pays so little deference or creativity to names.  It wasn’t always thus.  Not so long ago we had names like Constance, Faith and Grace. Names that spoke gravity and purpose. In Africa I met a fabulous dynamic young woman whose parents had the foresight to name her Independence. She was that, personified.

Oh to have a glorious name like Crazy Horse, Wind-in-the-Face or Touch the Clouds. Who wouldn’t follow a name like that?  A name that would lead a Chief to glory, despite himself.  A name to live up to.   A guiding light.

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Western names are veiled, and unless you’re royalty or somesuch (Lord Louis Mountbatten springs to mind, though there are better examples).  I swear they do it to keep us down.  (No aspirations for you, my girl; Plain Jane will suffice).

Jane has Hebrew roots and means ‘God is gracious’, which is rather lovely and reflects a sense of cerebral gratitude. But you’d never know, unless I wore it on a T shirt. We just don’t seem to be that interested in our names.  So how can we grow into them?

When my first son was born, I wanted to call him Clay.  A name that was rooted, grounded.  Something about this new being inside me seemed to need anchoring.  But the resistance around me was palpable.  Clay was not to be.

Instead we called him Jasper (I discovered later it’s a common name for a dog), considering that it held a certain dignity.  And yes, we could envisage it on the side of his briefcase.  He could be a solicitor with a name like that. Or a musician.  Whatever his life holds, Jasper will deal with it bravely.  He has that in him.  A nobility.  It’s in his name.

The thing with names, I’m learning, is they are just the beginning.  We absorb them, and they can bring us forward in the world, but ultimately our actions, our being, can surpass them.  Whichever surname I go with (I could lump them together, but it seems a little OTT for someone who advocates simplicity) will be just fine.  My job is to be the best that I can be, and lead my life the best I can, whatever my name might be.

And quite honestly, I could do without the added paperwork.


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Who’s captain?

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Take yourself back, Jack. Go ahead.  I’m with you all the way. But were you really stolen? Or did you give yourself away?

We can all blame others, because that’s what we’re used to. Sometimes too easily.  I’ve done it.

It’s your life. Take charge. Keep being yourself, always. If you’re not being truly yourself things will get dodgy.  

Look out. Look left, look right, look straight ahead.  Whichever direction you can.  But always ask; Am I being myself? The quicker you notice, the faster you can rectify. Be you. Always. And learn to notice when you’re not.

And when you’re not, get yourself back.  Awesomely and with pride for doing it.  But don’t blame anyone, just learn the lesson.


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Don’t wish you did it. Do it.

Once my house was broken into. They took the kids’ DVDs, rifled through my underwear drawers looking for cash (none found, obviously) and through my jewellery box. None taken.

They made a mistake there, because amongst my small collection of insanely cheap jewellery that no one but I would choose, lurked the valuable gold charm bracelet my great aunt left to me.

Aunty Win was my godmother and a very special lady. She was tiny and twinkly-eyed, with a false hair-piece and a black poodle. She loved a cocktail and had a wicked, ready and throaty laugh. The kind you don’t hear any more.

When I wear the bracelet I can see and hear her.  The charms are tokens from Uncle Frank and keepsakes from exotic travels. Her life.  There were five unattached charms when I inherited it.  My friend Matt, a goldsmith, added them for me.  My present to Aunty Win; an intention completed.  A thank you, for a beautiful gift and a beautiful person known.

There are two other pieces I value.  One is my own silver charm bracelet, given to me when I was eight with a solitary St Christopher charm.  Over the years others were added from holidays with my parents, birthday gifts.  They are tiny.  Running my fingers over them each one has a familiarity and a story that makes it feel huge.  Each is a small world within my life.  They evoke rooms, smells, events. When I wear it a soft tinkle accompanies me. The weight of it reassures.

I used to wear it every day. But the safety chain broke, and a charm fell off.  It seemed tired.  So I returned it to the box with an intention.

The other is a silver bracelet I made as a student 25 years ago. My friends still remember the sound of the saw I used to shape it. It’s a distinctive, weighty piece and the only remaining piece of silverware I made. It looks good with black and gives me a sense of my skills, resourcefulness and creativity. I feel taller when I wear it.  The design is asymmetric and one piece is very slender. A few years ago it wore through, and was also resigned to the box.

Last week I passed a jewellers. I’m not one to spend out on items, but was conscious of the absence of specialness. Time, perhaps, for something new. A treat.

I let the thought sit.

It sat.

Today I called in on my friend Matt. I collected a beautifully shiny hoard of silver; a bundle of trinkets assembled on a simple chain, and a smart, proud bangle beautifully resurrected and polished.

It cost a fraction of what I’d anticipated to be mended, and I have a priceless gift in return. My bracelet is back on my wrist, and I can stroke the charms with my fingers as I walk. My whole life revisited, brand new.  And a magical tinkle to boot.

Intentions are only that, until they’re actioned.

Things are really just things, but small actions can resurrect lives.


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30 secrets for starters..

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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.