How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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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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make all your habits excellent ones

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An old, old piece of wisdom from Aristotle. Interesting that we still need reminders, and thoughts like this can still present fresh insights into our daily lives. Many of us strive for excellence as a ‘one day’ aspiration. We overlook that our future lives are made in every action we take. They start in the here and now.

If your ideal life looks very different to how you feel right now, remember that the small steps count. If you want to feel happy, find the smallest things that make you happy and feel that little bit of happiness. It will put you on the path. If you want to build an aeroplane, start sourcing the materials or making the plans. Only you can bring your ideals to fruition. It’s all possible, but you have to make it so.

Excellence is a good thing to strive for, all round. Make yourself and your life excellent. Start now. Look at what you do and change it to be how you hope for. In every way. And enjoy the process 🙂


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Me, Tracey Emin, and The Last Great Adventure on the Redefinement Bus.

Do you ever stop in your tracks and honestly redefine yourself?

It’s a shocking experience. Like being consumed by a giant wave from a giant puddle generated by a gigantian bus.

Forty-eight years I’ve been living on this planet. Feeling and sensing, thinking and responding. Picking up signals. Converting them to a sense of him, her, you, me, it, them, us. Trying things, holding out, holding on, letting go, moving on, going with. A journey that once held a sense of linear purpose. Now a loose and vital sense of wonder.

I was stuck this week by a statement from Tracey Emin about her new London exhibition ‘The Last Great Adventure is You’. Tracey writes

‘As you get older, life feels heavier, more cumbersome. Things get harder to carry around, literally and spiritually.’

The exhibition mainly deals with the physical body— ‘I’m trying to work out why my body has changed so much…I’ve gone from being a really thin girl – even when I was 40, I was thin – to becoming matronly and womanly. I’m trying to come to terms with the physical changes. There’s a big difference between being 35 and 50. Massive.’ Words that could be applied to any aspect of life. You can read the article at The Guardian here.

I like her work because it’s more about thinking and processing than the work itself. It upsets me when her work is lampooned. They’re missing the point. It’s the artist that’s the treasure, not the work. As she says, ‘the kind of work I do, you’re not going to be losing yourself. You’re going to be digging yourself up.’

If you want to dig yourself up, try writing a profile for a dating agency (my style is casual/ smart/ formal/ designer/ natural/ sophisticated/ minimal….please tick). Err…well in my teens I would comfortably say ‘scruffy with aspirations’ moving into ‘earthy meets ethereal’ followed by ‘trying to be professional’ and last time I looked?..ok let’s go with natural. I’d say that’s the underlying, pervasive theme.

Really? What am I?

Walking around I carry a general sense that I’m a pretty good person. A good guy. Some of my friends say I’m lovely. I’ll buy that. It helps to promote that collective image of myself. Yet last night I’m pretty sure that I was a bundle of grumpiness to my kids. And this morning I shouted at my eldest for general tardiness. What would his up-to-the-minute profile of his mother be? Not lovely, that’s for sure.

Clearly the outside profile and the inner one aren’t quite in alignment. Not yet, anyway.

My currently held watchword is redefinement. The next is integration. The questions are how, and what. The actions are watch, apply. The rule is honesty. Always, the rule is honesty. There’s no going forward without it.

As Tracey said, to quote Descartes;

‘Even when a candle melts, it’s still made of wax’.

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