How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


Being your own Great Aunt Vi

Have you ever done that thing when you cheat on the cleaning?  I mean when you’re mopping the floor and there’s a bit (under the table, or in the corner, or under that tangle of flexes) where you think ‘really? Is that necessary?’. That thing.

You pause, and consider; who is this for, exactly? Is it for me, for my family’s cleanliness and health, for the joy of being super-shiny and lovely? Or is it because my mum, or Great Aunt Vi (long since deceased) would disapprove and I can FEEL their disapproval of a job Not Done Well and I will never sleep, knowing the shame of my inner slovenliness.

Do you know that feeling?  I do. People pay me to clean their floors, so I should know better. But still the temptation to skimp arises because, frankly, it’s dull and tiring work. I had that same feeling today.  And as before (I confess, I have these sinful thoughts recurrently) I reminded myself of the story of Jake’s work experience.

Jake is lovely. He’s a darling. He’s creative and funny, warm and entertaining. But aged 16, he wasn’t the worlds best contributor at home. And that, dear reader, is why 16 year olds go on work experience. It’s also why I wasn’t surprised. It went thus:

Me: How was your day?

Jake: Good and quite fun really. We had a laugh and then he went off for a bit and asked me to sweep the leaves. I got bored and laid down and fell asleep. I woke up when I heard his van and picked up the broom but I don’t know if he saw me. Hopefully it looked like I was working.

It’s a small story but resonant. And there was I, this morning, mopping and revisiting the same conundrum; Do I make it look like I have been working or do I (and this is a mature grown up thinking) actually cover that extra few inches with the mop (ergo, work)? Do I adopt the teenage work shy approach, or do I get on with it and hold my head up high?

Because that’s the crux – holding your head high. Setting your standards by the highest markers around you, not the lowest. Being your own Great Aunt Vi. And of course I did the job properly, as always, and as I knew I would even as I approached the conundrum. The Vi in me wins; not because I want to be virtuous, but because cheating just doesn’t sit well. And there’s a neurotic part of me that wouldn’t want to be caught out with a hidden camera.

Job completed, I sat down with my book. I’m reading ‘Moranthology’ by Caitlin Moran. I’m on the bit where she talks about what it’s like to be 35% famous; about how being recognised by people, just a bit, leads her to be nicer – to compliment, or encourage, or acknowledge. She’s noble enough to recognise it’s not pure altruism, more a fear of what others might say about her. The more visible you are, the more it matters how you act. Like Superman; with great power comes great responsibility.

I bet Superman had a Great Aunt Vi.

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A very Sunday post….


This is so true, isn’t it? It reminds me that we really are capable of moving through our difficulties and beyond. Once we’re at that point, the former fades away. All that angst, all those tears…gone. Passed through, into the new.

That line in Desiderata by Max Ehrmann;

“Avoid loud and aggressive people, they are vexatious to the spirit”

Too true. We always have choice, and that includes the company we keep. Some are so busy appearing to help us. Those that help us, nurture us, care for our hearts and our thoughts; they’re the ones to value and hold close.

Here’s to good people. I hope you find them, and they find you.



Does happiness grow on trees?

money-treeA few days ago my youngest said to me “Mum, I’m glad we’re not poor”. I think that’s the most satisfying thing I’ve ever heard (aside from him saying “Mum, why do people write diaries? Why don’t they just tell their mums instead?”).

It resonated because I’m one of those people who grew up hearing ” money doesn’t grow on trees”.

In reality, I’m a single mum and whilst I’m creative, conscientious and hardworking we actually don’t have much cash. Our lifestyle is very simple, and we’re fairly solitary. I don’t buy much for them and we don’t go overseas for our holidays. In fact we don’t do much at all!

But when things come up at school or clubs I always ask if they are interested and if so I pay up, no question. (After all, paying for one child to go to France is cheaper than all 3 of us going, so I’m grateful). The upshot of that is that they don’t feel guilty, and they feel they can have what they want. Somehow, despite my frugal economics, they feel they’re living the life they want to lead. And I hope this will see them into a positive relationship with money, not an anxious one.

There are habits around money I’d like to teach them; looking after the pennies, and staying aware of debt, but if they learn these in an atmosphere of clarity and confidence I will be happy.  Meanwhile they’re forming the habit of not having new stuff all the time, and recognising that, actually, they have everything they need, and there’s not much they want either.

It’s difficult to shed messages that cloak every desire for growth with guilt. I’m still battling with it, and struggle with every purchase. If that pattern stops with me, I can pat myself on the back. For now I’m delighted that my son doesn’t feel impoverished, and feels secure in the world.

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When was the last time you kissed a mirror?

141bd4031bb48266607354c8ccd3d7bbDo you love the way you look?

The way you look is just one part of your identity, but increasingly we are being scrutinised and judged on our appearance. Young people are constantly bombarded with social media and are effectively learning to ‘like’ or discredit on the basis of superficial analysis, even to strangers. The result is that we learn to think of ourselves as ugly, no matter what the reality. This is massively harmful to self esteem, our health and well-being.

How do we stop a culture that is damaging self esteem so insidiously?


Here are some ways you can help free the inner critic that distorts our body perceptions.

1) Compliment people based on their effort and actions, not their appearance

2) Put the people who are making a real difference, a real contribution to society, on a pedestal – not just the ones who we consider attractive.

3) Create a world where our kids are free to become the best versions of themselves; where the way they look never holds the back from being who they are or achieving what they want.

4) Be a living example. Love the skin you’re in, and show it. Let your children see you kissing a mirror.

Love being yourself. Love the skin you’re in. Love your life. Show others how to love theirs.


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a million facets of authenticity

How do you recognise authenticity? A gut feeling? Butterflies? A niggling doubt? A certainty? A colour?

It’s a master of disguise. The thing is, it belongs with you alone. And because of that, you can pretend. Because only you know. So if authenticity looks you straight in the eye and you don’t like the look of it nobody else will know. You can go your merry way as you wish. And it doesn’t matter, because no-one’s going to wag their finger at you and point out the error of your ways. How could they? They’re not you so they didn’t witness your authentic voice in the first place. And quite honestly, nobody would care either. They have their own lives to deal with.

Your authentic voice doesn’t matter to anyone else but you. But it needs to be heard.

Treat yourself, and listen. It’ll be the best thing you ever did.


the happiness list

General wisdom on happiness suggests the following (my summary)

  1. An atmosphere of growth is crucial to well-being. Without it you wither and die (I can vouch for this)
  2. Gratitude. Know how precious your life is. Feel it.
  3. Exercise is important. It gets stuff moving. ie life and living. At the very least, go for a walk in nature. It will show you beauty. And get you breathing, which is a REALLY GOOD THING.
  4. Experience beauty. In everything. And where you don’t find it, move on.
  5. You need to do what you need to do. No pretending. Without it you’re not leading your life. Ergo you are not living. This is what Sir Ken calls finding your passion. Absence of it is simply wasting your life. Learn to listen hard to the truth behind what you think your needs are.
  6. You need to get on with it. Now not tomorrow.
  7. Meditate. Learn how to be still and aware. But don’t use that as an excuse for not getting on with your life.
  8. Good diet really helps. (Don’t worry that will come if you do all the others).
  9. Incorporate kindness into your life. Doing things for and with others makes you feel good.
  10. If you are happy other people will feel happy (yes really).
  11. Less is more.
  12. Remember what you do keeps the wheel turning. We all learn from each other. It starts with you.

As an acronym I think I could do better 🙂 It’s a work in progress.


The happiness list is formulated from a gorgeous pile of books I’ve assimilated. Amongst which I’d heartily recommend the following, if you’re looking for an engaging and entertaining read. I’d really welcome any that have inspired you, so please pass on any ideas for winter evenings..

Happiness, Richard Layard (penguin)

The Art of Happiness (also The Wisdom of Compassion), His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Reclaiming Happiness, Nicola Phoenix (Findhorn Press)

The Element, Ken Robinson (penguin)