How to be happy even if you're English

what is happiness and how to get it


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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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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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Making happiness your purpose

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A purpose differs from a right.

True happiness requires cultivation.

If you are happy, be grateful.

If others are happy, be glad. Happiness breeds happiness.

Being around happy people is a gift.  You have a teacher to hand. Observe their attitude, what they create around them.  How are they with others?

Put your observations into practice.  Be purposeful.  Learn to be happy. Make it your goal.  Only you can make your life a happy one.


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your place in your community – one of the secrets to happiness

Yesterday I read a lovely quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  It came from  ‘The seven secrets of happiness’ by Gyles Brandreth, which is a sweet and entertaining little book.

One of the seven secrets according to Gyles is community.  What he calls ‘being a leaf on a tree’.  He talks about the importance of understanding who you are, and how you fit into your community.  

Obviously as an archbishop Desmond Tutu has a particular perspective, but he says this in conversation with the author;

“Heaven is a community.  A solitary human being is a contradiction. In Africa we say that a person is a person through other persons.”

It reminded me of something I read years ago, when I was researching into ancestral worship. It was said that in Africa when someone dies, their spirit lives on in this world for as long as their name is used in conversation. It’s a valid thought, demonstrating how effective interaction within your community leaves a legacy of impact and character.

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Today, bizarrely, King Aethelred came up in a conversation between friends.  As if he had died yesterday!  Aethelred was king of Wessex from AD 978 – 1016.  That’s a long time for a spirit to live on.  Especially when you’re known as ‘the Unready’.

If your name was to be uttered a thousand years from now, I wonder if your spirit would flutter just a little bit?  I think mine would!

I’ll give you all of Gyles’ 7 secrets  tomorrow!


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A motto for January

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A year can go fast.

This time each year I play a game. I scan over the previous year’s flavour – it’s course, events, emotional stamp and goals. Then I take a deep breath, and feel where I am now, and pick a little motto that summarises what I feel I need to do this coming year. It has to be authentic (it’s for me after all; I don’t emblazon it on a T-shirt, just hold it in my head) so I sit with it for a few days, and if it still feels right, it becomes a guiding light to return to when I get a little uncertain.

Past mottos have sometimes been financial guides; ‘claw back’ was one year, ‘reign in’ was another. Others have seen ‘look sharp’ ‘get to it’ and ‘hang in there’. They’re not fancy, but a hook to reconnect where I am occasionally. It helps me.

Some years you just know will be about play, or growth, struggle or challenge. But you know that next year will have a different theme, or a different kind of learning. It’s just the way it is. Sometimes simply remembering that can really help. No matter how stuck you are, life does shift. And especially, you have the power to shift internally. Always. And if you know that, then it will.

A year can be like a step forward towards a goal. The important thing is to recognise each step taken, and then take the next. Don’t linger in no man’s land, afraid to make the next move. Be bold and move your life forward. It won’t happen without you. You have to steer the ship.

Take a motto. Take several. Let your friends know what they are.

Mine’s ‘Be Kind’ (to others and to myself). What’s yours?

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