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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Sweating the small stuff

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“You’re a brave blogger” a good friend offered. “Your posts are very personal”. Well, maybe. It’s true I sometimes hesitate before pressing ‘publish’. Occasionally it takes several days to recover, which is odd really. As if it really matters.

Because although it’s out there, on the big web thingy, for anyone to see, the likelihood is that the anyone isn’t a someone who actually knows me from Adam. Most likely, you don’t know me personally.

This isn’t a journal. It could be, but it’s not. It’s an evolving vehicle for my observations. And because the observations are mine, they inevitably involve some elements of personal experience. It can’t be helped. This is my life and these are the things I see. Her comment was helpful though, causing me to ruminate on just why and how my posts appear personal. Why is that difficult, and what does that mean?

I don’t have a problem with ‘personal’. In fact looking at it, ‘personal’ is what interests me most in the world. I’m interested in individual experience.

It’s the small, everyday stuff that grabs me; the profound in the ordinary. The wise in the mundane. For me, the beginnings of understanding humanity stem from the communication of personal experience.

As a species we’re an organism. As I see it, if we don’t share we don’t grow. Sharing the small stuff, the gritty everyday, illuminates the personal. And it’s the personal that counts, because it’s dangerous to perpetuate what we assume rather than what really is.

Years ago, I was peripheral to a conversation about homeless people. The contributors were all professional, well-meaning, educated. “What I don’t understand” one of them said, “was how people can get themselves in that state. If they run out of money, why don’t they just sell some of their shares?”.

I was gobsmacked, but illumined. A fabulous lesson in the prevaillance of misconception.

Situations, values, persuasions; all these are transient, but we elect to see them as fixed. If we were less fearful of sharing our circumstances and perspectives, our perceptions and our politics would be far more embracing, conciliatory and mobile.

No, personal doesn’t scare me. For me it’s a tool for growth and understanding, and I cherish that. Whether it’s brave or not is a different story.