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.


How our thoughts define our experience

F.E.A.R.  False Evidence Appearing Real. That’s a helpful tool at times, when our minds take us to scary places.

Stories can be great illuminators too. Here’s a lovely one to illustrate how our thoughts can affect our everyday lives.  And I do mean every day. You may have heard it before.  This version is from Philippa Perry.  I like Philippa, not least because she’s married to Grayson.  It’s from her book How to Stay Sane, a pocket-sized jewel.

The Jack Story

The deserts of America are lonely places; miles can go by without any other cars or a single house.  In one of these wildernesses a driver heard his tyre blow.  He was more annoyed than worried, knowing that he kept a spare tyre and a jack in his car boot.  Then he remembered; he got the jack out last week and forgot to put it back.  He had no jack.  But things could be worse, because he passed a garage about three miles back.  As he started walking, he talked to himself: ‘There aren’t any other garages around here.  I’m at the garage man’s mercy.  He could really rip me off just for lending me a jack.  He could charge me what he wanted.  He could charge $50.  There is nothing I could do about it.  Goddamn, he could even charge $150.  People are terrible to take advantage of others like that.  Hell, what bastards people are.’ He continued absentmindedly telling himself this story until he got to the garage.  The attendant came out and said in a friendly way “How can I help you?” and the traveller said “You can take your damned jack and you can stuff it.’


We all carry personal versions of this story with us.  The trick is to recognise them when they rear their heads.  If we did, the world we experience could be a very different place.


Poetry in motion





Remember the end of Thelma and Louise?  When they drove off the cliff?

It was gut-wrenching tragedy, understated glory, hand-on-heart, of-the-moment completion.  That final scene left them, and the viewer, suspended over a chasm.

There was no right way, but there was a way that felt right.  However hard.


I wouldn’t advocate anything quite as bleak (it still haunts me now).  I’m more of a Waltons girl;  give me an all-rounded happy ending any day, all cornfields and turquoise dragonflies.  But there’s nothing as achingly, hauntingly satisfying as a space, or an action, created in honour of a truth.

Truth might not be comfortable, like an episode of the Waltons.  But it lasts. It hangs in the air.  I’d be pushed to justify two women driving off a cliff, or even to explain how it was a fitting ending for a film. It wasn’t an ending.  It was an open space.

There aren’t many open spaces in our culture.  We have right actions and wrong actions.  Correct and incorrect answers.  We’re not comfortable with the unresolvable.  We don’t chew much.  We want an answer, and to be the first one with our hand up.  We even try hard to meditate correctly.

Perhaps that’s why Thelma and Louise resonated.  Because that space we were left with, that openness, left a big wide space where we could suspend what we think we know.  A space where our assumptions, our beliefs, our cause-and-effect, our moral high-ground, all got scattered about a bit.  A space for review.  For looking afresh.  For revisiting truth.

That’s a lot of long-winded thinking.  The Dalai Lama says something more simple here:





But be prepared.  It can feel like this:


Leave a comment

When is a tree not a tree?

When is a tree not a tree?Yesterday a fabulous beech tree was felled in our car park.  It’s days were numbered since a huge branch split in a storm, with substantial repercussion on a whole bay of tin garages. Since then I’ve looked at it each day and thought ‘enjoy your moment while you can’.

In the morning, an ominous array of cones ringed it’s vicinity. On my return, where once a life form spread it’s leaves to the sun, a new view and heap of massive wooden slices rang the changes as if they had always been there and no crime committed.

It had to be. The height was such that any split in the opposite direction would have caused catastrophic damage to the flats themselves. But a sad event no less.

Many years ago I was set a philosophy essay with the intriguing  title ‘when does P1 become P2?’. It’s the only essay title I remember. A juicy one, abstract and whimsical. The subject here was the nature of change. One of the examples examined was a willow tree; at what point is it a tree, and when does it cease to be so? When it’s a seed, a sapling, in maturity, dying, decaying? Is it still a tree when it’s a cricket bat, or sawdust, or a pencil?

Here was that essay, illustrated.  Splendid wide rings illustrating a point as big as you like.  The birds still sang, the grass still grew. And by 5 00pm the last evidence had disappeared in a white pickup.

And all around, unnoticed, more examples. Even me. At what point will I or have I become P2, or 3, or 9? How much will I be redefined before I’m irretrievably morphed?

All that going on, round and round… And I’m thinking abstractly about letters and numbers. P1 and P2.

Goodbye tree. Hello view.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Leave a comment

Would you vote for Churchill if he ran for election today?


The funny thing about truth is that it changes. What we consider absolute isn’t static.

My son is a history nut. Every word he speaks is a fact gleaned from a book, a casualty statistic or a rhetorical question (“if Churchill was running in the election, mum, would you vote for him?” Where do you even start on that one?).

It’s all about context. If Churchill was running now, his policies would be different to fit current circumstances (I would hope). And the society being addressed would have differing values. The version of history my son relays to me is incomparable with the one I learnt, and a few forays onto Wikipedia reveals the extent of biased information presented by virtue of information omitted, if not misrepresented. And that’s even without the complexities of new information and opinion.

If I was a Historian I’d be exhausted.

Before, I would venture an opinion. I know better now, with such shifting sands. Now when he probes I reduce my stance. All I can offer is the advice that things are always more complex than they seem, and to rein emotional bias because inevitably it will be misplaced.

Its a sad departure from my political youth, but I hope it’s the nearest to truth that I can give him.

Absolute truth is at best, elusive. But the idea is more constant. And that’s the important part. The search for truth is a fundamental and unifying aspect of humanity.

Perhaps we would be better served if we recognised and valued the considered intent in each other, not just the perceived truth in our statements.

Values, not rhetoric.

Speak your truth and develop your vision. Inspire.

Leave a comment

Read this again, and again, and again…





Think about this. A lot.



dalai-lama-quoteWhen we pursue something we are busy NOT NOTICING everything else. The goal is our focus. But the goal, at this point, isn’t real.

Devotion, persistence, strife; these are all qualities worth cultivating for a fulfilling, happy life. Pay attention to the nature and content of the goal itself, though. Some goals bring good. Others a mixed blessing. Still others have negative value. Too much focus on a negative goal, to the detriment of positive things present in our lives, will only result in an impoverished life experience.

Look around you. Learn what brings happiness. Look at the goals others pursue and notice the results they bring. Draw inspiration from inspired goals and the creative minds that put them in place. Watch, learn, and impliment. Ultimately you might yourself inspire others through your vision, aims and actions.

Be your own inspiration.

Leave a comment

spotting lies and promoting truth

I don’t know about you, but I for one find it hard to spot a liar.

If you grow up expecting truth and honesty it’s a fundamental catastrophe to meet with lies. To be presented with a lie is not just an affront, an aggressive act. It’s a removal of your universe. With the lie comes the destruction of your fabric of being. You are left bereft of trust, your ability to ‘read’ personalities shattered. Ultimately your relationship with everybody and every situation is thrown into uncertainty.

Today this TED talk by Pamela Meyer was posted. The content is useful. The ultimate message is resonant. Let’s focus on truth and honesty.