What’s the problem with happiness?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-happiness-concept-image25376084Seriously, I wonder sometimes, what the problem with happiness is.

If you were stopped in the street and asked what you wanted most out of life for yourself and those you love, it’s very likely you would choose health and happiness. It’s possible you might include wealth or success, but most of us know intrinsically that the vital things for us as human beings are those two fundamental things which boil down to physical and emotional well being. If we have those two things that the rest is icing on the cake.

I totally agree. And so does the UN as in 2102 they introduced the UN International Day of Happiness on March 20th. This acknowledges that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, something which everyone deserves to be able to aspire to, and the importance of which governments should recognise through public policy.

Brilliant. It’s vital that the importance of happiness is recognised at government level. It is, in my opinion, even more important that it is also recognised by individuals.

It seems to me that there is a distinct reluctance to talk about happiness, to learn and understand more about it, and to take positive steps to develop it. I get the impression from talking to people about happiness, which I do a lot as it’s my job, that it can be seen as self indulgent, like some kind of luxury. Although we all know we want it, we feel inhibited from focussing on it.

We also fall into the trap of thinking we know what makes us happy, but often we are barking up the wrong tree. We can spend a lot of time chasing status, possessions, or partners, with the expectations that acquiring these will bring that elusive happiness.

In reality, it’s much more about the way we are as human beings which makes the difference. Practicing certain ways of being, habits or behaviours can contribute much more to our sense of well-being that relying on external factors. A major benefit of these ways of being, habits and behaviours is that they don’t require any training, you can start immediately, they don’t have to cost money, and more often than not they create a ripple effect. It can be something as simple as a smile. Producing one for someone, usually creates another one. Smiling is infectious, so chances are the one you have inspired may be passed on to another, and then another and so on.

Likewise with kindness, it’s also infectious. We were discussing this yesterday at my Happiness Workshop and people felt that the more they showed kindness, the more they felt they received it. Kindness benefits the receiver of course, but it also benefits the giver. We feel more connected to other people when we show kindness. It can enhance our self perception and improve our self esteem by helping us to think better of ourselves. It can also, interestingly, lead us to think more positively of others.

To celebrate UN International Day of Happiness this week, I’d like you to understand that you have the power to enhance your happiness. My question to you is, what’s the problem with doing that? If the answer is ‘nothing’, then I encourage you to learn more about it, and to start practicing those ways of being, habits and behaviours which will make a positive difference.

If you’re fortunate to live near Bedford then you can also join The Happiness Workshop, a 6 month group programme which will get you into happiness action.

Take your happiness seriously, and get into happiness action today.

 

Time to Take Stock

Winter tends to be a time for slowing down, for hibernating a little bit, before re-emerging in the spring with renewed energy. The end of the calendar year offers a natural line in the sand – the end of something before you begin afresh. It provides an opportunity for a clean slate. Now is a good time for you to think about what positive changes you want to make in your life. Some of you might be creating your wish list for next year – setting yourself some goals perhaps.

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-mind-map-setting-personal-life-goals-image9267662As a coach I am all for this, although I am not a fan of resolutions as I explained last year in my post Out with Resolutions. In with Goals. What I think we don’t do enough of at this time, is to reflect and to take stock. It’s easy to keep moving forward, thinking about the next athletic challenge (guilty), the places we want to visit (guilty), the activities we want to start (or stop – guilty), or the new body we are going to create through better nutrition and increased attendance at the Crossfit gym and Friday night circuits (also guilty). All this is good, and I will be setting myself some goals for 2105 for sure, no doubt around these topics.

However, what I am also planning to do and would encourage you to do also, is to carve out some time in the next few weeks to take stock of 2014. What were the highlights; what did you achieve; what went really well for you; what didn’t go so well; what have you learnt about yourself and maybe about other people around you from any upsets.

Life moves so quickly that we can easily forget all that has been achieved and experienced in the year. And sometimes the upsets, the sadness, or the hurt can overshadow the good things that we experienced. It’s helpful to write these down, and to see in black and white how much you experienced this past year – good and bad. Having a clearer understanding of the past year will allow you to think more broadly, and perhaps more ambitiously, for 2015. Or it might do the reverse. You may feel that 2014 was quite overwhelming, and what you could do with in 2015 is some consolidation.

This doesn’t need to be done alone either – why not have a family review over dinner one night, or perhaps introduce that into a conversation you have with your best friend?

I am meeting my friend Debbie over Christmas and plan to do this with her, as well as 2015 goal setting. We will have time and we have a similar outlook to challenges and will motivate and encourage each other.

Happy Reflecting!

Life Lessons from Running

Life Lessons From Running

My name is Caroline and I’m a runner.

Even now when I say that I feel like a bit of a fake. It seems to me that there’s some unsaid, definition of a runner, and somehow I don’t match up. I hardly look like a wippet, and believe me I don’t run like one either. However, a guy called John Bingham summed it up nicely when he said – ‘If you run, you are a runner.’

2008-07-19 342My running history began in 2003 when I ran my first half marathon, the Great North Run (GNR), with my Dad. I was 37 and my Dad was 66.

He beat me.

Life Lesson #1 – Don’t worry about what others are doing or seemingly achieving. It’s only important to challenge yourself.

 I had trained for the race but by the end, I was utterly finished. All I could think about was who would contemplate the complete madness of a full marathon? That involved doing that whole thing all over again –and at the time that seemed like an impossibility.

I did get over the pain though and I entered again in 2004 and then a third time in 2008.

 That last GNR was SLOW and it hurt like hell. Life Lesson #2 – No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow your progress, you are way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.

 In 2008, I moved to India for a couple of years, which rather limited my running – it’s too hot, there are no pavements, and too many people staring at me in my lycra! Actually this was a bit of an excuse and reveals Life Lesson #3 – don’t be stopped by not getting started. Often the most difficult step in any endeavour is to actually make a start.

So at the start of 2011, while living with my sister in Brisbane I trained for the Twilight half. This one felt better, easier, less utterly exhausting that the previous 3 attempts.

The fact that it wasn’t quite so exhausting and my training that year to become a life coach, inspired me to up my game. I wanted to challenge myself in various areas of my life and to get out my comfort zone with some big goals and a marathon seemed just about daunting enough!

Life Lesson #4 helped big time at this stage – Set yourself a goal and break it down into smaller chunks.

Wellingborough cross countryThinking about running 26.2 miles is overwhelming. By breaking it down into smaller goals, it becomes more achievable. If you can run 13 miles, it’s likely that 15 is possible, if you can run 15 then 18 is possible, and so on. And then you reach a point at about 19 or 20 miles when you start to believe you might actually be able to do a marathon.

Up to this point, I had always run alone. It hadn’t occurred to me to join a running club. That was for runners and I wasn’t a runner. However, I realised I needed extra motivation and support so I joined Bedford Harriers. Life Lesson #5 – Connecting with people, especially through common interests, helps to inspire and motivate us to achieve more.

In March, the Oakley 20 mile race which was part of my training plan, was cancelled due to snow. My delightfully mad friend Sarah thought it would be a great idea to go to Grafham Water instead and go round it not once, but twice which we did, through deep snow and slush, with a bit of wind thrown in for good measure.

Snow run GrafhamLife lessons #6 – hang out with people who get you out of your comfort zone and push you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do in your life and to achieve more than you would on your own – it keeps it interesting and rewarding.

Grafham Water was a beautiful run that day, and Life Lesson #7 is to be present in the moment and aware of your senses. It’s easy to be so much inside your head that you lose the chance to enjoy what is actually in front of you.

Sams 6For as much time as I remember to, as the thoughts do take over, I focus on enjoying the sights, sounds, smells around me and on how my body feels, and how the wind feels on my skin. And I think to myself – this is it, there is nothing else apart from now, and it’s perfect.

I’ve done a lot of challenging and exciting things in my life, and the marathon is probably my favourite. I loved every minute of it until I stopped and completed seized up. So once you’ve done a marathon, what’s next? Life Lesson #8 – Don’t get stuck in a rut, change things, keep things interesting and challenging.

This year, my friend Kim and I wanted a challenge to keep us running long distances regularly rather than training for a peak and then lessening off. The ‘12 in 12’ challenge has given up that. 12 half marathons in 12 months, with a cheeky sub challenge to do 3 in 3 weeks at some point.

I have now completed 11, and our finale is on 16th November at St Neots. From doing 3 halves in 5 years, I have progressed to managing 3 in 3 consecutive Sundays – which I did in September with Northampton, Richmond and Ealing.

1977114_10152655667603833_5851137282106676993_n-2Life lesson #9 is an important one – celebrate your successes. I suspect we spend more time thinking about the things which didn’t go so well, rather than cheerleading ourselves for our achievements. Thankfully after so much practice, I am no longer good for the nothing after a half marathon, and can now function pretty well, so Kim and I will be having a good lunch and a celebratory drink or several on Sunday 16th November.

Half marathons are run of the mill for me now – a phrase that I would not have expected to say in 2003 after being beaten by my 66 year old Dad in my first half marathon. And I have now also run a marathon, something which I used to strongly believe was impossible for me.

I leave you with Life Lesson #10 – Don’t listen to the voice in your head which is saying you can’t – it’s a liar.

Kim and I are using our challenge to raise funds for Bedford Samaritans who support people in distress and despair and have a page on Virgin Money Giving for people to donate to support us. We also have our 12 in 12 facebook page if you’d like to follow our finale.

Why I love a good ceilidh

Happy memories from our childhood can be really powerful. They take you back to a time when you experienced a strong positive emotion. And this is what a ceilidh does for me. I grew up in Lanark, in Scotland, and every year my family went for a weekend with my Dad’s sister and their cousins, and all their children. We stayed in a place called Otterburn Hall which is in the North East. For us kids, it was a magical place. It was a big old pile in the country with peacocks in the garden, a boating lake, a croquet lawn, and most importantly a big dance floor and on the Saturday night there was always a ceilidh.

I loved it. Having music from a live band, with one of the band members calling the instructions for each dance, made it exciting and dynamic. Everyone joined in, young and old, and people would dance with anyone and everyone. For some reason, the music and the dancing breaks down the usual British reserve and people who don’t know each other will be laughing and joking with each other while they bumbled around the dance floor with enthusiasm, if not skill.

I often say that ceilidhs tick a lot of the happiness generating boxes – you are with people, in fact touching them by holding hands or getting into a dancing hold; you get a lot of exercise; there’s lively music; you are learning; and there’s invariably a lot of laughing as people head off in the wrong direction after being swung round and round a few times.

There’s a range of dances, some for couples, but mostly they are for groups of 6 or 8 people. The steps and movements aren’t complicated and are repeated so you’ll get the hang of it quickly. The caller is always there to remind you what to do, and others in the group will put you right.

I loved it as a child and I love it now – the exuberance of the dancing is a thing of beauty!

If you’ve never had the chance to experience one, then get yourself along to one of ours. You’ll find details here.

 

Slow Dance

SLOW DANCE by David L Weatherford

Have you ever watched kids
On a merry-go-round?
Or listened to the rain
Slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic flight?
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?
You better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Do you run through each day
On the fly?
When you ask How are you?
Do you hear the reply?
When the day is done
Do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores
Running through your head?
You’d better slow down
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.
The music won’t last.

Ever told your child,
We’ll do it tomorrow?
And in your haste,
Not see his sorrow?
Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
Cause you never had time
To call and say,”Hi”
You’d better slow down.
Don’t dance so fast.
Time is short.

The music won’t last.

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift…..
Thrown away.
Life is not a race.
Do take it slower

Hear the music

Before the song is over.

Pay It Forward Day Update

I didn’t realise and therefore blog about Pay It Forward Day last Friday until a little late in the day, so allowed myself to include Saturday to complete my 3 acts of kindness.

I realised that Saturday morning offered 2 straight forward ones in the same place at the same time in different ways. I had a meeting on Saturday morning with some people I had not met before in a cafe in Bedford and I knew that it was the birthday of one the people attending. It turned out that I had met her once before.

Anyway I decided to go to the little florist across the road on the way and get her a little something. I chose 4 lovely orange and yellow gerberas which were really fitting to the bright sunny day and welcome spring like feel.

That cafe (Frescoes) also operates a Pay It Forward or ‘suspended’ coffee system so I bought 2 coffees when I left for future customers in need.

That planned already, I was thinking about what else I could do. I was going out that evening with the Bedford Harriers circuits group so was thinking about what I could do for whom there or on the way.

Then an email appeared in my inbox. In the subject line was one of the suggested Pay It Forward ideas from my blog post:

  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while

It was from a school friend who I have not been in touch with for about 10 years. I had lost touch with her for a while as you do from time to time. However, later on there were opportunities to make contact again which I had not taken. In fact she had contacted me previously on Facebook and I had chosen to ignore it. I am not proud of that and now cannot explain what was making me so pig headed and selfish.

What a wonderful opportunity had come my way as a result of the blog. I emailed back straight away, including an apology for my behaviour and made an arrangement to speak on Sunday when we both had time. It was great to reconnect and we have planned to meet up soon to be able to properly catch up. I’d like to thank her for reaching out to me again and for being so gracious about my previous rudeness.

What a great reminder that it’s never too late to apologise for your behaviour and to reconnect with people.

 

Collecting my Pay It Forward Surprise

Back in January this year my friend Haydn posted this message on his Facebook wall:

2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward: The first 5 people to comment on this status will receive from me, sometime in this calendar year, a gift–perhaps a book, baked goods, music–a surprise! There will likely be no warning, and it will happen whenever the mood strikes me. The catch? Those 5 people must make the same offer in their Facebook status. Pay it forward!

I was already a fan of the concept of paying if forward – if you don’t know the concept or the film then do check both out. The idea is that instead of waiting for someone to do something kind for you and then paying them back, you pay a kindness forward, either to someone you know or to a stranger. Just Google it and you’ll find the movie which stars Kevin Spacey and Holly Hunter and a lot of sites promoting the idea including http://www.payitforwarduk.net/

So I added my name to his wall and posted it on my wall. My friends Rosalie, Arian, Kim, and Naomi signed up on my wall, and reposted on their walls. And so the idea spreads.

Anyway, back to the collection of my gift. Haydn contacted me a couple of weeks ago and asked what I was doing on 28th March. I asked why, and he said that he wanted to take me out in Brighton. It turned out as we haven’t seen each other in a while, that he presumed I had done what I had told him I was thinking of doing and moved to Lewes, near Brighton. I haven’t! Anyway I have a dear friend in Lewes and this gave me a fine excuse to spend a couple of days with her as well.

So my Pay It Forward treat was dinner and a concert. He didn’t immediately tell me what concert it was, so I decided not to ask and just be surprised as part of the fun. I asked about dress code, and he said flamenco. I was pretty excited about that and was all set to get involved. Those of you who know me will not be shocked to hear that. Then he told me he was joking #alittledisappointed #joking.

I took the train on Thursday from Bedford and he got on the train in London and we began the mammoth task of catching up on the past 10 months – that would be a challenge normally but it had been quite a time for both of us – he had bought his first home with his partner John, had proposed to John in New York at New Year, and has changed jobs. I had moved twice, set up a business and am training for my first marathon. There was a lot to cover. He thankfully had the foresight to bring beer for the journey.

He took me to Pho in Black Lion Street in Brighton. I had never been to one before (it’s a chain) and loved it. Wonderful flavours and super fresh. Delicious and speedy which we needed as we had to be at Concorde 2 at 8.15. We jumped in a taxi got to the venue just as La Roux was starting her set. I have to be honest, I hadn’t heard of her. However, her style is very 80s and therefore pretty familiar.

I had a great evening firstly as I got to spend time with Haydn (pictured below with delicious Pho food) after a long time, secondly as he treated me so generously and kindly, and thirdly as I experienced some new stuff – Pho and La Roux. So thank you Haydn for initiating the idea and for creating such a lovely Pay It Forward gift for me.

Nice idea isn’t it? So how about posting the message on your Facebook page and seeing how you can Pay It Forward?

Warmly,

Caroline

Bring Me Sunshine

I have been thinking about Happiness tunes – ones which refer directly to happiness and also those which make me laugh, smile or want to dance.

The other day I decided to get on iTunes and buy a few and then listen to them on my way into London and see how they affected my mood. I started with iconic theme tune for the Morecombe and Wise show. You know the one (if you’re old enough or watch the Christmas Specials they still show after all these years) which they would exit the programme to every week skipping away from camera, waving their arms in the air.

‘Bring me sunshine, in your smile.
Bring me laughter all the while.
In this world where we live there should be more happiness.
So much joy you can give to each brand new bright tomorrow.’

Brilliant lyrics and the melody just makes me smile, and sway a little, which is what happened on the East Midlands train from Bedford to London. It was crowded and I was standing in the alleyway in front of the toilet, swaying and mouthing the words and smiling away. I caught one lady’s eye and she beamed at me thankfully instead of wondering if I needed medical attention.

It’s extremely evocative music which anchors me to a joyous, fun childhood. Wow, I loved that show and, more than the show itself, I loved those Saturday evenings watching TV with my parents and sister in the snug with some kind of chocolate treat.

The next track to be added to my Happiness Playlist was Monty Python’s classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

‘If life seems jolly rotten,
there’s something you’ve forgotten,
and that’s to dance and laugh and sing.’

Surely as profound as anything written by any philosopher. And the title is a ready made mantra for life – Always look on the bright side of life. I have decided that this is one for my funeral, so I have added it to my special requests in my will! In fact, I am going to add ‘Bring me Sunshine’ too as the music to play when people are leaving – genius.

So what next? Well as I am a child of the 1970s then Ken Dodd has to be on there with his wonderful song ‘Happiness’.

‘Happiness, happiness,
the greatest gift that I possess.
I thank the lord that I’ve been blessed,
with more than my share of happiness.
To me this world is a wonderful place,
I’m the luckiest human in the human race.
I’ve got no silver and I’ve got no gold,
but I’ve got happiness in my soul.’

I also now have Judy Garland’s ‘Get Happy’ and of course the classic ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin.

Then there are the tracks which cant’ fail to make you want to dance. For me it has to be ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast, and ‘Love Shack’ by the B52’s.

Sol that’s what I have come up with so far – it’s a work in progress. And I am looking for others to contribute some inspiring suggestions.