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.


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.


Be a Leaf on a Tree

Photo courtesy of Brandon Holmes – Dreamstime Stock Photos

I recently went to see Gyles Brandreth doing his show ‘Looking for Happiness’ in Edinburgh. Being a happiness coach and enthusiast, it was an obvious choice, and I enjoy his wry humour, often at his own expense. We trusted him to be kind and polite, so we chose to risk sitting on the front row, generally a dangerous choice if you go and see a comedian as you often get picked on, sometimes with humiliating consequences!

One of us lived to regret that, as she was invited on stage to lead the audience in the Hoky Koky. Not too challenging you might think, but Amanda has never once stepped foot on a dance floor in all the years I have known her. She confessed afterwards that she had no idea how to do the Hoky Koky, and the video I took of her reveals that pretty clearly.

Apart from the hilarity we enjoyed at Amanda’s expense, the show was entertaining and thought provoking. As someone who has read a fair amount about the science of happiness, I was intriguing to hear what he had to say on the subject.

My favourite tip from his show is the title of this article – Be a leaf on a tree. It is a lyrical and evocative way of summing up the benefits of community.

Being individual and existing in the world as a unique entity with the freedom to go your own way through life is important for us. At the same time it is well established from research into happiness that connection to other people is central to our emotional health and well-being.  That connection could be accessed through any number of relationships or communities – with our families, friends, colleagues, clubs, sport teams, or religious groups.

If we liken those connections to the trunk, branches and twigs of a tree, we can see how the leaf can exist individually whilst being dependent on other parts of the tree for the necessary strength, support, and security and nurturing to flourish in the world. Without being part of something bigger it will quite quickly wither and die.

Happiness is affected by our connections with others, and our happiness affects our connections to others – it is a circular process. People who have the most social connections are generally happiest and those who have the fewest are the least happy. And the happier a person is, the more likely they are to have a large circle of friends, a romantic partner, be satisfied with their family life and social activities and receive emotional and tangible support from friends and colleagues.

Why not take stock of the connections in your life. Think how you can become more involved, more connected, and as a result nourish yourself, gain greater support and security, and feel happier.  And ask yourself – if not now, when?

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.


Pay It Forward Day

Today is Pay It Forward Day in the UK. The movement was inspired by a book of that name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The book is about a boy who was challenged along with his classmates by a teacher to come up with an idea to change the world. The book was made into a film starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Hayley Joel Osment.

The boy’s idea was that he would do something good, kind and generous on a large scale for three other people and that they in turn would do the same for three more people, and so on. What would follow would be a tidal wave of selfless and generous acts of kindness.

In celebration of the day and the idea, how about giving it a try and doing 3 things you would not otherwise have done today? Here are a few ideas if you need some inspiration:

  • Write a letter of appreciation to someone who plays an important part in your life
  • Smile at some people you don’t know and say good evening
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while
  • Tell someone how much they mean to you and why if you haven’t done that in a while
  • Appreciate someone at work for a task well done or for having a really good attitude
  • Buy treats for the office (sorry this a bit late in the day – you could delay till Monday!)
  • Buy a stranger a drink if they are waiting at the bar with you
  • Stop and have a chat with a Big Issue seller as well as buying a magazine from them.
  • Help someone with their shopping, with a pram or with their luggage 
  • Thank someone for good customer service
  • Write an email to a company or club which you feel do a great job
  • Pay It Forward at a cafe or pub – leave some extra money with the staff and ask them to use it to buy a drink for someone who looks like they need cheering up that day
  • At a restaurant, ask for the bill of another table from the waiting staff and pay it for them, and write on the bill that it’s a pay it forward gift
  • Make a donation to charity or sponsor someone

Not only will this make someone else’s day, it will also contribute to your happiness so it’s a win-win concept. What have you got to lose?

Kindness, like a boomerang, always returns.  ~ Author Unknown

Marathon Euphoria

I am a marathon runner.

I really never thought I would say that, and how wonderful it sounds. I think I may even become a serial marathon runner, which is even more unexpected. I had it in my mind that one would be more than enough, when in fact I loved every minute of it. Having said that if you asked me to run another one today, I would politely decline. There is a significant amount of grunting and groaning going on whenever sitting down, standing up or going downstairs is involved.

I got up on Marathon Sunday knowing that large part of my challenge was already in the bag. With the generous support of my friends and family I had already exceeded my £2,000 commitment for the Samaritans through sponsorship alone. That made the day all the sweeter.

Marathon 1

The day got better and better as it went on. The preparation of those long runs, sometimes in pretty harsh conditions, paid off. I paced myself well, slowing myself down initially, and ran between 7.92 to 8.68 km per hour throughout. This really helped as I had plenty left in me by the time I got to the 20 mile mark. That famous wall didn’t hit me at all.

The crowds were brilliant. There were so many people out and so much encouragement  along the way. Wearing a vest with my name on was definitely a bonus. When I felt that I needed a boost I ran closer to crowds and smiled, and immediately got a response with people calling my name and telling me how well I was doing. The only time this didn’t work was when a rhino, Andy Pandy or Super Man was running near me – I didn’t get a look in then!

Marathon 2

There was some fabulous music along the way – steel, brass, and rock bands as well as my personal favourite – the Taiko Drummers. There’s something primeval about that sound, along with the great memories it evokes of the time I spent living in Japan, that always moves me. It was the only time in the race that I felt near to tears. Emotion welled up inside me. It was a feeling of joy; of great connection with people; and gratitude – for the chance to experience such an incredible race.

People were so generous along the way with their endless clapping, cheering and smiling, as well as many who must have spent a lot on jelly babies, Haribo, Starbursts, oranges and bananas, all of which were very welcome. The volunteers on the fuelling stations were also really enthusiastic, shouting words of encouragement as they handed over the water or Lucozade.

I’m so grateful to my friends who came out to support me on the day. I didn’t manage to see all of them which is a shame although it helped my time – I stopped for a sweaty hug about half a dozen times and am blaming that for not getting in under 5 hours! It was worth the stop every time – I felt euphoric to share that moment with people dear to me. I didn’t even feel daunted by starting off again which I thought I might. I was excited to finish, which I did after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 45 seconds. I expected to cry and didn’t. I hugged the lady sobbing next to me and felt alive and invigorated.

The Samaritans had taken over the Playhouse Theatre and my friends had gathered there to see me and it was a great feeling to walk out on stage to a welcoming cheer. That first pint of lager shandy was amazing, as was the hot shower, the massage and the second pint.

I wore my medal with pride for the rest of the evening, and wore it again last night at the Bedford Harriers induction evening for new runners. And I will again this weekend when I see some other friends. It was hard earned and I value it all the more for that.

If you ever had even the smallest desire to run a marathon, I urge you to stop procrastinating, join a running club and set yourself a target. The sense of achievement is unbeatable.

£2,295 of my £2,500 target raised so far and still time to sponsor me here!


Smiling helps….

We all know that smiling is usually a result of feeling happy or good. What you might not know is that it can also work the other way round. Check out this item I found from the BBC:

It reminded me of the practice of ‘acting as if’. Rather than waiting to feel a particular way as a result of some future outcome, and it then affect our thoughts and thus our behaviour, we reverse the process. We can choose to act as if we feel that way already. We start with our behaviour which will affect our thoughts and our feelings.

You see this happening in the video – you smile, you think and feel you are happy. Simples.

This technique can be used for other emotions too. It may well be possible to affect your feeling of calmness by slowing down your actions, breathing and speech to act as if you are calm. Alternatively if you have to do something which you are not all that excited about, you could try getting physically excited about it and seeing how that change your feelings about it – jump around in an excited fashion like a small child, cheer, or do whatever you might do if you really were excited.

Sometimes I do this before a long run if I feel a bit sluggish – I do a few loud whoops while jumping around and punching the air in a Rocky style. Of course many people choose the Rocky theme tune as a backing track to their work out. It has very strong associations for anyone who knows the track and the film with energy, competitiveness, drive, passion, and commitment to success. When people hear that music it will often bring up those kinds of emotions and would likely make it a lot easier to ‘act as if’ they really want to do that 20 mile run in the snow (harsh personal experience talking there).

So if you can do something as simple as making yourself smile for a few minutes in a fake fashion (with or without a pencil in your mouth) to activate those all important facial muscles and give yourself a happiness boost, then why wouldn’t you?

Free Hugs Delivered

It’s Saturday March 16th and I am back at home after delivering free hugs to people in Bedford. I was joined by Hannah, Lynda, Roshan, Ann, Becks, Beth, Ian and another girl whose name I didn’t get.

We hugged for an hour – people of all ages, shapes, sizes, genders, races, nationalities, creeds and colours. There were toddlers and pensioners, people in wheel chairs, groups of people, single people, couples, and some came back for more.

It was lovely to see people smile and to hear people say ‘thank you’ or ‘I needed that’. And we all had fun, laughed and enjoyed some really moving hugs.

Thank you Bedford – that made me really happy today and I will remember it for ever.

Nothing is Wrong

In the words of William Shakespeare – ‘Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Well said Mr S. How much time do we spend making ourselves and others wrong for all kinds of thoughts, words and actions? How much better could it be if we remembered these words and realised that they are just thoughts, words and actions. They only become ‘good’ or ‘bad’ once we choose to give that meaning to them.

I have those words, along with the title of today’s blog,  ‘Nothing is Wrong’, stuck up on my window frame, in front of my desk, so that I am sitting looking out of the window my eyes will glance regularly at that message.

I am setting up my own coaching business, and currently most of my days are filled with learning how to do new things, or learning new stuff. That means that quite often I have no idea what to do, never mind how to do it. 

This is a dangerous space within which lies a lot of potential blame and wrong waiting to be attributed. It is manna from heaven for that voice in my head, my inner critic. ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’ ‘How come you don’t know how to do that?’ ‘I can’t believe it’s taken you so long to complete that piece of work?’ ‘Other people are so much more creative than you.’ 

And then I am reminded of the message that nothing is wrong. Today is what it is, and if I need some space to think more slowly and indirectly about the many things that I am dealing with at the moment, then so be it. That is what I need and that is fine. 

Making myself wrong will in the end make me less productive. If I ruin my day by struggling through something and at the same time blaming myself for not being good enough to do it quicker, better, or more creatively, then I will be more demotivated to start again tomorrow.

So I divert myself to doing something else, something which in my current mood I will find easier or more interesting. I do that and I enjoy it and do it well. It restores my faith in my own ability and returns my equilibrium.

Learning to be as kind to yourself as you would be to others is a key step to happiness, especially when you are your own boss and manager. Remember – nothing is wrong.