Sunday, 20 May 2012

Happiness On A Stik!

Today provided the inevitable sunny breakthrough that I have learnt to trust will eventually dispel the stormy clouds that can settle above my head.  Don't get me wrong - the past couple of weeks have not been totally bleak - I've spent time with loved ones and had some thought provoking meetings but I've struggled to keep a few demons firmly back in their box, compounded with fighting off a boring cold.  

Happiness is however never that far away and is often on our own doorstep - and in this case, quite literally.  Today I happened to fall upon a tour of newly commissioned street art in my own corner of London with the artist Stik.  Interpretations of masterpieces housed in Dulwich Picture Gallery, stripped to their basic human essence, adorn six walls tucked amongst the backstreets of suburbia for everyone to enjoy for free.  I saw my neighbourhood with new eyes, learnt a huge amount in the process and was reminded to keep things simple.  Life need not be complicated - and that includes happiness.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Happiness Is A Chemical Formula

It is obvious that happiness is dependent on an utter myriad of factors which differ for each individual which, perhaps, makes it one of the most intriguing and enduringly debated subjects for mankind.  Of course elements of happiness are affected by our emotions and events it is, however, also a chemical thing - or so I convinced myself this morning.
Serotonin is known to influence one's mental state, as is the release of endorphins and also a hefty dose of Vitamin D.  In order to concoct this happy cocktail, I donned my trainers early this morning and went for a long run through my local park, bathed in glorious sunshine and surrounded by budding flowers.  Not the most scientific of formulas but one that seems to work - if you don't believe me, pop on your running shoes and give it a go - and before the bank holiday rain sets in.
Happy Monday.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Happiness is a hot tub!

Happiness today was being so pleased with myself (and yes, I confess, slightly smug) and relaxed after an enjoyable swimming lesson, that I totally forgot that I had scary looking goggle indentations on my face and was only sporting a swimming costume, and yet managed to enjoy chatting to an utter cutie in the hot tub.  Not exactly my natural environment - but perhaps it should be!
Roll on next Monday!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Happiness is....making others happy

I have an amazing job.  Without disclosing too many details, I play a tiny part in helping some incredible organisations to achieve their goals and to improve the lives of countless people in the UK.  A day doesn't pass when I don't feel humbled by the stories I hear and feel honoured to be able to effect a small change. Perhaps the most enjoyable element for me, is calling a charity to convey the good news that they are to receive a grant towards their work.
Today was one of those days of sharing good news.  A very happy day.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Happiness Is.....Freedom

Happiness for me, on this springtime Saturday, is not having to be anywhere at any set time.  I can simply drift and amble as my mood takes me.  Utter bliss.
It is all too easy during the working week to get caught up in the constant, and tiring, scurrying from gym, to work, to appointments, to see friends, to bed - only to then repeat it again the next day.
Today I purposefully have not made any plans and the freedom this brings is, quite literally, liberating.  I only have to please myself and see where my wandering mind and feet lead me.
What is perhaps the most pleasing thing for me to realise, is that just six months ago, I would have felt anxious at the prospect of such a day and would be setting myself a list of tasks.  With hindsight, I realise that I was avoiding being left alone with my thoughts.  Bonkers as it sounds, I now take delight in that I am happy in my own company and can relax by watching the world pass by.
I may not be an OAP but I am enjoying having my own personal Freedom Pass.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Happiness is.....

Sometimes it's simply for tomorrow.

I've learnt that there are some days that the black clouds settle (and I'm sure we all have our own triggers that culminate in an ominous rumbling amongst our thoughts), and that is normal.   The trick perhaps is to learn that this is just a blip and that tomorrow the sun may well be winking at us at dawn and encouraging us to play.

Happiness, I'm sure, is in what tomorrow may bring, or the next day, or the one after that....

Monday, 16 April 2012

Happiness is....

Achieving the impossible.  Challenging those concrete concepts we have of ourselves and realising that, with a little bit of effort, they are moveable with quite astonishing consequences.  The sense of satisfaction and, for me, giddy glee that can be had from learning something that involved a lot of nervous energy at times.  All these things can bring happiness.

For me, this bundle of emotions is captured within my swimming costume.  Yes really!  I'll keep this brief as I've referred to it in a previous post, but a few months ago I decided that the time had come to tackle a phobia that has featured largely in my life for 30 years - water.  It has been a long and nervous journey, but nine weeks ago I started a course of individual lessons with tiny baby-steps achieved each week.  I am still somewhat in shock, however this evening I managed my first ever swim - from entry to exit.  It may sound pedestrian but, for me, it is a huge breakthrough and one which gives me a sparkling sense of achievement but also of the possibilities of what I am yet to achieve.

Happiness can be found in the most surprising of places - I, for one, would never have dreamt that it would be found in a swimming pool and from challenging a long-held belief that I would never be able to confront a fear and achieve the seemingly impossible.

What would you like to tackle to see if it brings a sense of satisfaction and happiness?  Go for it, you never know where it may take you.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Happiness is........

Waking up at the usual time and stretching in the luxurious, glorious knowledge that it is the weekend and I don't have to undertake the usual, crazed routine:
leap out of bed into the awaiting lycra; dash to gym; 40 minute heart-thumping, sweat-inducing exercise; run home; crash into the shower; 35 minutes to make agonising wardrobe decisions, grab fruit and run to the train station; play sardines for an hour on public transport and hope to arrive in the office before 9am.  Phew.
But not today.  Today I can just lie, nestled in the warmth of my duvet and let my thoughts meander and float.  Today I can rejoice in the utter silence as London has yet to start to creak into action.
Happiness for me has been to learn to be still.  That there is no guilt to be had in taking my foot off the accelerator whenever the opportunity arises.
Happiness is to relax.

Monday, 9 April 2012

My Happiness Project - Easter Weekend

Happiness is......contagious!  Or so I am starting to think given my experiences this weekend.  Just as watching someone yawn seems to induce the same jaw-gaping reflex in oneself, so it would appear that laughing can cause a chain reaction that can be addictive.

Scenario 1 - Saturday afternoon, sat in a beauty salon treating myself to a gel manicure (happiness can also be created by little luxuries I've decided), one joke with the staff ended in an hour of non-stop laughter with three of us gasping for breath.  Yes, my nails may be slightly less than perfect as a result, but quite frankly, it was worth every moment and we had the whole salon smiling on a grim afternoon.

Scenario 2 - Saturday evening, I left the salon and went straight to a wine bar where I met a lovely friend and, later, his partner for dinner.  I don't know if it was because I was already buzzing with bonhomie, but the three of us have never had such an uproariously funny evening together, swapping stories (not all of them clean, sadly my doing!) and all of us commenting that we couldn't remember the last time each of us had enjoyed so many belly laughs.

Scenario 3 - Sunday I awoke in a good mood and, so deeply hooked by the laughter buzz, thought through my day ahead and which events may afford the most likely chortle opportunities.  Tea with a friend was just the ticket and I'm delighted to know that I provided a little light-relief in her stressful weekend.

In the words of the 1920s musical comedy producer Vivian Ellis, perhaps it really is possible to 'spread a little happiness'.  Admittedly he did have a fatal fever of 103F when he wrote this, but I shall skip over this point.  He may have been delirious but he hit the nail on the head!

Friday, 6 April 2012

My Happiness Project - Days 9-12

This evening is my first at home in what has been a crazily busy week, so my first opportunity to reflect and return to my blog - not for long as I confess to being utterly exhausted so this is somewhat of a happiness round-up:

  • being carried away by live music performed by an artist with a voice that makes one's heart pound and transcends one to a place of utter joy.  How can one not stop smiling (and singing) to the happy lyrics 'the dark days are over'?  (Tuesday - Florence & The Machine live, watched from the privilege of a private box).
  • being still.  Our lives can become so frenetic with commuting, deadlines, being constantly on the go, I found it such a relief to spend a whole day working at my own pace, in my own flat for one, precious day (Wednesday, at home waiting for the gas man - who was rather cute - another happy moment!).
  • being valued.  I'm aware that this says a huge amount about my ego, but this week I had an insight into what makes me happy and which is lacking a wee bit in my current role.  Giving my advice, joining up the dots, crafting a solution to help an organisation achieve their goals (Wednesday, telephone call).
  • being a friend. This week I have been able to catch up and spend time with some lovely ladies that I have not seen for quite some time. We have laughed, hugged, shared fears, swapped stories and taken the time to reconnect (Wednesday, Thursday & Friday).
Today's quote from the original Happiness Project was "If one thinks that one is happy, that is enough to be happy." And so I shall not dwell on the dark clouds that have been lurking and, at times, threatened to take over. We can choose happiness or we can choose darkness.  It really is in our own hands.

Monday, 2 April 2012

My Happiness Project - Day 8

Happiness is a curious catch-all word that we use to cover an utter plethora of emotions: from a gentle contentment to manic joy; from a quite inner-smile to a cheshire-cat-wide grin; from a quiet buzz to zinging elation.  Now that I am allowing the good times in, I have started to feel the enormous range of the happiness spectrum.  Yes, I know, it's taken me 37 years but, hey, better late than never right?

'Happiness' does not quite describe this evening's emotions.  Nervous energy with a side-order of astonishment, topped with a sprinkling of elation starts to move towards the mark.  I tend to think of myself as a bit of a scaredy-cat - until it was recently suggested to me that I had come out surviving from divorce, redundancy and a few other bits of nonsense over the years.  I am not quite certain how I arrived at wanting to tackle a life-long phobia of water after an incident that happened to me as a child, leaving me waking in cold sweats from  nightmares of swimming pools, but I have a suspicion that feeling generally more content and less-stressed was a major contributor.

So, to cut a long-story very short.  Eight weeks ago I faced swimming lesson number one.  Bearing in mind that I stop breathing if the jet from a shower hits my chest when I'm not expecting it, it was no surprise that I was in tears in the pool changing room.  Just eight lessons later, this evening I managed my first ever unassisted swim.  It wasn't for long and is the kind of thing my seven-year old nephew nailed a couple of years ago, but the sheer elation and happiness I felt in achieving something I never thought possible is enormous.

Happiness obviously ranges from the quiet, content moments such as the perfectly brewed cup of tea, to the brimming elation of pushing oneself way beyond one's comfort zone and feeling smugly proud.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing however is that this broad spectrum does exist.  So that everyday can contain a glimmer of happiness - if only we are open to recognising it.

So, end of lesson eight - first swim.  Next stop - team GB?!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

My Happiness Project - Day 7

As is the case with most people, I have a somewhat varied range of experiences and emotions when it comes to my immediate family.  One element however which, on the whole, continues to grow and provide a sense of happiness and well being, is my relationship with my two sisters.

With distant parents, and especially since I have been single, my sisters have steadily become my family.  It is hard to define a sibling relationship - friendship definitely, but also something intangible, a certain sense of belonging and simply being at ease and slotting in.  There is something strangely comforting about spending time with someone you love and in who's face you see your own characteristics and elements of your own visage mirrored.  

Having spent a few hours hunting the Faberge eggs along the south bank with two very testing nephews, we managed to snatch a lovely half an hour in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine whilst her boys kept themselves amused.  We shared worries, joys and, as with most Wilkinson occasions, copious amounts of tea.  I watched her beautiful face and felt a smile from deep within.

Happiness, perhaps most keenly felt when one lives alone, is being connected with those one loves.  Today, for me, happiness was a simple day with my sister.  

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

My Happiness Project Day 6

Today is, technically day seven, but yesterday I was simply too damned tired to blog, and it's not as if anyone is counting!

Until I changed career six months ago weekends tended to merge into workdays depending on the level of work I had to churn through.  Evenings were simply an extension of the working day, weekends were days 6 & 7 to bill and bank holidays did not exist if they were the only days clients had free to talk.

Absolutely no longer and my free time is now simply that.  Free.  And so when one of my closest friends who lives in Wales mentioned that she and her gorgeous family were going to be in the area for a birthday party with a mutual friend, I leapt at the chance to see them - and without even a glimmer of a thought that I should be working or doing something else.

So today's happiness?  Spending a snatched few hours with friends whom I love so deeply that they feel like my extended family.
Happiness?  My young 'nephew' holding me tight and letting my cuddle him at length whilst acting cool.
Happiness?  Being fortunate enough to attend the 1st birthday party of perhaps the most cuddly little boy I have ever met.
Happiness? A happy conversation with the parents without any recriminations .

Happiness Project Day number 6 - investing love and time into relationships of all sizes and stages.

Yet again, it's simple.  There seems to be a theme emerging.........

Thursday, 29 March 2012

My Happiness Project Day 5

It is unrealistic to expect oneself to be happy every moment of every day.  We are allowed days when the clouds in our minds simply don't shift no matter how bright the sun is shining outside.  When the birdsong can't quite penetrate through the fug in one's head.  We are all human after all.

I awoke with a wee black cloud nestled over my head.  Usually I manage to disperse any early wee demons with a blast of endorphin-creating exercise, however today's schedule of train journeys around the North of the UK made my early happy drug fix impossible.  Which, after a challenging week could have opened the door to a few other gremlins to step forward - and indeed, a few months ago this would definitely have been the case.

Today however I found comfort in the fact that a blue day is now an abnormality.  That after years of living and working alone, my new career brings me into contact with some lovely people, and that coming home is now simply, but happily, that.  It's no longer my office or a reminder of the endless 'to-do' list.  But my home.  My solace.

Happiness, or rather a gently sense of contentment, is sometimes, quite literally, on our own doorstep.  And tomorrow can be anything we want it to be.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

My Happiness Project Day 4 - Honesty

Written in haste as I have a crazily early start zooming around the north of the UK (and yes, I am wearing fatigue up to my eyebrows and the wrinkles this entails is not a good luck).....

Today has a been a veritable pick 'n' mix with the disappointing gob stoppers jammed in amongst the glorious flying saucers (oh happy days).  One thing that has struck me however is that being honest makes one happy.  Or certainly in my tiny instant.

So, I'm invited to spend Easter with both sisters, their families,four other couples (plus their, forgive me, awful blooming children) and said i'd like to - whilst keeping my virtual fingers crossed behind my back. I honestly cannot think of anything I'd enjoy less given I am permanently exhasuted.  I've not slept at all well for the past week but, having come clean with big sis last night, I found myself sleeping for nearly seven hours - and without images of floating ears and finge

Must go and fall asleep,

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

My Happiness Project Day 3 - Giving

'Tis better to give than to receive.

Obviously I am unlikely to say 'I couldn't possibly....' if presented with a spanking fresh pair of Loubotins, a sprinkling of jewels or a clutch of velvety flowers (yes I know, who am I kidding?!), yet there is something to be said in the amount of pleasure and therefore happiness that is to be had in giving, as opposed to receiving.  If nothing else, for the simple reason that knowing that one can raise a smile and add a flutter of happiness to someone else's life, is within one's own power.  Whereas one could potentially wait for years to receive anything!  Cynical and twisted?  Of course but it doesn't detract from the happiness I had today by giving the simplest of tiny gifts.

Scenario 1 - a colleague mentioned recently that she loves walnuts.  I have a stash from my parents' tree that they so thoughtfully refresh every time they come to the UK.  It took less than one minute to fill a bag and then pop it on her desk before she arrived.  She had forgotten her throw away mark so was totally dumbfounded as to where the nutty gift had arrived.  I finally confessed and my day was accompanied by the sounds of her happy munching and murmurs of pleasure.

Scenario 2 - another colleague loves dark chocolate and favours truffles from a certain boutique chain.  Today she was pale and clutching her stomach but didn't say a word about the awful monthly pain she was suffering.  A simple two minute diversion at lunchtime saw me swing by her fave shop, buy a tiny bag of chocs and was greeted with the first smile that had graced her sweet face all day.

Sometimes it really is so ridiculously simple to provide someone with an opportunity to smile and to gain a lovely, gentle sense of happiness.

(p.s don't worry - far more material and physical sources of pleasure are to follow - I'm absolutely no angel.....)

Monday, 26 March 2012

My Happiness Project Day 2

Today's source of happiness is the happy combination of forgiveness and kindness.

Yesterday I was involved in an everyday but no less shocking incident which left me racked with guilt.  I was tussling with various garments in a clothes shop changing room when I heard a knock on my changing room door.  I opened to see a wee curly-mopped blonde French girl.  We ascertained that I was not her maman and so I closed the door - only to find that her finger was in the hinge which I didn't see.  To cut a long story short, the poor poppet screamed whilst blood spouted everywhere, I found the tip of her finger and insisted on ice and an ambulance being called, her parents and aunt were in shock (as were the shop assistants) and I desperately tried to hold it together until, 1 hour later, they were collectively scooped up and taken to Tommy's hospital with my card pressed into their hands.  Then the shock hit but also the immense guilt of what I'd caused and the sympathy I received from the shop staff - which was utterly undeserved as I was the guilty party.

A night ensued full of dreams of floating finger tips.

The most incredible thing however were the lovely emails I received from Sophie's aunty and mother.  Aunty kindly emailed to let me know that Sophie's operation had gone well and they'd returned to Pairs.  Second email was from maman to say that it was utterly not my fault and they were unhappy to think that I was so very worried.  By rights they should have been utterly furious with me but they chose to forgive me.

Kindness - the shop which had unwittingly hosted this wee blood-soaked drama, called me today to check that I was feeling alright and that they had spoken to the family who wanted to relay again that it was just a freakish accident.

No-one - not the aunty, mother or shop manager, had to contact me and yet they all did.  How utterly kind and forgiving.  Definitely today a source of real happiness and comfort.  And a great reminder of my father's only rule for life which I try to live by - to treat others as you would have them treat you.

Which categorically does not involve slamming doors on wee digits.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Spring Has Sprung 2012

Gosh, two years and and a wonderment of changes later, here I am.  Back in my wee world of playing with words but with a horizon that is happier, sunnier and stretches as far as the eye and heart can see.  I have taken a gamble to change career - perhaps not forever but, for now, it is enabling me to learn lots of wonderful lessons about humanity and, closer to home, myself.

Gone are the weekends and evenings of feeling utterly responsible for others and constantly checking my emails and dreaming of work.  Gone is the constant anxiety and loneliness.  Gone also is a certain sense of identity and, I hate to admit it, ego (when one is paid for one's advice and strategic thinking that's something that is hard to miss and admit that one does).  On the whole however, I am loving discovering a whole new world - and the world that is a relaxed and happy Clare.

But what is happiness?  Obviously it is a totally subjective concept but are there elements that contribute to a daily smile of each of us?  Most of my research projects start in my local library (use them or lose them people) which is where I stumbled across 'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin

I've not yet finished it so cannot relay whether or not she reaches a state of utter nirvana.  What has both struck and tickled me however, is the concept of having a daily happiness record.  Which is a very lengthy introduction to what is my new, regular, happiness tick list - for the simple purpose of noticing and remembering each day what has made me smile.

So, day 1.

1. Going from a 34B to a 32D within 5 minutes and without resorting to surgery.  And accepting that I'm a size 6 in trousers - soooo far removed from the image I see of myself in the mirror.
2. Just a five minute conversation with one of my sisters and a text from t'other made me feel connected and held in mind.  Loving and being loved is perhaps the simplest but most heart-warming tingle one can have.