RSS Feed

  1. A bit about 'happinomics'

    There are clever people who've written books that prove we're no happier now we've got loads of stuff and "freedom of choice" (more loads of stuff). We peaked in the 1970s.
    I know I've written about this before, but I want another go at it. And this time, why not put it into practice?
    I was alive in the 70s and I wasn't that happy myself, but that was mostly because I was at school, had loads of exams to do, and had to do what other people told me. It's like that when you live in someone else's house (parents) and lived off someone else's income (parents).
    So now, with my own house and income, can I make myself happier by living like we did in the 70s?

    What did we do then that we don't do now?

    I think it was this:
    We bought things when the old ones fell to bits, or when we really needed a new thing. We then used them.
    We thought it was important to be kind and polite. But I don't think we really understood why.
    In the words of Mr. Spock, we believed that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or of the one. But at the time, we didn't know how that was going to work, exactly. It all seemed a bit theoretical when the school bullies had pushed you in the mud and stolen your dinner money. How would being kind to them be a good idea? How about hiding?

    Work hard play hard

    It was the 80s when we were taught that being greedy and selfish was a really good idea and that owning more stuff would make us very happy indeed. (The US had had that since the 50s, but it only caught on in the UK when Mrs. Thatcher unleashed her new non-paternalistic form of capitalist conservatism.)

    In the 80s there wasn't any good scientific research to support putting the needs of others before yourself; that was one of the things that made Thatcherism so popular. To many people, it seemed obvious that working hard, earning lots and getting stuff was the answer. There was the God Squad telling us that behaving like Jesus was the best way to be, but no-one could see how, not on earth anyway. It's interesting to know that kindness and selflessness really do make people happier. You don't have to be religious, you just have to be lovely.

    Give & take

    My family had been brought up (my mum's side) believing that kindness had to work both ways, directly back and forth. You'd be kind to someone if and only if they deserved it. This led to surprising scenes where my mother could turn into an evil, revengeful harpy, but only if they started it.
    I think I've learned that it's the consistently kind people who end up happy, not the conditionally kind ones. Karma works in unexpected directions. Kindness with no expectation of a payback works best in the happiness stakes.

    Another thing. You've got to be kind to yourself too. There are these constant givers, who often turn up in the caring professions, who tell you they don't expect any thanks for what they do. They think they're being kind, but they're just building up a deficit in their accounts, enumerating and mentally recording every selfless act. There's a worry that it'll all burst out one day and they'll stab someone with a fork 23 times then tell the nice policeman that it just all got a bit much. Don't be one of them. Be kind, but be fair, and that includes being fair to yourself and your own.

    So what's the plan?

    1) Stuff the stuff
    2) Be lovely

    I have too much stuff. I was saving it for when I got a bigger house, but we've got a lovely house and I'll probably live here for the rest of my life, so what's the use?
    I'm going to take my stuff and do one of four things with it: use it, sell it, give it away, recycle it.
    And I'm going to lower my need threshhold. I think I need a constant supply of beautiful new stuff. (And old stuff; I love Arts & Crafts Movement pottery.) I don't. I just need to play with the stuff I've got.

    I'm going to try to be kinder, particularly to the people I know well. Random acts of kindness to complete strangers are all well and good, but they're easy.

    I've just put up a load of books to sell on Amazon and next I'm going to get off the computer and make the lad a cup of coffee. And does anyone need a box of fabric paints?

  2. Last month I got a phone call from France. It was my penfriend's brother inviting me to a party near Avignon for his sister's birthday. I've not seen her for 20 years, but I know that despite my French and her English being a bit rusty, we'll get on just as well as we did on all our school exchange visits between South Tyneside and St. Denis. That's the kind of friend you need. Friends that don't hold a grudge because you've not called them for a decade, and who you feel delighted to hear from when their name pops up in your inbox.

    Then there are the other sort that you've picked up somewhere along the way. Those people who suggest that you might like to meet up, and you agree because it seems rude not to, and then ends up taking up more time than you give to your own best mates. When the phone rings and you see the name you think, "Oh lord, now what?" instead of "Oh good!" And you know that when you say, "How are you?" you're in for an hour's worth of the latest catastrophes: relationships, jobs, whatever.

    I've had my time as a high maintenance friend. We all go through difficult phases, and I appreciate the hours that people spend listening to my tales of woe in the 90s. I like to think that I'm passing it forward by allocating some of my friend time to taking my fair share of it back again. But that means there's less time for the people who are never any bother at all.

    Some of the HMFs take advantage of the self-employed:

    "Good you're at home. I'll come over then."

    "I'm writing a book!"

    "Oh I won't be any bother."

    Some self-help books tell you to dump the friends who are too much effort. I don't think that's kind and I don't think it would make you happy, but I do think that you have to watch them, ask yourself why you take them on, and make sure that you don't get overwhelmed. Some problems can't be solved by friends alone; they need people with prescription pads.

    Nope, what I suggest you do is have a look through your address book and get in touch with the really lovely people who are no bother - your low maintenance friends - for no reason at all except that you like them, and would love it if you heard from them unexpectedly; the friends for whom you'd drop everything, empty your bank account and book a train to Avignon just for a party. I'm seeing four of my mates over the next week, I've had an afternoon out at the V&A with another and lunch with one more. Do it now.

  3. It's Tuesday. Out of my window I can see white clouds and grey clouds. For May, it's not that warm. But the bees are buzzing around the interesting sprays of tiny white flowers on next door's palm tree. (I know! In Ealing!) and the flowers are blooming in the row of little front gardens. Yesterday I spent eight hours in two different accident and emergency departments, first Charing Cross Hospital, which isn't anywhere near Charing Cross, then the bright shiny new one on the Fulham Road. There's nowt wrong with me; I was with a friend who'd had an argument with a sharp implement and lost. Thank goodness I had my knitting with me; there's a lot of waiting around to do. Anyway, after eight hours watching ill people getting patched and despatched, I am seriously appreciating my current good health.

    Incidentally, if you ever have a choice, go to Charing Cross; they are lovely. At the other hospital I got told off twice, once for standing in the wrong place and once for sitting in the wrong place. It was the stroppy blonde woman in white, hair up, thinks she's the boss of you. Although it's fair to say that the plastic surgeon who's going to see if he can repair the damage today was a very nice chap. She's going straight into the next novel, and then we'll see if she starts being a bit less supercilious.

    So for today, I'm going to appreciate whatever the world chucks at me, even if it rains. And I'm going to write up my notes ready for next time I write a hospital visit into a work of fiction. Every experience is useful, even eight hours hanging around in A&E.

  4. It's a lot harder to get rid of stuff than aquire it, don't you think? Buy something, and it's put right into your hands or delivered to your home. A couple of cicks on eBay and you've bought yourself a bargain. It takes a lot longer to sell something: take and upload your photograph, write your copy, set the postage, wait to see if it sells, pack it up and take it to the Post Office. I find it a lot easier to fill up my home than empty it.

    But, I've got to make space (if only so I can stop tripping over things and find enough space to sit down on my chairs and eat off my dining room table) so some of it's got to go. Probably about half of it.

    I packed up three big boxes of stuff and took it to the Salvation Army shop, a nice place where I once picked up a fabulous 36-piece Wedgewood breakfast set for not much money at all. Closed. Next day they were open, but they don't take donations after 3.30. Next day, open but they'd had too many donations that day so I had to put it all back in the car again. Drove around the corner and found the British Heart Foundation shop. Lovely people. They even sent out the team to help me unload it all. I'll be going back there.

    But for the moment, I'm off to eBay to sell a pair of shoes. It's curiously rewarding to watch the house slowly empty itself again.


  5. Not just your feet, your whole body was made for walking, but how much do we do? Not nearly enough. Last week we got some free stuff from Amazon. As a reward - depending on how you look at it - for being one of Amazon's top 1000 reviewers, I got invited to apply for free stuff as long as I review it. It's got a downside. If you write something bad, its publisher will send out an army of web monkeys to give you an "unhelpful" vote but the ASA are looking into that so I'll leave it for now...

    So a big parcel turned up and beneath all the cardboard were a set of scales, a blood pressure monitor and a pedometer, with instructions to download the software from So we did. I've not had a set of scales for, well, not ever come to think of it. So Mr. R. and I set off on our quest so see if we can fit into our smallest clothes. We don't want to be as thin as when we were kids, just as thin as when we met. Mr. R. is putting his Paul Smith shirt buttons under a great strain at the moment.

    I got first dibs on the pedometer. We're supposed to do 10,000 steps a day to stay fit. Days one and two I didn't leave the house and did around 1,100. 11%. Not good enough. Day three, I walked to the Post Office instead of driving and taught a yoga class. Up to 6,000, Day four, I taught another yoga class, walked to the tube station, walked from Holborn to Oxford Circus, up and down Regent Street, and home from the tube again. 11,000 steps. That's all it takes to go from slob to fit.

    Today I've yet to leave the house and I've only done 547. 123 of those were from last night as it resets itself as midnight, assuming that you've gone to bed by then. (Daft machine.)

    So this week, I recommend that you get out and about a bit. Get walking. Just knock one stop off the tube or the bus journey and you'll add in a thousand steps. If you drive, don't park as close as you can to where you're going. And I'm off to the Post Office to keep the calories from accumulating, the heart ticking over nicely and to post a couple of parcels while I'm at it.