Richard Layard on Happiness @ The School Of Life

I’ve been meaning to go to The School of Life for aaages. It was founded by Alain De Botton and is the sort of institution that only a great city like London could produce. It does breakfast seminars and classes on fascinating subjects about life, love and the pursuit of happiness such as How To Be A Better Friend, How Necessary Is A Relationship and How To Fill The God-Shaped Hole. I’d love to do a breakfast lecture in their central shop, but last Sunday they hosted Richard Layard from the Action for Happiness – a new charity which aims to create a mass movement for happiness in society, and I had to go. And I dragged The Chef along for good measure, who commented that he would enjoy nothing more on a Sunday morning than getting up early and going to listen to someone talking about the science of happiness.

It was a Sunday sermon held in the Conway Hall on Red Lion Square. And wowser, it was incredibly busy when we arrived – the queue snaked round the entrance, all ages and types of people, babies and oldies, all keen, some taking notes, many giggling, and we barely found 2 free seats on the balcony. And it truly was like a Sunday sermon. The Choir With No Name (brilliant – check them out if you can) had us on our feet singing Happy Together by The Turtles and Movin’ On Up by Primal Scream. Singing in unison and in medleys and enjoying it totally. Made me remember how singing en masse with soaring soprano bits and clapping is super fun and one of the things I miss most about going to church every Sunday as a child.

And then Richard Layard told us about the Action for Happiness’ 10 keys to happier living. These were decided by a swat team of happiness dudes who argued at length about what was most important in creating a society that aimed to create happiness and lessen misery. So, after careful deliberation, they came up the following rules, split into how you interact outwardly with the world each day, and your inner mind:

  • Giving (to others, makes you feel better as a result – apparently the same bits of your brain triggered as when you eat chocolate. So far, so HPL)
    Relating (like my “connect” but more I think – to change your minset to realise you aren’t COMPETING with everyone but that you are all in it together, people are on your side and can be trusted)
    Exercising (yeah yeah, got it already, “be active”)
    Appreciating (like my “be curious”)
    Trying out (I suppose this is like my “learn”)

So I felt quite chuffed, part of the zeitgeist. That my rules that I collated on the back of a fag packet on the tube one night would have taken a team of scientists many months, even years, to come up with. Internal high fives all round. But then with one fell swoop I realised that my rules were missing something incredibly fundamental, something that I’ve touched on with my thoughts on happiness but not really concentrated on, to this blog’s detriment. And that is the rules of the inner mind. The most important rules. The rules without which I don’t think you can be truly happy. I was now mentally slapping myself on the forehead repeatedly. They are these:

  • Direction (you need some sort of aim or goal – but not too challenging)
    Resilience (the idea – that I’ve heard said in various philosophies like Your Erroneous Zones, and a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt – that you do not have to be the victim, you decide how you react to any situation, no-one can force you to feel anything you don’t choose to feel)
    Emotional positivity (again, hugely important. Can you take a brilliant day where crappy things happen and allow the positive to outweight the negative?)
    Acceptance (the acceptance of yourself and others, allowing yourself to forgive)
    Meaning (the understanding that you are part of something bigger – in whatever spiritual or religious way you want it to be)

As well as kicking myself for not thinking about these before, I’m also delighted to have discovered them now – like I’ve just found the biggest piece of the jigsaw behind the sofa.

But if I look at their rules for “In Our Mind” I realise how horribly short of the mark I am for many of them. Direction is OK – I sort of know where I’m going now after a few years of dithering and I’m incredibly focused when I need to be. But I’m not emotionally resilient one bit – I feel mortally wounded by the smallest criticism, and if I’m ever told off I feel like curling up in a ball and licking my wounds for a month. And emotional positivity? Well yes I’m enthusiastic, and laid back at times, but a brilliant film has been known to be ruined for me if I have bad seats, a great night out ruined by an insensitive comment. Emotionally, I can be a glass-half-empty-and-a-bit-chipped kind of girl. I need to work on this because when I AM in a positive frame of mind (and I am a lot of the time, honest) I feel much better, bond better with friends and family, basically am less of a moaney bitch.

Oh god and then acceptance! Well I have only recently managed to accept myself. But I still think I’m a bit of a dick much of the time. But at least I accept others right? Well to an extent. Although if someone does things differently from me – a different attitude to friendship or holidays or recycling or music or text message vocabulary or SQUEEZING THE TOOTHPASTE, it can rub me up the wrong way. It’s tiring and annoying for the people I love. And then I get annoyed at myself because I think “live and let live, for fuck sake Sasha” (which always reminds me of that theme song from Bond of the entirely opposite meaning) but I still find it hard. So I need to work on this one the most perhaps. And don’t talk to me about forgiveness. I still have gripes from circa 1983 and fights with my sister at the school bus stop.

There’s a lot to work on. But this blog needs more shape and depth than just the best places in London to find a flat white (although that will continue, I’m “trying out“, innit). So, I have decided to take one “inner mind” rule at a time and examine it closely over the space of several weeks, months even, however long it takes. Work out what it means to me, what I’m doing wrong, little exercises to get better. Fact is, I’m not going to find nirvana through attending dance classes or eating the best burger in London (although I enjoy the instant gratification I get from them), so I want to make this my new focus.

For now, I’m going to start with the exercises on happiness they gave us at the sermon which you can do too:

1. List 3 things that have happened in the last 24 hours that you are grateful for; and

2.  Write down 5 acts of kindness you can do this week.

It has taken me a while to think of mine and I have, but they are a little personal so there’s some things I need to keep to myself. Included however are having lovely people to show me a great cycle route to work; the lovely Chef and details thereof; cooking Burns supper for 10 friends; and making Lady B playlists of music to give birth to. I’ve joined the Action for Happiness and encourage you to do the same – they need lots more supporters to built their happy society based on equality, trust, kindness, peace and high-fives all round (the last one is my idea). Just think – a society where you don’t need to fight to be better than anyone and it’s not all about having the most money / best looks / nicest handbag. If you like you could have a read of Richard Layard’s book on happiness too.

Check out the School of Life’s upcoming events too. Their breakfast lectures look fab – all that culture before you’ve even got to work – and they’ve got Grayson Perry talking about Kinky Sex on Sunday 13 February. I’d also love to go to their lectures on Mindfulness, Photography in London and…ahem…How To Be Cool. London I salute you.

22 responses to “Richard Layard on Happiness @ The School Of Life

  1. Wow it sounded brilliant!. Can’t believe I missed yet another amazing event. Will stay emotionally positive though and head over to their website immediately 🙂

  2. Sasha, I’ve recently found your blog and i just wanted to say I think its brilliant. I am a fellow London girl and much of what you write resonates with me.

    This is also a brilliant, thoughtful, and though provoking post, and in the spirit of giving and encouragement I wanted to tell you so! Great blog.

    • Thank you so much for your lovely words 🙂 Means a lot and made me smile. I also checked out your blog and I just LOVE the photos & arty creative side to it, one thing I lack. Also (and I hope this isnt too stalkerish) love your wedding photos on the blog – so beautiful. Thanks again x

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  4. I only got round to trying to get tickets to this at the last minute when it had already sold out, so I possibly am lacking in Direction. Generally, though, I’m like you – not bad on the outward side of the list, pretty shit (there you go – lack of Acceptance) on the inward side. For example, even those GREAT and DREAM acronyms I find REALLY irritating…
    Great blog, by the way – reading your posts definitely adds to my well-being (so give yourself a point for “Giving”). What you’re doing is brilliant – and I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “happiness professional”.

    • Thank you Cathy 🙂 Totally agree – I am brilliant at organising dance classes, yoga classes, visits to new restos and exhibitions. But I’m seriously shit at tolerating other people’s attitudes sometimes when they differ greatly from my own . And I can be horribly negative. But I just need an aim sometimes, practical things to work on, and the good thing about me is that I do try.

      Thank you for saying nice things xx

  5. Hi Sasha 🙂

    Please don’t ask me how I found your blog because I honestly can’t tell you… but I’m glad that I did. I love your conversational style and the look and feel of this blog. Maybe I found you here because my topic this week was about Happiness as well… and from there… well… I just got to wandering aimlessly! (((chuckles))) So you see it was meant to be. I’m an aussie but I’ve been to London a few times. Blessed with perfect weather and impossibly blue skies each time… I LOVED London! So glad I can now follow you around London here on your blog and see where’s the best place to eat and go when next I make that trip across one rather large ocean and two big continents! I’ll also be looking forward to the answers to those questions as well. I’ve just asked some of the same sorts of questions over on my own blog if you’ve got time to take a look. If not no worries. All the best with the blog. It’s just great! Jean.

    • Thank you Jean for the lovely words and saw your photo on twitter – you’re a hottie! Sorry. Anyway, liked your blog post on happiness. I totally agree – there are ups and downs and we all feel those and they can’t be avoided. It’s just getting the “median line”, the average of these, to be relatively high. To be content overall. To have a day where good and bad things happen and at the end of it to say “Ok so I fell over in the mud but the band we listened to was brilliant so it was a good day”. That’s certainly a state of mind.

      Anyway thanks the comment, always appreciated and happy Australia Day! x

  6. Really good post. You’re getting there!

  7. Thanks for sharing this post! I’m living in London at the moment too and going to the School of Life is on my to-do list. Thanks for mentioning Grayson Perry’s Kinky lecture, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday!

  8. Well this is a total cracker. I’d say you’re close to attaining guru status on the Happiness writing front. Oodles of self-awareness and sensible thoughts. And thank you for heading to the School of Life because I too have been meaning to go for aaaages and not quite made it, even though I swore blind I would make that sermon I have a feeling that was the day I was throwing myself into freezing water at London Fields Lido (which did make me very happy, so), or possibly (more likely?) recovering from bday party hangover, ahem. So I am most pleased you went and reported back, and I WILL be getting my tush down there (across? up?) at some stage in the not-too-distant future. Yes sirree. Also, by the by, but you cycling to work is pretty darn good too – woman, you are on a roll!!


    • Well this is a really really lovely comment *wipes a tear away*. Thank you.

      Do go to the School of Life – it is incredibly brilliant, and I’m hoping to come join you for some wild swimming this summer (DEFINITELY a warm weather swimmer!). And yes cycled to work again this morning – really enjoyed it. And started humming (not singing quite yet). I’m going to write a blog post on it soon.

      Thanks again lovely 🙂 xx

  9. Discovered your blog because of this event and I have to say it’s completely refreshing. Your enthusiasm for London and your ability to recognise the positives and negatives in life and your honesty are lovely.

    I’ve been through a few downs recently and the talk was brilliant and genuinely uplifting and the 10 keys have helped me already in giving myself a good kick in the arse and recognising what I need to do to sort out things I should’ve a long while ago! Started a blog myself before this to head in the right direction and vent a bit and it was so nice to be surrounded by such a great mix of people looking for the same things.

    Your list of to do stuff is great by the way, going to make sure alot of them go on my own!


    p.s can see myself in your picture from the balcony!

    • Thank you so much Pete – I really appreciate nice words on the blog 🙂 I will have a peer at the photo and see if I can find you!

      I agree it was so nice to see so many people interested in happiness and I loved their rules. Also massive kick in the arse about what is truly important.

      I’ve also had a wee look at your blog and I really like it. And I totally agree with your profile that you need a space to vent. I started this blog because I was filled to the brim with ideas and worries and ambitions and I needed somewhere to get it all down in one place, also a place of reference and a benchmark for how far I’d come, or slipped back. Writing to me has been of itself a source of happiness but also a way I can express how I feel. Often it is only by writing that I understand how I feel which is a bit odd really. Anyway I applaud what you’re doing and will follow your upcoming posts!

      Thanks again for the lovely words. Sasha x

  10. Hello Sasha – I love your blog. Just discovered it. Lots of catch up reading to do now! I love London too. Passionately. I write our company’s blog. We’re in the tech space, but intermittently I sneak in a ‘London love’ post that is a tribute to something going on or about our amazing city. Today was one such day:

  11. Thank you for the write-up. I suspect you will very much like Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness which provides exercises and summaries of scientific interventions that provide evidence these exercises work. One of the exercises is of course writing down 3 things you appreciate about your day before you go to sleep 😉

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  13. Truly, all the points above is essential for a happy society. But more than important is the RELATIONSHIP with GOD our creator.

  14. Before you criticise the school of life, walk a thousand miles through their Student’s rulebook….

    The Skool of Life’s Student’s Skool Rulez

    (Or things I ain’t allowed to do at the Skool of Life!)

    1) I will not look for “the meaning of life” in any other place other than where it may usually be found, in strikt accordance with the “directions for use” from the lecturers involved in helping registerred students to find it during normal skool opening hours.

    2) I am not allowed to hum a “happy tune” when wandering the dark hallways of my mind while atending all the latest Skool lectures in Bloomsburry.

    3) I will not poke the “strange looking” class-mates with pencils, nor shall I insist that their hairdoos be “all hippyized” before going to lectures.

    4) Newly enrolled “newbie” students ain’t “there to be fed to the skool Kat, Baalfezzar”.

    5) I will not make a “mountainous pile of crap” out of a minniskule little molehill that’s been swept under the carpet whenever “nobody wants to see it”.

    6) I will not ask for an inmediate answer “right now” to “the meaning of life”, from the currant resident fhillosophers on their tea breaks.

    7) I will not call the two “almost famous” resident Skool fhilosophers, “decorative bookends!”

    8) It is a very bad idea to tell the resident “Swizz fillozopher!” he takes himself too seriously, while he perambullates up and down on the “slippery slopes of the mighty Matter horn of metafhorical ineptitude”.

    9) The current Direktor isn’t the “King of the Castell” (nor, conversely, is she a dirty raskill when she ain’t).

    10) I am not allowed to take out a life insurance policy on the head of the head “psycho-ogling” lecturer (nor, in fact, to say, “bring me the horrid head of the horrible head of the horrifik head of the School” with impunity never again either, neither).

    11) I will not say the phrase, “Get a Life!” to the skool caretaker, either infront of his two faces or behind his back, neither, either.

    12) I am not allowed to sing, “People are strange when you’re a stranger” whilest skipping off to the Direktor’s office to be spanked for being too facetious.

    13) I will not use my old socks as if “reversed upon themselfs with stairing paperclip eyes” to make metaforical hand puppets to represent a metaforically-idealized “skool masscott”.

    14) I will not try to give the next strange-looking Aussie shop assistant in the skool’s shop (whom may I occassionally see serving paying customer’s “feel-good” drivel) Chinese burns behind the bookcases.

    15) I am not allowed to try to chat up (nor subsequently try to goose) the latest “hot chick” shop assistants from Oz behind the bookcases at the back of the Skool’s shop.

    16) I am not allowed to declare an official “Hug A Dirty Bum Day” on the Sckool shop’s premisis, whenever one inaddvertantly comes in the door looking for a free handout by mistake.

    17) I am not allowed to yell “Fire!” every time I set alite too the toast in the cheap Taiwanese toaster now enstalled in the kitchen of the Skool’s shop.

    18) I will not dress up in fancy dress as a pale green luminous “thinking carrott” at the Skooll’s next New Year’s Eve party.

    19) When asking about “any gods’ news today?” at the Sunday Sermons, I am not to refer to the “Holy Trinity” as “The Force”.

    20) I will not post “strange internet links” nor write “Bladders!” in Bembo Bold on the School’s new internet blog.

    21) I will not call the “cool” lecturer of the Skool’s new “Cool” lectures “Captain Kool”, even if he is wearing a old Brittish Navy Duffle coat.

    22) I am not allowed to ask any newbie-lecturer to show us all the “Oh, pointy-pointy, what is the pointy!” paper cone hat-trick whilst sitting in the corner.

    23) I am not allowed to say, “well, you learn something new here every day” when any guest lecturer reveals “something quite profound” to the students.

    24) I will not make up an impossible riddle impossible to understand by an “impossible” lecturer as a genuine “question of interest”, when he or she is “asking for it”.

    25) It is not nesessary to yell, “Spam!” every time I gesticulate incontrollably un-nesessarilly when caught unawares in inscrutabuble lectures.

    26) I am not allowed to make lightsabre sounds when waving my “glow in the dark” plastic ruler about in lectures.

    27) I am not allowed to run about within the corridors of my mind (especially in a fhilosophical manner) between lectures, without being properly supervised by a fully qualified member of staff.

    28) I will not attack my fellow students with blank post-it notes.

    29) If the thought of a joke that makes me giggle privately (when, say, bunking off smoking weed in the sckool toilets) for more than 25 seconds, I must assume that I am not allowed to use it as a metaforically rhetorical question in a related lecture.

    30) I am not allowed to bring a dudd Rubik’s Cube to any of the Skool’s latest “finding inner meaning to life” lectures.

    31) If a class-mate falls asleep during a lecture, I will not take advantage of that too draw a “kiss me quick” sign in indellabel felt tip pen on his or her forehead.

    32) I am not allowed to say, “basicaly, a little determinism is not an issue here, it is the little determinations” to the newly enrolled students of the “How to have better conversations” lectures.

    33) I will not say, “buck up!” to anyone attending the provokatively inspirring “Understanding Depression” lectures who’s wearing a dark cape and a baggy felt hat with a feather in it.

    34) I will not recommend the “How to Think More about Sex” Skool book as recomended reading to any sexy Sweedish foreign exchange students (either male or female), newly enrolled in the “Intensive” range of lectures.

    35) I will not suggest to any of the more gullible foreign exchange students that to “conker the Earth with interrepid fortittude” isn’t a good career choice, for any absent-mindedly overly ego-centric (or otherwise) student of The School of Life.

    36) All semi-serious (or psuedo-serious) discussions of any fhilosophical merrit at the Skool, are restricted to those who dare to discuss them further outside the bounds of the limits of the concreteness of the lecture theatres.

    Text copyright: 2012, The School of Life, Bloomsbury.

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