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
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.