Category Archives: Love, singledom, confidence, women, fertility, age

On happiness & motherhood

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And then there were three….

You will have to excuse my lack of blogging of late. But on 27 March 2013, I gave birth to my son and my life changed out of all recognition. And recently, 7 weeks on, I’ve realised some things about happiness that make the HPL rules more important than ever to stick to and I wanted to share them here.

It is only now, as my body releases the hormones I’ve had circulating in my system over the last 10 or so months, which kept my baby inside me and allowed him to grow, that I am able to reflect on how I’ve changed.

Firstly, I realise I had a tough pregnancy. I have a new-found affinity for Kim Kardashian in that I too grew to the size of a small bus while carrying my baby boy, to the extent that many people (including medical practitioners) told me I must be having a huge baby. I feel for her because while you can put vanity on the back burner as much as you can, hating photos of yourself, catching yourself sideways in a mirror and gasping at your sheer bulk, isn’t the best thing for your self-confidence or esteem.

And then there’s how the hormones affect you. For me, my body was allergic to the hormones, and while my body gave everything it could to make my son the beautiful and chilled out boy he is, it took something from me – my skin became red and sore and swollen and itchy, I didn’t look like me, I would look in the mirror and cry in pain and in sadness at the loss of something. Only now, when he is 7 weeks, and my skin has begun to look normal again (thanks, in part, to Waitrose Baby Bottom Cream, who knew?), I feel that I have regained “me” again, only a fatter me with droopier boobs.

Then there’s the moods, the loss of confidence at work because of baby brain and guilt about maternity leave and your career path, the overwhelming love and fear for your baby and your family, and the separation from old friends whose lives are now on a different track.

Then there’s the birth. Well mine was pretty bloody awful. It was brutal and traumatic and you can read about it on my baby blog here if you want to. It gave something to me, of course – it gave me a power and a confidence, especially as I did it without an epidural and mostly on gallons of gas and air, but it also made me cynical and angry at mother nature and at life, and its something I realise I need to recover from mentally and emotionally, as does The Chef who saw things I can’t even imagine.

And finally motherhood. The highs, those incredible highs – of picking up a sleepy warm baby in the morning, of the first smile, the picking his clothes and laughing when he does something funny, the watching him asleep, the cuddles and the love – that overwhelming love again – and the worry about anything that might happen to him. I feel such pride in my family, in him, this chilled out wee fella that The Chef and I made, who seems better than us, who seems so perfect, who I can’t wait to watch grow, who develops every single day.

But, at 7 weeks, as the hormones that made him slip away, I feel something new. A sense of change, of wondering who I am now, what I do from here.

I’m not working, my life is my baby and cups of coffee, endless coffees, with other mums. We talk about our babies and about our boobs and our stitches. I am fascinated with recording every feed, every poo, every minute of sleep.

I found myself telling a (male) friend of mine, in great detail, about how my son hadn’t pooed for 2 days and how it was great that he had finally done a poo that morning, explaining in detail how he went red and I felt bad for him but was also happy as he’d been constipated… and halfway through I thought – what on EARTH am I doing! I’m talking about my son’s shits in great detail! To a bloke! I’ve become one of those mothers….And I post photos of him on Facebook all the time. And when The Chef brings up something in the news I feel ashamed – I didn’t watch the news today, in fact my world is here, so small now, between the bedroom and the nursery and the kitchen. And between the coffees, I am here – in the nursery mostly – with him, loving him and cuddling him, but alone, lonely at times. Working us both up to the next coffee, the next GP visit, the walk to the park, that is the day’s activity.

My god I’m not complaining. I love being a mum – I’m good at it I think. I love him and I love our life together and I love my family. But I realise my identity, my happiness, my confidence, has taken a knock with all this, left me moody and on the verge of rage or tears fairly easily, left me not quite knowing who I am now, how I’ve changed, whether I will ever be the old “me” again. And so now, I realise how important it is that I work on my happiness, and in doing so, work out where I go from here.

And so to the rules again:

1. Be Active – important given I can only live in elasticated waistbands for so long. I’m doing a mother & baby yoga class to ease my creaky bones, and I’ve dug out my gym kit with thoughts of swimming and running.

2. Connect – vitally important for me right now. I miss my friends after 7 weeks of wanting to be holed up with my baby boy. I want to organise a girls’ night out and drink wine – wine! – and a night eating good food with The Chef. I want to drink a martini. I want to go to the cinema. I want to see old friends, and friends without kids, and phone people when I feel isolated with a baby stuck to my breast.

3. Give – my current bugbear, after awe-inspiring treatment by NHS midwives at Kingston hospital, is the proposed plans for the NHS – the fact that it is effectively being privatised from under our noses to an American-style insurance-based system with healthcare for the richest, from private companies, while the poorest will suffer. I need to see what I can do to get involved. As a mum I’m also filled with an empathy I don’t think I had before – so I want to make sure I give clothes and toiletries to charities that help women and children.

4. Nurture – easy. I do it every day until around 7pm when I put him down to sleep. But there are other projects too to get excited about – transforming my garden, planting new colourful flowers, transforming the house in which I spend so much time in nowadays. Projects, and economical maternity-leave budgeting ones at that, will keep me busy over the next few months.

5. Learn – I’m going to learn to cook. As The Chef knows, I can barely boil an egg, but I’d love to get better of it, to become a bit more domesticated, to feed my lovely family. I’m starting this week with doing a few simple meals. God help us all.

6. Be Curious – Since the hormonal fug of pregnancy has started to lift, the baby is able to sleep in his pram, and I’m mastering public transport, I want to go exploring London again. So many places I want to go – Eel Pie island (open house 22/23 June), the Polka Theatre, the Electric Cinema, some of the new restaurants whose openings I’ve totally missed.

Happiness, like confidence, is a transient thing, and one you need to keep working at. Getting married, having a baby, can be the happiest time of your life, but the changes they bring and emotions they evoke can be overwhelming at times. I’m glad I have the HPL rules to ground me, and I love a project to work on. I’ll let you know how I get on.

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The Happy Baby Project

I’ve been quiet over the last few weeks because life has changed somewhat, and it has something to do with the little wriggly person that’s been growing inside me. Yes, the HPL is having a baby!

And while I’m wildly happy about it now, there were times in first 12 weeks when I really struggled to remind myself of all I’ve learnt about being positive. Of course I appreciate how lucky I am, and what an exciting thing is about to happen to us, but my body’s reaction to the news wasn’t exactly pleasant. And it took this wonderful blog post by Caroline No to give me the strength to say IT’S BEEN BLOODY SHIT! I’ve been a bit rubbish at this pregnancy stuff! And finally – who cares!

My skin decided it didn’t like the preggie hormone or the preggie hormone didn’t like certain foods anymore and broke out in giant red itchy spots all over my chest, neck and face, which might or might not have been hives. I got teenage acne. I developed an agonising pain in my right buttock which turned out to be my pelvic girdle pinging out of place, making walking nigh on impossible. I found myself sobbing like a heartbroken teenager for hours on end, once hysterically laughing and sobbing at once, not knowing why. I felt nauseous and fat and bloated and frumpy, unable to squeeze into my old clothes but not big enough for maternity gear. I ate three burgers in a week. I missed wine and hangovers, still do. And don’t get me started on itchy boobs and cracked nipples and giant wire-less maternity bras which make cycling to work an interesting exercise in pot-hole avoidance and agonising bouncing droopy pendulous bosoms….

A cumulative force of utter exhaustion, the need to cry repeatedly and teenage acne-like skin meant I lived as a hermit for weeks – not even wanting to go for a walk and covering my face when I saw anyone including a man reading our meter: “Don’t Look at Meeeee!”.

There were sudden periods of anger, an unbearable urge to snap. The Poor Chef got the brunt of it, being the only person in my vicinity for much of the time. You put a wine glass in the dishwasher the wrong way – YOU IDIOT!!! You didn’t put the plant pot in the right place – YOU RUINED MY BIRTHDAY!!! And how could he understand the raging hormones that were filling my body with negativity and fury and sadness, when he was just really really happy?

But on the cusp of 12 weeks things got better. I got my energy back, which built up to something like hysteria when I realised I could finally socialise and actually see my friends again (lunches and walks along the Thames best – drunken dinners not to the most fun when you’re sipping on Schloer all night and wondering why everyone’s laughing at an unfunny joke). My skin cleared up and my hair went from greasy to full. I contacted friends, I felt positive, I started thinking about the future. And The Poor Chef came out of hiding.

And then this week we had the scan. I was a bag of nerves, wondering if it was there at all, or alive or deformed, or multiple. But then we saw him (for we call him “he” after the scan but we don’t know if he is a she yet of course). What a gorgeous wee wriggler. He was tiny, of course. But with a round little belly and a lovely face with big lips. And beautiful frogs legs and two feet, which he kicked in the air before turning his little bottom towards us. I can’t feel him yet but my tummy is getting more solid and I love the little reminder that he’s there, wriggling and waiting.

So now it’s different. I’ve told people which really helps. I’ve bought a few bigger clothes and am enjoying better skin and shaking off the indignity of the last few weeks. I’m loving my new body – the round curves, the bigger breasts, the hardening belly. I’m so proud of my body, so impressed at its strength and the way it seems to know exactly what to do. I can see why women who’ve given birth often want to do marathons  afterwards – and I feel the same – because I love my body in a way I never have before and I’m amazed at what it is capable of and I want to get fit, not just work out at the gym to lose weight, but get stronger and faster and show myself what my body can actually do. I feel womanly and dare I say a bit beautiful.

I am already aware of competitive mum syndrome and what lies ahead. There are the I’m-still-a-party-girl mums (I stayed up til 2am and wasn’t tired at all! Yes the baby is two weeks old lets book that girls’ holiday to Ibiza!). There are the body-beautiful mums (I’ve not put on ANY weight! In fact I’ve LOST weight! Who’s the first for botox?!). There are the capitalist mums (I’ve just bought the most fabulous baby papoose to match my bugaboo pram travel system in a neutral colour to match my tastefully decorated nursery!). And there are the this-is-totally-natural-to-me mums (vitamins? I didn’t bother with those. Epidurals? I’m just going to power breathe with my doula).

So what sort of mum will I be? Well who knows. But I’m not pining my party days any more. In fact I’m loving getting to bed at 10pm and being cosy under a woollen blanket on the sofa. My favourite recent purchase is a great pair of sheepskin slippers.  I’m looking forward to my body getting big and round because I have a feeling it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be doing and I really want to take care of it from now on. And I believe what my child really needs is our unconditional love, and a favourite cuddly toy which is soft and old and worn, and being read to all the time, and its grannies and granddads and aunty and uncle teaching it about life and the world and where it came from.

I know one thing for sure. This is the biggest adventure of our lives and its one that I’m finally ready for. And sometimes it will take all I’ve learned about happiness and positivity to keep me going when times are tough, but the joy this little thing will bring will teach me more about life and love than I ever imagined possible.

So wriggle away wee man, we love you very much, and we can’t wait to meet you in March!

A London girl’s guide to getting hitched

So, The Chef and I got hitched just over a month ago – hurrah – and, while I slowly sink back to earth, catch up on sleep, and enjoy being able to EAT and DRINK again, I thought I’d write down some stuff I learned along the way *:

1. The dress – there’s nothing like wedding dress shopping to drop a giant big turd on your “special day”. They tell you you need 6 months to order your dress, then say they haven’t got any free appointments for 2 months, and sometimes even say you have to pay £20 for the privilege. Some make you take off your shoes at the door, wear gloves and rush you to be in and out in an hour. Importantly, there is far too little champers handed out (big up to Mirror Mirror and Teokath for bucking this trend). Fact is, unless you get it made, buy it second hand or go vintage, you’ll pay an average of £2,000 for your dress and the alteration process is a nightmare that goes on for hours. The upside is that if you pick the right one, you’ll feel incredible on the day, and its a great lesson in what suits you so I found my wardrobe also improved. These are the dress shops that I think are worth going to:

  • Teokath in Wimbledon – where I got my lovely Lusan Mandongus dress. They have a great selection of dresses, are friendly, have a lovely dress fitter who will patentiently address all your concerns (pull it in! more! shit I can’t breathe!), and you can also buy jewellery there.
  • Jenny Packham in Pimlico – hard to get an appointment, but gorgeous beaded 1920s Great Gatsby style dresses. Best suited to tall skinny people though.
  • Mirror Mirror and Morgan Davies in Islington for great selection of dresses, although at Morgan Davies you have to pay £20 for appointments.
  • Alice Temperley in Notting Hill – amazingly different, electic dresses, perfect for the actresses and extroverts amongst you. Lovely room to try on stuff and great to try something different.
  • Suzanne Neville in Knightsbridge – lovely dresses and lovely staff although I was slightly put off by their posters of Danielle Lineker that adorn the walls.
  • While I’m at it, Bridal Rogue Gallery on Chiltern Street has an amazing selection of shoes and jewellery, and borrow the veil from a friend (sooo expensive).

2. Self-preservation, head fuckwittage and general wellbeing -while getting married was the happiest day of my life, and I am absolutely loving being a newlywed, I put my hands up and say not only it is bloody stressful, for me the pre-wedding preparations was a time when I needed to work at staying happy. I remember when I was single I got annoyed at my engaged friends moaning, thinking you should be happy – I’m having to go to Tiger Tiger this Saturday and you’re sticking me on the single table! And I too found that when I moaned about the pressure, I had people saying I should be happy and why was I sweating the small stuff, which I found pretty unhelpful.

But I now know (and sorry to my married freinds who I was unsympathetic to before!) that weddings bring to the fore issues of self-esteem, highlight family problems, make you miss people who can’t be there, shine the spotlight on friendships, showing who you can count on and who are always too busy.

And, more than that, the fact that you have now got what you’ve always wanted, have all this attention on you, is a little overwhelming and sometimes, there is a tiny little voice that says

why me? how could I be this lucky? I don’t deserve this happiness!

…and you have to organise lots, and think about things you don’t normally give a crap about like flowers and hairstyles and ribbons and napkins and garters.

And you suddenly feel bad about all your married friends who you were a bitch to when you were single and unhappy, acting with indifference to husbands and children, getting horrifically drunk at weddings and snogging the best man. It made me feel guilty that they were all so lovely to me and didn’t hold my previous bad behaviour and impatience against me (apart from one – who pointed out when I emailed accomodation details 4 months before that I RIPPED brides apart for doing this at previous weddings).

And you don’t sleep brilliantly and you are dieting, and you might get cold sores or excema, and start being a fucking bitch to your husband-to-be, and then you worry he might not marry you after all and then…. Argh!

After a recommendation from a friend,  who commented very kindly on how ragged I was looking, I became a walking pharmacy of things-that-help. This stuff calmed me down and zenned me out, so much so that I was surprisingly cool and calm on the big day:

  • A sleepy time dream pillow spray of lavender
  • Valerian herbal anti-anxiety tablets (I had one called Quiet Life that was amazing)
  • Herbal sleeping pills (I used Nytol)
  • Buy bottles of Bach Rescue remedy for work, in your handbag, in your car, at home. Use frequently, especially when he says “but there isn’t anything to do!“.
  • Vitamin B complex helps with stress and energy and cold sores.
  • I’m not ashamed to say that due to my erratic behaviour and feeling a bit overwhelmed I had a “maintenance” session with my amazing counsellor (email me for deets) – she made me realise what was upsetting me and why I was finding things difficult because I just didn’t t hink I deserved all this wonderful stuff happening to me. She made me realise I did deserve it – I’ve worked so hard on my faults, on my happiness, on this blog, on relationships and life and family. I’ve worked bloody hard and I do deserve it. I deserve The Chef – he’s my reward somehow. And I am lucky, I won’t forget that.

3. Grooming. I found it stressful thinking I had to be the thinnest I’d ever been, the most beautiful. And what if you wake up with spots? Or excema? Or a cold sore? My friend pointed out that a bride’s beauty comes from within, from the fact that she is so happy she’s glowing, and on the day itself I was in this smiley bubble all day, but we all need a little help so here’s where I went:

  • Linda Meredith in Knightsbridge does amazing facials and oxygen facials where they push oxygen into your skin. Made me glow for about a week. Not cheap (£100 for a facial and £100 for the oxygen thing) but I got a voucher from Keynoir at half the price.
  • Lorraine at Expressions gave me a set of amazingly natural-looking eyelash extensions (to avoid the Sam from TOWIE look, just ask for a lash on every 2nd or 3rd lash and volume rather than length) which looked amazing on the big day and meant I didn’t have to wear any make-up for the week before and for almost 3 weeks afterwards so perfect for honeymoon. She works from her rather hard-to-find flat in Hammersmith but its well worth going.
  • Michael Becman who works at Space NK in Edinburgh did my hair and make-up – we kept it very light and natural, and as I was getting married outside in a garden, we put flowers and pearls in my hair. Mikee’s not only a great make-up artist, he is hilarious and kept us all laughing on the big day.

4. The cake. Oh my look at that beauty above. We utterly lucked out with the cake. I found cake shopping quite disappointing, the fact that a simple, boring-looking, traditional three-tiered cake costs minimum £300 and often didn’t taste or look that great. And then through twitter we met Lisa Brunton-Stocks (@harbourhussy), who is mad about cakes, and actually, pretty mad full stop. She drove all the way from Aberdeen to Edinburgh to let us taste her cakes which were incredible, and for the first time I got excited about what a wedding cake could be. She was amazingly inspired and creative and spent ages getting it perfect – sending me pictures of edible pearls and meringue to match my dress, matching the decoration to the lace on my dress and my bouquet. It was a jaw dropping cake and amazingly delicious. And on the way to honeymoon, I read this blog her friend wrote about the work that went into it: http://willtravelforcake.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/an-epic-wedding-cake/. If you can’t find your own Lisa, then I reckon M&S has some brilliant, unique cakes at good prices (check out this upside down white choc version).

5. The photographer. We used Paul Raeburn who took these amazing photos. We hated posed photos and interminable group shots that last for hours and he was perfect. Really artistic photos in a journalist style capturing amazing moments – The Chef kissing my forehead during the service, my sister crying and waving as she said goodbye before I walked down the aisle, my bridesmaid pouring her drink into my glass as I was “thirsty”. We wanted to spend the day enjoying ourselves and being with our friends so he was the perfect photographer.

6. The wedding. As neither of us is particularly religious, and we wanted to marry somewhere unusual and unique, and not particularly traditional, we had a Humanist ceremony undergiant redwood trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. Being in Scotland, it rained a bit, but I loved the freedom of us all huddled together under these trees and we loved the Humanist ceremony where our celebrant talked about how we met, what we loved about each other, and about how much we loved our friends and family. We sang Happy Together by the Turtles, had a piper playing me down the aisle, and my friends read a poem they’d written. It was moving, emotional, funny and we loved it. We then ate haggis, neeps and tatties, ended with deep fried Mars Bar with an Irn-Bru chaser and ceilidhed the night away. Humanist ceremonies aren’t legal in England sadly but we’re hoping this will change as its a fantastic alternative to a registry office ceremony.

9. The extras that no-one really cares about but you bend over backwards to do anyway:

  • The Chef was right – favours are indeed largely ignored so don’t spend much money (we got married at Easter so we gave everyone little bags filled with Easter eggs).
  • One thing we did that everyone loved though was table names of our favourite restaurants and we told the story of the time we went there.
  • We didn’t have an order of service as the ceremony was so special we wanted people to be engaged and surprised all the way through, and stop people flicking through to see what was next and when they could get a drink. We did get amazing creative invitations through Nirvana CPH – we did the invite in the guise of a menu and they looked amazing.

* for another point of view, you might also want to read my thoughts on being single in London.

An update from the HPL

It’s been a few months since I’ve written the blog and quite a lot has happened in that time. It seems like a good time to update you so here goes, deep breaths!

On my birthday in Brockwell Park a couple of months ago, The Chef asked me to marry him, and I said yes. This was followed by excitement and champagne and a rush of wedding organisation as our chosen venue (the Botanics in my hometown of Edinburgh) only had one date left for 2012 which made us move quite fast. The reaction of our friends and families was completely brilliant – we felt very loved, and as if everyone thought we were a great couple and were really happy for us.

This was then followed, I now admit, by a period of what might only be described as mild panic. Not about the wedding – I’m remarkably chilled about all that, dare I say it I’ve found it quite fun so far; nor about The Chef who is completely (mostly) perfect in every single way and with whom I share a passionate love of words, The Killing, musicals, Deacon Blue and anything edible that makes you put on weight – but about the fact that I’m finally growing up (at 34, late starter), starting a family of my own, settling down. There’s also the panic of this is it, forever! What a gamble! How scary! But then I think this is balanced by the stability it brings, which is wonderful – you have someone to support you emotionally and financially, a real team, even by law. You can’t walk away easily, you have try to be nice and supportive at all times, it’s not just me on my own against the world. And for me, a bit of a loner at times, that is a scary but exciting thing.

I’m back to bliss again – looking forward wildly to the wedding and entering a phase which I can foresee is likely to become highly irritating to others. Of course, I think our wedding is going to be the best party known to man ever in the world, and I want everyone to be where I want them and when. I’m gutted when someone can’t make it or suggests they won’t stay long, or will be giving birth shortly before or after or in one case, during. I love talking about the wedding, the cake, the flowers, the food, and I’m only just managing to stop before it gets inutterably dull.

For those who are interested in such things, I have a gorgeous sparkly ring, a lovely dress, and our wedding theme is Braveheart meets Mrs DoubtFire with the wedding scene from Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves – it’s all haggis and tartan and thistles and man-skirts and whisky and The Proclaimers. As The Chef put it, it’s sort of like a wedding that an American couple would plan if their great-great-grandfather claimed to be from Dundee.

So that, dear friends, is my news. Is finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with the key to happiness? Not really no, the ups and downs remain, but it’s different now, I’m different, it’s not just me, it’s us. And that’s a very happy prospect.

A little Friday post on some things I’ve learned recently…

1. I’m actually quite shy at times. And very confident at other times. I’m sort of a shy extrovert I suppose.  My shyness has been with me all my life, but only happens in a small number of recogniseable situations, and I’m trying to be OK with it. I’m actually a far better listener than I thought and I don’t particularly like talking about myself unless it’s something I’m excited or worried about. Like a child hiding under its mother’s skirt, I’m trying to see it as endearing.

2. I can get extremely stressed out without realising it. Once I know it’s there, life gets so much easier. I just need to cut down on what I’m doing, call friends to chat, try to do some yoga. Think about others not me. And more massages. What my life needs is more massages. And manicures.

3. There is nothing in life more surreal, amazing, beautiful and wonderful than someone you love giving birth. I never knew the feeling of love towards this wee munchkin I’ve never even met would be quite so strong.

4. You shouldn’t drink too much wine when you’re cycling; my favourite cocktail in the world is a vodka martini with 2 green olives; and I hate being told off.

5. You can’t assume that anyone – however close they are to you – know how you are feeling, even if you think it must be obvious. It’s far easier just to tell them, you’ll get what you want twice as quickly.

6. Most of my friends are flawed just like me (I love this article that @rachelhills posted). That’s probably why they’re my friends and why I love them to bits. If I can’t accept their flaws then that would mean I couldn’t accept myself and they coudn’t accept me back. But they do and I love them for it. And who the hell am I to judge?

7. Elton John was right when he said sorry is the hardest word. Second is probably onomatopeic.

8. How the hell did I get so competitive? Sometimes I have the ego and posturing of an alpha male rooster (the total antithesis of my shyness, who said women were easy to figure out). It’s so frickin’ schoolyard and something I need to shake off. It’s my life and I’m living it how I want to. I don’t need to match up to anyone or compare myself, and one-upmanship makes me feel guilty anyway. I need to work on remembering other people are on my side, we can work together as a team. Life is far sweeter that way.

9. Sometimes only a pizza and a bottle of red wine will do. Otherwise life on a low carb diet would be excruciating.

10. Having a built-in wardrobe fitted costs a lot more than you’d think.

Guest Post: Happiness between the sexes – how winning defines us

Note from Sasha: As you know, I write using an anonymous persona, Sasha, who’s positive, enthusiastic, upbeat; she wants to inspire and motivate. She can be at times, to some of my friends (especially the blokes), a little bit irritating. What you might not know is that this blog’s readership is overwhelmingly FEMALE. And while this is fantastic – I love you ladies and the amazing support the HPL gets  – I also wanted something for the boys, something of a respite from the usual smiley cheeriness of the blog. So who better than my friend Mr Maxi, founder of Nandos Bike Club and all-round cool man around town (he’ll HATE me saying that). He had free reign to come up with a male-focused anti-HPL blog post and he’s somehow managed to define how men and women perceive happiness differently while talking about gambling. I think it’s brilliant – it made me laugh out loud. I’m not ENTIRELY sure how this is going to go down with the rest of you, but in any case, enjoy!

 __________________________________________

This ‘Happiness’ blog.
It’s so bloody NICE.
So stickily HAPPY – a digital glacé cherry
It is no surprise to me that The Happiness Project London is written by, and for the most part, contributed to, by GIRLS. 

You lovely things. Look at you girls, with your super supportive comments and overflowing cup philosophy. After all, life’s too short to make the most of all the dolphins you could be swimming with and time you could be spending with your mum – who is also your best friend – right?

A microchip embedded deep in my CPU means I lack capacity to comprehend your scrawling – and to me, reading it is but a rung above sliding down a razorblade into a vinegar-filled paddling pool.

  • Are you <really> this happy? Surely not.
  • Perhaps it’s satisfying to feint elation then? I don’t believe that.
  • And do you <truly> rejoice in the joy of others as your comments suggest? Given the choice, you’d secretly swap places with someone whose happiness level scores higher than your own. Surely. 

It may not surprise you to learn that I’m male. 

So I’m a realist. 
To me, the cup is neither half empty nor half full; it’s merely twice as big as it needs to be given the volume of its contents.
Your peacock-feather displays of happiness overwhelms me – I’m scared and baffled by fluffyjossstickproject. 

You think I’m damaged goods perhaps. A spoilsport. A bitter outcast from your World of syrup souls. 

But I’m not Eden’s serpent, trying to awaken you from a blissful dream.
To understand me, you’ll require X-ray specs.
Somewhere, beneath my skinhead and scowl, beyond the retina scanner to my soul and at the very back of the dusty vault, I am in fact extremely happy. 

I just don’t want to shout it from the rooftops. Or spend too much time celebrating your happiness. 

When it comes to happiness, we’re different, you see.
Men and women that is.
So when are we both at our happiest? When do we SING?
When we’re winning of course.
And when it comes to winning, men are from casino; women are from bingo. 

Ever played bingo?

You probably have; according to statistics, it’s the second most popular ‘active hobby’ in the UK (after fishing, apparently).
And women represent the just under 80% of its customers. 

Ever watched bingo advertising?
No matter what the brand, it’s always about celebrating a win.
Feeling HAPPY.
TOGETHER.
The plot is simple and usually revolves around this concept: Come to bingo to be with your pals. Share a rib-cracking embrace when they win – and remember to shriek with elation (as girls do, apparently) if it’s you. Most importantly, wave your hands uncontrollably. You’ve BLOODY WON! WE’VE ALL BLOODY WON!! 

But art imitates life in this case, and the advertising is effective. Trust me on this.
Bingo doesn’t purport to be a game of skill – on the contrary, a computer can dab your numbers automatically if you prefer while you stare, comatose, at the ceiling. But weirdly, according to research, having this basic input (dabbing numbers when they are called) allows women to feel empowered

Conversely, for this audience, games with more complex tactics, rules – and genuine skill – are simply not successful.
Why?
Because it’s winning per se – and the associated celebration – that is the real drive for women; community, friendships, chatrooms and social gatherings all contribute to what is shared happiness.
I WANT YOU ALL TO KNOW I’M HAPPY AND I AM HAPPY FOR YOU TOO!
GORGEOUS GROUP GIRL HUG! 

And so to casinos. 

Ever been to a casino?
If you’re a woman, you’ve visited a couple of times but according to stats, you’ve probably accompanied a man.
Casinos are also gambling shrines, but unlike bingo, are generally pretty intimidating places.
Sophisticated. Suave, even – with murky connections and champagne cocktails. 

And if you’re a winner, luck is irrelevant – it’s because you’re INTELLEGENT! 
Well done; you’ve BEATEN the system. You’re a hunter, truly empowered – you’re a ‘player’.
Guess what – men love casinos. They represent around 84% of their audience. 

And have you ever watched a casino winner win?
What, no arm spasms?
Bingo this ain’t – you’d be lucky to get a reaction at all.
And nothing from the spectators either – there may be a gentleman’s nod on a big win – but nothing EMOTIONAL. No way. 

Inside, beyond the façade, the winning male is pirouetting, annihilating all doubters and beating his chest for all the imaginary animals of the forest to appreciate. There are other factors in play here – he’s PROVEN something. He’s BEATEN OTHERS. And that makes him even happier. 

Relatively speaking, men are ultimately hardwired to be internally happy.
Happiness is controlled. And not shared.
And we celebrate bringing down our peers – not propping them up.
So men are from casino. 

Maybe this helps to explain why The Happiness Project London is written by, and for the most part, contributed to by GIRLS.
Girls are from bingo.
Share the happiness. Share the love. That’s just dandy; you’re fabricated this way.
Meanwhile, know that even if I don’t show it, I’m happy too.
If you need me, I’ll be down the casino.

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.