Tag Archives: happiness

How To Be Happy In A Global Pandemic

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It is normal if you don’t feel right. It is normal if you feel angry, frustrated, out of control, teary and anxious. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has turned our world upside down. We, the generation who haven’t lived through war, are in the middle of a mass trauma event of our own. And while “blitz spirit” and the band playing on as the Titanic sank are romantic notions, it is also normal to go fucking bonkers from time to time. 

Let’s break this down a little. Politically, we have never seen such turbulent times. A populist nationalism that claims black is white, to be isolated is patriotic, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy. We are addicted to social media, sucking up our time with mindless scrolling and a clickbait culture that fuels envy of curated lives, and promotes extremist opinions. And then Covid hit. Daily death tolls, images of anonymous lifeless bodies on their stomachs, our freedoms curtailed and our livelihoods thrown into doubt.

Do not underestimate how traumatic this is for all of us. To face the possibility of your loved ones dying because of an invisible enemy is terrifying. Mass unemployment is terrifying. And quite frankly homeschooling an unwilling child is more than most of us could reasonably take. 

So what is the effect of this on us all? I don’t think we’ll know for years to come, but if you look around you can see the beginnings of it bubbling up. Fear has turned into anger – against the system, against facts and science, and against that neighbour at number 32 who definitely had more than 6 people at her garden party. 

In an attempt to meet this growing mental health crisis, more money has been pumped into mental health services, and there is a growing online wellbeing industry on social media offering content to help soothe your mind and soul. I’ve certainly benefitted from the latter. I’ve been following a growing army of wellbeing experts and have dipped my toe into their suggested toolkits, including daily journaling, meditation and physical trauma release. 

But I worry that sometimes the amount of wellbeing information coming our way can also be overwhelming, and before we’ve fully mastered one solution, we’re bombarded with another. 

So I have found, as I always have, that going back to the Happiness Project Rules is really helpful. They are simple, easy to remember, and almost every wellbeing tool that I’ve come across recently fits into its remit. But I would say that it’s a good idea to only introduce one new rule at a time. Work on it, master it, take it slowly, before moving on to the next. And sometimes you will wobble and go back to the start again, and that’s OK. Slow and steady is what it’s all about. 

Here they are then – the HPL rules for happiness, adapted for a post-Covid world:  


Everyone agrees on the importance of this. Listen to your body and follow what it wants to do – sometimes it needs a slow walk or a restorative yoga class, sometimes your cortisol wants a run or some ashtanga yoga. Your phone needs to be OFF although the NHS Couch to 5K app is miraculous, and I found it helped to listen to a podcast or book while running. I’m also enjoying the back-to-nature wellbeing movement on social media and their references to animals shaking off trauma, literally. Dancing round the kitchen seems to help. 


Thank god the days of the Zoom quiz now appear to be over, and while video calls did allow connection to some extent, it’s not the same as a proper human connection. During the first lockdown I missed most of all the simple banter of a shop transaction or the school gate. Now, I try to have a long phone call with a good friend or with family every couple of weeks, and talk incessantly to the postman. 

3. GIVE 

All this self-help stuff can make you self-centred sometimes and that’s why this rule is here. To make you look outward – to see what other people are going through and try to help. It puts your own worries in perspective and empathy is good for the soul. Lockdown seems to have promoted this in communities – foodbank donations and dropping round groceries to your neighbour for example. There are myriad local Facebook groups offering volunteering and donation options, or just ask your neighbours if you need anything. Even if you’re at your lowest it will make you feel better.


The obvious way to do this – and one that has been much trumpeted during lockdown –is gardening. And I can whole-heartedly confirm having built a veggie patch during lockdown that getting your fingers in the soil and growing something you can eat from seed is wonderfully calming and satisfying. Or another great thing to do is buy a few bird feeders and some bird seed and watch as birds crowd round them for their winter feeds. However, given we’re in a global pandemic and we should take as much pressure off ourselves and achievements right now, how about we nurture ourselves, oxygen mask on first style. Meditation, baths, negronis. Whatever you need right now, nurture yourself.


Are you one of the ones who made your own sourdough bread? If so, hats off to you. I learned how to make a great G&T. Learning doesn’t have to have an achievement at the end or an instagrammable conclusion. On our theme of being kind to ourselves, how about this – learn to listen to your body, learn about your cycle, learn what your body, your energy, your soul really needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cry or a hug.  


There is a similarity to learning here, but this is different. Being curious is something I think we’ve got better at during lockdown, if only by the number of sunsets posted on my IG feed. With only one allocated walk a day we do seem to appreciate nature more. And that’s it for this rule, its simple. Look up, look around, and be grateful. Sunset pics optional. 


UPDATE: I feel slightly phoney writing for The Happiness Project London because in August 2019 we left London for the East Devon/West Dorset border where we are setting up a cookery school, feast venue and glamping site. In January 2021, I am beginning a two year course in psychotherapy and counselling to qualify as a BACP registered counsellor. My plan is to host wellbeing talks and retreats, as well as having my own patients and therapy business in due course. I will update you with the website and social media details when I’m ready. In the meantime I’m so incredibly grateful to the HPL, and everyone who has commented and followed it since 2007 for starting me on this incredible journey which has brought me to this point 13 years later. 

A New Year Happiness Project

Note from Sasha: I have so so many posts in the pipeline, but I haven’t seemed to find any time to write them, for which I apologise profusely. If you wonder what on earth I’ve been doing, you can check out my other blog to find out, (beware, its not very happy…)

In the meantime and while I compose my own posts, I’d like to share the Happiness Project of a dear friend of mine, and past HPL contributor, who we shall call Betty Sue. She has recently suffered what I can summarise as some Really Shitty Stuff, and has impressed me by her optimism since. I believe that happiness is something that must be proactively worked at, that must be methodically planned and acted upon, most importantly in the face of great sadness and trauma; and her strength and clarity in not sinking into the depths of despair but instead choosing to be positive is truly inspirational. Here’s to you Betty Sue.


We are heading towards a new year. A rebirth, a new beginning. Thank God (or whatever/whoever it is you believe in).

This is my New Year Happiness Project.

I don’t live in London anymore and this has been the most unhappy, shittiest year I have ever experienced. So what’s the connection?

This year I have learnt that some people are mean. I know, I should have realised a long time ago (about thirty something years to be inexact). I myself have been really mean in the past, but I still didn’t get it. And it is as a consequence of this discovery that I found myself at a very low point.

But from that low point, something happened. I did some research, some soul-searching and asked myself some questions. How am I going to get happy this year, today, at some point? How can I stay happy? Despite this year being astronomically awful, literally an annus horribilis, it has also given me some major insights into my very less than perfect life.

The New Year is here, and I am starting over. Here how:

Step One: Learn stuff about yourself and human beings (even slowly). People are odd, we all have our quirks – read about them, explore them, embrace them. Like when I realised that my life is up to me. Obvious to the initiated, but you get the picture. I am a very slow learner.

Step Two: You can’t change other people (I know, I know, slow) but you really can’t. They are what they are and if that works for you, then good, but if not, don’t have them in your life. You cant fix them, wish they did a b and c. Just stop it. It won’t help either of you.

Step Three: Go get some exercise. Yes, do. Find something, anything, that involves moving and go and do it. This could be walking. Minimal effort is fine. I discovered I love yoga. I still have a gym phobia. A friend discovered her thing was roller derby. Be brave.

Step Four: Find your friends. If you don’t have any/many, make a plan to find some. If you do, go spend time with them. If you’ve lost contact, look them up. Friends are very, very important for our emotional well being. As we are to theirs.

Step Five: Don’t get obsessed about the future. I know how easy that is, “when I get (insert current obsession) I will be happy“. Rude to say it, but no you won’t. You won’t, because you have wasted the time you could have been happy worrying about not getting the thing you wanted. You might want to stop doing that.

Step Six: Be happy today. If you’re struggling, how about using the theory of ‘fake it til you make it’. Try it.

Step Seven: (possibly the most important one): Think about yourself. Do you like what you see? If you do, love yourself, if you don’t, love yourself more. You are in sole charge of one person, you. If you don’t love yourself then who the hell else will?

Step Eight: Stop being mean to yourself. There are enough mean people out there already. “I am not good enough at (insert current negative statement)” is not going to help you. You are quite likely good at lots of things. Look at those things, remind yourself of those things. Love those things.

Step Nine: Do nice things for other people. It will make you feel good, it will make them feel good. Win win.

Step Ten: Look after your body. Everything we put in them is a chemical. Choose your chemicals carefully.

Step Eleven: Accept who you are. I love romance and fairytales (so living in denial/fantasy land has worked very well for me). Deal with who you are, be honest with yourself, do it kindly.

Step Twelve: You are worth it (queue image of shampoo advert), we are all worth it (apart from those meanies, but that’s a whole blog post which doesn’t belong here). We can do good stuff everyday for other people and ourselves. We just need to remember that it is our choice.

We are not responsible for other people’s choices, as they are not for ours. Choose wisely, your happiness depends upon it.

To Parents Of Even Smaller Children

So, I’ve had a couple of miserable days recently. And then it all gets better again and I forget how bad it was. Only I write a blog so I wanted to write about the miserable stuff too, before I forget. To share, you see. To make you feel better perhaps. Hell, to make me feel better.

First, there was the day I was cooking a fish pie, with my son bouncing in his jumperoo, nursery rhymes playing; feeling warm and cosy and thinking what domestic bliss! I am a domestic goddess earth mother type person! My baby boy had even fallen asleep on the jumperoo he was so relaxed and I popped him easily in his cot for a snooze.

Only, an hour later, I woke him up by mistake trying to get some of his dirty laundry to wash, and he screamed the house down. Nothing I could do could get him back to sleep so by the time I’d bundled him into the pram, the fish pie was burnt, the Le Creuset pie dish was smashed in my rush to tidy the kitchen, and I had to leave my cosy warm house to walk out into the rain to calm a sleeping baby back to sleep before I even had the chance to grab any lunch. Suddenly I was tired, and hungry, and cold, pounding the streets endlessly until he fell asleep. And of course then the chaos had a knock-on effect on the rest of the day, making us miss a baby class and cancel a coffee with a friend.

A few days later and unplanned Armageddon hit again. Having had an amazing week with Mr Schmoo (for that is what he is now called), where he was happy and sweet and fell asleep easily for long naps, suddenly my baby boy was changed. He was whingy and whining and kicking and arching his back, and refusing to go down for naps even though I could tell he was exhausted. But why, I cried to the heavens?! It could have been many things – teething, constipation from eating solid food, a “Wonder Week” leap of development that had sent him bananas.

All I knew was my perfect routine was now shattered. But on this morning, I also woke up shattered. I had a cold, a sniffy, achey, knackered cold which meant all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa, put the fire on, and watch Ray Donovan on repeat. Add to this it was cold and pouring outside and I envisaged a lazy day of playing and snoozing.

Sadly Schmoo had other ideas. He was up at 5am and didn’t fancy going back to sleep again. Then he ate a bit too much acidic fruit for breakfast and spent the entire day straining in a constipated fug that might almost have been funny if it hadn’t looked so painful. Add to this crazy teething that made him bite anything in sight (including my face). Any attempts to make him nap when he looked exhausted ended up with him SCREAMING blue bloody murder, arching his back and kicking around, so all I could do was rock him and walk and eventually reach for the Calpol. He didn’t nap AT ALL. And so, I ended up, of course, pounding the streets again with the wee man in the pram. With pouring rain soaking me, a passing car chucking a puddle onto me for good measure. Not one walk but THREE walks. All lasting exactly the length of time that he slept, round in circles sometimes, perhaps stopping for a coffee and maybe a sit down…..NO he’s woken up, up you get and keep walking…

Hungry, cold, tired, ill. But luckily The Chef did bedtime and got him to bed, only the wee man was so tired he didn’t drink enough milk, so we was up at 3am, and again at 4am….


Several of my mummy friends on Facebook posted this article by Steve Wiens in the Huffington PostTo Parents Of Small Children – which talks about how exhausting and relentless caring for little ones can be, and how, although wonderful at times, kids can make you frustrated and so bone-tired, you almost can’t imagine making it til bedtime.

When I first read it, I’d had a lovely day with Schmoo and couldn’t really empathise. But now I think about it all the time.

When I’m walking in the rain pushing a crying baby I also think – how on earth will I make it to bedtime?

I think of the relentlessness of it all, the fact that I never really stop being responsible, never really get more than a few snatched hours as a break.

And that even if I could have longer I don’t actually want to or feel I should, and I need to go through the arduous process of finding a good childminder and then paying them money I should be saving.

I think of the “breaks” that I do have that are filled with pureeing, and sterilizing, and washing, and cleaning, and doing admin, and replying to emails. And never seem to be filled with nice things like doing my nails or having a bath or reading a book.

I think of my friend who didn’t even have time to change her Tampax when her baby was screaming, until she finally ended up screaming herself.

I think of my friend who is now up every two hours at night, after months of sleeping through.

I think of my friend who’s son pulls out great tufts of her hair every day.

(It’s not the same friend, by the way, that would be really shit).


But then the next day, today, Schmoo is back on great form. And one big, gummy smile, and I’m delirious again. And I’m tickling his tummy listening to him laugh, and in awe of him rolling not once but twice. I’m bouncing him on my knee singing Grand Old Duke Of York, and giving him huge cuddles and kisses. I’m pushing him in his pram, this time singing, and I’m laughing and smiling at him, thinking how wonderful and amazing he is and how much I love him.

And it’s OK now, it’s really OK.


So what have I learned from the shit days?

  • The Wonder Weeks app is a fairly good indicator of whether you will be living with a saint or a monster
  • A night out with friends can restore your sanity – and all it costs is the price of a bottle or wine, and a hangover
  • A few hours’ break courtesy of a partner or friend can make a huge difference. Go shopping! Have a bath! Sit in your pants and look at Facebook!
  • Babies have rubbish memories so they won’t remember the crying and the screaming, once they feel better they won’t recall any of the bad stuff
  • But WE do remember and it does affect us – it’s OK to walk away sometimes and let someone else take over
  • They only last a few days, weeks at most…

….Everyone goes through it and it will pass.

It does pass, really.

On happiness & motherhood


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.

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!

On kids & friendship

My fabulous friend Milly and her lovely baby boy

If you’re in your thirties, then its likely that like me, your friends will by now have split into two factions – the ones with children and the ones without. For me its now about 65/35. It seems like yesterday we were all sitting carefree in the pub, moaning about whether we’d ever find “the One” and drinking our body weight in white wine. The next minute, half of us are in a world of nappies and expressing milk and worries about childcare and juggling careers, while the rest of us lag behind somewhat wistfully, living a similar existence as before, only with worse hangovers. And for our gorgeous mum friends – whose lives have turned upside down and inside out, who have been given this incredible joy as well as REAL problems, life or death stuff at times – what kind of friendship are we now providing them?

Throughout our twenties us women form a magnificent bond – one that I don’t think our parents ever had with their friends. We were an army – us against the world, a force to be reckoned with. With parents and siblings often far away, with partners coming and going, our friends were the ones who dealt with everything – deaths, break ups, career woes, promotions and redundancies, house moves. We were each other’s family – we often lived together for years on end, travelled the world together – and the bond was incredibly strong.

But then things change. If there was a fork in the road, we started heading off in different directions. Having problems at work? She’s getting 2 hours sleep a night FFS you can’t bother her with that! Fancy a night out? She has to be up at 6am to look after baby Britney so won’t want to spend hours discussing EXACTLY what he meant when he said he wasn’t ready to settle down. And from her point of view, she may get upset at why you haven’t bothered to visit her pride and joy recently because you’re “really busy”, or why you don’t invite her out or confide in her as much as you used to.

It would be easy here to slip into the stereotypes that women’s magazines feed us, that both myself and my friends sometimes slip into to our detriment, which can pretty much be summarised as WHAT . BRIDGET . JONES . SAID : You posted your baby as your facebook profile photo, you DULL SMUG MARRIED! We laugh at your ridiculous love life and the fact that you’re still getting pissed and falling over, you LOSER SINGLETON!

But it’s not really like that. Or at least it doesn’t need to be, and if it is like that at times, this is surely based on jealousy or fear or rejection or the thought that as you too are being judged, so you judge right back. Sometimes it can feel like you’re living separate lives, with nothing in common. And more than anything you may feel, on either side, the loss of someone who was once your number one priority, and you theirs, and missing someone who might be around a little bit less. But this is just a feeling and it will pass. You still need each other and love each other – at times more so than others – and if you both want to be, you will still be the best of friends whether or not your lives are a little different for now.

I’m not a mum (and have a horrible feeling I’m going to be the  worst sort of facebook-photo-posting, status-updating, far-too-much-detail giving type of mother) but I can imagine when I am, there will be times when I’ve had little sleep and my partner and sproglet are driving me up the wall, and I just want to get dressed up and head to a nice restaurant with my girlfriends around me. And if all I’ve had to think about for 6 months is poo, vomit and sleepless nights, I reckon I’d love to listen to someone telling me about their work problems or what’s going on in the news or to laugh over who they’ve slept with or what fabulous restaurant they’ve been to, just to pick me up and remind me there are other things going on in the world.

I think it’s all about communication really. And letting go a little. I’ve tried to adjust to my married friends’ lives not revolving around me and my myriad problems anymore, but I know that if anything was seriously wrong, they’d be there in a flash. And I love their children – can’t wait to get to know them better, watch them grow, be there when they themselves marry and have kids. And I also have to let go a little so I too can procreate at some point as well. I want to be a great friend to my mummy friends, but sometimes I get wrapped up in my own little world and don’t realise that I’m being distant or neglectful (I am not yet good at buying presents for babies, and this is something I’m working on *heads to Baby Gap*). But I also know our friendship is deep enough to take a few knocks and that it just takes an email or a call to say I’m thinking of them or arranging a visit to get the friendship kick started again.

And of course one day we’ll be back on the same path again, living the same lives. Although her kids may be teenagers while mine are in nappies. Oh well – they can babysit?

Bridget Jones has a lot to answer for really. In its celebration of single life, it implanted in our brains a seismic shift between those with children and those without, that made “smug married” something that singletons could sneer at. I’m just as guilty of this at times. I spent New Year with The Chef and his friends, many of whom have kids. I have to admit I was dreading it a little and worried that it would be all about babies and nappies and I’m terrible at coo-ing over children unless they’re the progeny of very good friends. But it was brilliant. The kids were gorgeous, really cute, and a welcome distraction, quite frankly, from hangovers. We could sit and laugh at them and have a cuddle when we wanted. The mums were fabulous – glamorous and fun and interesting – and we all drank a few too many vinos and danced to terrible music until the wee hours. It made me realise again we’re all the same really, apart from at baby-feeding time when I always tended to have really important things to do and apart from the fact that the mums must have had at least 10 hours less sleep than the rest of us over the long weekend. Having friends at all stages of life is the best way to live anyway – far more interesting that way. And (don’t tell anyone) it sort of made me want one of my own.

Anyway, I asked a handful of my friends to tell me how they feel about their friends at other stages in life. I loved what they said:

The baby mamas

“I don’t know if I can even separate my friends with kids and those without.  We all seem to get along brilliantly.  I prefer not to talk about my son too much unless he did something particularly hilarious – but at three years old, we are not talking about side-splitting humour.  A friendship should last whatever the circumstance or situation.  Boyfriends, girlfriends, weddings or not; babies, nappies, weekend breaks or snot, a true friend rides with you….don’t they?  How boring it would be to only be friendly with one gang. I certainly mix a little and am blessed with the ones I have.  And they are definately true friends.

My friends without kids are always lovely to ask how the wee man is doing but to be honest I am more I interested in the gorgeous restaurants people are going to, plus trips to Paris and Vienna than reciting toddler quotes of the week. With work and a son, including one on the way, we are making an effort to try and fit in as much as possible so our wee pie chart is always colourful.”  Milly

“What I love about my single/childless friends
  • hearing about their love lives, social lives, holidays, latest shopping spree, i.e. living vicariously through them!
  • they are never too tired/fed up/over dosed on children to play and talk to mine (unlike me)
  • that they get me out of the rut of being mummy all the time.
What I don’t like so much
  • when they don’t understand that I can’t just drop everything
  • that my children will always come first
  • that I am frequently exhausted, anti social, unfashionable and grumpy – it’s nothing personal.
What I hope to give them
  • Someone to laugh at, my childless friends’ lives are not as poo-covered as mine, so that’s got to be good for them
  • I can do parenting/baby care advice, so may be useful in future (I can’t follow it, but that’s another story)
  • The kettle is usually warm and the ovens on, so if I can’t come drinking anymore, at least I can make some food and be a listening ear.” Betty Sue

“Something that used to annoy me before I had kids was the way my mum-friends used to be distracted when I was talking to them. You could be spilling the beans on the latest hot date and, in the middle of it all, it would be “Little babsie just spit up!”. And even if they didn’t actually SAY anything, you could see it in their eyes as they slid from where they were sympathetically watching your face to looking lovingly at their little sprog. Now, after having a baby, I have learnt that my mum-friends weren’t actually distracted, they had simply learnt the ultimate mother art that my own mum refers to as “Circular Talking”, where you can listen to and completely take in a conversation whilst either talking to (or at, in the case of children), someone else.

Another little thing that used to annoy me was how, when you were about to go out somewhere with mum-friend and sprog in tow, it was never simple to get out of the house. It was always “I need food/nappies/a spare jumper/toys” and, it seemed, when you did eventually get out of the house, something was always forgotten. Now I realise this rabbit-like behaviour is all about survival and that wonderful mother’s word – Coping. If the baby doesn’t have food and gets hungry, he’ll cry. If he doesn’t have nappies and needs changing, or gets cold, or doesn’t have toys, he’ll cry. So I guess mum’s message to you is this; bear with us, it could be you one day…. And even if you don’t have your own children, well, we might just ask you to babysit!” Libby (please note the lovely Libby writes the blog Confessions of a (not so) Down To Earth Mum)
And a final word (bien sur – I’m still a Bridget!) from Pippalippa
This Christmas I managed to get home to Australia for the first time in almost three years. It was perfect timing as well as most of my far-flung school friends happened to be heading home at the same time so a big reunion was planned.  I was really excited but also quite apprehensive as I am pretty much the only person in my group of friends who has not procreated at least once, or about to pop one out.  Being mid-thirties and wanting children I felt I was bound to get a bit down seeing all my coupled up friends and their delightful offspring. Even when they are crying and pooey and demanding attention I can still be jealous.
Better late than never….

I dreaded being the odd one out in conversations about cots and prams and leaking nipples and nappies to make you retch.  I feared the patronising placation of people pretending they’re jealous of my freewheeling lifestyle and my globetrotting ways. I pictured a New Year’s Eve picnic in the park: dry, distracted and heading home for beddy byes at 8pm.

But. I had the most amazing holiday. My friends’ children are marvellous and make me laugh. I got to be the cool aunty who taught the kids the wonderful trick of putting ice down mummy’s back to keep them entertained while we got through a vino or too and engaged in conversations about world events, personal lives and caught up with each others’ news. I was also entertained by stories of what these little people get up to, and witnessed one of them getting sick of colouring in with the new bright colourful crayons I had just given him and discovering that, despite appearances, they are NOT delicious.” Pippalippa

One of these bad boys is coming your way soon Lady B

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.
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.
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.

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.

A post on kindness and karma

It is hard to write about kindness and being considerate without sounding like a self-righteous arse, but I’m going to try my best. David Lewis and Mindlabs recently conducted an experiment which proved that people who spent time doing considerate deeds for their communities (giving someone money for a parking ticket, watering people’s plants when they were away) were happier, healthier, had more self esteem and were less stressed than before.

This is hardly surprising stuff, but I reckon kindness is a bit of an overlooked and underrated commodity in London. I’m finding that doing things for others is the hardest of my rules to fulfil (apart from going to the gym, which is taking a brief leave of absence while I hibernate for the winter). The fact is us Londoners are busy – we fill up our diaries, fit in drinks or dinner with friends but are sometimes unavailable for more attentive “maintenance” and  we rarely say hello to our neighbours. We walk fast, live fast and are highly intolerant of strangers, especially those on public transport (that bastard just stood on my foot/is walking too slow/coughing near me/holding his paper in my personal space!!).

In researching this post I found this blog about helping others which talks about a “volcanic eruption of kindness” in London – how one kind act led to another and then another. I totally believe in karma, which is why I didn’t mind when that bloke elbowed me out the way on the tube this morning because I know he’ll be stepping on a giant dog turd later. As Paolo Coehlo suggests, if you do something nice, fate will send the love right back at you, and it’s easy to work out why – if you help a friend out they’re much more likely to help you back and if you do something nice for someone the warm glow it gives you somehow radiates onto other people (and yes I did develop much of this theory while backpacking round India…). The blog gives various small kindness ideas so I’m going to try a few out. In the meantime, here’s a few little ideas that I’m going to try to fit in:

  1. Help a friend move house. There are few things more utterly shit than moving house on your own. And yet by helping a friend, you only need to give up an hour or two and are likely to be rewarded with love, beer and improved biceps at the end. I am therefore lugging my South-of-the-Thames self to Crouch End for exactly this reason this weekend.
  2. Give money to all buskers on the tube – especially if they make you smile/get nostalgic/hum. Just a bit of shrapnel from your wallet is fine and you’ll get a smile back that will make you feel happy. There is a small exception to the rule for that grumpy accordion player at Oxford Circus.
  3. Make something for someone – a birthday card, cake or cup of tea.
  4. Say hello to neighbours, help people with their luggage, send someone a book they’d like, help a colleague with their work.

I should finally mention websites like Help from Home and ivolunteer which give ideas about what things you can do to help and volunteering in general. They said nice things about me so I’m saying nice things back – you see? Karma.

So how happy do you really need to be?

Elle magazine’s August issue had another article on happiness – I hadn’t realised quite how much this blog is part of the zeitgeist until now. The article was called “Is content the new happy?” and questioned  why we are less happy nowadays than ever before, referring to a survey which showed people were happier in the 1930s – the days of the great depression. Alice Wignall, the author, thinks it is because we have so many options, we want for so much, that happiness is a continual and unfulfilled search.

She interviews many of the HPL’s favourite happiness people – Robert Holden from the The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin from the The Happiness Project (note to self: well done for coming up with an original blog name) and Alain de Botton’s School of Life (I actually hadn’t realised that the School of Life was De Botton’s baby, will definitely have to pop along now). She talks about how the things that we think make us happy – the payrises, the material things – only provide temporary happiness. And she suggests that our constant treadmill pursuit of happiness means we ignore the good things in our lives and are never just content with what we have. She thinks that if you lower your expectations and appreciate what you have, this contentment will make you truly happy. She even says she’s been finding happiness through gardening.

I was reading the whole thing going *jumps up* That’s what I’ve been saying!! Meeee!!!! I could have written this article myself  it was so similar to what I’ve been writing about lately. In my guest post on How To Be Happy  I said that happiness can’t be achieved by things, or bestowed upon you by other people, because it is a state of mind. You cannot be made happy, you have to become happy in yourself (as she says – buddhist monk style).  

I totally appreciate her point about not constantly trying to do or buy things to make you happier – better clothes, losing weight, a different partner, better social life. The problem is the world is our oyster nowadays – Facebook and twitter are full of people trying to show how much more fun they’re having than you are, and the list of what we can do and buy, where we can travel and live, is endless. But rather than constantly pursuing every possible source of happiness, we could all do with appreciating what we have, counting our blessings, being positive.

So here’s what I think. Your life generally splits into 4 categories – job, friends & family, partner, home. Typically, if one’s going well, something else will go tits up, apart from the occasional smug time when you realise that everything is perfect. And then it all goes tits up again. Rather than striving for perfection in everything, we all need to know ourselves enough to understand what we NEED from each. For instance, I know I have to have a job I love to be happy (and am very lucky that I now do). I also know that I am happiest when surrounded by my friends and family and any niggles with any of them will mean I’m not truly happy. I’d like a bigger flat but I’m working on the little one I have to make it even nicer and this makes me appreciate it more. I know I don’t need money or a flash lifestyle, but I do want to be loved for who I am.

So, don’t rely on anyone else’s standards of what makes them happy, don’t seek perfection because you won’t find it, don’t envy thy neighbour’s facebook photos and remember its your own little world that matters. Appreciate what you have. And call your mum more. And new lamp shades really make all the difference in a small flat, as do new pillows.