Tag Archives: how to be happy

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. 

It’s good to talk*

 This weekend, I spent 4 wonderful days with one of my best friends, Lady B. We weren’t drinking much (me detoxing, she preggers) so it was fairly healthy, but it involved lovely food, tea and cheese, delicious Austrian wine, and talking. And talking and talking and talking. And then a bit more chat.

And, afterwards, I truly felt that my soul was healed, my spirit purged of moans and negativity. I talked about how blue the sky was. I wasn’t fazed at all by getting lost, pretty much constantly, in Vienna one-way systems. I felt lighter, happier, better.

It made me think that, although we talk a lot in London – banter at work, going out with friends, chatting to a partner when we get home – we often don’t put aside enough time to really talk. To chew the cud. It doesn’t matter if it’s about nothing – in fact, nothing is probably good, as it can lead to something, to thoughts lost to current worries or stresses, to worries you didn’t know you had, to dreams, ambitions, fantasies and daydreams. It can inspire and motivate you. Talking about all manner of bollocks, in a relaxed and chilled way, over tea or wine is one of life’s greatest pleasures, a stress reliever, and the cheapest form of therapy there is.

The ideal timing is 1 hour’s uninterrupted conversation a week, and you may all think you do this already, nae bother. But do you really? Chatting when the telly is on doesn’t count as you’re always distracted. A short phone call on the way to and from the tube isn’t enough. And catching up with friends over after-work drinks normally involves a great deal of catching up, or dealing with current dilemnas, or gossiping. It often feels rushed, scratching the surface, and doesn’t allow for relaxed, blissful, unimpeaded chat.

So here’s some ideas:

  • If you live with someone, tonight turn the telly off, put some music on, eat your dinner at the table, and really talk. No need for a reason or a topic, just start talking and see where it takes you.
  • If you live alone, call or skype someone and set a stop watch for 1 hour (if they need to go, just call someone else). Grab a comfy seat, a cup of herbal tea or wine, and connect.
  • Plan a long walk or a coffee at the weekend with an old friend – allow yourselves some time to catch up but then allow your inner drivel to flow.
  • On a long car journey, switch the radio off, stop eye spy or mallet’s mallet (am I the only one?!) and initiate a discussion about something random – history lessons at school, allergies, your thoughts on being an only / youngest / oldest child. Again, see where it ends up.
  • Book in a weekday working lunch with a good colleague or friend, leave the office and blackberry behind, find out something you never knew about them – their family, holiday plans, love life. Channel your inner hairdresser and find out the most interesting thing about them that you can.

Two things that I’ve realised from this weekend is that although conversations after a bottle or two of wine are often hilarious and deep, I think the best conversations, the most revealing ones, are those you have in your PJs over breakfast and a cup of tea. So I’d go easy on the vino. And secondly, for the best stress-relief and therapy, you should avoid bitching, back-stabbing and criticising. It is of course entirely natural that you need to discuss your Facebook friend’s unmistakeable evidence of botox, but make sure you go back to smiley, happy thoughts soon thereafter.

* this is not a sponsored post

Everyone’s talking about happiness

I get sent a lot of articles on happiness nowadays – from friends and family and lovely readers. And it seems more and more people are interested in what makes them happy. Maybe the recession has made us question what is really important? Maybe in the absence of religion we are looking for something more spiritual in our lives? Maybe we’re just all too busy and need to work harder at spending “quality time” with those we love? Maybe we don’t know our neighbours like we used to, and need to get  that feeling of “community” back?

Anyway here’s some of the recent things you’ve sent me which I thought I’d share and please keep the tips and articles coming – I love them.

El madre sent me an article from the Sunday Times called How To Be Happy which refers to a book called Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter. They reckon you need five things:

  1. Career wellbeing – buddies at work are very important
  2. Social wellbeing – Spend more time socialising (sound familiar?!), make happy friends
  3. Financial wellbeing – focus on career and social wellbeing not money, don’t get into debt, make “experiential” purchases rather than material purchases, i.e. spend money wisely and enjoy what you do choose to buy
  4. Physical wellbeing – I told you so
  5. Community wellbeing – giving is really good for you. 

My mum pointed out how similar these are to the rules of the HPL, and I love how we’re all thinking along the same lines. However, the financial and career side I’ve not included in my rules, but I realise they are really important which is why I did this post on curbing your consumerism. I definitely think life is way too short to stay in a job you hate or where you don’t feel like you fit in. And the pursuit of the bigger house, better clothes, nicer car, certainly doesn’t make you happy. The purchase of other things do though – like buying lovely food from a local deli or a book from a dusty bookshop or tickets to a play or a holiday or a dress that you’ve wanted for ages and saved for. I like how the Slow Guide to London encourages us to shop – take your time, savour the experience, cherish things.

Alex M, wonderful reader and of Rosa’s yummy Thai restaurants, sent me this article from the New York Times which is specifically on the issue of consumption (again – maybe I should re-visit the rules, money might have a bigger link to happiness than I first thought?). It refers to a couple who downsized, giving their possessions to charity, working less hours, volunteering. They were happier as a result and truly believe that material things do not equate to happiness. Again the article refers to the fact that spending money for an experience (buying opera tickets or a holiday) produces much more satisfaction than “plain old stuff“.

Finally, Maximilian told me about the mappiness application for itunes (its free) which is part of an LSE research project which aims to map happiness per area. I downloaded it to my iPhone and I think it beeps me twice a day to find out how I’m feeling and where I am, and they’ll put all this research together to find out how our surroundings affect how we feel. Interesting stuff – being beeped when I’m being crushed along Oxford Street compared to when I’m in sitting in a park or coffee shop will have very different results!

Oh and I loved reading the interview with Steve Slack on happiness in London on the Little London Observationist blog this morning. And not just because I get a mention 🙂 !

Note I have filled this post with some lovely photos from a holiday in Zanzibar I had in 2006, for no other reason that they make me happy, especially in this weird autumn-like weather…

My guest post on the How To Get A Grip blog on “How To Be Happy”

Those who have read the HPL for a while, or who “like” us on the Facebook page will know that I love the blog How To Get A Grip for its straightforward advice on life, love, and why you should turn your TV off more.

So I was delighted to hear that Matt got a book deal. Both for the fact that he deserves it for his brilliant writing, and because he was so knackered by writing it that he invited me to do a guest post. So, I wrote a post on How To Be Happy and you can read it here. I really enjoyed writing it – for the discipline in summarising what this blog is all about, for inspiring me to follow my own advice, and for attempting to write in Matt’s no nonsense style.

I can’t wait to read the book when its out and in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my little post! I also reckon Matt has about a trillion more readers than I, so I’m looking forward to comments coming this way too – feel free guys x

Update on the HPL Rules

The HPL is currently having a rough old time of it. As ever, I’m finding the writing process cathartic – the writing of happy posts makes me happier and the writing of my recovery process is helping me recover. 

But in the meantime, while I feel so destabilised and unsettled, I’m finding it important to be positive and healthy and concentrate on what really matters. So I’m going back to the HPL rules and planning the next few months around them.  Here’s what I’m doing: 

1. Be active  

A few days ago, I went to the YMCA at lunchtime, did a 20 minute swim and a 5 minute sauna and was back at my desk within the hour. I left my office feeling stressed and angry (told you I’m unsettled) and came back feeling much happier and brighter and, lets face it, a little smug. I also revert to a child when I’m in a pool and love the feeling of being able to see under water. So, I’ve decided to swim once a week from now on. 

I love yoga, I miss yoga. Yoga is good for my body (honestly you should see the arms on the women in the class I used to go to!) and my soul. Its meditative and mindful and calming. But I just don’t seem to be finding time for it every week, so I’m going to go to yoga twice a month from now on

I love dancing but again am crap at going along. Tallulah keeps inviting me to the Frame 80s aerobics classes which sound great (they even had a “Glee” class) and I’d like to try the YMCA streetdance classes. So I’m going to do one dance class a month from now on

I’m also going to try to cycle more at weekends and possibly into work every day (although am a little scared – although the new cycle highways might make it easier and I just need to keep reading Pippalipa’s guest post on the joys of cycling).

2. Connect 

LOTS of girlie drinks and dinners in the diary this month, too many in fact. Sometimes I feel really in the mood to talk, and talk, and talk. I could talk all night. But I think that’s OK and I know it won’t last forever.

One thing I’ve discovered is the power of the teary telephone call to friends. When I used to get upset, I’d retreat into my own shell – like a cat licking its wounds – and deal with problems alone. But that is exactly the time you should call a friend – cry down the phone, and say how awful you are feeling. A problem shared is a problem halved, its good to talk, and more clichés like that. I can’t believe I’ve only realised this recently.

3. Nurture

 I’m buying a bird-table because I want to coax a robin red breast or similar to my Brixton garden. I want a Pepe the Background Bird. Will report back.

I’m also doing some improvements on my little flat with the eventual aim of installing a dressing table, dishwasher (oh how my life would improve tenfold) and built-in wardrobe with extra shoe space. These things don’t need to be expensive and the process of nurturing the place you live in to make it even nicer to live in is as good as the final product. (Note – I think I need to turn the TV off a bit more in the evenings to find the time to do things like this).  

4. Give 

My volunteering for Age Concern has not kicked off yet as I couldn’t fit the induction round my work.

I made the playlist for my friend Lady B’s wedding.


Hmmm Ok then, need to work on this a little more. Watch this space.

5. Learn 

I’m excited about this. I’ve booked my ticket to Argentina and have enrolled on a beginners Spanish class at International House! It was recommended by @loulalondon on twitter and it looks great – as well as classes they hold country-specific exhibitions and gigs. My Mexican slang learned from a couple of months on Zippolite beach will hopefully come in handy and I’ll let you know how I get on. 

Other plans for the summer are to see the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, the Skin Exhibition and the Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace. I also want to see a lecture at the School of Life. I think two things a month is fine.

6. Be curious 

The 1000 Awesome Things and The Little London Observationist blogs are great at reminding me to appreciate the small things and writing this blog allows me to think about life and happiness all the time. I’m planning to write a bit more on the psychology of happiness because I find it fascinating, and also a list of all the great things I like about London.