Reading= happiness

In all the festive craziness and end of term deadlines, taking time out of our to-do list to read novels can seem a bit of an indulgence. In fact all year round I hear people piously declare to me, “I don’t have time to read”, which is a bit of lie really. All of us have time to read, I know very few people who don’t have any leisure time at all. It’s a case of how you choose to spend that leisure time. For me, I can’t not read. I get unhappy, my creativity dries up- in short my happiness decreases and that makes me lose motivation and productivity. Unless I am really ill then I read or listen to an audio book everyday.

At the moment I am reading The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember by Nicholas Carr. I have so many things I want to blog about this book but at this busy holiday time, I’m going to start by explaining why reading is essential happiness. When we read fiction we are able to get ‘lost’ in a book because our brain tries to recreate what we are reading. Our brain actually stimulates our senses and uses our memories so we feel like we are living what we are reading.

Reading fiction makes us see the world in a new way and makes our brain pay attention to the smaller things in life. Carr explains: “The words in books didn’t just strengthen people’s ability to think abstractly; they enriched people’s experience of the physical world.” If you need to de-stress or find happiness in everyday life again then you need to make time to read whatever fiction takes your fancy.

Do you make time to read regularly? Or, do you believe you don’t have time to read?

SIMPLE PLEASURES: everyday life

Our normal routine, our everyday life is the very simplest of pleasures that most of us miss. It’s an awful irony that we only realize how blessed we were every single day, when something awful that puts those things into jeopardy. It’s only when someone has an accident that results in paralysis that they realize how lucky they were to live without a disability. It’s only once you get ill that you realize that you took a good night’s sleep for granted. For me, I’ve come to realize how lucky I am that I only have fibromyalgia and CFS/ME. This hit me one day on a hospital visit, I was looking for the right ward when I read ‘teenage cancer’ on the sign and right there and then I thanked God that wasn’t where I was going that day.

I found out recently that a family friend has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Although I am not close to this person or his wife, they are my parents friends, this has caused me a lot of grief because I can’t imagine how painful it would be to lose Paul. I think about all the things they’ve already done for the last time without knowing- the last holiday they went on, the last birthday. My parents are going through an awful time in nearly every area of their life but they have each other. I know that I would take any suffering if I could have Paul with me. These friends have lived a good, comfortable life but I know all of that will feel empty when she looses her husband.

This is something Gretchen Rubin tackles in The Happiness Project. It seems too morbid a topic to have in such a book, but realizing that bad news is only ever a phone call away makes you realize how lucky you are. None of us are exempt from the call telling us a loved one has been in an accident or that the test results are not good news. In a twisted way it is other people’s tragedies that make us thankful for what we have. Nothing can bring us security, we can work all our lives for a retirement fund that disappears in a few days in a global banking crisis or loose all our possessions in a house fire or natural disaster. We tend to think that because we worked for something then we deserve it, and we do, but just because you bought it, because you’re a good wife or husband, because your parents love you unconditionally does not mean it will be there forever. In reality we never really own anything, it can be taken in an incident is what I’m trying to say.

In my Church, we have a saying- everything is a gift. Don’t take anything for granted. We can’t live everyday as if it were our last, I’d have no money for starters and I would spend a lot of time on tearful conversations and making funeral plans. But, we can live a fulfilling, satisfying life. In the Bible it says to live life in all its fullness, sometimes that means doing not very fun stuff like being good with your finances so you have a roof over your head, but I’ve learnt not to see these things as a drag, I am so thankful that I have money to pay my gas bill, unlike many people right here in the UK. Instead of seeing things as a drag, I turn it on its head and I see the blessing, instead of missing the blessing. It may sound saintly but I’m happy than I’ve ever been. The other morning, I woke up really early in pain, instead of moaning at how unfair this is and how tired it made me, I thanked God that being in pain meant I finally got around to doing some stuff. I have a really short attention span and a bad memory so it takes me so long to get around to doing stuff so being stuck in the bathroom made me do some internet shopping I needed to get around to. Later on, I feel asleep with my head in Paul’s lap, usually he can’t sit down for more than a couple of minutes but because he didn’t want to wake me, he chilled out on the sofa watching TV, something he barely ever does.

So, thank God or the universe or just be happy that you are so very blessed today, no matter how little you have.

Happy 1st birthday

A year ago today I began this blog. To celebrate The Coffee House’s first birthday. I am re-blogging the very first post. It happens to follow on quite nicely from the spirit of Lottie’s interview (if you missed it, you can read it here). Here’s to another year of blogging- enjoy!

The glass is half full

Here’s a slice of optimism to start the new week:

“One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself.”

– Lucille Ball (1911-1989)

I have always found that staying busy and helping others has always helped me get through crappy times. When you start helping others you realise that “everybody hurts sometimes” and that whatever is happening to you, there is something much worse happening to someone else- you gain perspective. It sounds cliched, probably because it is, but I find it works. If that doesn’t help, a nice dose of escapism* helps a lot, whether it be reading a good novel or watching your favourite film. Whatever horrible situation you might be dealing with, the world will keep turning and you have to get on with your life, that doesn’t mean ignoring the fact that you’re hurting, but no situation should stop you from the living the best life you could. I get ill a lot so I end up spending days, even weeks tucked up in bed but I like to start a new project. I have a zillion on the go at once, this blog is one in fact. I hope that doesn’t make me sound pious, there is so much negativity that surrounds us, there is always something or someone which will undermine our self confidence or make us feel as though our whole world has shattered, but happiness is not dependent on your life being perfect, but a state of mind, happiness is your ability to remain positive in spite of what you are dealing with. I’m lucky that I have a wonderful best friend and family who have shown me this.

Keep the faith,


*Editing note: I probably should have said a ‘healthy escapism’ like reading a book or chatting with a friend or watching a film.

SPORT TIME: what the Olympics can do for even sport haters

It’s been a while since we’ve had a sport post but the riots over the last few days have made Britain re-evaluate its society and what kind of picture of London this shows the world. In this guest post Paul looks at what the Olympics can do not only for our economy and sportsmen but also what it means for us personally, not matter where you were born.

“I always turn to the sport pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures” -unknown

It’s been a week of turbulence and tragedy. The country has been left in shock from the rioting that has spread over the last five days. But, I’m not going to talk about that. I want to talk about something positive. I want to talk about the Olympic Games that’ll be taking place in Britain this time next year.

The Olympics isn't just for sport fans

The games have been a long time coming now. The expectation has been rising for years, and rightly so. This is a once in a generation event where the whole world will gather in the UK to see some of the most extraordinary people attempt the most amazing human accomplishments of strength, speed, endurance and skill.

As you can tell, I am very excited. I’m a massive sports fan; however, I’m absolutely convinced that the Olympics can appeal to everyone. I urge everybody to watch the opening ceremony, to see the pride on the faces of athletes representing their countries, whether they’re American or Nigerian or Russian or French or Tongan. I also urge you to attempt and watch some of the actual competition. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t imagine anything more inspirational than watching people from all walks of life push themselves to their very limits for an extra inch or for one less second. Whether you are athletic or not this is something you can’t help but admire.

The greatest thing about the games, however, is what it stands for. It isn’t just about people throwing sticks and running very fast. To me the Olympics is about peace, co-operation and equality. There are few things the whole world comes together for and the Olympics manages it every four years in the spirit of friendly competition. Competitors fight to beat each other, but when it’s all over you see them embrace each other as friends and are able to acknowledge the great performances by their competitors. It’s a spirit we should all come to respect and emulate.

Even after over a hundred years of the modern Olympic Games there is still so much that it can do to inspire the world.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch

I have just begun reading A Novel in a Yearby Louise

Which route will you choose?

Doughty. It’s been a dream of mine for a good few years to become a writer, although I am fully aware there are millions, probably billions of other writers with the same dream. Agents and publishers get thousands of manuscripts a year, assuming you even get to the stage where you finish a manuscript. In the introduction of the book Doughty admits that it took her 10 years to become a published author. She wrote two full manuscripts and began several other novels before she wrote the manuscript that would be published. At that point I pretended to shoot myself in the head. The worst thing for aspiring novelists to hear is that there is a very strong possibility that the “genius” idea they have in their heads will never sit on a shelf in Waterstones. It takes so much effort, time and even a blood to finish a full novel, it’s painful enough to have to edit and cut huge parts of that manuscript, but to do all that, only to have it go unread, that’s hard to swallow. That’s why, for Doughty, the most important question that any aspiring writer must ask themself is – what are you willing to sacrifice? That’s a question anyone who has a dream, big or small must ask themselves. The harsh truth is that what holds people back most is themselves. For most people there are tons of reasons not to take a risk in order to achieve what they want, but some people give it a go anyway.

I have great role models in my parents, when they were into 40s they decided they would take a risk and try to train for jobs they wanted. It’s not an easy choice to try to live off a student loan when you have a mortgage to pay and two children. They had to travel over an hour to and from the University they studied at, take out a loan, but most of all, for my dad there was the huge risk of his health. My dad has several ailments which had destroyed his life, prevented him for working (and caused huge financial difficulties), meant he couldn’t be the father he wanted to be, and had to be cared for like a toddler by my mum.  He risked the years and years he had spent trying to get better, he could easily have lost of all the progress he had worked so hard for after only attempting a full-time course for a few weeks. On top of that, his illnesses made study incredibly hard, the bound copy of his thesis which sits on their bookshelf, is representative of the hours and hours and hours more time he spent working on it than his counter-parts because he was unable to type and held back by severe dyslexia. Somehow my parents found the courage to do it anyway. My dad set up his own business, and keeps it going despite the amount of pain he is in, I have no idea how he gets out of bed in the morning. The only conclusion I can come to is that they wanted it bad enough. They could have listed the gazillion reasons not to follow their dreams, it would have been easy for my dad to simply give up and not want to fight to get better and back into work, but he did it.

Is there a dream or ambition you have? Why aren’t you trying to follow it?