blogging about happiness

Life in a list: the 10-minute list

There is something that occupies our every day, that steals our hours and gives us another excuse to not achieve our dreams. It's called dead time.

Just think about the last time you ran for the bus, arriving at the bus stop just in time to see it pulling away (I frequently overestimate my ability to make it down the road quickly). What about when you arrive at the post office only to find your ticket puts you number 25 in the queue (after all the UK loves queuing so much it now hands out tickets to mark the occasion). Or the time you realise the doctor has only called their 9.15am appointment and it's 10am. Oh and let's not forget the occasions you miscalculate dinner timings are are left watching the pot never boil. 

Of course, you could mourn your lot, kick yourself for not exercising enough or generally look a bit mean (or audibly huff). 

Or, you could get productive.

It's amazing what can be achieved in a often-discarded piece of dead time. Trouble is, without writing down how to use it when the opportunity arises, you could find yourself plotting and planning until it's time to move on.

In 10 minutes, I have emailed friends, written thank you notes that make me smile, completed my physio exercises (admittedly I have also received some odd looks) and actually read the industry articles that otherwise gather dust on my desk. I've listened to my headspace app, practised a bit of mindfulness, made an overdue call, planned a blog and read the first chapter of the book I promised I read. 

10 minutes is all it takes to make me realise that something is possible. 10 minutes is all I need to get started and stop procrastinating. 10 minutes is actually a good chunk of time if you use it wisely.

I have also discovered the Blinkist app, which I love! This clever, time-saving tool, accepts that we don't have the time or the bookshelves to surround ourselves in the greatest personal, professional and inspirational life thinking. So, it distils down both popular and topical thinking into a series of short digestible blinks that give you the gist - or motivate you to buy and devour the book linked to it. You probably need about 15 minutes in fairness. But there's nothing like a quick hit of inspiration to spur you on the greater things.

I should probably add that I do relax. But, nearly losing my life made me fear the dead time. And now it's not dead at all. Or, more accurately, it's only dead if I let it. 

So, if you're prepared to face the embarrassment of doing a few squats on a train platform or perfecting the art of writing while standing up, then get writing that list. 

I have mine tucked away in a notebook I carry with me as a quick reminder.

Who knows, you might find yourself rejoicing at news of a train delay or extra long queue at the GP surgery.

Happiness hacks #10: Say thank you - every day

I thought today would be remembered as the day that I came back from injury to run my first 10k race in eight months. 

But, while heading out on a wet Sunday morning in January to face a few challenging hills and test out your newly-rehabbed legs is a pretty memorable way to spend the say, it’s not the race that will forever stick in my mind. 

It’s the volunteers.

It’s one thing to get up early on a Sunday and run. It’s quite another to head out even earlier to put up signs and then stand in an oversized high vis jacket on one of those hills just to make sure each and every runner finds their way.

As I reflect back on my rather laboured performance on this challenging course, I think not of the hill that wanted to take out my lungs or the 6km point (which I was convinced was 7km), but of the selfless people standing in rain doing their bit.

Because of those soggy high vis jackets and wet hair, I conquered a ‘back-from-injury’ demon today. 

And, for that, I will be eternally grateful.

These volunteers, however, didn’t just stand there dripping. They clapped. They smiled. They looked concerned. They offered encouragement. They were kind. And, they gave me the confidence to believe that maybe, just maybe, I could call myself a runner once more.

And, so I thanked them. I thanked the man who looked more drenched than me – for just being there. I thanked the lady with the brilliant smile. I thanked the man who handed me a much-needed cup of water. I thanked anyone in high vis in Greenwich Park. 

And it felt really good.  This currency called kindness makes us all millionaires. 

So, I encourage you to thank the next person you see that makes you thankful.  

I didn’t imagine it would take a run to get me thinking about thanking. But, I’m glad it did. I shall try harder to thank people as often as I can. 

So to race volunteers everywhere, I thank you. I thank you for the early mornings and the soaked clothes. I thank you for your energy, your time and your commitment. I thank you for your kindness and your willingness to help. 

And, I thank you for the opportunities you offer others and the gifts you share every day just by existing.

Happiness hacks #5: Carry loose change for that charity bucket

A charity bucket collection taught me a big lesson about kindness.

Earlier this year, I stood in a Breast Cancer Haven T-shirt on a cold evening outside a London tube station shaking a bucket and I watched as people hurried by and looked the other way. 

My bucket was light, but my heart heavy at the thought that people with their fine suits and pristine handbags were so busy rushing to get through the barriers that they had forgotten how important a little bit of kindness can be. 

Standing there, invisible to the steady stream of commuters, was more uncomfortable than delivering a charity speech to a crowd of more than 7,000 festival goers. And that was scary! 

Ask me if I would do it again, however, and I would say absolutely. This has nothing to do with the awkward glances and rolling eyes and everything to do with the Big Issue seller who came to ask me the reason I was standing there. 

He listened to my story. He told me his story. And then, completely unprompted, he emptied the entire contents of his pockets into my bucket. I nearly wept. Friends have since suggested that I should have stopped him. But, for those who understand the happiness that comes with giving, I wasn't going to be the one to deprive him of his moment. 

After my shift had finished, I went to find the seller to thank him again and buy a Big Issue out of my own money in return. He was gone. 

I wrote to the Big Issue to pass on my thanks. Without a name, we couldn't identify him. I have passed that station most days since. I have never seen him again. 

I hope that one day I will be able to return the favour - although, in many ways, I am not sure he would want me to. 

Until that day, I will continue to pay that generosity forward.

I, too, have put my head down and scurried past undetected when faced with a charity bucket collection. Not any more. 

Because of his act of kindness, I carry a pot of change with me everywhere I go. 

This is not just to support the charity asking, but to acknowledge the selfless act of the bucket collector, a symbol of kindness in a society that all too often chooses to look the other way. 

Now, seeing a collector, puts a spring in my step.

I hope that, by carrying a bit of small change in your pocket, it will do the same for you.

Life lesson number six: Say yes unless you really really should say no

It's not every day you post your Lycra running bra to a celebrity, so that she can sew it in to the running wedding dress she's making for you so you can run a marathon. 

But, today was one of those days.

I confess, three years ago, I could never have imagined writing that sentence, let alone living the life behind those words. 

But, when something challenges your life, you really do begin to think about what that life is all about. 

It's easy to say no. It's easy to stick with the routine that sits you firmly in your comfort zone. It's easy to think that tomorrow will be a better day. But, the truth is, today is the only day that matters.

Of course, saying yes to everything is not the answer (unless you wish to feel constantly guilty and never able to relax). But, saying yes to things that might push you, that might take you in different directions and encourage you to meet new people is a yes worth saying!

That little word has had a huge impact on my life these last three years. I have spent quality time with friends (rather than worrying about the laundry). I have appeared on the TV. I have met my MP to talk about breast cancer and the absence of data collection. I have seen the sun set over parts of the world I never thought I'd see. I have won an award for me (not my work). I have made crumpets. I have found my voice and the things that make me smile. 

So, when the amazing charity Willow said Frankie Seaman (professional figure skater and Dancing on Ice star) would like to chat to me about my running wedding dress plans, I said yes. 

And, when that same charity asked me to stand on a stage at a ball and tell hundreds of people about how they helped give me back my smile at a time when my body had other ideas, I said yes too. 

I live a life in technicolour because of the decisions I have made. The good 'yeses' not the ones I almost feel obliged to take. 

And, the great thing is, so can you. 

My house isn't clean, but then having a clean house is not something I'd be proud to put on my gravestone. 

All I know is, I am ready to walk through the right doors as they open.

Life lesson number two: What you do every day really does matter

what you do every day matters

How many times have you wished your life away - longing for that trip of a lifetime or racing through the days of advent so you can crack open the cheeseboard - only to find that neither the cheese nor the trip quite lived up to expectations? 

Sound familiar? We all do it. We all think tomorrow will be better, brighter and somehow more brilliant than today. But, the problem will living for 'the highlights' is that the it doesn't take much (sunburn, a leg full of bites, mouldy cheese - and not the good kind) for them to be downgraded.

I know it all too well and I still do it. Our wedding is still one day in the future around which there is so much expectation (at least in my head). So when I get injured exploring the streets of Copenhagen in flip flops, I don't think 'oh well, better rest up until it gets better' I immediately think 'oh no, how will I run the marathon next April?'. 

Expectation causes anxiety. And, the more there is, the further there is to fall.

Don't worry, the wedding is still on (seems my bum muscles aren't actually doing anything to support my legs). And I don't for one minute think we shouldn't pack our diaries with lots of mini adventures (how easy it is to rush through the week and wonder what you have to show for it). After all, part of the beauty of having things in the diary is the fact you have lots of things to look forward to (and that in itself is a brilliant emotion). 

This one injury has, however, reminded me of the importance of not only getting a hobby that isn't intrinsically linked to my health but also making sure I focus on the little details that make every day beautiful - not just one day far in the future. 

Anything can and will happen. The secret is to be ready for when it does and have tactics to find happiness in the things you can control. The best bit about my brighter life list, which I will discuss in a future post, isn't the big stuff (the trip that requires years of saving or the ticket that's hard to come by). I love entries like 'making crumpets' and 'homemade lemonade' and the ones friends recommended to me when I wasn't well such as 'reread your favourite book'  and 'play alongside a child for the day'. 

What do they all have in common? They are the things you can just get up and do (appreciating you might need things like lemons or an amenable child). They are life's quick wins and every list needs a good chunk of these (as long as you are using them for good and not to distract you from a bigger and far harder challenge, which you know will make you happier in the long run). 

But they shouldn't just be on a list either. I find making routine tasks more fun and enjoyable gives me something to smile about with minimum effort. I only use my favourite face products because of the way it makes my face feel. I have a bright blue bottle on my desk that keeps water ice cool for hours, so I drink more of it. Every time I put my contact lenses in I remind myself of how brilliant it is to be able to see detail even at the edges of my vision. And, even the weekly shop is easier to face now we are working our way through national dishes from the countries of the world each weekend (still on A and there is a lot of meat and potato which is a tad bit heavy for summer nights). 

If the routine is fun, just imagine what those extra details will do to your happiness levels.

So I challenge you to keep planning those adventures, while never losing sight of the fact that they are only part of the story. Wide smiles for wonderful moments are great, but so too are the smiles you get from eating French toast with banana jam, seeing the morning dew, working at home in your pyjamas (I tend to avoid Skype), breaking the seal on a new tube of your favourite hand cream, running along the Thames listening to inspiring podcasts (ok, I appreciate this may not sound fun to 80% of the population, but the other 20% will know exactly what I mean). 

Don't dream of a better tomorrow. Act today. Enjoy.