happiness hacks

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 #8: Put everything in its place

If there’s is something more exciting than festive ham, mulled wine, carols and great company at Christmas it’s the annual sort. 

By sort, I don’t just mean the light-touch shove-it-in-a-drawer type sort that constitutes cleaning for the other 11 months of the year. 

By sort, I mean the emptying of drawers and the reordering of cupboards that are one jar away from spilling out onto the floor.

I mean that kind of sort that sends a message to the world that you are ready for the new year. 

Sorting is the perfect hack to go with Life lesson number seven: Life is too short to save anything for best. How many times have you tucked something at the back of a cupboard, only to find that when you discover it again years later it is either out of date or the wrong size? 

I used to think I was one of those people who liked cleaning. But, what I have come to learn is that I like order (which will amuse many of my colleagues) and to know that everything I want to use has a home of its own that makes it easy for me to use it. The jam jar at the bottom of a stack of four, won’t get used. But, don’t stack them at all and give them space on the cupboard base and you’ll find your toast has many more flavours to play with. 

So, whatever you’re doing this new year, why not carve out some time to stop those plates balancing precariously, those spices going stale and those jumpers getting forgotten? Who knows? You might actually enjoy it. 

I should add, that doesn’t mean a deep cleanse of every drawer. Gretchen Rubin (of Happiness Project fame) has two great tips: 1) have a messy drawer for the bits that don’t have a proper home and 2) keep one shelf empty so you always feel you have room to expand! 

One tip I want to add is to try and develop the habit of taking one thing from a room when you move to another (that is out of place). We even have a stair basket to carry lost items up the stairs and keep the clutter at bay. 


Happiness hacks #4: Make water your drink of choice

Ok, admit it. How many times have you set out to drink your daily quota of water, only to end up congratulating yourself for chain drinking coffee and not a lot else? (Technically it counts, but it is dehydrating.)

The answer, if you're anything like me, is too often.

I do try. I really do. I have enough BPA-free bottles to support a small nation. I have a Chilli flask (love these as they keep the water ice cool) on my desk at work, which does help when I get round to filling it. I have even tried tactics such as getting a glass of water with every drink. I know I could exist quite happily with water, coffee, tea and wine alone (although I would rejoice if they brought back tab clear for a day). Trouble is, I have my quantities all wrong.

So why am I choosing to share my failed attempts with you? Because, while hooked up to a blood pressure machine after a short anaesthetic recently, I saw very quickly how much your body needs water to function effectively.

My blood pressure was low. The solution? The nurse left the room and came back with two big bottles of water and said: 'get cracking'. And get cracking I did. By the next check I had passed with flying colours. I queried this with the nurse and she said that, put simply, water is fuel for the body. You wouldn't drive a car without filling up the tank. So why do we always expect our bodies to work if we don't feed them what they need? 

The clear stuff is essential. Just wish it hadn't taken me 34 years to realise just how essential. 

How much exactly does our body need? You could, of course, calculate exact quantities and stick to a strict regime (I have tried formulas based on body weight to work out measures), but this feels neither sustainable nor fun. The guidance from the NHS' Eatwell plate (which says 6-8 glasses a day) feels fluid enough to build into your day. 

I have cleared a good two litres a day on holiday. Let's hope the habit travels back with me when life tries its best to get in the way. 

Cheers! (of the not so alcoholic kind)

Happiness hacks #2: Nurture a hobby


One of the best things about reading 168 hours, Laura Vanderkam's book about time, is that it is a reminder to us all that we can't do everything. No, really, we can't. 

By the time you've carved up those 168 hours, you very soon realise that when you strip out the compulsory stuff - for me that would be sleep, teeth brushing, eating and work - you have very little time to play with. That's why the material to cover our window bench is still in its packaging and the home admin filing system is full to bursting.

So how, you ask, did I find time to bake a fish and chip supper out of baked products and deliver it to BBC's Extra Slice (the UK's Bake Off spin off show) a few weeks ago? 

I've identified the things I love doing and I do more of them. I have accepted at last that I will no longer be a champion crafter or knitter to rival my mum (and I will never make 200 handmade Christmas gifts in one year). I won't read books like they are going out of fashion. I won't be a world class athlete or a concert pianist. 

Because when you can't do it all, you have to be selective.

Laura talks about narrowing it down to your core interests and competencies and then nurturing yourself by spending more of your precious time on those interests. For me, once I have finished interrogating the content marketing world I love to do the following from my 'Do it today' list: 

1) write

2) cook (mainly bake) 

3) volunteer

4) travel 

5) exercise 

6) contact friends/family 

A day spent doing one or any combination of these things is a good day.

So that brings me back to my sugary fish. Two years so, I got free tickets (you can apply here when it's on) for Extra Slice and spent 15 hours making Danish pastries in the shape of blueberry boobies (you can take a bake). I covered the kitchen in flour in the process, but what I didn't realise is that no amount of effort will secure you a studio seat. In fact, the queue was so long I ended up handing out the pastries to unsuspecting passengers on the tube on my way home. 


One thing it did give me, however, was a priority ticket to a show of my choosing one day in the future.

So, two weeks ago, I was sat in an airport lounge on the way back from our Scottish office wondering whether or not to bake to go along with the ticket in my inbox, or just turn up. It had been a busy week. The house was a tip. I craved a lie in. I was letting the busyness of life get in the way.

I didn't have time - so I made time. I planned my bake on the plane. Batter week did not inspire me so I planned a battered fish and chips out of shortbread and flapjack (covered in peanut butter and dulce de leche), with fondant peas and cream cheese and white chocolate Mayo. I worked put how to make it look like a gastro pub style dinner and I had ordered the ingredients before my head hit the pillow that night. 

I went from tired to inspired. 

Monica wow

I never expected to get on TV. I never expected a WOW from top chef Monica Galetti (above) and a request to taste my cake from both her and Ed Balls. I was just happy I'd nurtured a hobby and brought a cake-loving friend along for the sugary ride. 

I could have had a lovely long lie in - which would have been a lovely short term pleasure. Instead, what I got was a compliment from a top chef and memories I will treasure for a lifetime. If that's not worth the effort, I don't know what is. 

So identify those hobbies and competencies, give them the time they deserve and see where they will take you. 

The path to happiness is not always the easy path. But it certainly is a lot more surprising.