Snap happy: Cherish those details

I may have insisted you look up in a recent post. But at the beginning of January, just after the old Christmas trees have been left out for collection, I invite you to look down instead.

Why? Because, chances are, your pavements will be lined with little pine needles.

In a month that is anything but festive, it's like Christmas - and all its warmth - is laying down its protective blanket to see us safely into the new year.

I guess you could see this as the bitter end and a mark it really is over. 

But for me, these trees and these symbols of home and of family - scattered as they are beneath us as we venture out to face the world (and in my case the world of work) - are a reminder that the real spirit of Christmas should be carried with you every day and not reserved for a December day that might not always live up to expectations.

(NB: I did take a snap but pine needles on a drain in the dark don't really quite do the idea justice. You'll have to just believe me.) 

Life lesson number eight: Kind words are always worth sharing

thanks.jpeg

In November, I wrote to a friend who had sadly been taken into a hospice (last stages of breast cancer) and I told her how much she had touched my life – and the lives of those around her.  I wrote that she was, for me, the very definition of inspirational and that to give so much of herself even though she had little time left, was incredible.

Why am I telling you this? 

I’m telling you because her mother replied. My friend had passed away in the night and would never find out just how much I thought of her.

I should have known better really. Three years ago, I had my own lesson in kindness. It was for Christmas 2013 that I decided to make more than 200 handmade gifts for friends and family – an act that took me away from those friends and family for a good three months.

I thought that what I was doing was the ultimate gift of kindness.

Turns out, I didn’t really have a clue. Then cancer came along to make sure I'd really learned my lesson.

The kind words are the words I remember going through breast cancer treatment. And, by kind, I mean everything from shared memories to a paperclip and a message about helping me to hold it all together when times got tough. People told me how I’d helped them, changed them, made them laugh and made them smile. I guess they thought there was a chance I might not be around long enough to hear those words in the future.

Words moved me in the way they have the power to move us all. They forced me to reflect on just how little we tend to say to the people that inspire us or make us smile. 

So, I decided from that moment on, that words would be my currency. I started a pink hearts campaign while on active treatment, which involved writing a thank you and sharing the memories I treasure with the people who have touched my life. To this day I am still delivering them (and the accompanying hearts) to remind me of the pledge I made to myself. 

I don’t always get it right (as the above example demonstrates). But I start each day with a plan to reach out to someone and tell them I care.

So, as you reflect on the year, ask yourself this. When was the last time you turned to a friend and thanked them for just being there? When was the last time you contacted an old acquaintance and told them just how big an impression they have made on your life? When was the last time you thanked someone and meant it from the bottom of your heart? 

People can’t guess you’re your thinking unless you tell them. When the business of life gets in the way, it is hard to step back, reflect and not take all those you love and admire for granted. 

But, I can tell you now, there is so much I want to say to people while they are still around to hear it! 

People come and go in life, tucked away in chapters. But, their kindness will live on through you. I’d love to think that if someone were to cut me open (in a nice, non-cancer-surgery kind of way), I would be made up all of the brilliant people who have touched my life.

Make today the day you thank someone who matters to you. What is it about them that makes you smile? What it is you should have told them years ago, but never thought to mention? How have they helped make you the person you are today? 

I guarantee you’ll feel good saying it – but not as good as the person hearing it (especially if it’s for the first time).

Make today the day you start following your heart. Trust me, there’s no time to lose.

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. 

Enjoy! 

Happiness hacks #7: A habit shared is a habit formed

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that all January’s good intentions are usually just forgotten by February (or by the time you’ve finished your Christmas chocolates).

But, as I have discovered by joining my friend’s healthy eating group (a closed forum on Facebook where we get to declare our healthy eating goals and track our progress - as well as share the moments when the cheese gets the better of us), there is a magic formula:

Resolution + accountability = habit for life (not missed opportunity)

Resolutions aren’t what we all should aspire to make.

It’s habits that change lives.

I admire my friend Rachel hugely for all that she has achieved by turning her love of cooking, decluttering and publishing into something that has brought hope into the lives of those around her – including her own.

Changing the habits of a lifetime is so so hard. I asked Rachel why she started her group, called Tiniest Thai Diet Revolution, and she told me about the fact that putting on three stone over the last decade had made her feel out of control, upset and unhealthy. “I struggled to breathe when I bent over to put on shoes,” admits Rachel. “I felt quite hopeless and I didn’t know what to do about it. All I did know is that I didn’t want to go on a diet. Then, I saw an unflattering (well truthful) photo of myself and decided enough was enough. I put myself on the scales and cried… Then I took control.”

I love Rachel’s honesty and her resolve to change not just her Januarys but her life. 

As the name suggests, Rachel loves Thai food. Having lived in Thailand, she saw at first hand how people eating a natural Thai diet were naturally slim and healthy. So, she started looking back over her old recipes (she’s been cooking since the age of 12) and examined her principles of eating and decided to create a new lifestyle that would enable her to lose weight and live well. It’s a lifestyle she stands by and it’s one that has seen her lose 40 pounds in just nine months. 

Making a conscious decision to change is the first step and it’s one Rachel - who has for years surrounded herself with healthy eating advice – knows well: “I’ve been given lots of advice over the years and I’ve loved reading SO many books on food, healthy eating etc,” adds Rachel. “But, I’ve only ever followed any of it when I’ve made a conscious decision to not just lose weight, but to find a new way of eating not a restrictive diet.” 

Making the decision to change is, however, not the only step. And, that’s where the group and the accountability bit come in. It’s one thing to map your own route and it’s quite another to share that route and encourage others to help you stay on track. 

I am now six weeks in to Rachel’s latest eight-week programme and I have to say, accountability makes everything easier. The emails with simple hacks to help you make more mindful food choices are also great too. 

It’s not the first time Rachel has helped me on a food-based adventure. I will never forget her kindness when she shared a recipe called eggs in purgatory (a Nigella Lawson special) that helped me find my appetite again during chemo. 

Most people I know are not really comfortable in their own skin. Rachel is now and I feel grateful to have shared just a little of her journey. I think before I eat now. I eat more of what my body needs now. And, most importantly, I know that it’s ok to have a treat as long as it’s not a daily ritual. 

While I can’t share all her secrets (you’ll have to join the group for that - next one starts in a week), I will share one of her awesome recipes: Sort of som tam

So, make January the month you make a habit not a resolution. And then, find someone with the same aim to help you make that habit last a lifetime! 

Happy New Year and thanks Rachel for bringing sunshine and som tam into my life. 

Life lesson number seven: Life is too short to save anything for best

I used to have a cupboard full of candles that were too important to burn. 

I used to save my favourite dresses for that one amazing day in the future that never came.

I used to keep the 'star baker' spoon (bought for me by a friend) out of the kitchen because it seemed too precious for the job for which it was intended.

I never touched the good pans (even for the good meals).

I used to have a pile of beautiful notebooks that were always too beautiful for my ideas. 

I spent so much time waiting for the right moment. But, even now, I’m not quite sure what I was actually waiting for.

I know I am not alone in my desire to put things in a ‘best’ category. But, the trouble is, when they achieve this coveted position, they are pretty much never seen again. 

When I was going through cancer treatment, I began to realise that the best may never actually come. ‘Best’ is a word that is almost impossible to define. Just saying it takes away the hope of there being something better in the future.

Good days can be great days if you fill them with your favourite things. Candles can bring light into cold winter evenings, if you just choose to light them. Notebooks can make ideas special if you just choose to use them. The clothes that fit best can make you feel more confident before you’ve even left the house. ‘Best’ things can make every day better – if you stop categorising them as such!

A special occasion isn’t something you wait for, it’s something you have to create – not just once in a while, but everyday. 

I remember a friend once telling me that she always wears good (and matching) knickers and bras just in case something happens to her and she ends up in hospital unexpectedly. Now, this might seem slightly macabre, but I like her thinking. What I like is the idea that matching underwear actually means something to her. And, by wearing it every day, she is celebrating that fact every day.

So whatever it is (pants, socks, pens, notebooks or even glasses), I challenge you to stop thinking that the best is yet to come, and start bringing a bit of your best into daily life. 

If you’re waiting for that moment, chances are you’ll never get it. And, if you aren’t, who knows what doors will open for you when you’ve injected a little more happiness into your day? Please do post and share your favourite things. I won’t be posting a pic of my favourite knickers, but I can tell you I have a ‘best’ mug, dress, hat, pan and notebook (for starters). I even have a ‘best’ dishcloth (knitted by my mum). 

I’m off to drink tea out of a special mug, eat my special chutney before it goes off and write on the first page of a special notebook (that’s about six years old). All while wearing a special top. Daring I know!

I actually wrote about this subject for Breast Cancer Care’s BECCA app, which has been designed to help people move forward after breast cancer. If you - or someone you know - could benefit from an app packed full of life hacks, why not send them the link.