The Happiness Project: August 2015

The Happiness Project tracks my efforts to live a happier life by relishing in the little moments of joy. Inspired by Only Do One Thing, I’ll be doing monthly roundups of my favourite happy moments from the month. Part one can be found here!

Hiya pals! It’s time for another Happiness Project roundup! I appreciate that it is no longer August and so this is officially late. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been swamped being busy and important but truthfully, I’ve just spent most of September so far drinking wine and watching Luther. And it’s been wonderful. No regrets.

So what did I get up to during August?

Picnic, Famous Five style.

This was the very first Only Do One Thing nudge of the month and I was utterly delighted. There’s a gorgeous park near me and I like to drag Niall around it at every available opportunity. We loaded up with sandwiches, apples, crisps and lashings of ginger beer (the kind that the Famous Five weren’t allowed) and parked ourselves on the grass for an afternoon. It was blissful. Apart from the bit where a big green spider dropped from the tree we were leaning on and dangled in my face. That bit was rubbish. But 10/10 for boozy picnics in the sun with my favourite person.

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Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Good news, I saw a turtle. Yes that is an Elf reference.

Play air guitar like you mean it.

Man, every single day. My mum instilled the value of occasional dance breaks in me at a young age. There is very little that isn’t made at least a bit better by shaking your thang to You Shook Me All Night Long.

Challenge someone to a game.

I badgered Niall for about a bajillion years to play Monopoly with me because I love board games. He was all like “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really know how to play Monopoly”. He ended up with SIX HOTELS and I ended up with £60. You better believe I threw all the Chance cards at him and flounced off. But up until that point, it was a totally brilliant way to spend a lazy Saturday. I’m already bugging him for a rematch. Love a board game, me.

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Hang out with an animal.

There is a little white cat who lives in our courtyard and I stop to pet him every time I see him. On this day I sat down to play with him for a little while and he climbed into my lap and started batting my pigtails and then went to sleep. I LOVE HIM AND I’M PROBABLY GOING TO STEAL HIM DON’T TELL ANYONE.

Non-Only-Do-One-Thing Happy Stuff

These ones weren’t nudges, they were just happy-making things that I did this month.

Bought myself a fancy cupcake and had 3pm afternoon tea at my desk.

Sure, I had one eye on my inbox but everything is better with half a cupcake in your mouth. Next time I’ll do a full cake stand with scones and stuff, see if anyone says anything.

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Took a detour on my way home to nosy down a pretty lane.

I walk past this lane every day and always wonder what lives on it. The answer was pretty fantastic: a creperie, a vintage clothes shop straight out of the movies, a million antique shops and general pretty things shops and more cobbles and flowers than you can shake a stick at. Definitely dragging Niall to the creperie for breakfast some time.

Made homemade peanut butter.

Okay, okay, my contribution to this was largely licking the spoon. And by largely, I mean entirely. Seriously though, this stuff is to die for.

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Overall, August was a pretty tasty month. Let’s hope September lives up to it! What made you guys happy during August?

The Happiness Project: July 2015

Welcome, lovely ladies and gentlemen, to a brand new feature on the Escapologist’s Daughter: the Happiness Project! A little while ago, I stumbled on a website called Only Do One Thing, which gives you one tiny thing to do per day that could turn a bad day around. And I thought, why not give it a go? So, I’m going to follow their little nudges and at the end of each month, I’ll do a round up of the fun stuff that they’ve encouraged me to do.

I’m an absolute expert at turning fun things into new excuses to feel guilty and berate myself over (hence why I don’t keep a schedule for this blog), so I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t manage to do it every day. But we’ll give it a go and see how happy I can get!

Are you ready for July’s highlights?

Schedule some serious time to look at the moon.

Girl, please. Scheduling time to look at the sky is a fundamental part of my day. Whether it’s watching grey clouds bruise a blue sky, watching the sunset paint my bedroom with golden light or gazing at the moon, wondering who else is looking at it too. And yes, it does make me happy. There’s something about the enormity of the sky that makes me feel like I should relax, because we’re all so tiny in comparison anyway. In one of my favourite books (The Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks), a girl comments to her date that the size of the sky makes her feel insignificant. He points out that when compared to something of that scale, everything is insignificant, and by that logic, them being there together looking at the sky is the most important thing that has ever happened. For the record, if you say this to me, I will marry you immediately, no questions asked.

Buy flowers for someone.

I was thrilled as when this nudge came up. I know they’re silly, really. But I love getting flowers and I love giving them. So I send a lovely bunch of orchids to my best friend Ruth, who I don’t get to see much since we live on opposite sides of this island. And I bought myself a big handful of freesia for good measure.

Snip20150730_1I got my text from Ruth being delighted with her flowers and went about my day, pleased as punch with myself. And then I got home to find these waiting for me:

Snip20150730_2I texted Ruth to find out whether Niall had rumbled me. He hadn’t. And as far as I know, she doesn’t even know the Only Do One Thing site exists. Having never sent flowers to each other before, we both spontaneously sent them to each other on the same day. Spooky. But wonderful.

Make something from scratch.

This was a good one, because it was one that I totally couldn’t be bothered doing. I was hot and tired and I would much rather have sat on the sofa and rinsed a few episodes of Gossip Girl. But I didn’t.

Snip20150730_3How do you like them apple pies? It may have been significantly too hot to make pastry, but I rolled up my sleeves and did it anyway. It turns out that getting out of your own head for a while and doing something that takes a bit of time and effort is really great for soothing jangled minds. In a world where we’re constantly rushing around, even when we don’t have to, it’s kind of nice to do something that only works if you do it slowly.

Wear your best underwear, just because.

Ahem. Done. In fact, I did it twice.

Enjoy this picture of a baby camel.

babycamel-hero2You bet your ass I enjoyed this picture.

Complete this sentence: “Love is like…”

Love is like coming home.

I can’t wait to see what August has in store!

Broke Folks’ Guide to Self-Care

Money can’t make you happy. But a lack of it can make you pretty unhappy. Being skint sucks. It doesn’t matter how cool being poor becomes, how many warehouse bars you open, how many pairs of ripped jeans you buy, the realities of actually having no money are pretty horrible. Even if you’re not actually living in poverty, which I never have been, thank goodness, having to obsessively count your pennies and swither over every purchase you make can take a nasty toll. And it’s easy to forget about looking after yourself when you’ve got bills stacking up. But honestly, self care is the most important thing. The most important. If you don’t take care of yourself and be kind to yourself, you’re going to burn out. Here are some of the things that I do to keep myself happy and healthy, even when my budget looks bleak.

1. Get the basics right.

Eat five pieces of fruit and veg a day. Drink two litres of water. Get eight hours sleep. Take 10000 steps.

Getting the basic stuff like this right is probably the easiest and most effective way of improving your physical and mental health. All of the things I listed up there are things that aren’t hard to do, they just take a little bit of effort. I know that I need to micromanage myself, or I would never do anything with my life. So I bought a 1.5 litre bottle for my desk. I fill it up in the morning and I make sure I finish it before I leave work. I have a pedometer which allows me to see exactly how much or how little I’ve done. When I’m feeling particularly organised, I make myself little lists where I can check off each glass of water or portion of fruit and veg. I’m basically a gigantic toddler, but I know how to make that work for me.

2. Make your space beautiful.

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Not loving your home is absolutely rubbish for your state of mind. Your home should be somewhere that makes you feel safe and happy and…well…at home. But on a budget, a lot of us aren’t exactly living in Buckingham Palace. I’m really lucky that I found a beautiful flat in London, but I’ve dealt with some horror stories in the past. A university halls room with salmon walls, a resident tarantula and a carpet worthy of a penny arcade. A flat where the mouse infestation stopped us worrying about the seemingly unstoppable cracks in the ceiling and walls. An endless parade of heinous mouldy bathrooms. It might seem like putting lipstick on a pig, but dress your home up. I promise, it’ll make more of a difference than you’d think. I have an enormous, brightly patterned bedspread and it makes me smile every time I look at it. I love to buy fresh flowers and put them in my bedroom, even if it’s just a 95p bunch of daffodils in an old peanut butter jar. I put photos of people and places that I love on every surface, on pinboards, on the walls. A set of fairy lights across my desk took my halls room from magenta nightmare to cosy boudoir. Candles can change the whole feel of a room. Surround yourself with things that make you feel happy and peaceful. And try not to worry about that weird stain on the wall.

3. Move your body.

Most of the time, there is nothing that I want to do less than move my body. I sometimes think I was destined to be a large shrub rather than a person. And this only gets worse when I’m feeling low. But my very wise mother, who taught me most of the clever things that I know, taught me that everything feels better after a little dance in your kitchen. Grab your laptop and put on a song you love. You Shook Me All Night Long, Little Bitty Pretty One and the Power of Love (the Huey Lewis one) are my guaranteed brain pleasers. Now start dancing. Really dance, with your arms flailing about and everything. If you’re feeling down, this will probably feel totally contrived to start with, like some awful teambuilding exercise. But persevere, by the end of the first song, you’ll be loving it for real. Nothing gives me a bigger boost more immediately than an emergency danceathon.

4. Don’t move your body.

We spend most of our lives rushing around, doing a million things at once, competing with each other to be the most busy. This, shockingly, is not very good for you. Spread a blanket out on the ground. Put on one of those 10 hour meditation music mixes on Youtube. Lie down. Close your eyes. Take deep breaths. Let your mind wander. Don’t feel guilty about pressing pause for a little while. It’s amazing the good that taking ten minutes to be still and shut the hell up can do for you. Some of my best epiphanies come from lying on my floor with my rabbit licking my forehead and wondering whether he can start eating me yet.

5. Go outside.

clissold park london

Fresh air and sunlight and exercise and pretty things are all totally good for your wellbeing. Know where you can find all of these things? OUTSIDE. I know, outside sucks. If I was a shrub, I’d be an indoor shrub. But once you get off the sofa and through the door, outside is actually sort of great. If you live near a park, go and take a wander. Trees are good for the soul. If it’s a nice day, take a picnic. Food tastes better outside. Bonus points if the park has a pond or a lake…being near water makes me instantly about 42% happier.

6. Treat yo’self.

One of my favourite things in the world is a really scalding hot shower. Yes, I know it’s bad for my skin, but you can pry it from my crusty old hands. Buy yourself a really incredible smelling shower gel and take time to relax in the shower. I’m still eeking the last out of a Rituals shower gel I got for Christmas, but Dove and I Love have genuinely gorgeous scented products for brilliant prices. I’m a sucker for anything scented with peach, orange or jasmine. Cover yourself in gorgeous bubbles, close your eyes and pretend you’re in a Japanese spa. This is one of my top everyday pleasures, and I refuse to berate myself or feel silly for taking joy in such an insignificant moment. There are no little pleasures. There should be no guilty pleasures. Don’t be afraid to take happiness at every available opportunity. A lot of people might make fun of this, but that’s only because being cynical is the easiest way to pretend that you’re smarter than everyone else without actually having to learn stuff. Cynics suck. If people are trying to dim your happiness, it’s usually because they’re unhappy themselves. I will never stop being delighted by hot showers, long, long hugs, swipes of red lipstick, lazy cups of tea. I know I bang on about this all the time, but that’s because it’s important. Happiness is a choice, and you should choose it every single time you can. It’s also a habit, which you need to practise. And the more you practise, the easier and more reflexive that choice will become.

7. Feel grateful.

gratitude wellbeing

This one comes right off the back of the last one. Just because happiness is a choice doesn’t mean it’s an easy one. It is so, so tempting to mope instead. This seems like a fundamental flaw in the human psyche, but it’s true. We would rather be right than happy. We would rather be the martyr. We love a moan. For the past two weeks, I’ve been having a really rubbish time. With the exception of a completely life changing holiday, I have been miserable. Every little thing that could go wrong, did. Over and over again, and it really wore me down. These things pile up, and they can really get to you. So on my lunch hour, I went to a cafe, bought a hot chocolate and made a list of things in my life that make me happy. They ranged from travelling to new places, to having freckles, from Facetiming my mum, to baking apple pies. And actually, I found that I had a lot to be grateful for. I filled two notebook pages. Nothing had changed, the crappy things had all still happened, but suddenly the good was shining through. Lying on the floor like in number 4 is also an excellent time to have realisations like this. I don’t want to sound self righteous, or like I’m suggesting that if you’re unhappy, it’s your fault. It absolutely isn’t. And I’m no Pollyanna, it took me a fortnight of sulking and some very good advice before I got my head back on properly. But you can choose to see things differently. It’s really hard, and requires a bit of sacrifice, but it’s possible. Give it a go.

Life can be hard. It can be really, really hard. And when it is, it’s tempting to think of yourself as unimportant, and spend time focusing on everything else. But taking the time to do something good for yourself is so, so vital. You are important. You’ve got this. You deserve to be happy. Be gentle with yourself.

The Little Things

When I was depressed, one of the things that helped me most was making lists. I made lists of things that made me happy, things I was grateful for, things I was proud of. I took part in the 100 Happy Days challenge, taking a photograph of a happy moment every day for 100 days. This all sounds terribly unromantic. See, happiness isn’t something that’s supposed to be quantified, it’s supposed to just happen. That, if you’ll excuse my language, is bollocks.

If there’s one thing I learned from my depression, it’s that sometimes, your idea of happiness is all wrong. On paper, I should have been very happy indeed. This only made it harder for me to admit that I wasn’t, which in turn made me even more unhappy. If you take just one thing from my blog, ever, let it be this: don’t ever let anyone else tell you how you should experience your happiness. By making my lists and taking my photos and really, really trying to see the positives in my life, I allowed myself to take pleasure in things that I’d normally take for granted. Someone much clever than me once said to enjoy the little things, because someday you’d look back and realise that they were the big things. The truth is, that life isn’t made up of cocktails and parties and shopping sprees…those things are just the icing. Life is made up of the days that don’t make it to the blog. Beautiful, silly little days like today.

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Days where you can wake up in the dark and crawl back into the arms of the person you love. Where you can wrap yourself in your duvet and be sure that no one in the universe has ever been as comfy as you are right now. Where you eschew the bowl of cereal in favour of making pancakes, because some things are worth a little extra effort, and pancakes is definitely one of them. Take a long, scalding hot shower, even though you know it’s probably bad for your skin. Use a soap that smells so good that you forget you’re in your tiny, dingy little bathroom. Wear a brightly coloured lipstick that makes you smile. Pair your comfy shirt with a pair of heels that make you feel amazing. Hang out. Laugh. Kiss. Go for pizza and wine and put the world to rights. Meet someone new. Go see that film that everyone’s talking about. Don’t ever be afraid to be deliriously happy about something, just because someone else might dismiss it as trivial. The ordinary can be extraordinary, if only you take the time to notice. I hope you all have a very, very happy Sunday.

The Things I’ve Done

Well, that title sounds a lot more ominous than it was intended to. Rest assured, this isn’t going to be a confession to all the bodies hidden beneath my floorboards (as if I would tell you about those).

Instead, I’d like to share with you just some of the awesome things I’ve done since deciding to take control of my life about a fortnight ago. They’re all just little things, but to borrow a phrase from the young protege of my blog’s namesake, you mustn’t let a little thing like little stop you. I’m hoping that it’ll serve as a reminder to me of all the little things I can accomplish, and as a reminder of how happy these little things can make me. If any of you are feeling low, I’d recommend any of them.

In the last fortnight, I have:

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  • Learned how to make shortcrust pastry and used my mad skillz to bake a truly glorious apple pie.

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  • Dressed up real fancy and gone on a super romantic date with the boy.

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  • Accidentally drunk a whole bottle of prosecco in a single sitting.
  • Made a writing portfolio.
  • Made macaroons.
  • Gotten over 400 hits in one day, on a blog I thought no one would read.
  • Made my own stationery, and used it to send a letter to a friend in America.

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  • Watched a rainbow disappear and reappear from my window.

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  • Worked hard on a special somebody’s 18th birthday present (can’t tell you, it’s going to be a surprise).
  • Taken a beginner’s course in HTML and built a very beautiful website.
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Beautiful.

HTML is seriously fun. Typing code makes me feel like such a badass. Now, to learn how make stuff not look like that ^^.

I’ve decided that it’s probably time to stop letting depression kick my ass and at least make some attempts at kicking it back. I am from Paisley after all, I’d be letting the side down if I didn’t at least pan its windaes in. Maybe next I’ll learn a language. Or write an anthology of poetry. Or learn to swing dance. Or get a new job. Viva la Resistance!