Tag Archives: happiness

onwards!

track“February! Great to see you! Thank God you’re here – did you not hear me calling you last week?And the week before? I could have done with your intervention really…

See, some bad shit went down last month, I’m afraid. I know, I know, you heard the same about January last year, but seriously, my dear February, seriously, that was nothing compared to what this January threw at us. And me. Yes, personally, nationally and internationally it wasn’t a good month.

Do you think when you’re finished here you could perhaps have a little word in the ear of January 2018? We’d like thirty-one days of loveliness please – world harmony, kittens, that sort of thing.

Impossible? Oh ok, just a few weeks of semi-loveliness…

Too much to ask? Ok, I’d settle for some garden-variety mundanity. Nothing at all showy just the sort of month that doesn’t leave me gazing at the news in horror or at social media with my head in my hands… can you do that?

Yes? Good. We’re all set then.

Ok, I’ve finished talking to February now ;)

It’s been nearly a month since my last post and, yes, it was a bad month but – imaginary conversations aside – the arrival of February has given me pause to reflect and find some good things to focus on. Like the fact that I’ve completed another assignment for my illustration course and am now working on a whole new module. And, even better, I’ve just finished another illustration commission – a book cover this time – which is very exciting! I’m also planning to design a website for my illustration soon which is a project I’m looking forward to. AND there’s this business idea I’ve been working on which both my friend and I are keen to get our teeth into.

And then, while I was eyeball deep in January, an email plopped into my inbox  (I didn’t even spot it until February had arrived) saying I was one of Feedspot’s ‘Top 20 Creative Writing Blogs And Websites on the Web. Chuck Wendig is in the list – Chuck Wendig! I love his blog so much! To be in the same list is… well, a bit baffling if I’m honest but just amazingly fabulous at the same time. I really have loved how – through the #WhatImWriting linky – this blog has become a little hive of writerly connection… or that’s how I like to think of it anyway! Good stuff.

Of course, ‘What I’m Writing’ itself is something that makes me very happy indeed. The community of writers is wonderful and the mutual support has made a difference, I think, to all of us over the past few years. I have realised though that it’s time for some (only some!) changes in this area. Having had time to think since my new year post, I’ve decided to stop running the linky. It’s been going for well over two years and during that time masses of different writers from different countries have linked up hundreds (and hundreds) of posts. I’ve loved it all but I’m finding myself continually more stretched time-wise to the point where it’s not viable to run it any more.

BUT (and here’s the crucial bit) the most important aspect of the linky for me has always been the community – to create and nurture one was the original and vital aim and, on that count, ‘What I’m Writing’ has far exceeded my hopes. And our community is still very much thriving and will continue to do so. We have a Facebook group where we share posts and ponderings and we continue to organise meet ups too for those who fancy it. I’ll be updating the linky page soon to explain things more clearly but basically, if you’re a writer at any stage of your career – published, unpublished, wondering if you dare pursue your dream, or already jumping in with both feet – you’re welcome to join us. Drop me an email and I can add you to the group. It’s a place of friendship and support – just what the doctor ordered at the moment!

So, this was really just me touching base because it felt weird not to blog for so long… and also to let you know things are ok in Writing Bubble land. January may have been awful (and I think this year has more to throw at us yet) but there’s lots to look forward to as well. I’m determined to pour energy into writing and drawing and family and friends in order to squeeze every drop of happiness out of 2017.

Let’s do this.

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the uplifting power of words – #ShoreToShore

grassI’ve been feeling fraught lately. Too much emotion, too much worry, too much sadness about the state of our country and our future.

But last night something wonderful happened – I went to Carol Ann Duffy’s Shore to Shore poetry tour. It was held in my local church, a lovely location at the best of times (I say that despite my atheist tendencies) but on this particular occasion it had a bar serving cask ales in it (it did – honest!) and was filled poetry and music.

Poets Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay and Gillian Allnutt all performed along side the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and with musical interludes by John Sampson. I loved it all. I’m not saying I loved each and every poem equally or that each poet affected me the same way. I think poetry is a personal thing and you can find your own meanings within the words. I let some of last night just wash over me, while other parts made me smile or laugh, and still others brought tears to my eyes. Some poems really hit home. Politics did enter the building (at a time like this how could it not?) but I had a strong sense of being surrounded by like-minded people. And we sat side by side and were immersed in thought and intelligence and warmth. It was an evening of out-and-out soul enrichment.

When I got home I wrote a poem about it. I didn’t really think about it I just walked into the room, exchanged pleasantries with my husband (‘How were the kids at bedtime? Perfectly behaved? What, did the stars align this evening or something?’), grabbed a pen and paper and the words appeared on the page. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem like that. I can’t remember the last time I wrote a poem.

Of course I’m terrified to share it here – because it’s a first draft and it’s raw and you might think it’s rubbish. But I want to put it somewhere because, I don’t know, there’s been so much sadness recently and the poem is about how I felt last night, remembering what’s good in life. It was transmitted so clearly through those wonderful poems from those wonderful writers and, though I can’t hope to live up to their words, they’ve given me the strength to throw a few of my own out into the world.

Poetry

They fell like raindrops
drenching parched soil –
words of beauty
of truth
of kindness,
of art and wisdom and thought.

They fell like blossom
coating tired streets –
words of culture
of insight
of education,
of rawness and emotion and love.

They fell like sunbeams
through the treetops,
a soft wind through the grasses,
warmth beside me,
gentle hands in my hair.

Prose for Thought
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Book Review: The Pursuit of Happiness (and why it’s making us anxious) – Ruth Whippman

the pursuit of happiness cover

“As your average cynical Brit, when Ruth Whippman moves to California, it seems to her that the American obsession with finding happiness is driving everyone crazy.

But soon she gets sucked in. The meditates and tries ‘mindful dishwashing’. She attends a self-help course that promises total transformation (and learns that all her problems are her own fault). She visits a strange Nevada happiness dystopia (with one of the highest suicide rates in America), delves deeper into the darker truths behind the influential ‘science of happiness’, and even ventures to Utah, where she learns God’s personal secret to eternal bliss…”

 

Oh, this was such an interesting book! I felt this way as I was reading it and, since then, the variety and strength of opinion I’ve seen in other reviews has only confirmed my belief. It seems it’s not really one of those ‘meh – it was alright books': some people have really taken exception to its tone while others have loved it, and even those who have disliked elements have still said it’s fascinating in places. It just is.

Personally, I loved the style, the authors observations and her description of her experiences and discoveries. Her dry, British take on things had me chuckling, often.

At the start of the book, Whippman has recently moved to America with her husband and two-year-old son. I’ve not been through such a huge geographical shift myself, but I could still relate to her struggles to find her feet (and happiness) as a mother amidst the advice and conflicting parenting styles of those around her. Parenting can feel like a strange new world wherever you are. Admittedly, I did find myself thinking “Really? is this truly what it’s like in America?!” at times and according to other reviews, I think she’s possibly describing the extreme. I also found her views on attachment parenting a bit off-putting… but a bit of disagreement isn’t necessarily a bad thing – everyone sees the world through their own lens and being aware of where my views differed from the author’s made me contemplate her experiences more than I otherwise would have done, I think.

And those experiences are well worth the extra contemplation – the book details what is basically her voyage of discovery into what makes us happy (and what doesn’t), with the (chunky) chapters exploring the different areas she looks into.

I found the section on self-help courses quite worrying: there is so much money to be made in this particular industry and the ethics, in places, are massively dubious. There’s one scene in which a sobbing audience member in a seminar has her traumatic childhood experience labelled as ‘NEVER HAPPENED’, on the basis that many of our experiences are altered by our own perception of them. While I agree that some of our history is open to interpretation, and I’m all for taking responsibility where responsibility is due, the idea that horrible life events are all down to how we see things is horrendously victim-blaming. It made my skin crawl.

The chapter on positive psychology lead me down similar paths. I understand the desire to believe that our happiness is something entirely under our own control – that if we just have the right mindset anything can be achieved. A belief like that can be empowering and there’s a lot to be said for positivity. But you can’t overlook the hardships that life throws some people, and the idea that it’s somehow just a matter of how you perceive things seems to dismiss the genuine problems people have, and puts the onus on them to ‘get over it’ rather than on us as a community to support those who need it. How the positive psychology movement (another area where there’s plenty of money to be made… ) backs up its claims also troubles me. Whippman follows the ‘scientific evidence’, does her own research and discovers a pattern of deceit I found genuinely shocking.

the pursuit of happiness

Happiness for me: reading while my son whittles a stick.

But it wasn’t all self-help exposés – the book looks at many different methods of achieving happiness and notes that religious people in the US are generally happier than non religious people, with Mormons topping the (self-attributed) happiness charts. This fact sends the author on a weekend stay with a Mormon family where she learns about their community and beliefs. I found this section enlightening and thought Whippman explored the positives and negatives well, with interviews that were both eye-opening and touching. The important role that a supportive community can play in individual happiness came through clearly in this area and made a lot of sense to me, as did the fact that talking about difficulties rather than suppressing them is vital.

As luck would have it, I was on a blogging break when I read the chapter on social media. If you’ve read my post about my week you’ll be able to understand how the author’s observations about how social media can undermine happiness really resonated with me. As a blogger and (usually… ) avid FaceBook and Twitter user, it definitely gave me cause to reflect.

Overall, I thought the message that came through the book was that – despite the focus on the idea that ‘happiness comes from within’ (which seems to form a fundamental tenet of the happiness industry) – happiness is really found in our interactions with other people. Inner resilience is important too of course, but if we can create and nurture good relationships with family and friends it will go a long way to making us happier people. Similarly, the path to a happier society is through acting as a supportive community. (I’m desperately trying not to put politics into this but goddammit David Cameron, you are getting it so wrong.)

I know this isn’t a brief review but I could have written even more! I just urge you to read the book – whether you agree or disagree with everything Whippman writes, it’ll make you think. Can’t say fairer than that.

*I was sent this book to review as part of the BritMums book club. All opinions are my own.*

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