Tag Archives: Happiness

Be more seagull

Seagulls just bide their time...They say cats are the greatest spiritual teachers, but I’d personally go with seagulls.

It’s true that by all accounts, cats are master of being “in the now” and doing their own thing. You don’t see them being too encumbered with what people will think , or ahem, want them to do.

They also look curiously at every tiny thing everyday as though they were seeing it for the first time, though in my opinion this has more to do with the fact that they’re very near-sighted.

One of my favourite things these days is to walk alongside the river, and looking at how seagulls play with the wind: gracefully going up when the wind goes up, down when it goes down. (Incidentally, I used to do that in my old job too: we were on the 9th floor.)

Unlike us humans, you don’t see seagulls manically trying to go against the wind, or crashing to the ground when there is none. That’s because when there is no wind, or too much, they just sit tight (usually among friends) and bide their time until the right wind blows again – because they know it always will.

This speaks to me volumes at a time when I’m between jobs, between homes and hopefully between relationships. Most days quite frankly feel like I’m in the tumble dryer, not entirely sure where is up or down, with wind coming in gusts from all directions.

So I try and learn from the seagulls, and bide my time gracefully, and wait for the right wind.

On another note, have you seen the phone ad campaign with the slogan BE MORE DOG“Walking: amazing! Chasing cars: amazing! Sticks: amazing! CARPE DIEM, which means ‘grab the frisbee’ “… Being that excited about everything is something we can all aspire to, but it’s a pretty tall order.

So on days when life’s looking less than tail-waggingly fun (maybe you’ve lost your squeaky toy or you’re in the dog house again) rather than be more dog I say BE MORE SEAGULL, and you’ll do just fine.

 

 

A cute birthday tale

IMG_0107 LROkay, let me tell you a cute story:

One of my Mum’s best mates turned 60 recently.

Like most people who turn 60 (or me when I turned 30), she didn’t like the idea one bit. She refused to have a big party, and her husband had booked a table for two at their local restaurant.

When the actual day arrived, she felt pretty gloomy. (Which reminds me of the day my Mum turned 60 – although she’s usually the most upbeat person I know, she was pretty low. She half-joked she would go down to the market to “see if they sell some magic powder to make you look and feel younger”. I still laugh to imagine what powders she might have been offered…)

Anyway.

As every woman knows, just because you say “I don’t want any presents” doesn’t mean you actually meant it. For all the wanting not to make a fuss, my Mum’s friend felt a bit deflated and lonely. Especially as her husband had some business to attend that day, and my Mum had things to sort out in town, so no one was around for company; her only plan was to lunch with her elderly mother.

The dreaded day was turning out to be just another day.

I’m not sure if she felt a bit wronged by the entire universe, but she sure felt wronged by her husband. Self-pity can make the best of us a little bitchy sometimes, so she phoned my Mum to complain about him – had he cared a little more, he’d have arranged to make her day more special that going to the stupid local for dinner!

Meanwhile, said husband spent his day “away” smuggling food and drinks into my parents’ kitchen down the road, in order to cook a big party meal unnoticed.

He planned the whole stealth operation so well that she didn’t suspect any of it.

So when the evening came and she was ready for dinner at the local (coat, scarf, had and gloves, checking her watch as they were going to be late), she grew increasingly annoyed that he wasn’t ready yet. What too him so bloody long? “What shirt shall I wear? Does it go with this tie?” he asked, as if he usually even noticed.

Of course she didn’t know he was just playing for time, because the guests had been delayed.

It wasn’t until they were finally ready to lock the front door – by now in full grumpy mode – that she heard someone call out greetings from the garden.

She turned round to see familiar faces, a handful of loved ones inexplicably smiling to her, bearing bottles of wine and dishes in casseroles… including her children who looked like they had just dropped by for dinner, even though they live hours away.

 

 

Happy Easter!

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It’s my favourite time of the year in London: chocolate bunnies have been creeping up in shops for weeks (following from Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts, and soon to be replaced by Pimm’s and disposable barbecues), and the sudden influx of tourists from the Continent gives us a taste summer to come.

Spring is in full swing, days are getting longer, skirts are getting shorter, and the Londoners who aren’t flying out for the long weekend are in a great mood as they look forward to four lazy days of parties and (weather permitting) picnics.

I’m not a religious person and I don’t have children, so I have no particular reason to rejoice at Easter for either the resurrection of the Lord or the prospects of egg hunts. And sadly I will miss my eldest nephew’s first epic hunt, seeing that he’s 3 and I’m not sure last year he really knew what was going on.

But just  because I won’t be with my family doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of them – in fact I probably will be, as I walk around Greenwich Park admiring the trees in bloom and, much to my boyfriend’s annoyment, cooing at the new “baby leaves”. 

As I see children looking for hidden eggs I will probably be thinking of the children I know, and by extension of the children of Europe and beyond, who will collectively at the same point in time be engaged in so many egg hunts with their respective families.

Because I like to daydream, this might lead me to think of the children of generations past, who might have celebrated in a similar fashion, back in the day when eggs were real eggs, and would have been hard-boiled or hollowed and decorated by hand… a tradition which I had no doubt endures in some parts, but not here where eggs are most commonly Cadbury’s.

This will probably take me back to the egg hunts of my own childhood, and the one time I decorated eggs at school, with limited success. And also back to our old Sunday school, when a poor lady of saintly patience tried to explain Easter to a group of kids set on making her life miserable (“Miss, if we have to forgive, how come God sends people to Hell?”), and the story of Jesus being crucified on the day of Jewish Easter (“Pâque Juive”) which is the French word for Passover.

As I contemplate over two millennia of history starting in Jerusalem and fast-forward to the millions (billions? trillions?) of families celebrating so many Easter and Passover holidays following traditions that have endured centuries all the way to today’s Cadbury’s eggs, and the cherry trees in pink blossom that remind me that Easter is also a feast of renewal and spring, I might begin to feel a little dizzy. 

Well it’ll either be that or the Pimm’s…

Cheers, and wherever you are, have a great weekend!

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You’re lucky!

P1040475 low resA month ago, I had the pleasure of being a witness at my friend’s civil wedding ceremony at her local town hall; after which, the bride and groom and their two children invited us (me, the other witness and a third friend) to lunch at their local pub.

The place was cosy as they come – wooden floors, comfy sofas and fireplaces, mouth-watering smells floating from the kitchen and the livery chatter of people having a good time. The sort of place where children are welcome to run around and hide under the tables as they please, and adults may conceivably spend an entire Sunday drifting lazily from coffee to lunch to afternoon pints, while reading the papers all along.

Like you do with good friends you don’t see very often, we made the most of the event and the celebration, although simple, felt truly special. We had a wonderful time relaxing, laughing and enjoying a gorgeous meal. It was in all respects a perfect day.

At the end of the afternoon, as we put our coats back on and prepared to leave – a little tired, nicely full and red-cheeked from the celebratory food and wine – I felt as though I was walking on clouds and the entire world was just made of pure love.

On the way to the exit, I noticed my friend’s baby looking attentively at a small, friendly-looking collie dog. I reached down to pat the dog’s head and heard a loud voice above my head: “You’re lucky, you know”. I looked up to see who had spoken and saw the dog’s master, an elderly, probably homeless gentleman, grinning a toothless smile.

I was surprised at the incongruity of the comment (and if I’m honest, at finding a homeless man in a nice pub), but he didn’t seem to notice. He repeated a second time: “You’re really lucky, you know. She doesn’t like everybody.”

I looked back down at the dog which by now was wagging its tail frantically at both the baby and me. I replied something about the dog being cute, but the man kept repeating the same thing several times over “You’re lucky, you know”, in a way that made me wonder if he perhaps wasn’t entirely there himself.  “You’re lucky you know!” he said one last time as I was turning away to leave, “You have a very lucky life.”

It wasn’t until we came out onto the street that it stroke me how right the man had been. The truth is, I am lucky – to be able to spend days like this with great friends and their healthy children, to eat delicious meals in fancy pubs, to live a comfortable life in a vibrant city, to be making friends with cute dogs… while it’s cold outside, and some people have no homes to go to. 

The whole scene had felt slightly surreal, like something out of a Hollywood film, where God would be speaking to me directly through a kindly homeless person, to remind me of the things that truly matter in life.

I returned home feeling half-shaken, half-amused. Later that day I recounted the story to my boyfriend, who joked that the only way to have known for sure if the man was indeed a divine messenger would have been to go back inside, and check whether he had vanished… 

Of course I never thought of that at the time, so I shall never know. But in a way it doesn’t matter, as magic or not, this was a powerful message. I am lucky, in fact much more so than I realise.

And I am not the only one, you may be lucky too. 

If you are ever reminded of it by a toothless man with a dog in strange circumstances, please get in touch… 

Moving on: New life in an old country

P1100155 low resA good friend of mine is moving back to the continent after almost 10 years in London, and I find myself strangely affected.

Not only because I will miss her – she’s one of those rare friends who never seems to find my crazy plans crazy – but also because of the possibilities the thought of going home opens up in my own life.

In the last 12 years I have lived away from France in various countries, I have found that being an expat is a bit like having two lives – there’s the cosmopolitan, stressed-out urban me, who works for a celebrity and does stuff like blogging and yoga. And the small town French me, a daughter/ grand-daughter of several generation of small-towners, who still enjoys spending days in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and the slow pace of everything.

I suspect we all feel a similar divide between where we came from and where we are now, whether we live far away from our families, or whether they are on the other side of town. But living in another country, albeit a neighbouring one, only makes it more obvious.

Just as we compare ourselves to others (even though we know we shouldn’t), it is also tempting to compare ourselves to our “other me”.

What if I had studied nearer my parents and settled to live locally? Would I still have been the same person? Would I have settled sooner, have had children earlier? Would I have somewhat become a copy of my parents?

What if I went back now ? Would I be going forwards, or going back in time?

This is what my friend and I pondered during our last dinner together. We both came to London years ago and embraced the city life as if our lives depended on it. Would we be somehow “giving up” the dream by going back home? Would we be judged as failures, or more importantly, would we see ourselves to have failed? Would we be settling down happily, or just settling?

As I think about it now, it strikes me that this is all part of growing up- letting go of the many roads we might have taken, and learning to embrace the one we are on. Realising that the different “me” are all me. There is no “other me”. Or rather, “other me” is still me.

It strikes me that learning to embrace the paradox is the way to live fully. It’s okay to love the excitement city life, and still dream of the calm countryside. To have a modern life and yet honour tradition. We can break the mould and still love the families we grew up in.

We all, as they say, have both roots and wings. 

And as I watch my friend go, it occurs to me that happiness is knowing just that. Whichever country we might go to, we will still be ourselves. Fully, and beautifully.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Time travelling at no cost
Going round in circles
“Finding our own North Star” by Martha Beck

F**k it therapy

P1050362 low resIn almost everything in life, I tend to think simple is best. Think of the amazing food combinations involving two ingredients only: bread+butter, pasta+olive oil, tomato+basil, wine+cheese, prawn+mayonnaise, and I am sure you could add plenty to the list. (In fact if you can, please do share with me in the comments so I can have a try. I am not greedy, I’m food-curious).

Anyway, I’ve recently come across the excellent “F**k It” book by John C Parkin, which reminded me of this awsome “simple is best” theory. The idea behind the book is both deceptively simple and supremely powerful. So powerful in fact, that it’s already begun to change my life before I’ve even read it. I only heard the author present it in a talk at the Hay House Summit the day before yesterday, and I’m already a convert.

The F**k it philosophy is not about being rude (although that’s fun too!), it’s about realising that sometimes we worry too much about trivial stuff, and that we do have the power to stop it. From minor annoyances to bigger decisions, stress and overthinking can affect our lives in major ways, and especially for those of us prone to analysis paralysis (you know who you are), it’s all too easy wasting precious time fretting what if this or that and losing our wellbeing over it. We get scared, we get grumpy, we get stuck, we lose sleep. Even for people who don’t consider themselves particularly neurotic, the pace of our modern lives means there is usually room for some degree of relaxation.

All you need to do to apply the f**k it philosophy is this: whenever you catch yourself worrying out of proportion about anything, just say “Fuck it” and move on. Just this. You can start small, and you can start now. I started yesterday by paying attention to some of the basic overthinking that goes on in my average working day (because such an exciting life I lead):

I should really hurry, I will be 5 min late for this meeting, people will think I’m unreliable >> Fuck it, I’ll take my time, no one will even notice 5 minutes delay

Shouldn’t I try to wear something smarter to the office, I look like I’m dressed to go to the beach and I look stupid >> Fuck it, it’s the sunniest day of the year and I’ll bloody well wear gold sandals if I like it

I really fancy going home on time but all my colleagues are putting in several hours overtime everyday >> Fuck it, it’s their choice and I’ll work better tomorrow if I’ve had a rest

And so just like that, I was able to reclaim little bits of happiness which would otherwise have escaped me had I not said “fuck it”. Such is the power of it.

This simple technique cuts short the overthinking and invites us to action. It allows us to let go and move on. It boosts our self confidence. It reminds us that it’s okay to do what we like, once in a while.

It is not about being selfish, or becoming mean to people, or ignoring the important things in our lives. It’s about freeing more time and energy to focus on what truly matters, by not wasting it on things that don’t.

It’s about silencing the voices in our head that like to criticise everything you do. It’s about knowing that you do enough, you are enough. 

Like I said, it’s powerful stuff. So is anything bugging you right now? Say “fuck it” and begin to taste freedom.

 

The importance of Being You

P1030681 low resI don’t know if any of you have read it, but this week I’m still reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, which chronicles the author’s year-long project of researching the topic of happiness, and applying her theoretical findings to her everyday life.

It’s an entertaining read – if anything because the author sounds (to me) like a typical slightly-neurotic New Yorker, but also as a formal legal clerk she is down to earth, logical and systematic in a pursuit that most people might approach in a more lighthearted, spontaneous way. But it is precisely by being authentic and genuine in sharing her own experience (my favourite bit of genuineness – on page 23, she admits to not liking showers) that she becomes extremely likeable .

Before starting the year of experimenting, Gretchen writes down two interesting sets of rules she will have to live by. One is her Secrets of Adulthood, the truths she has learnt to trust such as “It’s ok to ask for help” or “Soap and water remove most stains”.  The second list is her own Twelve Commandments for life and includes wisdom such as “Let it go”, “Do it now” or “Be polite and be fair”.

The one item I have found inspiring above all is her Commandment One: “Be Gretchen”. Silly as it may sound, it is powerful reminder that true happiness is only found when we can be ourselves, in the mundane and the everyday as much as in our larger goals and plans.

For those of us who spend a lot of time doing what we should do instead of what we want to do, it feels positively revolutionary. So, I’ve made “Be Cecile” my rule no 1 too. I might not have written the other rules yet (sad as it makes me, I might have to admit that “being Cecile” does often equal not being very organised), but I HAVE decided that this one is not an option, it’s a must. Be Cecile. Be yourself, no matter what. And let’s see what comes out of it. 

 

Finding your flow

P1050058 low resWhen you are unhappy in your job but unsure what else would make you happier, the one piece of advice you are likely to hear often is to try and find what puts you in flow, and concentrate on these activities in your job and daily life. Like most brilliant ideas, it is both very simple and surprisingly hard to follow. How do you know what puts you in flow? Chances are that you – like me – might be in the place you’re in precisely because you’ve lost track of what it is that makes you come alive, so powerful as this advice may be, it may take you a while to see how it applies to you.

Flow (a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi) is used to describe the feeling of enjoying an activity so much that time disappears while you do it, so that if you start at say noon, you look up 5 minutes later and it’s dark outside. It implies that you can concentrate on it effortlessly and feel energised, rather than drained, by the task. When I started looking for what puts me in flow at work, I couldn’t find anything. My first thought is I must be stupid (obviously), but I now realise there is nothing that puts me in flow at work, so I wasn’t about to find out. In fact, for a while the only true flow activity I could ever remember being involved in was playing the piano – which I haven’t done in 15 years.

It wasn’t until I came across Julia Cameron’s excellent The Artist’s Way (soon to be added to the Bookshelf) that I began to reconnect with what truly comes easy to me. I dabbled a bit in painting and photography – just for the fun of it, because I thought I might enjoy it – and after that I tried my hand at poetry and writing. And that’s when my mind blew right open. Writing seemed to not only come easy, but to happen almost “without me being there”, as if I could just sit back and take dictation coming from someone else, and feel as refreshed after an hour of writing as after a good nap. This was exactly the same feeling I’d experienced playing the piano, a deep relaxation coupled with a strong and vital connection with the world.

What puts you in flow? My boyfriend forgets all about the world when he is cooking a complicated meal, or when he dances to very loud disco music, and my housemate can spend entire days without  a break gardening in her allotment. What does it feel like for you?

If you’re having difficulty thinking of something, I found the trick is to, little by little, start noticing what makes you feel good, and not be afraid to try out new things. If you think you might like to do painting, or fashion design, or horseriding, go and do it for a day. Trust your intuition.  Give yourself permission to be a beginner, even if – especially if – your inner critic might say you are too old/ not talented or any other excuse it comes up with. If you keep following your intuition, you will eventually end up finding your flow.

Everyone is unique, but for many of us flow might feel like deep contentment, a relaxing connection to the people and things around us. You may experience the feeling that there is no time – the present merges with the past and the future – no separation between you and the universe. In fact, flow is a similar to the physical sensation people feel when they are deep in meditation or prayer. For this reason I think there is something deeply sacred in flow – and that is why it is worth searching for.

So in my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be too worried if you can’t find any flow activities at the office, because you are so much bigger than your job. But when you do find what truly makes you come alive, you owe it to yourself to spend as much time as you can doing it. When your start doing this, your life will be transformed and start to feel a little bit more magic every day.