Feeling Ungrateful … The (Very) Secret Path to Happiness

Have you ever found yourself standing in front of the Self-Help section of a book store silently pleading: ‘Please, one of you, be the book for me – with detailed answers to all of my very unique and specific problems!’ 

I know I have. After the break-up of my marriage I took myself off to one of the largest book stores in London, with one of the largest Self-Help sections I’d ever seen and stood there scanning the shelves, praying I’d find a book with a title that went something like this:

How to Survive the Nuclear Fallout of a Marital Meltdown, Be a Kick-Ass Single Mum, Earn Enough Money to Keep a Roof Over Your Family’s Head, Get a New Book Deal, Oh and Look Like a Million Dollars … in 28 Days

Bizarrely, I didn’t find it.

But I did find a book that was all about the gift of gratitude and ‘RECOMMENDED BY OPRAH WINFREY’ so I bought that instead.

And I’ve been extolling the virtues of practising gratitude ever since.

But today I’d like to change it up a little as it’s dawned on me that there’s a real gift to be had in feeling ungrateful too.

No, really.

One of the mainstays of a gratitude practise is jotting down a list of things you’ve felt grateful for at the end of each day.

It really helps you see life in a more positive light.

But what if each night you were to ask yourself what you didn’t feel grateful for that day?

Not the things over which you have no control – like the train being late or the coffee being cold – but things directly connected to you.

The way you snapped at that shop assistant.

The fight you had with your partner.

The crappy day at the office job you’d vowed to leave three years ago.

The hurtful way a so-called friend spoke to you.

And what if you were to use the things on your ‘ungrateful list’ as signposts, showing you where there’s work to be done.

Where you need to say sorry – to others or yourself.

Where you need to make constructive changes.

Where you need to walk away, start over and release.

Think how freeing it would be to acknowledge the bad stuff and deal with it on a daily basis instead of stuffing it down into a resentment stew.

Example…

When I did this exercise last night here’s what I felt ungrateful for:

  • Deciding not to exercise and ending up feeling sluggish all day
  • Eating too much sugar and having a major energy slump late afternoon
  • Getting drawn into a conversation that left me feeling angry and frustrated
  • Snapping at a sales caller

I then sat for a while, reflecting on the lessons I needed to learn:

  • That my days always feel better when I exercise
  • Ditto when I eat healthily
  • That there are certain conversations I’m way better off not having
  • That sales callers are only doing their job (however annoying it might be when they call during Nashville!)

I finished by repeating this beautifully simple yet powerful mantra:

I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.

This mantra originates from Hawaii and it’s a great way of letting go of any guilt or anger from the day.

I went to bed feeling happier and lighter … and grateful for the lessons I’d learned.

If you decide to try an ungrateful list I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below.

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Social Media … Don’t Let it be the Boss of You

I have a confession to make.

I don’t like Twitter.

It hasn’t always been this way.

In fact, there used to be loads of things I loved about it.

The ultra-live news coverage, often from the heart of the action.

The collective jokes, the hashtag banter.

And, as a writer, the ability to connect with readers and bloggers.

But over the past few months, for me, the negatives have started to far outweigh the positives.

I’d been aware for a while that I wasn’t getting nearly as much pleasure from Twitter as I used to but I pushed these feelings of unease down, listening instead to the fears in my head. Fears that typically went something like this…

You have to use Twitter.

All writers use Twitter.

The first thing a publisher asks these days when they’re thinking of signing you is how many Twitter followers you have #TrueStory.

If you don’t have any Twitter followers, you’ll never get a book deal again.

And then you’ll be homeless – and starve.

But then I got a grip of myself.

And it dawned on me that actually, life is way too short choose to do something that makes you stressed and unhappy.

So, I logged out of Twitter and Facebook and set myself the experiment of seeing how I felt after a couple of weeks social media free.

Would absence make my heart grow fonder?

Or would my temporary separation lead to something more permanent?

Here’s what I found:

More time

The first and most obvious thing I noticed during my social media detox was how much time I had. All of those little I’ll just see what’s going on on Twitter interludes soon add up. And although at first I felt restless and twitchy without my regular scroll, I soon got used to it. And I soon grew to love the great vistas of uninterrupted time that opened up in front of me. I started reading books in one or two sittings – something I hadn’t done for years. I watched films on Netflix without reaching for the pause button every so often just to see what was trending. I was able to completely immerse myself in the story I was reading or viewing – and it felt great.

Greater attention span

This greater attention span spilled over into other areas of my life too. On train journeys, I took to gazing out of the window again and thinking and dreaming. Instead the slightly jittery feeling experienced when jumping between news feeds and notifications, my brain relaxed and expanded and new dreams rushed in.

Clear-headed

This clear-headedness helped bring greater clarity to my work life. Choices I’d been mulling over for months suddenly seemed simple. My whole life felt more simple some how. And simple felt great.

Better Sleep

Feeling clear-headed didn’t just help me when I was awake. I found I was sleeping a lot better too. Studies have shown that staring at a screen before you go to bed does the opposite of making you unwind. All of those dopamine hits. All of those, just one more minutes. I got back into the habit of curling up with a book and it was bliss.

Quality interactions

But probably my favourite part of my social media detox was the change in my interactions with others. Funnily enough, this had been my greatest fear, prior to giving up.

Would I feel really lonely without a bit of Twitter banter or Facebook messaging with my friends and family?

The answer, was a big, fat, resounding NO.

Because coming off social media forced me to find other ways to communicate with people, you know, like talking, face-to-face. And on the phone.

When we ping someone a message or ‘like’ something they’ve posted we feel as if we’ve connected with them, so we’re less likely to call or meet up. But my social media hiatus made me realise that nothing beats the connection of a proper, social media-free conversation.

Hilariously, when I met up with my sister for a coffee and told her what I was doing, she started throwing pointed glances over my shoulder. At the table behind me, a woman was sitting pouting, while her companion took picture after picture of her on his phone, presumably for Instagram. They barely said a word to each other the whole time they were in there.

Then we looked around at the other people in the cafe. At every single table there were people tapping away on their phones. None of these people were on their own – but they may as well have been.

‘I think social media might be sending us all crazy,’ I whispered to my sis. And I was only half joking.

Isn’t there something a little troubling about a world that comes up with the concept of a selfie stick – because there’s an actual demand for a selfie stick?

Now, I know social media isn’t all bad.

One of the things I’ve loved most about Twitter is hearing from readers of my books and being able to connect with other writers.

And I know lots of people who’ve formed deep and lasting friendships online.

This is all good.

I think the real issue is the balance of power in our relationship with social media.

Are you the boss of it?

Or is it the boss of you?

Think for a moment of all the different forms of social media you use.

Picture each one as an actual physical venue.

What do you see? And how does it make you feel?

When I picture Facebook, I see a cafe full of lively conversation and loving friends.

When I picture Twitter, I see a huge hall, full of people. Some of them are lovely and kind and engaged in constructive conversation, but they’re being drowned out by the showing off or shouty mob (wielding hate-filled hashtags instead of pitchforks).

Now, for you it might be the other way round. Your experience of Twitter might be of one big happy family.

If it is, that’s great.

But if social media is making you feel uneasy or tense, try taking a break to clear your head.

Then ask yourself how you can be the boss of it rather than letting it be the boss of you.

Do you really need to be on both Facebook and Twitter?

Do you really need to go on every day?

How would cutting down on your social media change your life for the better?

When I asked myself these questions I realised that I’d be far happier focusing on my Facebook page.

Making it a place where people can come together to share inspirational posts and ideas.

A place where we can laugh and chat and experience a sense of community.

That feels good to me.

As does coming off Twitter for the forseeable future.

It makes my life feel simpler and nicer.

It makes me feel proud that I’m no longer going to do something I don’t enjoy, simply because I’m too afraid of what might happen if I don’t.

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You Have the Right to Write

A VERY IMPORTANT AND *ahem* OFFICIAL report recently found that often, people will do JUST ABOUT ANYTHING rather than write.

In the report, the following ten things were found to be the favoured forms of procrastination keeping people from putting pen to paper:

  • Spring-cleaning the house
  • Walking the dog – even if you don’t have a dog
  • Checking the garden for weeds
  • Checking next door’s garden for weeds
  • Polishing the skirting boards
  • Clearing out that cupboard
  • Taking the contents of that cupboard to the dump
  • Staring into space
  • Staring into space whilst wondering what comes after infinity
  • Making a cup of tea when you still have one steaming away on your desk

This is one of the great conundrums known to writing-kind (almost as great a conundrum as what comes after infinity).

Even when we want to write we become masters at blocking ourselves. But why?

The answer, sweet Dare to Dreamers, is FEAR.

Fear of looking stupid.

Fear of criticism or rejection.

Fear of making ourselves open and vulnerable.

And maybe even fear of success

But the fact is, writing is one of the best ways of making sense of the world.

It’s like breathing for the brain as you exhale your thoughts and feelings on to the page.

And it’s one of the most powerful forms of self-expression we have.

We all have the right to write.

Rich or poor.

Young or old.

Educated or uneducated.

So how can we overcome our fears?

You might be familiar with the following quote about how to live a happy life:

‘You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watching. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Sing like nobody’s listening and live like it’s heaven on earth.’

Well, I’d like to tweak that quote slightly for the purposes of this piece:

‘You’ve got to write like nobody’s reading. Write like you’ve never been hurt. Write like nobody gives a damn and write like the last writer on earth.’

You. Have. The. Right. To. Write.

It’s your voice.

Your self-expression.

Your right.

So what if you can’t spell and you think a colon is something people with more money than sense irrigate? It’s your voice that counts – your vision and message.

So what if people criticise or reject what you do? At least you had the guts to do it.

So what if it feels as if you’re bleeding your heart all over the page? How can anything heartfelt and authentic ever be ‘wrong’?

And so what if someone actually likes what you do – and likes it enough to publish it? So what if this leaves you wide open to potential criticism and hurt on a huge scale?

Your words will have taken on a life of their own. Let them fly free and know that it’s impossible to please everybody.

There was a time when I felt too terrified to write.

A time when my skirting boards were so clean you could eat your dinner off them and none of the gardens in my street were troubled by a single weed.

But my need to make sense of the world and pour my heart and soul on to the page won out in the end.

And as soon as I started writing, some of my worst fears were realised.

I had work rejected and criticised.

I wrote things I felt embarrassed about (article about lucky underpants, anyone?!)

But I kept going.

Kept writing.

Every day, I faced down my fear and put pen to page.

And today I made the finishing touches to my thirteenth book.

So, if you feel the call to write, shove your fear to one side and…

Write like nobody’s reading. Write like you’ve never been hurt. Write like nobody gives a damn and write like the last writer on earth.

D2D-eBookjacket-aw2This post was taken from my book, Dare to Dream: Inspirational Musings on Life, Love & Creativity. Available here. All proceeds go to the charity Leuka, helping find a cure for leukaemia.

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