Is Happiness really difficult to come by?

Whilst out walking the country lanes of Dorset yesterday afternoon, I was listening to a playlist of some of my favourite tracks. It was cold, it was also dry, a bit grey but not too windy. The music was upbeat and bringing back memories from the past, the sorts of things that came to mind always bring a smile to my face and made me wonder about what constitutes happiness.

On with my post. During my walk, I had to take the earphones out to cross a road and started to listen to the birds, hearing pheasants, rooks, a blackbird, some sparrows, tits and the first cuckoo of Spring 2021. A small win! I always love hearing that first cuckoo. The earlier I hear it the better, I now know spring warmth is on its way. Another smile on my walk, more happiness.

Further along, earphones back in, I happen to look over the bridge into the river to see a heron catch a small trout; I often see the Heron and the fish. Never have I seen them come together (not great for the fish). So out of the randomness of this walk, it’s another small win another smile. It’s strange what’s about when you have some time to look and whilst it’s not winning the lottery, these random actions of nature are all helpful in bringing balance to our own lives and thus happiness if you want it.

To cap it all, I finished my walk and got home, entering the front door as the first raindrops arrived (spring in the U.K.). As I had not taken a jacket, getting in the door before the downpour is a huge win and a laugh out loud moment. 

Am I generally a lucky person? Well, I have not ever seen myself as particularly lucky. We have worked hard to achieve what we have in life; nothing has been handed to us, it’s been hard earned. However, on the flipside my health is generally good, I’ve never broken a bone and whilst having a few scrapes in car accidents in my younger days, never been seriously injured. So, whilst I don’t believe I’m lucky, I also don’t think I’m unlucky. What I do know is “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good” 

So, what is the point of my rumblings today? Well in a moment of clarity it’s become clear my own happiness is about seeking those small wins, looking for those little victories that put the everyday setbacks into context. I’m not belittling the difficulties other suffer, however think we all owe ourselves a moment of happiness every day, every hour, perhaps every minute. Happiness does not need to cost anything, we don’t have to travel or enjoy ourselves at the expense of others, we don’t even need to share what it is that makes us smile (however sharing happiness is so rewarding), we just need to put some effort in to look for our own moment, it’s clearly more difficult when times are hard but always possible if we put our minds to it.

This morning it’s due to rain, so I’m doing my admin, playing records and I know once all the paper shredding is complete and our files are up to date there will be a moment of happiness, I might even enjoy a glass of wine to celebrate. Just having the freedom to choose how I spend my time is a reason to be happy.

Please feel free to comment.

What I wish I knew years ago

As described previously, being able to retire when I did was down to having been given the right advice at the right time, finding credible role models that helped to focus my mind and resources so that we ended up financially able to make the decision to give up work and focus on life.

Over the last few days, I’ve been rethinking what I wish I knew when I was in my 20s that would have made a positive difference to us now. Like the financial advice I was given it’s all common sense if you take time to think and do something about it. It’s worth noting we are all never too old to change, it’s just harder as the years go by.

1. Food and drink: you don’t have to feel the need to eat everything on your plate, always make sure everything you do eat is savoured and enjoyed. Don’t waste time getting fat on food that is not good for you, it seems it’s quite easy to put on weight and much harder to lose it as you get older. There is plenty of time to eat treats, you don’t need to eat them all at once. Take note of what your body is telling you, we all know what’s healthy and what’s harmful.

2. Exercise: it’s not for just those fitness freaks, anyone can do it. Spending 20 minutes a day doing what’s right for the health of your body is a good investment in time. Pushing yourself to get your heart beating, building muscle rather than fat and just keeping active will all pay dividends as we age. Whilst it seems like you are invincible in your twenties, the ability to enjoy retirement is linked to your personal fitness as well as your financial prowess.

3. Interest and hobbies: you don’t need to be an expert in anything. As the Duke of Edinburgh said, “be proud to be an amateur, be inquisitive in finding new interests and pastimes to be passionate about.” Again, it seems easier to start new interests when you are young, not impossible when you are older, just different. I’ve read many times the key to happiness is being interested in lots and never toO focused on one thing. Being creative and working with others is most rewarding.

4. Friends: like money, need to be accumulated over a lifetime, treasured, valued and there is a need to invest time to make friendships meaningful. It’s also helpful to build friendships with a diverse set of people with a wide range of backgrounds and interests so that you can help each other to develop new ideas/interests as above. When your working or raising children it’s to easy to know people and thus not bother to build friendships, as you retire you realise the importance of having good friends.

5. The world is as big or small as you choose. Learn the habit of saying Yes to trying new things. A “No” closes your choices and that opportunity has been lost. Fear of doing stuff disguised as a “can’t” is a habit that will only grow as you get older, so choose differently as often as you can. Challenging yourself to do things you dare not will bring a sense of achievement and you won’t ever have to regret the things you could have done as you look back.

6 Look after your senses. When we are young it’s easy to take for granted our hearing, sight, taste, sense of smell or touch as we go about our busy lives. Take time to see, feel, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around you and savour those moments. Again our senses need development, seeking new foods, listening out for new soundsor just making sure you treasure the nature that surrounds us.

7. Take pictures: we need to be aware that some of us will develop various types of dementia as we age and forget those moments that were so special. A picture may be our only memory one day! There seems to be a bit more time when you retire to reflect, I’ve found photos to be brilliant at just reviving a memory, I don’t suffer from dementia but love the challenge of remembering the context of photos.

8. Value your own time: don’t waste personal time and effort on things or people that won’t bring you happiness and spend more time with the people you love. We all think as kids our parents are there forever, as you get older you realise that’s not true. Spending time with some people is positive and gives you energy, others just make you feel knackered, know the difference and choose.

9. Smile: if you find that you’re not smiling every day, change your day! If you don’t adopt this philosophy when you are young, life will always be hard. The skill I believe in is finding fun and happiness even in the most mundane situations (Mary Poppins). As above the people you mix with, the places you visit or just what you don’t do affect how you are. Try and be a person that gives energy and smiling is the start.

10. Think about money: it’s hard to beat the return on investment with every £ you put into your pension when you are young. Living in the moment costs you time and money in the future. As I said before, I was taught from an early stage in my working career my financial priorities were: provide a roof over the heads of my family, ensure you have food on the table and then prioritise money into your pension before any other spending. There is a saying from a money saving expert I quite like. “Do I need to buy this and if so can I afford this? If the answer is no to either question don’t! if the answer to the first question is yes look and look again for the cheapest solution and if you have to borrow money to buy it, include the interest costs in your calculations”. in general we all buy too much stuff of no real value, that if we didn’t buy, the world would be a better place and we would each have more money working for us.

I’m sure everyone has their own list, feel free to add yours, we can’t go back and teach ourselves but may help some others reading these blogs.

Hope you have enjoyed the read.

Back from Hibernation .

At the start of the year, I decided to take a break from my blog and now after four months I’m back online. I suppose the break has been a bit of a hibernation, an opportunity to save resources (brain and time) a detox, during what seemed like a bleak winter with COVID 19 continuing to rampage across the planet.

In our small part of the world, news has been altogether more positive. The year started with news that we are to become grandparents for the first time later in 2021. Sarah and I are so excited! Whilst COVID has raged, we’ve been lucky with little impact to our wider family/friendship groups and having all received first jabs with second jabs due shortly life can start to return to some sort of normality. Our youngest daughter having had to return home from university at Christmas and study from home has just completed her first-year exams and our son has managed to find a house with his partner, get a mortgage, hopefully able to move in soon.

Back to retirement news. Not quite the year we expected, however if all had gone to plan, we would have done our travelling by now. Instead, we are still looking forward to the adventure. In the last few weeks, part one has been booked ready for Autumn 2022, flights to Barcelona, Cunard Cruise Barcelona to Singapore via Mediterranean, Suez Canal (stop off to see the pyramids in the valley of the kings), Red Sea and Indian Ocean (stopping off to visit Sri Lanka). Once in Singapore we will meet up with our friends for flights on to Australia and New Zealand. Just need to hope and pray the COVID 19 threat has been neutralised by then.

In other news, instead of our annual visit to Italy to celebrate our wedding anniversary, this year it was a walk along the beach at Bournemouth and a bag of chips served with a glass of wine as pictured above. 

Hibernation has also given me the opportunity to redouble my efforts in support of the organisations I volunteer with. As stated in previous posts, I have found my involvement with both the museum and school to be very rewarding, it’s been good for the soul and helped to keep my brain active while we struggled through the restrictions of lockdown. We have and continue to miss being able to visit restaurants and pubs, whilst they have reopened for outdoor dining, it’s been too cold in April this year to make use of the opportunity.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. Wishing whoever has read these notes all the best and hoping no-one is caught up in those countries which are being impacted yet again with another surge of COVID 19. My next post will be an update on pensions and some further thoughts on the things I wish I knew 20 years ago.

Please feel free to leave comments.

New Year, New You vs Being the Best Version of Yourself.

Every year in January we get the marketing blurb, TV advertising and social media frenzy about starting the year with a diet, do more exercise, give up alcohol, eat more vegetables, in fact become a new you! No-one can disagree we probably need to improve some elements of our lifestyle.

However, when working in the Beauty category a few years back, a lot of our attention in the golden quarter (3 months leading up to Christmas) was spent not looking after the customers in that moment but thinking about how to encourage trade in those months directly after the Christmas peak when the public were paying off credit card bills and generally keeping spending tight. The big industry dream was to make the “New Year, New Me” a thing! It was felt if you could get people focussed on fitness, health and diet, why not stretch it so they could try a new beauty regime or, better still, new products, dispensing with the products they had been gifted at Christmas etc.

In fact, a couple of the big brands always planned their biggest mascara launches for early January, throwing huge amounts of media spend on promoting a very visual new look that could be achieved at the same time as promoting the full make up cleansing product range to be in tune with people’s desire for being natural in the new year with incentives to sales staff to encourage customers to buy the full three products for best results. 

Perhaps now you can see why I’m a tad sceptical of the whole “new year, new you” thing. To be honest, I’m not even convinced starting something new in the month of January in the U.K. is ever a good thing. For those from distant shores, it’s normally cold, damp and dark with short days, not the most motivational month to start anything that you want to sustain. Whilst I agree it’s the start of our calendar year, I’m not aware of any natural reason for January being the start of anything. Again, you have to wonder at the motivation of this whole New Year, New Me thing. You have to hand it to the marketeer who came up with the concept, in our time more and more of us launch the year with the latest new fad etc.

So, having said all the above, what’s the alternative?

Perhaps its about concentrating on choosing to be our best self more often, taking time to be our bes, realising sometimes we will let ourselves down and that’s ok we are only human. The important thing is to be self aware enough to be able to own the problem, If we are eating too much, eat less, if not taking enough exercise, get out and walk some more etc. The date you start improving is not the key to success. 1st January or 17th October will make no difference to any outcome. It’s more important to have the awareness and understanding of when you are struggling so that you can refocus your energy and efforts on getting back on track to improvement and make the changes to your routine that will embed the change of habit that’s required.

So, what does it mean? I’m not going to try and be someone else, I’m going to work hard at being a better version of myself. I want to be comfortable with the person I see in the mirror. It’s not about perfection, especially in my case, but I know I can be better and it will be good to be a bit healthier.

I find regular measurement and recording data helpful to my own motivation. Weighing myself regularly, recording what I eat and drink and how much exercise I have taken helps to keep the focus on doing a little better each day (Im not saying its perfect i failed to lose the weight I had hoped in December). Another tip that has helped me over the years has been to look at improving lots of things slightly rather than trying to crack one thing 100%. I believe it was the head of the UK cycling team who said its better to get the team focused on improving 100 things by 1% than improving 1 thing 100% (Again not fool proof, I find its easier to concentrate on less elements of improvement, however when I succeed its normally because of hard work and discipline).

I would like to remind all readers I have never professed to be an expert on anything, my rumblings are just my own thoughts/personal experienced shared, If you have enjoyed the read please let me know.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year. By the way the photo is of the Lane out of our village on New Year’s Day at the start of our walk.

2020 A personal perspective.

So as the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back and review the year, before launching into the New Year, while it’s easy to allow COVID 19/geo-political events to define the year, in reality they have played a very small part in my year while still being impactful.

I have chosen to do my review under several headings, not in any order of importance just as they came to mind as I was composing this post.

Travel: The year started with a short trip to Marrakesh, the concept of social distancing had not entered our heads as we pushed our way through the crowed souks, haggling over the price of a bag before realising the vendor only wanted a few more pennies than we had been prepared to pay. The trip to the Atlas Mountains, which ended up being a trek literally up the mountain to see some beautiful scenery including fantastic waterfalls. All in all, a great trip. After Marrakesh, we had a few cancellations due to COVID, however managed to get to Italy a couple of times as mentioned in other posts. I suppose the biggest trip not to happen was our world tour. On the bright side, having not done the trip, it’s still something to look forward too.

Wellbeing: As the years go, everyone around us has been in good health with the exception of Sarah’s mum who was taken seriously ill at the beginning of 2020, ending up in hospital for over 6 weeks. In fact, she has not been well for the whole 365 days of the year. For us as a couple, it’s been a good year, the initial lockdown became good practice for full retirement. We found that being together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is manageable and in fact, quite good fun, however also realised the need for diverse interests and having a chance to catch up with friends on our own was more important than we first thought. This will be a key consideration when Sarah gives up work.

Family and friends: Clearly COVID 19 has impacted how we see and interact with family and friends. A lot less physically catching up, more virtual interactions, I speak to people more now than perhaps before on the phone etc. We have managed to make the most of technology to create virtual gatherings, having a weekly Zoom pub quiz with friends, a couple of virtual drinks parties around our dining room table, connecting from their own dining tables. Also, when restrictions were lifted, we made the most of visiting restaurants and the local pub in a safe and responsible manner. From a family perspective, the big news was our youngest going off to university, our eldest being made redundant as a consequence of COVID (the positive being it’s pushed him to throw himself into doing a full qualification in web design which will hopefully define his future) and our middle child managed to get promoted in her job during lockdown. In fact, she has not physically met the team she now manages.

Financial: Having full control of my pension pot was important to our retirement plans, however March was a bit of a trial as the value of the pot saw a 40% reduction! Whilst I had always understood the risk, in the moment that risk became reality. With such a reduction, the immediate worry is will my pension pot be sufficient to see us live our retirement dreams? Do I need to find a job? In reality (after a stiff G&T) I realised it’s a paper loss, I didn’t need the money at the moment! However, still a consideration in the year 2020. It’s worth noting as we finish the year, due to the great work from my pension advisor and the investment manager who looks after my pension pot, we have seen a full recovery with moderate gains. So, whilst a turbulent year, in the end we are still on track.

Organisations: As mentioned in earlier posts. I’m a non-exec director sitting on the trustee board of the local museum. Again, while COVID has had an impact on the operation, actually the museum is in a stronger financial position than prior to lockdown and has benefited from the drive to go “online”, managing to have visitors from the USA pay to attend a virtual event. We’ve also had time to spend strengthening the management structure which will enable a strong recovery once the pandemic recedes. The other organisation I’m involved in is the local secondary school where I serve as Chairman of the Board of Governors. Again, it’s been very challenging, especially for the teaching professionals who try their best every day for every pupil with little recognition from parents. I’m not a teacher and thus cannot understand the motivation to engage with often difficult students who, in all honesty, don’t want to learn, but these teachers don’t give up! This year it’s been a privilege to be part of the organisation and I’m so glad as a school we have had such a dedicated team that have not allowed COVID-19 to define the education of this year’s students.

In summary, 2020 was not the year anyone planned; however, I’m not sure it’s been as bad as some elements in the media and wider world would have us believe. Whilst it’s clear Covid has caused major disruption to people’s lives, I’m sure everyone who has not lost someone close to their heart has had good times amongst the angst of 2020, as they say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. I think for my family we are still all well and probably stronger for getting through 2020. Perhaps we have found out we are more resilient than we thought and have had more time together as a family than we would have normally. From my own perspective I have enjoyed the year, learning new skills, finding time to speak with old friends, planted trees and found out I can do retirement.

Hope you have enjoyed my review of our year and have taken some time to review yours. Wishing anyone who has bothered to read this post a happy new year, let’s hope the vaccine helps the world to be a safer place and better place for everyone in 2021.

Defining Incompetence

Incompetence: inability to do something successfully, inadequate, unfit!

I’m sure in years to come the dictionary definition will use the example of the current U.K. government to describe incompetence. Whether it’s the handling of COVID-19 or our exit from the EU Boris Johnson and his leadership have failed to deliver the most important job of government “The Protection of its Citizens” the British People.

Currently, the U.K. has seen one of the highest excess death rate due to COVID 19 in the G20 whilst also managing to deliver the biggest fall in economic output of all the major economies and still the government have the audacity to speak of the success of their strategy!

To think in December 2019 the U.K. government was made aware of the need to prioritise contingency planning for a potential pandemic, including the urgent need to develop track and trace in line with what the Asian countries had developed on the back of SARS in 2010. Cost equated at less than 2 days of U.K. economic output. However, allegedly, it was felt this was too expensive and leaving the EU was more of a priority, pandemic contingency planning was postponed even though ministers were advised were the country was ill prepared with little medical reserves etc. Whilst no-one could have known that said pandemic was just around the corner it’s the job of government to at least prepared.

Since then, it’s been one crisis after another; we have a Prime Minster who talks about “following the science”, however he seems to diverge from this thinking as soon as difficult political decisions are required. Deny, delay and blither seem a better description of the way things have been handled. For example, lockdowns have always come much later than science had advised, normally after a denial about the needs for the lockdown, once a change of mind had happened implementation delayed followed by a blithering description of the rules so as to make the instructions difficult to follow. Secondly, wearing of face masks, despite the scientists advising of the need to slow infection by having people wearing masks in public, it was denied as being a useful option, then the change of mind but blithering exceptions to enable the general public to opt out of doing their duty. The list of examples goes on!

Then we have Brexit, a dream of a small group of very rich people, who managed to persuade a small majority of the U.K. electorate to support their aims with a twenty year campaign of lies and a nationalistic argument. The outcome being we will have a country distinctly poorer in both financial and global influence; those rich dreamers have managed to make their money out of the uncertainty and I’m sure will be leaving the political scene in the coming years as the poorest in our society start to realise the bill they have left for future generations to pay.

Despite knowing the nation is poorer with a forecasted 1-2% drag on our economic growth because of BREXIT in addition to the negative impact of COVID, we also lost out on the freedom of U.K. citizens to freely move/work/live across Europe and the enhanced security co-operation which helped prevent terrorist atrocities (they argue that all has been protected in the trade deal, blatantly not true as the the EU president stated), drug smuggling and money laundering. Our government still maintains it’s a success, describing gaining back ownership of our borders (we always had ownership of our borders), being able to control immigration (over 80% of our net population growth was coming from countries outside of the UK, so in fact BREXIT will make little difference) and winning back control of our fisheries (no one seems to mention, we sold our fishing quotas to the foreign fisherman and the deal now signed protects their rights).

I suppose the only thing worse than the incompetence is the fact there seems little guilt accepted for the damage done. Whilst it’s common to repeat the joke “how do you know when a politician is lying?” Answer “Any time you can see their lips moving”, in Boris Johnson’s case now you can see he lowers his gaze and starts looking at the camera through the top of his eyes like a naughty schoolboy! Also, I have noted, lately points which he clearly knows are untrue get repeated several times and then get picked up and are repeated verbatim by other cabinet ministers as if the more they say things the truer they will become.

For me the Classic lie in recent weeks was the combination of both themes, we had the story of how because of BREXIT we had been the first country to regulate the use of the COVID vaccination, no mention the drug had been developed by German/ Turkey scientists, was being produced in Belgium by a pan European drug company, nor the fact we had always had the power to regulate our own drugs. One minister even claiming we were better than everyone else.

If ever there was any justice, we would have a Royal commission to look at this Government’s handling of COVID 19 & Brexit as soon as possible, leading to prosecution of individuals who have caused the current crisis through incompetence or for personal gain.

For the record I am by nature a Conservative party supporter, believing in the need for individual to have the opportunity to work hard and benefit from their endeavour, the need to enable business to flourish so as to support economic growth and keeping control of money supply to minimise the impact of inflation.

Apologies for the nature of this post especially during the Christmas break, however in a free democracy we all have a duty to stand up for what we believe in. As per the old fable of the emperor with no clothes you have to call out the truth as you see it even if you are in a minority and may be ridiculed for being out of tune with the consensus.

My next post will be about our hopes for 2021, I’ve made a resolution to make no resolutions for the new year (Damn, that’s that resolution broken).

Christmas 2020 Wrap Up

So despite the various COVID restrictions, we had a fantastic Christmas celebration, we managed to speak with loved ones on Christmas Day wherever they were and had a family feast at home.

For me, the highlight was just seeing our close family chatting, eating, drinking, singing together with no petty arguments, they must be growing up.

The day started as tradition in the Roncaglia household, a bit of Christmas gift opening accompanied with tea and biscuits in our room, it’s still great even though all the children are adults now and it’s a bit of a squeeze to fit everyone on our king size bed. Of course, years ago it was the wonder of what Father Christmas had left in stockings.

When we get up, it’s a light breakfast followed by a good long walk with the dog. There’s something special walking on Christmas morning, saying a Happy Christmas to everyone you meet, seeing excited children trying out their new bikes and this year, despite COVID was no different, walking around our village on a crisp morning makes it difficult to believe there is a pandemic across the country.

Once home, a warm Nespresso coffee greeted us as we sat around the tree opening more presents, phoning friends and family to give thanks and generally a chilled morning. As head chef at Christmas, I’d done all the preparation on Christmas Eve so no need for panic just a couple of glasses of Bucks Fizz!

With Christmas crackers pulled and hats on, we sat down promptly at 2pm for lunch, finishing at just after 5pm having enjoyed a glass or two too many of wine and extra cheese that was not needed to fill the stomach. A great meal even though I say so myself and just the enjoyment of enjoying good food with good company. It’s interesting how with no little children to entertain,time can be taken to savour flavours and discuss better options for next year.

After our meal, groups went off to play games in the lounge while others just chatted and lounged in the conservatory, laughter heard throughout the house while Christmas music played in the background. All I needed to complete the perfect picture was a rocking chair and an open fire blazing.

At the end of the night, Sarah and I described this Christmas as one of our favourite times ever as a family, it’s great seeing your kids growing into adults in front of your eyes and be in the position to provide a home where they can gather and enjoy each other’s company as when they were small children growing up.

Another reflection on the day was a lack of news permeating our bubble, perhaps, as I reflected in an earlier post, it’s good for the soul to switch off the outside world now and again, taking time to enjoy the moment spent with those who are most important.

This year I’m in no rush to see the end of Christmas and think it’s probably more important than ever to celebrate the full 12 days keeping the Christmas spirit going.

Christmas 2020

So here we are, it’s arrived, not quite as planned a couple of years ago!

As I write this, we should have been in Australia looking forward to Christmas on the beach, having seen the snows of North America, watched the whales off the California coast, visited New Zealand. Instead, we are preparing for Christmas at home in Dorset amongst the COVID restrictions which are becoming ever tighter to stop the spread of the new variants which have come to light in the U.K. over recent weeks.

This year, no Christmas parties, visits to friends, restaurants or pubs. Whilst none of this is important, it has been part of normal life in December. So this year its actually going to be a real home Christmas, with only our son, daughters and partners at our house for dinner on Christmas Day.

We have made the effort to go traditional in terms of decorations and I love it (picture above is our tree with Lucy are ageing English Springer posing). Whilst it’s not going to snow we are due a cold snap over the Christmas holiday so should wake up to proper frost giving a white covering to the trees and bushes. Unbelievably, we will have visibility of the Christmas star (convergence of planets) for the first time in 800 years and while we don’t have young children, there is excitement in the house that Father Christmas is coming.

Our Christmas lunch will be served around 2PM giving a chance for a morning walk before preparing the meal. As we have not been able to go out, we have spent more than normal on our feast, but what the heck, it’s been that sort of year, we need to celebrate something.

As we have not been able to see our parents, we have set up phone calls and virtual get togethers. Both sets of parents have decided they want to stay protected, hoping for vaccine calls in January and who can blame them, we want to make sure they are part of our celebrations even if from a far. It’s so sad that so many of the elderly are staying at home alone this year.

We have invested in updating the old Nintendo Wii with new controllers, a new balance board so as to provide some family fun in the evening and now a karaoke microphone to allow us to torture each other with poor renditions of Christmas classics once the wine has flowed through the day! In addition, the old fashion board and card games have been hunted out ready to keep the day going. I love seeing everyone joining in with something, laughing, shouting (they call it singing) and generally having fun.

Whilst it’s not been the year we would have liked, I still think we have lots to celebrate and be thankful for. I hope everyone who reads this is as lucky as we are to be in good health, able to spend time with some family and enjoy a peaceful holiday. At least Christmas 2020 will be memorable, we won’t forget who we were with or even the people who could not be here, it’s like the Year Father Christmas brought me my first proper bike, it was the year it snowed at Christmas it’s still etched as an early memory.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas, keep smiling, try and bring happiness to at least one other person on the 25th even if they are a phone call away!

How to find happiness?

I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on the answer to this question…

In the last few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what I see around me, strangers, friends, family and pets. Taking time to listen, observe and get a feel on feelings. What became clear in these difficult times is happy people standout, they seem to be taller, louder and dare I say it happier than the people around them. Looking closely, the people further from the happy person were less happy than those who are sat/stood right next to them, it’s as if happiness weakens the further you get from the source. 

To define happy people, I took some time to look at the opposite. In the broadest terms:

Firstly, unhappy people see the downside in every situation, struggling to recognise value in anything they have, often including a lack of self-worth (I’m sure experts will be able to delve into reasons and such, my rumblings are just an observation of what I see, hear and feel). This point is huge and from my experience is the foundation of unhappiness, it’s surprising how often you see people with literally nothing, not even a roof over their head, can find a positive in the moment.

Secondly, unhappy people always want what someone else has, the grass is greener elsewhere mentality. It’s my belief that because of the first point, there is a feeling everyone else has it better, or is lucky for their situation etc. But again, we often see in the news stories of those who have it all, money, fame and the ability to do anything, wish they had normal lives or sadly take their own lives. In my experience, wanting what someone else has is a recipe for unhappiness. I know some will argue that it acts as an incentive to work harder, I’m not sure it’s a positive behaviour! Working hard in itself is good for everyone, I know doing your best is the key to success (doing just enough is never enough), channelled with good life choices brings success (I’m not saying wealth).

Thirdly, unhappy people seem self-absorbed, looking inwards rather than outwards, oblivious to how others are feeling, more concerned with sharing their unhappiness before understanding the mood or needs of others. We’ve all seen how an unhappy person acts as a mood hoover managing to suck all the positive energy out of a room of people just by their presence.

Fourthly, unhappy people in my experience get stuck in a rut of routine, failing to have time to use the creative side of their brains. Reading non-fiction and getting caught up in other people’s misfortune.

Happy people on the other hand also seem to have some common traits:

1. Value what they have, the people around them and their own self-worth. They always seem to be “lucky” to have great friends (it was the famous golfer who coined the phrase, “the harder I practice and work at something, the luckier I seem to be”), take pride and look after their possessions, never afraid to be the butt of a joke or criticism as they know their own strengths and value. I know when I’ve felt low a comment seems to sting more than it would on a good day.

2- Always showing their gratitude, never afraid to give thanks for help, feedback or just being there for them. It seems happy people have the ability to see the small things that are done for them and always make the time to recognise the fact that generally people don’t wish harm on others (we all know there are exceptions) but happy people get the perspective and believe in the good in people. 

3- Show no fear, there is a confidence in being happy. I see happy people always willing to try new things, begin new adventures, test themselves with new challenges. They don’t seem to have any worries about failure or ridicule for happy people, it’s about taking part (unhappy people are worried about being good enough or winning). The word “Yes” is more prevalent to a happy person as compared to “No”, “I can’t” and other negatives as seem to be uttered by those struggling for happiness.

4. Being creative, writing, playing musical instruments, painting, drawing or just being inventive (I wonder how many of the great inventors had a happy disposition). They always seem to be reading books by new authors and able to have a conversation about a myriad of ideas and thoughts, whilst unhappy people struggle to interact with drawing from group discussion.

In my mind, if you have the basics for life, a roof over your head, to be safe where you sleep and the ability to feed yourself and your family, the choice of happiness or not is yours to make! It’s one of the many positives of being human, self-awareness, the ability to recognise feelings, making conscious decisions rather than acting out of habit or instinct 

In simple terms it’s about:

Attitude, training yourself to think a moment longer and realise who you want to be, before acting so you have the chance to be and be seen to be your best-self in every situation. 

Behaviour, practice the behaviours of happiness as described above, remembering the harder you work at it the luckier you will become. It’s not a problem if you aren’t good at practicing being happy, it will come with hard work and perseverance. Try to balance the need to be rational with the ability to be creative. “When it’s raining outside, put on your boots and go jump in the puddles” comes to mind.

In summary this world needs more happy people especially this year, it’s up to all of us to make it a better place. I don’t want to minimise other people’s problems just believe we all deserve and have the ability to be happy and more importantly make others happy. Hope you have enjoyed the read, please feel free to add comments on the things that make you happy.

Where has the time gone?

Whilst it’s a well-known fact to many, I’ve only just discovered over the last few weeks how quickly time goes by when retired. It’s hard to believe it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post on here and whilst on the surface I have more time than ever in my life, I don’t seem to have any time to sit down and put some thoughts on paper as such.

It has got me thinking, why is time going so fast? We are still in limbo lockdown, not an actual lockdown. Defined as we can’t do the things we would want to do, but can do the things we have to do! Can’t meet friends for a coffee but can go to the doctors, bank or hairdressers. 

I suppose the biggest change to what’s taking up my time is the virtual meetings. It seems that as we get better acquainted with our technology and the ability to hold virtual meetings, the easier it’s become to have meetings. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had over 15 hours of meetings related to school governor work or being a museum trustee (double what I would have done if we were meeting physically), in addition to Zoom and Skype calls with friends and family, catching up virtually with relations I had not seen actually in years! We’ve also set up a weekly pub quiz group with friends replacing our once a month visit to the pub for quiz night. 

In addition to my online activity, I’ve been busy doing the things talked about in earlier blogs, walking, cooking and earlier this week going to the clinic to give blood for the first time.

For those who have never given blood, it’s brilliant! No downsides other than the nerves of going through the door the first time, the people in the clinic were fantastic and afterwards there is a feeling of having done something that truly helps some unknown person. I’m not sure why I never had time to do this before, but I’ve booked in to give another pint in March 2021.

So back to the point of this post, time seems to be going fast, I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything grand in terms of my retirement plan, no travel, no new great adventures, whilst I’m walking, I have failed to keep losing weight in the way I had planned (something to do with my cooking), I’ve not discovered my new hobby or interest. However, I’ve kept busy doing stuff and as Sarah has continued to be out at work, it’s been mostly on my own. Not at all as I envisioned my retirement. I’m sure lots of retired people have found over time this just happens.

So what? I may hear you ask.

In my experience if you are driving somewhere and you find yourself lost, the best thing to do is to stop, consult the map or get directions so as to get yourself back on route as quickly as possible. Or, put another way “when you’re stuck in hole, stop digging”. This, in my mind, is the time for me to stop, to take a moment, I didn’t want to be saying time’s going faster since retirement, I want to savour every moment of this new life stage. In fact, I want life to slow down! As they say, time to wake up and smell the beans.

Of course, it’s easy to blame COVID or that my wife’s still working etc.etc. The fact is, it’s my own decisions in recent weeks that have left me busy doing nothing. It’s down to me to look at my map and find my way back to the perfect retirement before time’s wasted.

Hope you have enjoyed the read, any advice much appreciated.

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