Thursday 9 February 2023

Take five minutes to read this, it may make your life more happy!

 What was the first thing you thought when you read the headlien on this blog? "What's he selling"? "What does he want?" "Has someone hacked the Barnet Eye and put a scam site on it"?

I hope you'll be pleased to know that it's none of the above. So how might this blog make your life more happy?  Well it might just make you take a minute to think and you might just come to the conclusion that with a few simple adjustments to your life, you might, just might be happier. There's no catch, I'm not asking you to do anything more than sit down for two minute and think about a simple question that I'll be asking at the end of this blog. 

So let me start by giving you some background as to why I'm asking this. It's not often that you get given something that is quite expensive, for nothing, where nothing is expected in return. This week, those of you who follow me on Instagram (and this isn't a plea for followers) will know I've been in France. You probably won't know why, as I didn't tell anyone. There wasn't any particular reason I didn't tell anyone, other than I didn't think too many people would be interested. However the reason I went was because I am a deputy group leader with a charity called HCPT and they were holding a revival event for group leaders and deputies. The chance of a couple of days in France for free was enough of a carrot to entice me along. I have to confess that generally in life, I have a stronga version to meetings, team building events etc. In my former life in IT, I had enough of that sort of thing. In general, the company I was working for would decide that everyone needed 'motivating', so we'd get locked in a large conference room for two days, get a trip to Edinburgh Zoo or the such like, and we'd have all sorts of marvellous ideas shouted at us, as we sat there waiting for the session to end, so we could all go to the pub or for the buffet to arrive. I recall one particular event, where we were told that money wasn't what motivated staff, it was the pleasure of doing the job. At the end, all of the people who worked for me collared me and started saying "Does that mean we are not getting a pay rise" and several started looking for new jobs. 

So I have to confess, I approach any such thing with a degree of cynicism. As I don't get paid to volunteer for HCPT and don't have to do anything, if I don't feel like it, I was slightly less ccynical about the event. You may wonder what the attraction of spending a couple of days in France, with people you barely know is, even if it is free, maybe if you look at the Instagram piccies, there is a little clue. I'd be a liar if I didn't say that the main attraction was just some fresh air and nice french food. 

It was a pretty packed three days, with 'revival sessions' every day and an early rise (for me) at 7am for breakfast at 7.30. The chap running the event was a chap called David Wells (click the link here to learn more), I hope David won't mind me describe him as a fairly average looking chap who can talk a bit. When he was introduced, my heart sunk just a little bit, I learned his day job was originally as a  teacher. Regular readers will know that I really didn't enjoy school. I had no idea what the agenda was for the programme. I was surprised when David announced that the first topic we'd discuss was 'Joy'.  David explained that we were all a bit too busy to allow ourselves joy in our busy lives. This made me think. I am undoubtedly very busy, but my initial thought was "actually, I'm pretty happy. Yes, I am busy, but I'm busy doing things I like". My initial thought was, "sod this for a game of soldiers, I'm going to spend a day discussing a problem, I don't have, when's the buffet". Then David exxplained that one of the enemys of Joy was cynicism. I doubt that there is a blogger on the planet who is not a bit cynical. I have always thought cynicism to be a great strength, not a negative charactaristic. My initial thought was "not only am I sitting listening to a lengthy speel about a problem I don't have, but there is a bloke standing here, disparaging what I consider one of my best characteristics".  But then, as he expanded on the theme, a thought occurred to me. I think beer is wonderful, I think drinking beer has been one of the most joyous things I do. A pint with mates, especially at a match of football cannot be beaten. But if I was to drink beer, morning, noon and night, would it still make me happy. The thing I enjoy about a beer is as much that I don't drink it all the time and when I do, it is with friends and I look forward to it. 

As David spoke, I thought  "is my cynicism, that I am so proud of, something that is like a pint of beer on a Saturday night, or am I drinking it morning, noon and night".  I then thought about my blog, perhaps the embodyment of my cynicism. There are nine million words on this blog. Probably eight million are drenched in cynicism. As I am sure you are all bored to death hearing, I was the first of the Barnet bloggers. In some ways I am the last. At one point, there were seven. One by one, they all seemed to burn out and get totally drained. Only Mr Mustard has (thus far) posted this year. It can be a draining and debilitating. I can recall one blogger telling me that they were "giving up for their mental health". I was astounded. I find that unburdening myself liberates me. Once I've written a blog, the angst and anxiety that inspires it disippates. Am I unique? I actually enjoy it, but is the level of cynicism in me stifling me and killing me, in the way that drinking beer morning, noon and night would? As I thought about this, my cynicism towards David Wells started to disippate . His job was to make me think. He had succeeded. 

One of the reasons I hated school was that, as a dyslexic, I found it hard to focus and concentrate. My brain works slowly. I'd pick up on an interesting concept and get stuck. The rest of the class were readily assimilating the information being passed, whilst I'd be looking out of the window, pondering a point that the teacher had made ten minutes ago, that had tweaked my fancy. I'd stick my hand up and ask a question, that it had taken me 20 minutes to formulate, only to be asked "What the hell are you on about". What had, to the teacher, been an inconsequential aside, had to me been a fundamentally monumental issue. I'd developed my thoughts, so tangentially that what I asked had no relation to anything the teacher had said, except for me. This is one reason I underachieved at school. I am very aware of this problem and try to have some discipline, but David's points had certainly stirred up my thoughts.  The session finished, we had dinner on Monday night and a few drinks. I got to know a few of the other delegates. I only properly knew one person, who bizarrely sat opposite me when we worked for Centrefile 30 years ago. We'd lost touch and only reconnected via HCPT a couple of years ago. The break gave me a chance to catch up. 

On Tuesday morning, we continued with the theme of Joy. As I was less tired, more relaxed and more amenable to David's presentation, I found I was able to concentrate far better. One of David's key questions was "what is blocking joy in your life". Now as I'd already stated, my initial response was that "my life is full of Joy, what's this got to do with me?".  I was starting to realise that I needed to think this through properly and be more receptive to what David was saying. 

Joy? sure, I can lie in the bath and listen to my Wire Spotify playlist and be filled with joy (God willing, that is what I'll do at 10pm after five a side footie later), but that doesn't mean my life is filled with joy. I may be looking forward to The False Dots gig on Saturday night, but does that mean my life is filled with joy? When people meet me, see me, speak to me, do I bring them joy. When I turn up at the pub, do my friends think "Oh great, here comes Rog, we'll all have a bit of a laugh now". When I get home from work, does my wife and children think "Rog's home, we can all be happy now?". Or do they think "Oh God, what's he going to start moaning about today?". Do my kids think "Ive had a really bad day today, maybe Dad can help me get through". Something David said and to be honest, I can't remember what, triggered a thought in me. Possibly my favourite restaurant in the world is the Mill Hill Tandoori. I'd never given it any thought before, why can this be? The food is good, but not exceptional (although the Tandoori Salmon is to die for). The decor could do with a refresh. There are only two lagers on sale. What makes it special? I realised that the thing I really like is that it isn't a library. You know, those restaurants, where everyone is whispering, you always feel like the worst dressed diner, you'd never take your kids in there when they were little for fear of being shamed and there's always someone who is stinking rich, who the waiters seem far more pleased to see. In the Mill Hill Tandoori, when I go in, I know half of the other diners. It is anything but quiet. People will get up and walk over to other tables for chat. Families will come in with their kids. The owner and waiters will come over and have a chat. Sometimes I nip down for a takeaway and end up spending the night in there, joining mates. When mates want a boys night out, it's where we go. Why? Because it is joyous. 

This got me thinking about my definition of joy. What joy do I bring to the world when I listen to my Wire playlist in the bath? Wire brought a lot by writing the music and I guess that the 0.00001p they will get for me paying it, may be some sort of thank you, but although it is a necessary chill out, it is not joy because surely joy is a shared experience? Now I sincerely hope that when the False Dots play at the Edgware Ex Servicemens club on Saturday, I bring some joy to the world. I'll try may damned hardest, but that is an easy thing. We've planned it for months, practised for years. But what is the point of all that, if all I do is sit around at home moaning and making the rest of the family miserable? When we only give joy on our own terms, is that really joyous. For many of us, we hear the mantra "The best nights are the ones you don't plan". The spontaneous "Let's give this a go" on the spur of the moment.

As a nation, the British are reserved. Our attemps to bring joy are often terribly counter productive. When someone has had a devastating moment in life, comments like "Cheer up, it may never happen" are probably the worst thing you can do. When my mum died, I was pretty devastated. A good friend took the time to take me out for a pub crawl and buy me a meal. It wasn't a joyous evening at the time, but when I look at his kindness, that is a great source of joy, that someone cared. Sometimes, we find that when we share a little joy, we get an infinite amount more back. Let me give a little example. In 2004, we were on holiday in Spain. Our cat sitter called. Our cat had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. My kids who were aged 3 to 8 were devastated. The only thing I could think of was to say "Never mind, it means we can now get a puppy"". I was held to my word. I can honestly say that getting a dog was one of the best things we've done. The joy that has brought to all of us is immense, but was totally unplanned and to be honest, I spent a couple of weeks trying to figure out how to get out of it, once I'd rashly proposed it. 

So anyway, to sum up. Yes, I went with a degree of cynicism on the trip and probably for all the wrong reasons. But I came back with some real food for thought. The first question I asked myself is "Do I want more joy in life?" Surely the answer must be yes, who would want less? That leads to the question "Do I want that joy to be of the slightly selfish type, lying in the bath listening to music or the shared with people I love type of joy, where we spread the joy". Surely the answer to this is "A bit of both". By all means, recharge your batteries. We all need some time to ourselves but to really have a joyous existence, we need to share that around". This leads to a third question "Can we really spread joy, if we only do it on our terms?" Well, to some degree we can, because at least we are making some sort of effort, but when if, sometimes, we tear up the plans and just live, just open our eyes, surely we can discover more and have more joy in our life. This leads to another question "Can we truly have a joyous existence, if those around us are unhappy?".  I doubt too many people would say "yes, you can". No man is an island, as the saying goes. Which takes us to our final destination, the question that maybe you could ponder for a couple of minutes. "What can we do to bring a little bit more joy into the world". I'd suggest that whilst we'd all love to end war and poverty etc, just picking up the phone to a friend who may be going through something and having a chat, doing something small that someone will appreciate, maybe putting your arm around someone you love and telling them that you really  appreciate them and ask if you can do anything to show this just a little more. I started from a position of cynicism, but I've ended with the realisation that just a few small things will make the world a slightly better place for those people I care about. If I am the only person to realise this, then it will be like a small stone, landing in a pond. There will be a few ripples. I hope that by sharing this, maybe we will all be throwing stones of happiness in the pond. Why do I still write blog? For the same reason I did on day one. To make a small difference. So I will leave you with the question. It's up to you where you go with it.

What can we do to bring a little bit more joy into the world?

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