I am lucky. I'm happy. Now I have to be honest here, this year has not been a happy one. An ankle injury has forced me to stop playing football. That has been a real blow. I am recovering from a radical prostatectomy and without going into gruesome details, I am currently unable to do some of the things in life that give me most pleasure and I am starting to wonder whether this is a permanent condition. Our car got written off by a myopic lorry driver in the car park at the Virgin gym in Mill Hill a fortnight ago, forcing us to pay thousands on a new one (the scrap value on our 2008 Vauxhall Corsa wouldn't buy a decent Xmas shop at Waitrose!). I seem to have done nothing but go to funerals recently, cousins, friends parents, family friends. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
Last night, I found myself, unexpectedly, on my own. My wife and daughters were out at a talk at The V&A museum. My son was working. I didn't fancy drinking, so I sat in on my own and watched one of the most boring football games I've ever seen (England Vs Malta). Generally I really dislike being on my own on a Friday night watching telly, but I've had a cold all week and I just wanted to relax. I got to thinking about life and happiness. What makes us happy? How do we 'keep our chin up' when we start to feel down? It would be very easy to start to get down after such a year, but I realised that I am still feeling positive about life. I was surprised that I hadn't done this before. List #65 was The Pope's top ten tips for happiness. Mine is different, although his list is surprisingly good (even if you are not a Catholic)
I started to think about the things that keep me sane and happy and how I've learned to get by.
1. Always have something in life to look forward to. My two passions are music and football. I always try and ensure that I have a diary with a few gigs up and coming. I play in a band - The False Dots, so we've got a big Xmas show at The Dublin Castle in Camden, which should be a blast, on the 23rd December (come along if you need a smile putting on your face! tix here www.wegottickets.com/event/598026/) . I've also got a few gigs in the pipeline before Xmas. Madness at Brighton, The Pogue Traders at Dingwalls are a few of note. As for football, I support Manchester City and Hadley FC. Tickets for City (contrary to Man Utd Propoganda) are almost impossible to get these days, but we are going to Brentford to see them and then up to the Etihad for the Villa game in March. As for Hadley, I have a season ticket, so every other Saturday during the season, I get my fix. Always hace something in the diary. It helps.
2. Make time for yourself. A couple of weeks ago, I went up to Manchester with my son to see City play in the Champions League. It was a Tuesday. We were getting the train up and staying in a hotel, before travelling back. I got my times confused and arrived to meet him at Euston an hour early. I had an hour to spare. Luckily, one of my favourite pubs, The Doric Arch is around the corner. I had a pint and a bag of nuts, on my own, in peace and quiet. I was able to sit back and relax and do nothing. I didn't look at my phone, just read the paper and chilled. Some of us like Spa weekends, some like reading a book in front of the fire. Me, a pint and a bag of nuts in a decent pub will do.
3. Let go of anger. This is the hardest thing for me to do. I often fail, but it is the only way to move on and be happy. When I look at the world and see all the anger, I realise how important it is. Often, we are justified being angry, but every time you 'know you are right' think for a second what the anger you are holding on to is doing.
4. Let go of toxic friends. We all have them. People who we consider friends, but we actually dread seeing. Sometimes, this is hard, as they are part of out friendship group, but we don't actually like them. If not seeing them at all is impossible, make a positive effort to keep a discreet distance and always smile. Don't let them get inside your head and make you doubt yourself.
5. See the beauty that is around you. One of the advantages of having dogs is that we have to walk them, come rain or shine. That means that we see the changing seasons in the park, the trees changing colour on the street, the moving patterns of the sky. One bit of advice my Dad gave me, was that the skies are called the heavens for a reason. He said always appreciate the beauty of the sky, sunsets, the stars and the moon. I do and it always puts a smile on my face.
6. Rest and relax when you are tired. This may sound obvious, but so many people don't. We get in to fixed regimes of bed time and the alarm clock waking us up. I've learned that when you are tired, it is time to rest and recharge the batteries. When you are feeling tired, it is very hard to feel happy and positive. As you get older, you need the odd power nap. Don't be ashamed of this.
7. Turn off the news. I am a bit of a news-a-holic. When I come in, the first thing I watch is the news. Twitter made this a thousand times worse. When the world is descending into hatred and war, it is impossible to watch this without feeling down and depressed. Sometimes, for our own sanity, we just have to put it off and do something else. This isn't not caring, it is just keeping ourselves sane. I've come to realise that when we have situations like the one in the middle east, one short TV News bullitin a day is enough.
8. Unfollow idiots on Twitter/Facebook. In Mill Hill, we have a rather unpleasant racist account run by a very dubious individual. His blather used to irritate me, but I realised that the best way to deal with such people is simply to ignore them. They thrive on negative energy, if you cut off their oxygen, they simply shout to thin air and it won't annoy you.
9. Allow yourself treats and indulgences. How many times have you heard you or your friends announce that they are getting "fit and healthy". All chocolates, red wine, bacon sarnies and curries are banned. Early morning jogs become the order of the day. After a period of weeks/months there is the inevitable announcement that "I feel great, I don't know why I didn't do this years ago" and then... You see them and they are back to the old regime and feeling like a failure. Now of course if you are an alcoholic or diabetic, you need to make some serious changes. But if you are basically healthy, keep some fun in your life. I have three days a week off drink a week. I don't have a sweet tooth, so that is less of an issue. Last night, was a designated drinking night, I had a small glass of wine with my wife when she got home. That was pleasant and enough. Sometimes a glass is better than a bottle!
10. Accept your imperfections. When I was at school, there was a girl that I had a massive crush on. I thought she was perfect in every way. Unusually for me, I didn't ask her out, as I felt she was just too perfect for me. We were good mates. One day, I found her in tears. She told me that she simply couldn't cope with the pressure of everyones expectations. I couldn't have been more shocked. It was the first time I realised we all have insecurities. I didn't know what to say. She was someone everyone looked up to and expected to succeed, parents, teachers, peers, etc. It had all got too much. She started apologising, and I said "We all feel like that sometimes, don't feel bad, do your best that's enough, it's your life and live it on your terms". She then asked me how come I always managed to seem on top of everything and happy. I replied "I'm a good liar and a good actor, I feel like cracking up all the time, but I don't want to let the bastards know, I'm telling you because you are my friend". We both burst out laughing. We both learned something. Once you accept that there are moments when coping is hard, moments you fail, life becomes easier. I happen to believe that people come into your life when you need them, but you need to let them help you.
Just remember, no one will live forever. You only have one go at this, so don't waste it.
As mentioned above, the False Dots will be playing at The Dublin Castle in Camden on 23rd December, it will be a proper old Xmas party. This is what you can expect! Please come along