Sunday, 29 January 2012

" I just want to be happy" - how?

1. On Thursday, I heard a BBC radio presenter, Kirsty Young, defend herself about something she was supposed to have said in another interview. Apparently, she had said that she didn't want her children to be happy.

2. Then I read in Saturday's newspaper, that a professor was suggesting that experiences can provide greater happiness than materialism.

3. This morning, a free book fell out of the Sunday newspaper, "Can you learn to be happier?" by Tal Ben-Shaher.

Okay then, happiness will be the subject of this week's blog.

"I just want to be happy". That statement must be one of the most commonly heard by therapists and doctors. Anti-depressants can be known by a most unfortunate and incorrect label, 'happy pills'. 

'Happy pills'? Not working in the majority of cases are they? The real beneficiaries? Big Pharma.

The way I was taught, was to gently help a person unpack that statement and maybe use 'The Miracle Question'.

1. What would you be doing if you were happy?
Not always a question for specific and useful answers.

2. If you woke up tomorrow morning and a miracle had occurred overnight and you knew you had obtained happiness, how would you know? What would be different? What would you be doing? 

This can provide more helpful answers. Ones that can illustrate   realistic and unrealistic thinking. Realistic and unrealistic expectations and goals. 

"I'll be happy when I've won the lottery."
" Do you do the lottery?"

I have enjoyed using 'The Miracle Question', as, like a tight flower bud, a person can gradually open up in front of your eyes. Lots of petals. Lots of layers.

Another teaching tool was to look at a person's emotional needs. Were they being met at all or met unhealthily? The answers to these questions could also lead to solving a happiness problem.

They are listed in this blog:

1. Back to Kirsty Young. The media leaped on the statement, "I don't want my children to be happy." 

If in doubt about any statements, check out the context. Here's a bit more of what what Kirsty Young actually said. "Life is complicated. I don't want my children to be 'happy'. They'll be bloody lucky if they glimpse it now and again. I want them to be content and have self-worth." 

I happen to agree with her, though self-worth is another concept, that can be double-edged. Here's the link to the longer article:

2. So, what about the professor and his experiential happiness? One of those, 'money can't buy happiness' articles. I looked for a link. I found it and it's below. was written in 2009! A typical newspaper (and political) rouse. Repackage something old and make out that it's brand new.

An interesting exercise to do is to list some happier times. Were they due to material gain or an experience? I'm sure we've all felt happy at attaining something of material worth, but for more deeply satisfying happiness, experiences can last longer in the memory. Though of course, sometimes the wonderful experience has only been attained due to some expenditure of some sort. Money can buy happiness...sometimes.

For simple moments of happiness, I like counting blessings and enjoying simple pleasures, especially the ones provided by nature. I also think that happiness is so often a bittersweet experience. As a woman once said to me, "It's like childbirth. A great deal of happiness, but a whole lot of pain too."

Though like Kirsty Young, I'm not a big supporter of the word 'happy', I prefer contentment. I believe it's a deeper experience.

3. What about the book? Well, I haven't read it in the last three hours (I made a neighbour happy by baking him a cake), but I've had a quick look. The usual ingredients for a 'happy' recipe, but assembled in a different way. A self-help book that could help some people...if they are willing to change something they are doing.

The therapy that is flavour of the month/decade is CBT. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I have been asked what it meant on several occasions. I say that if someone was thinking and behaving in an unhelpful way, then it was a therapy to help that person change their thinking and behaviour to something more helpful. And there's the rub. Ultimately, the person has to do it for themselves. Not easy. People may think they want to change, but aren't willing to do what is necessary. They would prefer someone else to do it or some medicine. The same thing happens with physical illnesses too.

Have I ever had to change the way I thought and behaved to increase my chances of a happier life? Yes. Many times. One experience comes immediately to mind.

Everyone has heard of positive role models and how we could learn from them. Twenty years ago, I chose a negative role model and learnt from her.

I worked in a supermarket in a local town. Most of the shoppers were regulars. One woman was a picture of misery. She had long, lank, blonde hair, her mouth tended towards the downward and she bought her young son shopping with her.  At the checkouts, she would find any chance to mention that her husband had left her. The checkout operator would sympathise.

But this went on for years. Always the same. We called her 'Blondie", though she wasn't as jolly as the better known pop singer.

Years later, she hadn't changed a bit. Her hair remained long and lank. Her mouth now set in a downward position. The conversation always turned to how her husband had left her. He son, was a particularly miserable looking teenager, poor soul. The checkout operators dreaded serving her. 

Then something happened in my life. My marriage finished after twenty-one years.  There was masses of opportunity to be extremely negative and full of anger and angst.

But I made myself keep a picture of 'Blondie' in my head.  Every time, well, almost every time (I am human and it can be hard work), I wanted to rant and rave, I would catch myself and put a picture of 'Blondie' in my head. "Do I want to end up like her?", I would ask myself. After moments of trying to justify why I had every right to rant and rave, I stopped. 

'Blondie' has helped me a great deal over the years. Even twenty years later, I recently was allowing my brain to wonder down angry alley. I thought of her and stopped.

That was CBT and I self-healed. It was better than self-medicating.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

"Keep calm and be careful who you talk to." - managing fear.

I'm keenly aware that the blog has an international readership. I attempt not to be too parochial and will add links to help add context if necessary. 

I hope that readers worldwide will know about the Italian cruise liner disaster. It has taken over the UK headlines for over a week and I assuming that the news went worldwide, as the liner had an international passenger list.

When any disaster occurs, my mind always go towards the shock people will experience and what may happen next in their lives.

It's a topic I return to, because it is important in the subject of emotional growth. 

"Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it."
Charles R. Swindoll 1934.

The reporting and media coverage of the cruise liner disaster highlighted a couple of matters for me:

1. The hysterical versus the logical.

A passenger was telling the radio interviewer about conditions on board. To summarise his words, as I didn't write them down at the time, "There were people screaming and panicking and not giving any thought to the children with them. We needed to stay calm."

I have never been in a capsized ship or explosion or train crash. I do not know how I would react. But this man's comments did remind me of one incident fourteen years ago.

I was walking with a friend near some well known cliffs in Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher. They are very high. We walked near the base, around the craggy rocks and could see a signed footpath that guided people up a steep, but safe path to the top of the cliffs.

We decided to follow the path up to the top. The signage wasn't great, but we kept on going. About two-thirds of the way up, I realised we had mistakenly gone off the official path and our path was more challenging. I looked behind to go back, but decided this wasn't a good idea, as the downward view was a little daunting, though spectacular.  I knew my friend was a little nervous and not the best climber in the world.  I decided to lead the way, not take chances, but be confident in my manner. I told her not to turn round and look behind. I knew that if she did that, there was a very strong chance of her panicking. I was frightened too, but her needs overtook my feelings.

Eventually I reached to top and turned round. My friend was about twenty feet behind me...on what looked like an almost vertical cliff edge. The view was outstanding, the drop was nausea inducing. I forced myself to talk calmly and confidently for every step they took towards me. She reached the top okay...and never looked back.

I took a photo of the last few feet. When we looked at it sometime later and it induced a feeling of vertigo in both of us.

NB: I've just looked up the cliffs up on Google to make sure the spelling is correct and there are numerous links to the deaths that have occurred on the cliffs. Accidental and deliberate. I'm not surprised. 

As I have said, I don't know how I would react in a disaster, but I hope that logic and common sense would take over from the emotionally hysterical. Unfortunately, the light hearted incident I wrote about in this blog doesn't bode well. But it does explain how emotional arousal can create stupidity.

Because we have remained logical and calm through a traumatic experience, doesn't mean that shock doesn't set it a little while later. That's perfectly natural and something I'm sure many of us have experienced. Much of it will arise from the playing, "what if..." over and over. There is no need to have experienced something awful to become traumatised. Too much imagining, can lead to it too. Interestingly, imagined memories can be de-traumatised as successfully as real memories. 

2.  How long do we keep talking about something unpleasant?

There's a radio presenter on a national BBC radio station. I'm not going to give him publicity by mentioning his name. He has a nightime programme that last three hours and deals with the topics of the day and week. I would like to see him removed from the BBC. I tune in every so often to see if he's still as bad as he was. He is.

I believe that his approach is irresponsible, invasive, dangerous and possibly trauma inducing at times. His premise is to pick away at a person's story like a vulture at a dead carcass, until he can get some emotional reaction. Then pick away some more. He can hardly hide his excitement sometimes, when the poor person down the other end of the phone starts to fight back the tears.

Then the call finishes. What state is the caller in now I wonder? The presenter doesn't care. I assume, nor does his producer. He goes on to the next story. It's not only the caller who could be left worryingly upset, so can the listener. But then that's what the programme makers ultimately want. Getting the listener emotionally aroused is what it's all about.

I have covered the dangers of picking at wounds in this blog:

Another news story this week was the sentencing of a man who had buried his girlfriend alive in a box. Miraculously, she escaped.

The judge said the following:

"Miss Lewandowska is suffering and will continue to suffer significant psychological harm. I am satisfied that these events will unsettle any prospect of stability for her for years to come."

Thank for nothing Judge Collier. No hope there then? I was appalled at the judge's comments.

This statement comes under something called the Nocebo effect. We all know of the Placebo effect, but the Nocebo effect is not well known. 

The "nocebo effect" is the lesser-known opposite number of the
in a negative frame of mind has an adverse effect on their health 
or well-being. Tell people a medical procedure will be extremely
 painful, for example, and they will experience more pain than if
 you had kept the bad news to yourself. Similarly, experiences of
 side effects within the placebo groups of drug trials have shown
 that a doctor's warning about the possible side effects of a
 medicine makes it much more likely that the patient will report
 experiencing those effects.
New Scientist.

For more about a bomb victim's opinions on the negativity around trauma:

Back to the Cruise disaster. Over 4,000 people were involved.

Not all will have symptoms of trauma or ever do so. 

Some will not at first, but will develop them later. Some from too much talking about it. 

Some will keep hold of the symptoms, because it is financially in their favour to do so.

Some will keep hold of their symptoms, because of other actual or perceived benefits.

Life is short and some mental/emotional health problems are avoidable. It both concerns and frustrates me. The lack of knowledge about what causes trauma symptoms and that there is effective treatment available, means that I will carry on with this work for some time yet.  


Sunday, 15 January 2012

"No, you can't!" - Boundaries and Routine.

When...not if, I publish a book on emotional growth in 2013, some of the blog topics will become chapters. Today's subject is fundamental to healthy emotional growth and will be included.

I've been waiting for an opportunity to write on the specific subject of boundaries and routine. It was presented to me last week. The Prince's Trust published a report on under-achieving children and mention was made of boundaries and routine. Or rather, lack of them.

This subject is so near to my heart and having lived through decades of the suggestion in education that boundaries was a dirty word, it is pleasure to see a change of thinking. So much damage has already been done.

I was a teenager in the 1960s. I was given strict boundaries. Too strict maybe? I trained as a nursery nurse in a children's home for the under-fives. Routine and boundaries were vital, otherwise there would have been anarchy.

In the blog on June 22nd 2011, I mention running a playgroup and the problems I had with Social Services, because I had a strict routine.

They would visit unannounced, hoping to find something to give them a reason to close down the group. Instead, they would find a hall of twenty-three two-year-olds with three adults, all thoroughly enjoying themselves. The toddlers thrived with the set routines in their ninety minutes spent in the group. Boundaries for behaviour were set by the adults.

I was told that there was no way I could have all the children sitting down at the same time, singing songs and listening to a story. No? Funny how I managed it for six years, three days a week.

I can never forget a training day I had to attend. We sat at various tables doing colouring or craft work. After a while, we were told to stop what we were doing,  move to other chairs and listen to the lecturer. The point of the exercise was for us to experience our feelings on being told to stop what we were doing, so that we could empathise with the children in our groups being made to stop what they were enjoying doing. I was speechless.

That was in the 1980s and twenty/thirty years later, we are still picking up the the long term consequences of that sort of teaching.   

Adults need to set boundaries and routine for babies and children too young to understand and unable to set them for themselves.

As we mature we learn...or should learn to set them ourselves. But we don't do we?

Common sense and an emotionally-mature mind would suggest that we should not drive fast in a built-up area. Because we are unable to self regulate, we have boundaries set by Government agencies. We push the limit and break the limit. We can experience 
life-changing and expensive consequences by our inability to self regulate.

Common sense and an emotionally-mature mind knows that eating and drinking unhealthily causes problems. Because we are unable to self-regulate, we have boundaries set by Government agencies. We push the limit and break the limit. We can experience 
life-changing and expensive consequences by our inability to self regulate.

I could carry on with money management, internet useage, behaviour in public places and so on.

The Prince's Trust report came out on January 3rd. Many of the UK population were just returning to work after a long holiday over the Christmas and New Year period. While there were some 
post-holiday blues, the majority people felt happy being back to a routine of knowing what day of the week it was. Where they know what is expected and when it is expected. Holidays can be great, but most of us thrive on a daily routine.

A number of single parents have been helped with a structure for their childcare arrangements, especially when there is split caring with the another parent/carer. A simple calendar with 'daddy days' in one colour and 'mummy days' in another, has helped children understand 'what, when and where.' Sometimes the answer can be so simple.

Children need to feel secure and safe. Not knowing what is happening and when and where can be extremely unsettling. It can be for adults too, but we have more control.

Having established that boundaries are good, it must be noted that they are not inflexible. This is the nightmare for parents with teenagers.

I previously stated that my boundaries were perhaps too strict. On reflection, they were tied up with the expectations of social behaviour of the time too, which didn't help.

If we put a new born, small animal in a small, fenced area or cage, it is likely to feel safe and secure. It will know its limits. If the animal grows, but the fence isn't moved or cage increased in size, there will be problems, as the animal outgrows its space. It would be cruel to do that.  It's for the owner to gradually move the boundaries. Hence the problem with teenagers, who need to stretch themselves and take some risks, but also need to have the love and security that a loving and supportive home life can bring.

While we all know about out-of-control children, who badly need some loving, boundary setting, we also know the other end of the scale. Adults who are too frightened to try anything new, go anywhere new, because they are limited by too tight boundaries set when they were children and teenagers.  Or still controlled by a parent. I find both extremes of behaviour disturbing.

There was once a king and queen who had a very precious son. They couldn't bear the thought of their son coming to harm, so decided to give everything the boy could want, within the confines of the palace. As the boy grew, so his curiosity grew and he became fascinated by stories of the jungle and wild animals. His parents of course, would not let him leave the palace, so they paid for a painter to paint the most wonderful jungle on the walls of the boy's room, with all the wild animals too.

One day, the painter left the room for his lunch, leaving his ladder against the wall. The ladder was resting very near a picture of a giraffe. The boy was fascinated by the giraffe and wanted to get nearer to see him close-up. So he climbed up the ladder. But the ladder wasn't secure and it wobbled. The boy fell off. He was killed.

My son wanted to travel. This was in the early 1990s before email, mobile phones and the internet. I was full of trepidation. He started with a solo trip to the Shetland Islands and then went further afield in his gap year and every summer afterwards, for some years. One of his later travels was to India and he arranged to go with an old schoolfriend. They were in their twenties. Time has clouded the memory now, but I think the friend lasted four days into a seven week trip. My son was not impressed and nor was I. Even before the four days was up, I had spoken to the agitated mother, who asked me how I could cope with Joe being away.

I told her that with a son travelling and a daughter living in Belfast, I had to take each day at a time, other wise I would be on 
intra-venous Valium.  I told her if an emergency arose, I would deal with it accordingly.

( For more about my son's travels: )

Like the king and queen in the story, I would like to protect my children and grandchildren from all ills, but I know this is not possible. In my book, I also know that to stifle their characters and personalities would have amounted to child neglect. Neglect of their life, spirit, individuality and future.

But while I could let them go at seventeen years old, it would also have been neglectful if I had pushed them out of the door with a backpack at seven.

A friend has just rung, her husband has Alzheimer's. She was telling me that he's been much calmer over the last week. "It's because we're back in a routine and he knows where he is.", she said.

Boundaries and routine can be good for us all. As adults we can self regulate. Do you need to look at your own boundary setting and personal routines?

Check them out, they may need some attention.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

"Don't tell me what to do!" - Resolutions

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog. Thank you for your continued interest, comment and support. 

I feel as if I'm at the top of a mountain called 2012. I'm about to desend and feel the exhilaration of experiencing a trip into the unknown. Here I go......wheeeeeeee...

It's that time again isn't it? A time when the newspapers and radio programmes are full of reports about 'New Year Resolutions'.

Well, I'm too long in the tooth to fall into that trap anymore. I will not be making any resolutions. As soon as I put myself in a rigid framework of "you can't have it, you can't do it", I will rebel. The wronged under 10-year-old mini me, shouts in my ear, "don't you tell me what to do!"

My husband of almost 18 years, once said to me many years ago, "I know how to get the best out of you." "Oh really?" "I let you do anything you want to do and then you don't want to do half of it!" How true.

My former husband made life extremely difficult when I wanted to pursue certain activities. It caused a huge amount of grief and problems, but I refused to 'give in'. (I didn't understand then, the emotional baggage that both of us had bought into the marriage.) Sadly many years later, the marriage ended and I lived on my own. I had complete freedom to carry on with my activities. I didn't. There was no need to fight for my survival anymore.

But even though the 10-year-old mini me will still attempt to hijack me and influence my decision making, I can distance myself from her and use some mature emotional intelligence to make choices. Most of the time. I'm not perfect.

I may have hopes, ideas, daydreams, plans and expectations, but I know from experience that most of what will happen this year personally, nationally and globally, will be unexpected, unplanned, unknown and in some cases unwanted. eg: As I'm writing this, a friend is having a cope with wind damage to her property. She won't be alone today, but no-one will have known that that's what they would be doing today. 

I will manage events in the best way I can. I will be concerned about what I can do, with what I have got and not spend valuable time and brainpower, imagining what I can't do, with what I haven't got and will never have.

I will start each day with some sort of idea how I wish to fill the next 17-18 waking hours. I will have some sort of routine to guide me (Subject for next blog), but I will have freedom of thought to make choices.

There will be times for my own safety and wellbeing, when I am told what to do by other people and will listen. But there will also be times, many times, when I will judge the situation for myself and make my own decisions. 

I will use all my seven senses in decision making. Seven?

and not forgetting: 
Common Sense
Sense of Humour

Back to the resolutions. Is number one 'lose weight'? Probably. Certainly if the papers and slimming club advertisers are anything to go by. It makes most money and has done since the nineteenth century. Will we never learn?

Don't do this! Don't do that! It's a recipe for failure. Much better to tell ourselves what we can do and why it would be a good idea, even good fun. Carrot or stick? Carrot please.

One of my plans this year is to be a London 2012 Games Maker (Volunteer). I have been offered a position. My first training day in February 4th. I am genuinely excited about this unique opportunity. What do I need more than anything else to be able to participate fully? Good health.

I will need stamina. To maximise stamina, I need to haul around less weight.
I will need physical health. I need to maximise my immune system, to give any bugs floating around, a battle on their hands.
I will need mental strength. I need to maximise my common sense abilities with a quick thinking, adaptable brain. 
I will need emotional strength to manage challenging situations and  a variety of human conditions.

I will need all the above and it is solely up to me to get those needs met. I will not be expecting others to get my needs met. I will not be blaming others if I don't succeed at getting my needs met. 

So here we go. Do join me. This could be fun. Hold on tight...