If you want to be happy and you know it…

The purpose of our lives is to be happy –          Dalai Lama

Many of us hold a prevailing sense that we deserve happiness. The trouble is, lots of people don’t know what will make us truly, sustainably happy, or how to go about achieving happiness.

Thankfully, the people of Bedford have Happiness Clubs to focus their minds. Being at a point in my life where I had made a lot of positive changes in my life, and being interested in coaching, I was intrigued to find out what the group could offer – and sort out those parts of my life that were compromising gaining full happiness.  I joined a group in April and we are now half way through our six monthly sessions.

Led by local coach Caroline Clark, our Happiness Club offers participants the opportunity to reflect what is important to them and, as the name suggests, what parts of their lives could be changed or enhanced to increase their happiness.

The small group meets in a relaxed, neutral setting, such as a local pub for its positive, participative sessions. Meeting like-minded people offers perspective and new ideas, as well as support and encouragement. Most importantly, from a coaching perspective, the club raises participants’ awareness.

So, how does it work? The methodology follows TGROW coaching principles.

Each participant creates a ‘Happiness Wheel’ detailing the aspects of their life that are important to them. This could include work, money, social life or love and relationships. Giving each aspect a mark out of 10 helps raise awareness about how that aspect feels at the moment (the reality). If the score is low, they will probably think about how to improve it. Each participant follows their own interest and chooses a goal to focus on that is relevant to them.

Goals, of course, need to be realistic so the goal will include small life changes aimed at moving forwards incrementally, point by point until you reach the desired score for that aspect – and feel happier in that area of their life. Caroline gently challenges us to find out what actions we will take to achieve our personal goals, to make sure they are genuine and achievable.

You might think your life’s successes and failures are obvious. However, the epiphany you need to consider what is most important to you can often be gained only by taking a step out of your daily life (or rut). Coaching, whether it is offered face-to-face or in a Happiness Club, can raise invaluable awareness.

Apparently, you are 70 per cent more likely to realise a goal that has been written down. That might be because the goal becomes real and tangible, rather than an unattainable fantasy that remains in your head.

Happiness Club works (for me) not only because my goals are now written down, but because I never want to be the one who goes to the next meeting having to confess I have made no progress towards my goal – so personal accountability is an important factor.

That said, the group is non-judgemental (and has set a contract around that, which also includes other things you would expect from such a group, including confidentiality).

The group also includes discussions about things like developing personal resilience for times when the proverbial hits the fan. We have also been encouraged to perform random acts of kindness that can help sustain your sense of wellbeing. It is all about changing behaviours and building aspects of your personality that will help you be, well, happier.

What is in my Happiness Wheel, I hear you ask? My first goal was to integrate more experiences in to my life. There is a big fat tick next to this goal, with a trip to Warwick Castle already enjoyed and trips to the theatre and the Globe to look forward to. A lack of experiences had been nagging me for ages. Sitting and considering what I could do to rectify this, away from the daily chaos, helped me make a plan – rather than just think about it.

If you want to be happy and you know it – find out about your nearest Happiness Club. If you live in Bedford, you could get in touch with Caroline. If not, you could set up your own group. Whichever course you take, make sure that sense of deserved happiness becomes a reality.

Further reading

Happiness Matters

Action for Happiness

The Happiness Project

Loving photography and family

Photographer Michelle Payne-Gale is enjoying a successful career combining her two greatest loves.

Michelle’s enthusiasm for her two loves: her family and for the art of photography is infectious. Always wanting to work for herself, Michelle got into photography by accident. She took some business photos for a friend as a favour and then started getting calls. The rest, as they say, is history.

Specialising in baby and child portraits, she has enjoyed success for some years running photo sessions with families. Her passion is for black-and-white photography, “because of its mystery”.

A recent expansion of her business (www.michellepaynegale.com) to include black-and-white photography for subjects of all ages means she is now able to indulge in this medium. It’s not just Michelle’s creative side that gets to benefit – a major bonus for the subject is that black-and-white photography is very flattering and can hide a multitude of sins.

Michelle Payne-Gale

Michelle Payne-Gale

Her informal shoots are what makes Michelle’s business special. The focus is on relaxation and fun. With her warm smile and effervescent nature, she soon puts people at their ease.

Working using only natural light means no studios or harsh bright lights. She will do a session at a location of the client’s choosing, whether that is at their home or a local park.

Michelle understands that a shoot is a family investment that offers them a memento to look back on. She says it feels ood to get photos of families looking relaxed and enjoying themselves.

Families have thoroughly enjoyed their sessions. Michelle’s favourite shoot involved a family with two young children. To get thebest shots of the children, the committed photographer crawled on the floor – despite being eight months pregnant at the time! Her efforts were worth it as the family was ‘blown away’ by their photographs.

For Michelle, it is the best part of the job, as she explains: “It makes me feel good about what I do for a living. It is so inspiring when the family is moved by the results.”

Family is a special motivation for Michelle. Her business revolves around her family: husband James and two-and-a-half year old son Tyler. The flexible nature of the photography means she is able to juggle shoots with the commitment of caring for her son. That often means working late nights and weekends. She reflects that “running a business and raising a child is very hard – but worth it.”

Both Michelle and James are very close to their families. Michelle credits her ‘very wise mum’ for her balanced business philosophy.

With her strong family values, there is little surprise in learning that Michelle’s dream shoot would involve photographing the Obamas or Will Smith’s brood. Both of these families are renowned for being strong family units despite those little challenges of running a country, or fighting off aliens. Of the Smith family, Michelle says “I admire their family unit and how they have held things together in Hollywood.”

Becoming a photographer once seemed an impossible dream because a teacher told Michelle the profession had ‘no future’. She enjoyed the last laugh after being engaged to photograph the teacher’s newborn grandchild.

Michelle’s tenacity shows that following your dream is attainable. She enthused: “when you get to do what you love, it’s amazing.”

The next step for Michelle’s business is to promote her work through social media such as Twitter (@mrspaynegale) and Instagram. She uses her blog to share her inspirations for her work. Naturally, her greatest inspiration and passion – her family – is a regular feature on her engaging blog.

As Michelle observes, social media makes the world smaller and will help her achieve her goal of more people being able to see her work.

An invitation from the First Lady (from one Michelle to another…!) or the Fresh Prince to provide some extra-special images for their family albums is surely not far away.

The potential of being limitless

Watching the film Limitless recently got me thinking how awesome it would be if I had the same abilities.

If you haven’t seen the film Bradley Cooper plays Eddie, a struggling writer who, lacking motivation to finish his first novel and recently dumped by his girlfriend, takes a pill offered by his friend. Under the influence of the pill, he turns his life around: not only does he complete his novel, he learns several new languages, becomes a stock millionaire and wins back his girlfriend.

Of course, Eddie is completely dependent on the drug for his mind’s lack of limitations. As such, it is also a bit of an allegory about drug dependence.

I’m not saying I would love some mind-bending drugs (my brain suffers enough fog from over-the-counter hayfever tablets). But who wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to emulate Eddie’s achievements by realising all their ambitions without any of those tedious things like time, tiredness or brain-fog?

So, what would I do if I was limitless? So many things! What amazing potential! Here are a few of the ambitions that feature of the top of my limitless wish list:

1. Read all the books in my reading pile I love books and reading. Being incapable of walking out of any book shop empty-handed, I have a rather tall stack of books to read. As it is constantly being added to, it the scale never diminishes. Curling up with a good book is one of my great indulgences but there are so many books! So little time! I would love to be able to devour all my books like that robot in Short Circuit (remember that ’80s ‘classic’?).

2. Do all my reading, catch up with friends, and the housework and the ironing, etc, etc… Once I start reading, I can get through a book pretty quickly, but once my nose is buried in a book that’s that – little else gets done. Wouldn’t it be fabulous to be able to spend the weekend doing the things you enjoy like reading, have time to catch up with friends and family AND get all the housework done – rather than try to do it all and collapse in a heap on a Sunday evening frustrated that the merry-go-round is about to start all over again?

3. Learn languages Finding the way languages were taught in school terribly tedious, I have only a basic smattering of a few languages (French, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese, since you ask). While that doesn’t seem too bad a list, when I say basic, I mean basic. I cast my mind back to being in the lunchtime rush in a cute little Parisian patisserie, attempting to order in the local lingo. Lunchtime supplies were got (eventually) and fellow shoppers were amused.  It would be amazing to be able to fully read and converse in any of these languages. Overnight, preferably. With none of that tiresome learn-by-rote tenses nonsense.

4. Remember anecdotes and joke punchlines A good belly-laugh is good for the soul and raises those feel-happy endorphins. That means the ability to make others laugh is a great thing to have. The trouble is, forgetting the punchline of any joke or anecdote (or getting it all muddled) does tend to spoil it somewhat. So, a proficiency in jokes makes it on to my limitless shopping list.

Now, over to you: what would you do if you were limitless?

When are you getting married?

My partner and I have been together for nearly 14 years (yes, you can get less time for murder!). We’re perfectly happy and aren’t fussed about tying the knot. That’s why it can be frustrating when people ask me the perennial question: “So, when are you getting married?”

These days, it really doesn’t seem necessary to make our relationship ‘legal’. People who get married might like to proclaim their love in front of all their family and friends, but we’re a self-contained, quite private couple and that really doesn’t appeal.

I love a good party and a pretty frock as much as the next girl, but the thought of having my ‘big day’ makes me cold. Studies have shown a wedding with all the trimmings can cost as much as £20,000; a ridiculous figure, especially when we can’t scrape together a deposit to get on the housing ladder.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy weddings. I would prefer to be sitting in the pews, followed by getting merry at the reception without worrying about how much I might be embarrassed by the speeches.

Just don’t say “It will be you next…”. You won’t find me amongst the throng of women anxiously waiting to catch the bride’s bouquet.

Is it an unromantic notion? I don’t think so. My partner and I invest in our relationship and work hard at it. We’re as married as married couples, just without the piece of paper. We live together, pay the bills, do the food shopping, chores and argue over the remote control.

Who’s to say our relationship isn’t as strong, because we haven’t made a public proclamation to each other?

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How I learned to get on with Twitter (*I think)

As a communications professional, I regularly use Twitter in my work. I work in the NHS and find the micro-blogging site invaluable for sharing news and engaging with patients and the public.

For all my professional tweeting, it took me a long time to even set up an account. I finally took the plunge in November 2012, but have barely used it since. I found it too noisy, with an overwhelming cacocophany of noise. With so many other distractions and demands on my time, it all seemed too much to persevere with.

A glance at my tweets shows how seldom I used it. There are gaps of two months at a time. Two months! I’ve heard that some struggle with going longer than two minutes without tweeting. Such was the trouble of wading my way and separating the oversharers from the constructive.

It was an NHS social media conference yesterday that changed my mind and convinced me to give it another chance. The potential of Twitter is infinite: it can give you the opportunity to engage with people you might otherwise never even have heard of, as well as share your thoughts with like-minded people.

There are many people who are intrigued by Twitter, but intimidated by the scale of it all and are reluctant to give it a go. So, I thought I would share with you some of the lessons I have learned.

1. Don’t be a celebrity whore.

When I first set up my account, I eagerly started following famous people. Not being a Heat-reading B/C/D etc list celebrity addict I was selective about who I followed. Even so, jumping in with both feet in such a way meant my homepage was deluged with a crescendo of information, news and other things that were irrelevant or of no interest to me.

I have unfollowed quite a lot of them. My homepage is now much quieter and it is easier for me to see conversations I can engage with.

2. Follow your genuine interests

If you don’t follow celebrities, who do you follow? Think about what your interests are. Whether your hobbies involve sports, knitting or films, there will be an account to whet your appetite. Do a search and see what’s out there.

Hashtags are a good way of finding people with the same interest. You’ll find them for all sorts of things, from news events to TV programmes to general activities. They provide an effective way of sorting and filing the incredible amount of tweets to find something that is of relevance to you.

If you, by chance, want to start your own, think before you tag – #susanalbumparty anyone?

3. Get engaged

Twitter can be a fabulous way of getting to know your local community better. Most community interests will be tweeting as it is a great  way to get free promotion. Follow your local cafe, your favourite restaurant, book club, voluntary groups or the wealth of other interest groups.

Don’t forget to follow your local hospital or other local health groups. Their feeds can offer a useful way of getting up-to-date news. You can also get in touch with them to give them feedback about their services – the good and the bad! It is so immediate and offers a fabulous way of breaking down the traditional barriers as it means you don’t always have to put pen to paper with a letter (unless you want to).

4. Take your time

Imagine Twitter is like going to a huge party. You’ve arrived on your own and you’re  not sure whether you know anyone. You might loiter around the edges, trying to catch pieces of conversations to see if a group of people shares your interests before you ask to join them. Once you find you have things in common, you warm up and chat away happily. That might take a bit of patience, but it is worth it.

That’s what I have learned from my own experience.

Now for a little general Twitter etiquette guide:

1.’Microblogging’ means just that – you have 140 characters, so be succinct.

2. Join in on conversations, don’t make it all about you. Follow those who follow you (but beware of spammers).

3. Remember Twitter is a public forum. Let recent stories of people getting themselves into Twitter pickles (libel, defamation, inciting hatred etc) be a lesson. Don’t tweet anything you wouldn’t put on a noticeboard or say to someone’s face. That includes retweeting other people’s comments too.

I am still a Twitter novice and there is so much more to making the most of the Twittersphere.

Have you got further advice or guidance to add?

I look forward to continuing the conversation – leave a comment or you can follow me at @leighakendall.