A GREAT partner, knockout friendships and good health are the big-ticket items, the things we all hope for.
But let’s not overlook the fact that life is also about the tiny, the small, the reduced.
Those little things that are easily overlooked — and might even sound trivial to someone else — but that can really make your day.
You will have your own list. If you haven’t already written it down, I think you should. Right now.
It’s always good to know, and to have to hand, what makes you happy, even just in the short term, on a Tuesday in February when you think you might be coming down with something.
While you’re thinking about it, here’s mine.
I DON’T know where I’d be without the papers. Lost, probably.
The weekends are great because they’re weekends but my highlight is racing round the corner and coming back with the papers.
I’ll start with this section, you take that. OK, now let’s swap. I inhale every bit, even though I know absolutely nothing about business or property.
Journalists and newspapers are easy to poke fun at or complain about. All they do is fixate on who’s going out with whom, right?
They’re so keen to give us their point of view. We’ve got the internet now, not sure I need a paper. Wrong.
Sure, there might be stuff about J-Lo’s abs or Tom Cruise’s body. They’re filling space and I don’t mind it.
This book might be reviewed (hopefully not) and they’ll tear it to pieces or I’ll wear something disgusting on a TV show and will get laughed at.
I get it.
Of course newspapers assume different positions on the political spectrum.
But you can choose which suits you and read that paper. And also — even better, perhaps — you can choose to read one that’s on the other side.
You’ll be alarmed, you’ll be raging . . . but you’ll know what you’re up against.
Investigative reporting is so important. It’s absolutely vital right now.
Holding truth to power is essential and we’d be lost without it. Journalists get behind the story, they check underneath the curtain.
They are the people who ensure those in authority are doing what they say they are and who hold them to account when they’re lying.
I promise I’m not just putting newspapers on this jaunty list because my mum worked on Fleet Street . . . though she did used to tell me, when I was little: “We’re just trying to find the truth.”
When I was really small, I didn’t know what that meant. But as I grew up I saw her tussle with those in power and encourage brilliant writers to find out who was untruthful and who was doing the right thing. I realised how important it is.
The papers: Absolute highlight of my day. They cost a quid.
Saying ‘I don’t know’
“ACTUALLY, I don’t know. I haven’t made my mind up yet. I need to read more on the subject.”
I’m so pleased when I hear someone say this. It’s fine — admirable, even — when people don’t know.
When did we have to become all-knowing? When did we begin pretending to have all the answers?
Why can’t we admit we sometimes have no idea? Try it when you next have a chat with someone.
You’re at a dinner and everyone has a strong opinion. “What do you think about such and such?”
“It’s definitely this, it’s definitely that.” They get worked up, heated. They absolutely know they’re right about something.
It’s the same on Twitter. No room for nuance. “It’s this.” “No, no, you’re wrong, it’s definitely that.”
In real life, it’s absolutely OK to say: “I’m not sure.”
It doesn’t sound thick. Quite the opposite.
IF, like me, you are naturally pallid with a soft, blue-like tinge, you might believe pale is more interesting.
I get that you might find fake and fluorescent a little disgusting, a bit cheap, a bit obvious.
I can pretend I’m like you — that I want to be chic. But the truth is I am a massive fan of bright, carroty faces and limbs.
I fell in love with looking like I’d washed my face in Minute Maid when I was 14.
I was extremely pasty. (I still am. Left to its own devices, my skin is transparent.)
I tried my mum’s Ultra Glow. (A very Eighties product — think bright- orange powder in a pot.)
There was a ginormous brush and a large palette of sparkly russet powder just next to the sink.
“I’ll have a bang on that,” I thought.
I played and played and when I heard the call for lunch — “It’s mulligatawny soup, come!” — I entered the kitchen and everyone fell off their chairs screeching with laughter. You know George Hamilton? Yeah, double that. Then times it by 100.
It didn’t put me off. I felt healthy, glamorous, like the girls in the ads, like the models on the beach in the Next catalogue. So shimmery, so dewy, so grown-up.
From then on, I would use anything to give me the glow. (My mum quickly hid the good stuff.)
I’d use old tea bags to give me what I was after. I would ask for fake tan for Christmas and birthdays and never got over the addiction.
If I feel at all down or slumpy (spellchecker told me this is not a real word but I’m sticking by it) a hefty “whoosh” of bronzer perks me right up again.
I’m like a plant that needs the sun . . . only I don’t need the real sun, just cream or spray or mousse that will slowly dye my skin.
Gravy granules are a good alternative if you’ve run out of blush. Loads has been written about how to get rid of the “lizard” bits when the tan starts to fade.
But don’t worry about expensive erasing foams and loofah sponges.
Just put some table salt in the bathwater, have a soak and use a pot scourer on your feet, elbows, hands. Get out of the bath, dry and reapply.
WHEN was the last time you bought a pair? I did a ring-round (let’s call it “research”) and none of my friends — not one — has bought anything new to wear to bed in the last 20 years.
We all wear the same T-shirt, the same nightie, the same tatty old thing.
We might get into bed naked (though this usually stops at 40) or we might just wear the nearest thing we can find after a long day — some Minnie Mouse shorts from our daughter’s laundry basket and his vest because we never, ever buy ourselves nightwear.
You might have a new, massive white tent for the hospital birthing room.
(I wore my mum’s, which she wore when she had me. This is either disconcerting or lovely, you decide.)
But in terms of buying something specifically for the purpose of wearing it to bed, nope, we don’t do it.
So can I casually suggest going to M&S and getting yourself something new to wear at night?
I did it last year. It feels massively extravagant. You’ll be excited about getting under the covers daily.
Go silky if you want; I’m a fan of anything flannel.
HAVE you ever met a baby goat? A real live one? I met four in 2015. We were on a hill in Switzerland (true life) and these tiny little creatures came up to us.
I’m a fan of small animals generally and can talk for hours about my adoration for baby otters, small puppies, newborn owls (seriously).
But can I suggest that when the day takes a turn, when the world feels a little dark, immediately get on to a search engine and watch baby goats gallivanting about in a field?
More uplifting than a massage, a sound bath, a glass of wine or a deep-breathing exercise.
So there you go. That’s my list. Just a few generally underrated things that make a difference to me.
I hope your career is going well, that your toddler has stopped screaming every time he is put in the high chair, that your mum is on the mend.
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But if it’s not, he hasn’t and she’s still under the weather, then can I suggest consulting your own list and perhaps just enjoying something that makes you happy on a small scale for five minutes, an hour?
And if all else fails . . . well, all I can do is say it again: Baby goats, guys, baby goats.
Delight in life's little pleasures
IT’S often not the big things in life that make us happy but the everyday things that can bring us lasting contentment. Here psychotherapist and author Owen O’Kane tells JENNY FRANCIS how to live in the now and find joy in simple things.
He says: “When life feels chaotic, we may not be able to control what’s going on in the world, but we can control how we respond to it – that is what is key.”
ONE STEP AT A TIME: We live in an era where we want everything just the way we want it. The problem is, life doesn’t work that way.
We know from psychological research that when you learn to accept life the way it is, and take it one step at a time, you function better.
Ask yourself, what can I deal with today? Simply make that your focus and let go of the bigger issues that are outside of your control.
WORRY LESS: Easier said than done, but worrying less leads to a happier life.
Anxiety can sometimes be helpful, and it would be abnormal not to have some degree of worry at the moment. But it’s worth remembering that 90 per cent of your fears will never come to anything.
I often hear patients say they believe worry might prevent something “bad” happening, but this is rarely the case.
Make a decision to let go of the concerns that don’t serve any purpose.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE: The saying goes that there are two types of people in life, radiators and drains.
The radiators will lift you up and the drains will drag you down. It is incredibly important to have people in your life who give you a lift and offer hope and support when you most need it.
The darkest of times can be lighter when you have the right people alongside you.
KEEP LIFE SIMPLE: Most people’s lives have become ridiculously complicated with noise, technology, distractions and the need for more in almost every aspect of life.
Find more time for greenery, space, quiet and make room for the important people in your life. Happiness is often found in simplicity.
BE HOPEFUL: Neuroscience research informs us that when we are hopeful, the brain produces more endorphins and enkephalins which help to reduce anxiety and improve mood.
We have two choices in life: fear or hope. Search for the hope in life. Better times will come.
Owen O’Kane’s new book, Ten Times Happier, is out now. Twitter: @owenokaneten
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