Tag Archives: happiness

Turning 40 – What’s it all about Alfie?

20 Jul

40th birthday

It seems I’m in good company – recent celebrities to hit the big 4.0. include Heidi Klum, Gwen Stefani, and Jennifer Aniston; and what a fine stable of fillies they are too. Back in the real world, I know I need to put some effort into getting into shape; my excuse of post-baby muffin top some two and half years after giving birth is stretching it a bit.

Of course, keeping fit and healthy isn’t driven by vanity alone. (Although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about my appearance. Then again, life’s too short to spend time worrying about the circumference of your thighs). It’s more that I’m daunted by the fact that as an older mother I’ve got a heck of a lot of running around ahead of me in my 50s and, eek, 60s.

But what are my long term health prospects (assuming I don’t get run over by a bus, or more likely a tractor, here in rural France)? Well, the UK average life expectancy for women is 82 years, but of course old age is likely to bring with it a variety of ailments, typically osteoporosis, arthritis or heaven forbid, dementia. That’s assuming one of the five big killers: heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung and liver disease (which account for more than 150,000 deaths a year among under-75s in England) don’t get me first.  As such, a healthy living regime of a sensible (preferably Mediterranean) diet, regular exercise and daily flossing is a must – it’s not exactly rocket science. As long as I can still indulge in a cheeky vino a few times a week and the occasional devilish dessert, I think it’s a reasonable ask.

But my physical decrepitude is not the only thing worrying me about entering the dreaded mid-life phase. What do the next 40 years hold? How can I live a happy, healthy and fulfilled life knowing what I know now: that ‘the best laid plans [of mice and men] go oft astray’?

Financially, I’m neither destitute nor financially buoyant, but with no mortgage and little savings, a ‘secure’ future seems like an abstract concept. Currently living with my mother and venturing into the world of self-employment, I am undoubtedly at an interesting crossroad in life – but which direction it will ultimately take, I just don’t know. A full time job may well be necessary (and practically, more possible) when my daughter begins statutory education, but the astronomical cost of paying somebody to look after my child whilst I work full time seems nonsensical when there’s an alternative to be explored. And with 1.52 million people claiming job seekers allowance in the UK currently, setting myself up as a sole trader until the economy improves is probably not a bad option. In addition, the process is sure to be a valuable, if not personally fulfilling, learning curve.

On a more philosophical level: What’s it all about Alfie? Really, what should I be doing to ensure that my middle years make for a ‘good life’. How do I ensure that I meet my own need for friendship and love, while retaining my re-established sense of self? When I’ve provided a roof over my head and food on the table, how do I go about meeting that burning desire to see more of the world and feel I am making my mark (remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from school?). I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do know that money isn’t necessarily the route to achieving these simple goals (although boy, can it help!).

Although I’m far from being a wise old crone yet,  the most valuable lessons about life, I’ve learnt thus far are:

don’t sweat the small stuff;

be kind to yourself;

true love is a ‘doing’ word;

and laugh, sing and dance at every opportunity

So, I’ll try my best to eat my five a day, while working towards a secure future and looking after those I love. I’ll also be celebrating entering my 5th decade by doing some unashamed ‘mum’ dancing with a few friends, and looking forward to another 40 years filled with meeting new people, seeing the world and creating more happy memories, because, although it’s a cliché : life really isn’t a dress rehearsal.

Related links:

European men lag behind in life expectancy

ONS – Measuring National Well-being – Older people and loneliness, 2013

Unhealthy Britain: nation’s five big killers

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Gingerbread – Campaigning for single parent families

What’s it all about Alfie, song Lyrics

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My old notebook and learning to be happy

5 Jul
A Banquet Piece Artist: Frans Snyders, courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

A Banquet Piece
Artist: Frans Snyders, courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

A few days ago I discovered an old note-book containing ‘thinks’ from my early 30s. Inside the cover I had clipped a quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Epitetus, a former slave whose teachings focus on the path to happiness – through learning to accept one’s fate and letting go of negative ‘judgements’  which can lead to disappointment. Here’s what it read:

Behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is passed around, it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so towards a wife, so towards office, so towards wealth.

           The Enchiridion, By Epitetus (born 50AD)

On re-reading, I realised how pertinent these words were to me….how often do I want some new success right now, yet fail to reflect on how far I’ve come; how often do I fail to appreciate the simple moments of pleasure and contentment, as I’m too busy moving onto some new quest for fulfilment; how often am I too eager to please others and equally, too susceptible to disappointment if my plans fail to come to fruition?

So I’m going to try change my mindset as Epitetus suggests: I shall enjoy positive feedback about my work, whilst being more pragmatic about business endeavours, and embrace the love and friendship that I am lucky to be surrounded with. I will also try to accept the ‘place’ I’m in right now, albeit putting in place stepping-stones towards a new arrangement. For therein lies the key to happiness.

Related links:

The Philosophy

A gentle reminder

3 May

baby bracelet

Last week, my former landlady sent me my daughter’s hospital bracelet. The bracelet must have fallen out of the shoe-box stuffed with baby mementoes as they were hastily packed away ready for the removal van.

I was so touched by this gesture, I immediately emailed her to thank her for her trouble. It would have been so easy for her to simply throw away such a small and apparently, trivial item (particularly as I had left the country), but instead, she reflected on what this small plastic band, bearing my daughter’s name and date of birth, might mean to me, and took the time and effort to package it and sent it on.

Every day is filled with these small, fleeting opportunities of goodwill which have the power to restore someone’s faith in human nature, help someone put their problems in perspective, or let someone know that they are appreciated. Sadly, we are often too busy and pre-occupied with our endless ‘to do’ lists and own needs to act with kindness and compassion to others. This thing is, it’s amazing how a small gesture such as sending a greeting card, or stopping to pass the time with a neighbour can boost your own happiness and wellbeing too.

Simply smiling, not only makes those around you happier but has been proven to release endorphins – chemicals which help reduce stress.

Here in France the word for kind is ‘gentil‘ and their ‘gentilhomme’ was originally synonymous with ‘nobleman’, this is, a man of wealth and status. As with our ‘gentleman’ it now describes any man of good, courteous conduct.  Today, ‘gentle’ behaviour is less about etiquette, but is still essentially about acknowledging others, being courteous and putting aside your own wants and needs for a moment.

Far from being a paragon of virtue myself, I have a caustic tongue to rival Anne Robinson when I’m riled and admit to a streak of schadenfreude, especially on ski-ing holidays despite being a novice myself (admit it, unless there’s any real damage it’s pretty hilarious watching people fall over). As such, I know that there are frequent times when I should, or could, have acted more ‘gently’ towards others – especially now that I need to show a good example to my DD (‘darling daughter’ to the uninitiated). I have no doubt that every ungenerous word or sarcastic eyebrow raised is being processed by that cute little brain, only to be regurgitated, usually at an inappropriate moment.

In my defence, teaching the importance of kindness to a toddler can be a challenge, especially once your little cherub begins to realise that they have desires and ideas of their own. Deprive him/ her of that extra biscuit and you are branded a ‘meanie’, and why on earth would any sane two year old want to relinquish the biggest, noisiest percussion instrument in the playgroup when they‘re having so much fun? Also, how can you teach your two year old to be forgiving, when some great oik twice their size pushes them for no apparent reason other than to get a reaction? On these occasions its okay to say ‘stop that’ very loudly , tell a grown up or walk away – bad behaviour should never be tolerated.

The general principal is this: life can be unfair, and bullies do need putting in their place, but on the whole, you’ll not only rub along more easily with others if you’re kind, life will just feel better if you’re polite, treat people the way you expect to be treated, and act without prejudice. Above all, the joy and gratitude generated by seemingly small acts of kindness should never be underestimated – as I can testify by the surprise return of my precious little plastic bracelet.

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