21 March, 2014

Happiness Day: Sunshine and Showers


Yesterday was the 2nd ever International Day of Happiness – a day which works to promote the need for society to help its residents maintain happiness and which encourages others to think about how they can prioritise happiness over wealth, the economy and other more superficial endeavours. People across the globe spent the day taking note of the need to TRY to be happy, or at least spread a little happiness onto others.

The initiative began in 2012 and I have to ask, how did it get to then before someone asked "do we need to also be thinking about happiness here”? You would have thought this would have been a priority long ago. Happiness is easily the ultimate destination for all human kind – we are taught it is not a destination but in fact a mood, however we still strive to achieve that mood whenever we can, because why would we want to be anything other than happy?

Why did 2012 suddenly call for such a campaign? It seems to me that the need for a happiness awareness movement was born out of a time when it is harder than ever to just be, let alone be happy. Our lives are overloaded with choice and indecision, and bloody hell we are busy. Maybe it has always been like this, and maybe I am just getting older, but if there is one thing my peers and I manage to always have in common these days, it is the fact we are just so busy we can never quite breathe to enjoy our own lives.

We seem to be reaching some sort of crisis point, a point at which people are finding it harder and harder to be content, because there is no time to be anything other than thinking about the next thing. Happiness is said to be about living in the moment, and when your life is made up of so many moments and islands, how do we live just in one?

I have followed the work of Action for Happiness for a while and believe it is a fantastic cause, but for me we should all be inclined to promote happiness every day, not just on March 20th. I saw so many tweets from people yesterday trying to find happiness in small things for the sake of Happiness Day, and that was lovely, but also I wondered how different the world would be if we all thought more like that more often?

It isn’t always easy...

We all have shit. We all have days when life feels hard. Ironically, in sharp contrast to Happiness Day, I have had an emotionally trying week.

All my life I have experienced unexplained bouts of “depression”. When I was little I used to go to my Mum and tell her I had a “hole in my tummy”, because I just felt empty and life felt hard. These bouts never last long at all, and have never considered myself to be actually depressed – especially as I have always had so much to be thankful for. As I have grown older, I have usually had something to blame and an external trigger for these episodes. Loneliness, being in an awful job, drinking too much, friendships, whatever. Now, I don't think it is any of these things, it is just who I am. There is a theory that depressive feelings effect the strong, people who have it all but feel the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I think there could be something in that. I am reading up on it as we speak!

At the moment I am the “happiest” I have ever been, in that I have everything I could ever need. When you have all this, you don’t expect to wake up feeling empty and teary for no reason, but the past few weeks that has happened every day, and I don’t know why.   Although in my head I am SO happy,  sometimes my mood needs to catch up. I have still put my smile on to the outside world – that’s not me being fake, that’s me making the best of my days despite struggling inside. I put my smile on, I go through the paces, and I've had a few meltdowns behind closed doors...oops. I know I will have a much needed weekend of down time, and will start next week feeling stronger. No doubt I will wonder (like I always do) what all the fuss was about!

I do work to make the best of my days and radiate optimism even when I feel low, because I try to always remember that everyone has their own battles and I know spreading positivity can only do me and those around me good. Even when someone is outwardly ‘happy’, our private lives are complex and our apparent persona doesn’t mean we don’t have challenges. Sunshine usually comes with it's share of showers.

I do think Happiness Day is a great cause, how could something so positive not be? But it isn’t about just recognising it for one day; it’s about doing your best to create a positive environment, day in and day out, even when you don’t feel like it. We all have a responsibility to contribute to the world we live in, and although I do have my moments (!), one thing I am proud of is that I will usually bring a smile to a situation and look for a silver lining. Life will always throw up difficulties and some people face bigger challenges than others, but if we can learn to look for the positives every day, then we can collectively create a more positive world for ourselves and those around us, especially when we feel Blue. People who do the opposite should be ashamed.

Every day I try to remember this and do small things to work towards a happy world. My boyfriend and my family get to deal with the downs (lucky them!) but once they are dealt with I dust myself off and go back out there and find happiness in tiny things and soon enough I feel good again.

Do you contribute positively to your world?


12 March, 2014

The Wine of Friendship

This is a rushed post to say the least, for it is mid-week and I have a to-do list as long as my non-drinking challenge. Oh, and while we're on the subject, here's my report from the weekend, as promised.

This weekend just gone was always going to be my most challenging weekend of my booze-free March. My 3 longest standing best friends came to town - also known as "The Girls". I have various groups of 'girls', but THE girls are the girls I went to school with, the girls I grew up with, the girls I learnt to party with. To abstain from the standard partying behaviour that is drinking, whilst in the company of THE GIRLS, is borderline a sin. It is at the very least, a weird plan.

That said, if you can't stay soba and still have a blast with your longest standing homies, then what chance do you really have? These are the friends you have know since before you had boobs, who you have partied with in Ibiza, Tenerife, Malia, and your hometown nightclub EVERY week for several years. The friends who saw you pass A Levels and run off to uni, the friends you ran back to every Christmas, Birthday and Easter in between. The girls who saw you get dumped, then watched you fall in love again. The friends who despite having grown in very different directions to you, remain at the heart of your friendship circle. Like barnacles clinging to a rock in the storm that is life... Okay, I can't do analogies very well after 9pm. These girls are just THE GIRLS. They always will be.

As it turns out, the wine of friendship never does run dry. I didn't need the real deal, because I was high on friendship and laughter. As I discovered at 3am on Saturday night; while my feet buzzed from dancing for 5 hours straight and my face was alight from having not stopped laughing for the entire night and my head spun with fun, I observed that not only had I not needed to drink to have a good time, I actually had a much better time without it.

I have always been the liability friend, the one who falls asleep mid-slurp, gets turned away from bars, misses the best bits because she went home in a cab with chips at 10pm, lost her phone, was sick everywhere, who just could...not...deal... I have always been her. So for my friends, despite perhaps the initial disappointment that they had more Prosecco between them than normal (whilst I stoically sipped my Scholer) it was probably a bit of a relief for them to see me not only last the night, but do it well.

My best mate told me at the end of the night that she'd had so much fun with me, she'd totally forgotten I wasn't drinking. I can't really imagine a better end result than that. Fun was had by all, and my liver stayed shiny. This alongside the fact I spent £4 all night, had a hangover free (if a little tired) Sunday and remember every precious moment of the night...I could about get used to this not drinking thing.

Halfway there.


08 March, 2014

"She is Clothed in Strength and Dignity" - Women's Day 2014

Today is International Women’s Day. I have spent the past few days considering the meaning of the day, which has been ‘observed’ since the early 1900’s. Since my early 20’s I have recognised its meaning and increasingly appreciated the concept. Now, the day marks for me how my own attitude evolves year on year.

Over the past couple of years I have definitely been discovering my ‘feminist’ attitude – it’s an outlook I didn't know I had, but just kind of fell into after years of looking the other way. I use the term feminist a bit vaguely, because my perception isn't really one I have defined. What I do know for certain is I feel passionately that I want women to be strong and equal. That is all. I feel passionately when we are not treated equally by our male peers and I do want us to stand up for one another ALWAYS.

The past 12 months have seen yet more big shifts in the landscape for Women’s Rights and have also been an eye opener for me personally. In 2014 more men are willing to adopt more of the ‘Beta’ role in relationships, more men are recognising where their own attitudes could change, and more women are standing up for themselves and for each other. There are so many brilliant acts taking place around the world, which all contribute to taking steps in the right direction. No More Page 3, Everyday Sexism, the campaign which got Disney to retract T-Shirts which suggested women can’t be heroes...

On the flip side, in 2013 the gender pay gap widened for the first time 5 years. This is inexplicable to me. We also saw the huge explosion that was  Caroline Criado-Perez Twitter row – she received numerous rape threats on Twitter, after campaigning to have a female icon stamped on British bank notes. I remember being there on Twitter the day that story broke, nervously watching it escalate, and thinking; is this really 2013?

The other day I read how in 1907 Annette Kellerman campaigned to bring in tight fitting bathing suits for women. This image (left) had her arrested for indecency. I read about this in such disgust and thought thank god I didn't live in that time. I mean Jesus wept! That said, are modern day instances like the Caroline Criado Perez case really much different? No, in short.

On a personal level, my understanding of gender inequality has deepened. In 2013 I went from working in an an all-female team to a majority-male one. The stark contrast between those 2 different backdrops has shown me day to day, the many, many ways in which women are still lagging behind in the professional arena, fight as we may. I am happier now than I have been in any other workplace and the men I work with are great, but it can occasionally be difficult being the only girl. Sometimes it works in your favour, but you also have to be tough a lot of the time too.

Is it realistic to ever expect a day to come when being in the minority gender at work should even be a thing? Would I actually like it if a day came when my gender wasn’t recognised at work? I don’t actually think I would. To a large extent I like the fact our femininity is observed, and for it not to be would be to pretend we are the same as men. And that would be weird because we aren’t. It’s not sameness we want though is it? It is equality, and that's very different.

What have you done today, ladies?

I do and will continue to contribute in my own way to the fight for women's rights, equality and respect. I pull my male peers up on their sexist attitudes every single time, and I challenge them. I also challenge other women when they let extremely sexist behaviours go by. I work to show people they have a responsibility to chime for change too. I work to be treated with the same respect and consideration as my male colleagues. I reprimand men who are clearly treating women badly, and I reprimand women who are letting them. Perhaps annoying to be on the receiving end of, sometimes, but I’ll be damned if I ever need approval more than I need to stand up for my own, celebrate the fabulousness of woman-kind, support the women around me and stay true to what I really believe in.

I've been told many times over the past few years what it means to be feminist, and certain criteria have been outlined to me which people should meet in order to qualify. I don’t really know about that to be honest. To me it feels like different people can be feminist in different ways. I might not campaign on a big scale, and maybe I am a bit sexist when I sometimes laugh at jokes which are derogatory to women (I don’t have a penis, but I do have a sense of humour), but really I don’t think that undermines the steps I do take towards a more equal world for women. Every little helps, doesn't it?

How do you recognise International Women’s Day?


02 March, 2014

Week 1: "If I can't drink, man I'm gonna eat..."

Last week I announced I was going to stay stone cold soba for the month of March. God damn me and my need to share, now I have to actually do it. At least I am one week down...

A Friend’s Birthday Lunch & Drinks

It’s pretty easy to not drink if you just don’t go out, provided you aren’t a raging alcoholic. So the point of my challenge isn’t to see if I can go without booze – I know I can, I often go weeks without drinking. What I want to do is challenge myself to not drink in situations where I otherwise would at least have a few or would struggle not to, so that long-term my natural reaction to social plans doesn't always have to be a slightly terrified “So the next 6 weekends I'm booked up being drunk and then hungover. Oh.”

Week One saw me stoically avoid wine, cocktails AND gin at a good friend’s birthday jamboree. JAMBOREE. It was an afternoon/evening event which made it easier to abstain, as I didn’t need to trick my body into thinking it had the energy to stay out until the wee hours. It was also made easier for the fact that I have some big weeks at work coming up, and I was knackered from the few just gone. When I remind myself that 8 hours on the sauce isn’t worth 5 days of an under-par work performance, it is much easier to stick to OJ.

How I found it

The first few hours were the hardest, because I LOVE getting drunk in the day. Probably more than I like being drunk at night. I love the buzz of a lunchtime glass of wine, and it was difficult to see the others order their first beer/gin while I started strong with a sturdy 1 pint of Diet Pepsi.

The first hour was also the most challenging because my not drinking was inevitably a talking point. I was happy to explain my reasoning, but it can be embarrassing when all eyes are on you and you are hoping someone will just go “great idea, I hope you manage it!” but instead you get suspicious looks. No, I am not up the duff.

After a bit, my not drinking became unimportant to the group, as it became apparent this would not mean I would talk/laugh any less...and they became too tipsy to notice anyway. Honestly, it did take me longer to relax into the conversation and I definitely missed the rosy bubble alcohol tends to form around such gatherings, but after a few hours I barely noticed the difference and as time wore on I realised I was enjoying myself just as much if not more than if I had been drinking all day, if mainly for the fact that I wasn't stressing about being hungover for the following day/week/month.

I also had much more room for FOOD and I was ready to capitalise on this. Like most people, when I drink I usually don’t realise I’m hungry, until about 3am when I’m suddenly ready for a full banquet. This time though, I decided if I wasn’t going to drink, I was damn well gonna eat. I heard Tom Daley on the radio recently saying that drinking wine was the equivalent of eating a cream cake. Given that he’s a swimmer with 0% body fat, I believed him. As such, I decided what I didn’t drink in calories I could eat instead. I’ll never regret my fish finger sandwich with chunky chips decision. Bless you, Old House.

How my friends found it

I had briefed my friends in advance, to avoid On-The-Day Peer Pressure, and after their initial interrogation they were supportive, even including me in rounds despite the fact I was mainly drinking heavily watered down fruit juice with pineapple stalks shoved in it. In fact, the main talking point was when I stoically ordered Diet Pepsi instead of full fat. It didn't go down well, with outraged cries of “If I order pop, I bloody well want sugar in it!” Meh, if I could stay strong on my non-drinking policy, I could stick out Pepsi pressure. 

My boyfriend was so encouraging, after his initial faux pas of “are you sure you want to not drink...?” on the way there *me glaring wildly* After that, he went out of his way to find me interesting drinks sans booze, and regularly and increasingly told me he was proud of me for maintaining my pledge (he was drinking, evidently). This helped a lot because I like praise/feedback/a pat on the head.

How the Bar Staff found it

Most interesting of all was the Bar Staff’s attitude to my abstinence. The first place we visited is infamous for its cocktails, and I’d expected a full on Mocktail menu. Alas, one did not exist. So I opted for pop and food. In the next bar the barman kindly said I could choose any cocktail and he would do an alcohol-free version, but not before he looked at me like I had a small Frenchman doing the can-can on my shoulder and asked “are you...ALLERGIC to alcohol???” No no, just don’t want to drink. After much deliberation I chose a cocktail, asked if he could make it without the alcohol, to which he simply replied “No.” This was going to be a loooong afternoon.

Thankfully he redeemed himself when he served me the juice concentrate/pineapple sprig delight.

I woke up this morning feeling cleansed, physically and otherwise, for the first time in about 3 weeks. Not only had I managed to not drink, I had really enjoyed myself. I had then come home, eaten 2 rounds of toast, slept like a baby sloth and awoken with an additional string of strength to my bow. I also only spent £20 all day, and that was including shouting the Birthday Girl her lunch.

Right now, I’m really happy with myself for doing this. However, I might feel differently next weekend when my girls come up for the weekend from St. Albans, we’re all going to be together for the first time in 6 months and they most certainly will be drinking. Oh Christ, someone pass me the willpower.