How To Be Less Miserablist

Hoola Hoops or various colours close up

It had been a while since I’d played this game. Maybe even half a century. It’s nighttime, a comfy 30 degrees and we’re at a party that’s progressed into the pool. I have one foot on someone’s shoulder – David? Thomas? Richard? It’s difficult to distinguish between them as I heave myself into the clutches of Liz who’s waiting for me to complete the human pyramid. Finally I’m up and for a few seconds we are a triangular mass of wobbling post-youth bodies that then crash into the inky water, shrieking like the children we once were.

That was last month at a reunion in Bahrain where we all grew up together in a Californian-styled township in the desert, a story for another day. As these pewter grey November days close in, quick, quick, spit spot – name the last time you really goofed around? Like blaaah, head shaking, arm-waving crazy? See. Long time. Too long.

Yet in these not-so-cheerful times, it turns out George Bernard Shaw was right about fooling around being seriously good for you.“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing” wrote the Irish playwright. The benefits? Manifold. Adult play relieves stress, boosts feel-good endorphins, improves brain function, helps relationships, keeps you feeling young and energetic and may even improve your resistance to disease.

In my forsaken executive life of being at my desk at 8am, 10 miles from home, I was deemed “lugubrious” by one of the fashion team. He was right. A tendency towards worry and a diabetic child to keep alive was lethally mixed with fierce weekly deadlines.  Something had to give and for me it was the lightness of being. A later bout of working with optimistic millennials did little to help.

Yet in this of all years, life’s become inestimably brighter, slipping those surly bonds of gloom.

What gave? Frankly even I was bored of having a resting worried face. But the turning point came down to a cat, two yogis, one run and two WhatsApp groups. Mostly the latter.

Sky the Siberian Forest kitten arrived to remind us of the joy of stroking and the fun of felines leaping for ping pong balls.  The last year has been like living with an amusingly furry two year old.

Then there was the physical fillip from a weekly run and two yoga sessions.  Emerging from a cotton cocoon to lollop around Wormwood Scrubs for 5km every Saturday at 9am does not induce laughter – but its after effects do. (News reports last month said one shortish run a week is all it takes to reduce the risk of early death, no matter how slow you go.) Ditto the two £10-a-go weekly yoga sessions that melt calcified fascia, lull the mind and mean you can embrace the freelancer’s 5/2 wardrobe – two whole days of never having to be properly dressed.

But the biggest spike in my annual lol activity came from spending more time, that most illusory commodity, with family and friends generally, and two groups of women specifically.

Here we need clarification – spending time at play is about more than just having fun. Renowned American shrink Stuart Brown has done a rather brilliant Ted talk on the subject, which if you can’t be bothered to watch says this: we need to retain our neoteny. Our what-eny?  Make it your word of the day because it means the “retention of juvenile features in the adult animal”, which translates into keep goofing around throughout your life. Because Brown is clear on one fact  — the opposite of play is depression.

He spent years studying prison inmates and almost every one of them suffered play deprivation as children. They missed out on the give-and-take learning that comes from play. “Normally we play,” says Brown.  “When we don’t, something has gone very, very, wrong, and non-players will suffer a number of effects.” He quotes field biologist Marc Bekoff, a former university professor, who says play is “training for the unexpected”.  Which makes it pretty essential in the sand-shifting era of Trump and Brexit.

Beyond playing the usual array of sports (abandoned tennis racket – one day I will return), the adult play market is now huge business, with the Lego trend a prime example. Last month ‘Build Yourself Happy: The Joy of Lego Play’ was published  as a manual for wellness while at John Lewis you can buy the 5,900 piece adult Lego Taj Mahal for £279.99.

Not for me, but let me tell you about those WhatsApp groups.  The ‘girl’s night’ one began several years ago with eight of us getting together whenever we could agree on a date, but which has progressed to added playtime. There was a recent wine drinking and pottery making evening, a perfect getting-your-hands-dirty combo,  with the resultant crusts of unglazed clay still rattling around in the back of my car.  Next up is a poker night in January with a real live poker teacher who’ll hopefully instruct us on how to arrange our flaccid faces into inscrutable masks. Cannot wait.

Meanwhile, a reunion reconnected me with three of my first friends, the ones I’d grown up with in primary school, had played spin the bottle with as a teenager and fooled around with in swimming pools. We are now scattered across Australia, Florida, London and Portugal but every Saturday sees us together again on a WhatsApp video grid, our latest quest being to learn to virally hoola hoop. I’m pretty good thanks – Sara, doll, it’s all in the hip thrust.

We definitely all need to play more.  To put down those  perfidious phones and dig out that frisbee or pack of cards.

The dream? A poker-playing, hoola-hooping pool party.

OMG lol, as only an Ok, Boomer would write.

How to be less of a miserablist in 2020

  1. Delete your Mail Online app pronto. Child killer/Kardashian tales are no longer needed.
  2. Buy Rummikub, the perfect board game as it can last less than 30 minutes. (Habitually losing inures me to the pain of real life.)
  3. Revisit Season 1 of Friends. Basically be more Chandler. Step away from Newsnight.
  4. Ask for ‘Funny Ha-ha’ in your stocking – 80 of the funniest stories ever written, out this month and edited by veteran wit Paul Merton. Leave the Booker prizewinners to gather dust.
  5. Purchase a cheap hoola hoop and eat latkes (hello Gill) or crisp sarnies with friends who make time to see you. Money does not = good times.
  6. When it’s all going south, listen to Baccara’s “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”, the 1977 best-selling single of all time by a female group (18 million).  Joyfully awful lyrics, but it’ll  make you laugh and dance at the same time. Dream pastime.

Being Optimistic Has Some Serious Health Benefits

Optimism

You’re either a glass half full or half empty kind of person. Few of us want to be grouped with the latter – there are few things less warming than someone who can’t see the bright side in anything. Aside from being more pleasant to be around, being an optimist has some impressive health benefits. 

Back in 2009, a study by the University of Pittsburgh found that optimists were less likely to get ill, while in 2013 researchers at Concordia University found that those with a positive approach were better at dealing with stressful situations. “On days where they experience higher than average stress, that’s when we see that the pessimists’ stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances,” Joelle Jobin, the co-author of the study told Science Daily at the time.

A more recent study by Boston University went one step further and found that an optimistic outlook can improve your chances of living longer. The study surveyed 69,744 women over 10 years and 1,429 men over 30 years to measure their levels of optimism, as well as their overall health and lifestyle habits, including whether their smoked or drank alcohol.

“Previous studies reported that more optimistic individuals are less likely to suffer from chronic diseases and die prematurely,” says Lewina O. Lee, clinical research psychologist at Boston University. “Our results further suggest that optimism is specifically related to 11 to 15% longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving “exceptional longevity,” that is, living to the age of 85 or beyond.”

How can you be more optimistic?

Keep a journal: In a world where few of us have a minute to collect our thoughts, the idea of writing them down feels like a luxury. However, taking five minutes out before you go to bed to write down a couple of things you’re most grateful for in that moment can help reset your mind, and it can also help you sleep. 

Search for solutions: The office pessimist is never more obvious than when you’re in a crisis meeting looking for a way around the issue. Stewing on a problem often makes it feel bigger than it is and can exacerbate negative feelings. Where and when possible it is good to switch from being problem-focused to solution-focused. 

Focus on the improvement: It’s easy to set ambitious goals and lose enthusiasm halfway through when you haven’t reached them. However, there is that popular saying: ‘your speed doesn’t matter – forward is forward’. Try focusing on how far you have come rather than how far you have to go. Making small mindset tweaks can ultimately change your overall approach.

Look after your gut: Plenty of studies have linked our gut with our nervous systems. Making sure the bacteria in your gut is well-balanced and thriving can have a surprising impact on your mood. Life Extension noted this and formulated Florassist Mood, a probiotic that contains the two strains of bacteria that help improve our mood, Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum. 

Build up a sweat: Whether it’s a run in the park or a brisk walk, it’s worth getting your heart rate up as when we exercise our body releases endorphins, which help boost our mood. Recent research has also suggested that those who spend more time surrounded by nature also tend to be happier and more positive, so perhaps it’s time we all started or ended the day with a stroll in the park?

The Wellness Formula That Helped Me Heal The Past

the-wellness-formula-that-helped-me-heal-the-past

At the end of last month’s article I mentioned some metaphysical “work” I had been doing to help with my current physical and mental health struggles and today I want to dive in to exactly what I have been doing and why because it has helped me so much. Everything I have been doing is completely new to me and will probably be to you too, but I have had such a profound experience with it that I had to share. Read More…

Is Sophrology The New Mindfulness?

Sophrology

Mindfulness is a term that has been thrown around for the past few years. While some are well-equipped to meditate for ten minutes a day in a bid to be more present, others struggle to employ rigorous self control after a long day at the office and a yoga class feels more like 60 minutes of torture rather than much needed relaxation. For the latter there is a new approach making waves in the UK and it’s called Sophrology.

While Sophrology might be relatively new to the UK, it has been around for years and is popular across the continent. For some, the mix of visualisation, positive thinking and breathing techniques might still feel a bit too similar to mindfulness practices, but if you’re au fait with a yoga class but haven’t quite mastered the art of meditating this could be worth looking into.

What is Sophrology?

The word Sophrology means the science of consciousness in harmony. Essentially it’s still about connecting with yourself, but it takes a more practical approach with gentle stretches and movement (both sitting and standing), as well as breathing and visualisation techniques. If you nail the philosophy you should find managing your stress levels easier, see an improvement in your sleep patterns and generally feel more confident and self-assured.

How does it differ from traditional mindfulness?

While both methods encourage you to be more in-tune with yourself, Sophrology goes one step further to ensure that your body keeps up with your mind and is just as well maintained. It’s for this reason that people employ the Sophrology method before an important meeting or competition. In Switzerland, senior students are offered sessions in the lead up to their exams to keep anxiety, stress and nerves at bay.

What should you expect from a Sophrology session?

‘Sophrology can be practised in groups or in an individual session with a Sophrologist. After a brief discussion with the clients about what they want to achieve during the session, the Sophrologist will use his or her voice to guide them through a sequence of simple exercises including relaxation, breathing, visualisation and gentle movement,’ explains Dominique Antiglio, author and founder of BeSophro.

Where to start…

First and foremost, you have to work out which issue you want to tackle, be it overcoming nerves for an up-coming work event or generally just lowering your stress levels. There are Sophrology sessions available, but if you’d rather start at-home BeSophro offers online classes and if you can wait until September, Antiglio will be releasing her book to guide you through her 12-step method.

How To Improve Your Energy

Radiator with pink wall

Where to start on an article about energy? I’m referring to the good vibes that flow on a sunny day when everything just clicks into place and turns out better than you might ever have hoped for. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a while because learning to harness good energy has had the most profoundly positive effect on my life and yet I’m conscious that it’s often referred to either in a spiritual or religious context (off putting for some) or in language that can sound “away with the fairies”.

And yet, good energy – the sort that makes everything better is something we can all create ourselves whether we are religious or not. Call it kindness or goodness if that makes it more palatable but once you’ve worked out how to create more of it and use it, I’m pretty sure the happiness and quality of your life will increase tenfold. Read More…

The Importance of Failure and Learning to Embrace Adversity

Importance-of-failure-and-learning-to-embrace-adversity

It’s strange how one of the most powerful life lessons is so steeped in pejorative language. To fail: an experience that is vital for growing and learning but which we are educated to believe is something to be ashamed of. We grow up with the idea that failure is the opposite of success.

Odd really when you watch a parent introduce a child to something new, let’s say, learning to catch a ball or writing their name. When it doesn’t happen the first time, parents are usually encouraging with reassurances of “Good try, don’t worry it will come with practice” or “anything important takes time and effort”. The parent is explaining that failure is just one step on the path to achieving something. It’s a belief that is totally aligned with science too; scientists know that an experiment is never truly a failure as such, rather, it’s a lesson, an important part of the whole journey. Read More…