On Being Happy: Christmas

Whenever I try to think of times that I’m happiest, a memory from a Christmas past always comes to mind. There’s just something about Christmas that I, along with many of the world’s population, have always loved. When I was a kid it was all about the magic of Santa and his reindeer, leaving out milk and cookies in the hopes that he’d leave lots of presents. (Apart from that one year my Dad told me to leave out a glass of wine, and I wasn’t at all suspicious).

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Nowadays I know that really it’s my parents who put the presents under the tree, but the magic is still there. When I was younger I was mainly excited about what I was going to get, wondering what presents Santa had ticked off my list and what surprises there were going to be, but these days I seem to find just as much joy, if not more, in giving presents to others and seeing them open them. Now that I actually earn some money, I’m able to buy some better presents than I’ve been able to in the past (the garden centre around the corner from the house used to be where most of the christmas shopping was done in my early years).

And although Christmas Day is where it all happens, it’s the build up that really gives me a spike in happiness. Yes, work now has the Christmas hours in place and I very nearly had to work Christmas Eve, but nothing beats that first chocolate from the advent calendar, or when you start playing Christmas music. Before December, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas displays or music – once Halloween has passed, it’s sort of alright, but come December everything Christmas is fair game.

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The first piece of Christmas cake, the first mince pie, present wrapping, Christmas parties, decorations, putting up the tree – everything is just filled with so much joy (apart from the last minute shoppers who plague our stores and near-attack retail staff in their panicked frenzy of being unprepared despite the fact that Christmas is on the same day every year). Once again the videos of cats attacking Christmas trees appear, and we stuff our faces with copious amounts of food. I normally start off pretty blasé about it, but then I realise it’s November and I’ve wrapped all my presents and watched Elf three times.

Yet it’s not happy for everyone. For many people Christmas isn’t a time of happiness and love, to which I try to check my privilege and remember everyone else at this time of year. And of course there are changes every year – like the fact that this is the first Christmas we’ll have without my Grandma and, although we’re all together and will undoubtedly have a lovely holiday, it’s tough going into it with that absence.

It’s a time of giving, a time of family, a time of happiness. One that I look forward to every year and one that I grieve every time we have to take the lights down. So, wherever you are and whoever you might be, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas or, if you don’t celebrate it, a lovely holiday and New Year.

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On Being Happy – Balancing Emotions

I haven’t written an ‘On Being Happy’ post for a while now, and after the past few months I’ve had I think I really really need one.

I started this series because of a few comments from friends about how I’m the ‘happy’ one, or the one who ‘never gets sad’. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to be that for my friends, that I can be the positive one they can turn to, but being happy all of the time, at least for me, is an impossibility. Life throws you curve balls, and sometimes there is nothing better than just having a bit of a cry to let it all out.

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Sometimes, and it may surprise some people, I’m sad. At least twice a month, on bad moments it can be once or twice a week. Anything from small ‘sigh’ moments, like a rude customer, to full blown crying fits. It’s so hard in those moments to stop, to just flick a switch and boom, you’re happy again, chin up chuck, etc. It’s one of the reasons I started this series, so I could look back on the things that do make me happy. I like being known as a happy person – my Grandma used to call me ‘sunshine girl’, and every day I think of that and tell myself that that is who I want to be.

Yet, balance is important. Sooner or later, if you’re forcing yourself to not deal with all your other very important emotions, you’ll burst. You need all of the emotions to function, even the ones that suck – in this case, I like to think of the Disney film Inside Out because it really goes into how everyone needs their emotions to work in harmony. Again, and I’ll say this several times in this post so brace yourself, it’s about that balance.

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Letting out emotions is good, or at least that’s what I tell myself. It’s so when I look in a mirror and notice all my podgy bits look slightly more prominent or I have a few extra spots of my hair is a mess or I think I’m ugly or a failure or just not a good enough human being, I can either choose to shrug it off or sit down and have a bit of a cry. I can go to my ‘safe areas’, like home with my family and dog, or tucked up in bed with a good book and chocolate, and by the next day I feel better. I can talk to a few close friends and family, let it all hang out and let them be the ones to help me through it – which varies from hugs and deep conversations to rolling eyes and calling me an idiot.

Still, I think it’s important to acknowledge that although everyone aspires to be happy, we need to appreciate the simple fact that that’s just not possible all of the time. Everyone has moments of sadness, dejection, depression, and so on, some far more than others, so longing for constant happiness will just be a let down. It’s like having a dream to one day suddenly sprout wings after drinking redbull or to be the one to discover a unicorn – face it, it’s just not going to happen.

So while I love writing about all of the things that make me happy in an effort to make other people happy, I feel that it’s important to make clear that whilst that’s all well and good, you need balance to get through this maze we call life. Or something profound like that. Hell, just look up ‘inspiring quotes’ on google and have a field day. Whatever makes you happy – and, well, that’s the point I guess.

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On Being Happy: Home

On hearing the news of the EU referendum, and being part of the 48% who wanted to remain in the EU, I need to remind myself of something that makes me happy.

Home.

Home is the smell of that particular washing powder. It’s the endless supply of apricot jam and toast. It’s having a garden and living on more than one floor. It’s having neighbours who chat to you over the fence about weeds.

Home is where my Mum cooks wonderful food seemingly without effort. Home is my Dad making jokes that are sometimes terrible, usually inappropriate, but always making me at least smile. Home is where I can cry one minute over silly things and smile the next because the dog farted himself awake.

Home is that peacefulness walking on the beach. It’s also the chaos of wind tangling hair and salt on your skin, so when you lick your lips later they taste like the sea.

Home is where I feel safe, and happy, and warm. It’s where the nemesis is a squirrel that eats the strawberries and outsmarts the dog and the Dad. Home is where my Mum manages to somehow keep up with my mood swings on bad days and find ways to make me laugh despite them. Home is where my Dad can fix anything, even my broken boot which he once fixed by lighting on fire – intentionally.

Home is where my dog sleeps on my bed and keeps me cosy, even if he smells and hogs the duvet. It’s where my brother will talk and talk and talk and never run out of stories or tales or important sounding words that I may or may not use in books I hope to write one day.

Home makes me happy. It’s where I feel grounded, where I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I step off the train. It’s where I’ll probably always be told to get to bed early but also where my washing will also magically get done. It’s the sound of seagulls that I love and hate and hate and love. It’s the place I regroup, re-centre myself, charge up for the time I’m away, because when I’m away I don’t feel the same as I do at home.

On bad days, I think of home and count down the days I’ll be back, because for me, home is happiness.

On Being Happy: WORDS

I was tempted to write about writing, or about books, and I probably will go into those two subjects in more detail later on (and if you’re desperate to read more about books, then head over to my other blog alwayslovetoreadalot). But I decided let’s go to the heart of the matter and what makes up literature: words.

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To mark the anniversary of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, I attended a late night at the British Library and although we were celebrating the great bard, one particular phrase that caught my attention was ‘a love of words’. Because really, I have a serious love for words. The idea that a combination of words helps you tell stories is just fascinating when you take a step back from it all, and, really, we tell stories every time someone sings, writes a book, speaks to a friend – the list just goes on.

I adore stories, hence my love for books, but I love telling stories, hence my dream of being an author. Even day-to-day anecdotes are fantastic: setting the scene, raising the tension, hitting the punchline, and wrapping everything up in a satisfying package. We’ve told stories since the first human being spoke, and we haven’t stopped since.

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I started writing down some of my favourite words since reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara (which, if you haven’t read by now, you really should). She packed that book with so many beautiful words that just fit so perfectly into her narrative that I’m pretty sure it gives euphoria to every word-lover out there. So now it’s time for a truly exciting blog post where I tell you my favourite words. I can practically feel your excitement from here.

First of: Specificities. Just say it aloud. Specificities. Now if that isn’t a fun word to say, I don’t know what is. All that sibilance is just, ah, so spectacular.

Ceaselessly. Oh yeah, more ‘ss’ sounds. It also reminds me of Great Gatsby, so what’s not to love?

Whimsical. I like how on the ‘whim’ you get a small smile on your face. It also has that beautiful arc, like going over a hill – up for the ‘whim’ and back down again from ‘sical’. Music in words, people, it exists and it’s beautiful. Feel the beauty.

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Placidly is another, and I’m pretty sure I just like these words because they’re fun to say. With the end of this one, there are just too many letters to sound out. The ‘ss’ sound, the emphasis on the ‘d’ sound, and then the ‘ly’. Such fun.

Taint. Don’t ask me why. I think it’s something to do with the overlapping ‘t’ sound.

Thither. Swivel. Discombobulated. There are just so many words. And I love them all.

I think it’s also safe to say that essay and exam season is making my brain slowly melt, until I’m just a mess of a human blathering on about words and how fun they are to say. Here’s hoping for better content come June.

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But seriously, what are your favourite words? Don’t be shy, we’re all non-judgemental here. I’m hoping anyone who can read to the end of this post isn’t judgemental at all. (Please don’t judge me)

On Being Happy: Music

I’ve been writing music reviews for a while now, and started off writing for a not-so-great online magazine that ended up changing what I’d said. I now write for The London Economic and, if you’re interested in what I do, you can always check out my online portfolio here.

Now that I’ve shoved in what I think is a well-placed plug, I want to go back to what this is all about – music. I love music, just like most people do, but I’ve discovered that there isn’t a lot of music that I don’t like. I’m not too great with heavy metal, but when it’s done well even I can’t say it’s not good. Then I thought a definite turn off for me is ‘screamer’ music, which still holds true, but every now and then it will crop up in a fantastic song and I’ll love it. Music knows no bounds.

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I’m sure everyone has their own personal connection to music, ranging with everything from saving their life to their teenage awakening to boys or girls or just wearing lots of wristbands. For me, music has always been a part of my life what with my Mum being a professional flutist. My normal was hearing her run scales at warp speed or breeze through complicated pieces with what sounded like ease. It wasn’t until friends came over to my house and gaped when they heard her playing that I realised not everyone had that. When I was younger, I didn’t really know what music I liked – my Mum introduced me to Take That with her obsession with Gary (and if you diss them, you’ll face my wrath as I passive aggressively scream the lyrics to Shine), then she let me listen to her Maroon 5 CD Songs About Jane and I’ve loved them ever since. I went through a Britney Spears phase, then listened to nothing outside of Taylor Swift. After that a few of my friends started ‘educating’ my music taste, and soon enough I was listening to You Me At Six and Mayday Parade and Panic At the Disco.

Since then, my tastes have changed and some of them have even lingered. It’s safe to say that my go-to these days vary from whatever musical I fancy to Hozier to old school Maroon 5 to a really catchy remix. Years & Years, Sam Smith, James Bay – so many artists are crammed onto my now very old ipod. For me, music is another escape, much like a book can open you to another world – music opens you up to new sound. There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than blasting some music as you try to belt along whilst you also try and cook/clean/procrastinate. Music brings me to another happy place – and nothing sends shivers up my spine more than a beautiful harmony does.

It’s a happy place for me, which is exactly why it deserved it’s own spot on this odd but, hopefully bright, series. That’s all I aim to do – bring a bit of light and sunshine to a world that sometimes seems a bit grey. Or maybe that’s just because there seems to be clouds constantly crowding over London. Either way, keep smiling because surely those clouds will pass over soon.

On Being Happy: Writing

If you don’t already know by now that I like to write, you probably haven’t noticed the title of the blog and accidentally found yourself here wondering what to do next. (My advice is to subscribe, leave a like and a comment, then have a wonderful rest of day)

Writing is my passion, no surprise there, and so it’s not a shock to discover that writing makes me ridiculously happy. There’s nothing quite like being able to create something out of nothing, which is probably why I’m so envious of people who can paint and draw with ease. Writing is my equivalent to painting some gorgeous landscape. It’s the only way that I can kind of call myself an ‘artist’.

I’m not exactly sure when I discovered this love, but I do remember writing a ‘play’ when I was really young – we’re talking maybe 7 years old or so – that sort of resembled a very bad adaptation of Scooby Doo. All I can remember is a group of friends (and their dog) going to a graveyard, finding a man who suddenly became a vampire, then a witch showing up, and finally the dog saving the day. Believing it to be a masterpiece, I then insisted on the neighbour’s children acting it out in front of the family.

Another memory is of my first ‘crush’, if you can even call it that. I remember thinking that a boy in my class was really cool because he was the fastest runner out of everyone – clearly I had very high standards. He then moved to another country, so with that emotional experience behind me I decided to write my first novel all about it and it ended with me going to Australia (although I can’t actually remember if that was actually where his family moved to or if it was just because I always wanted to go there thanks to Finding Nemo). I even wrote a sequel, where I was bitten by a black widow spider, decided that in my final days I didn’t like this boy all that much, and then after that everything gets a bit hazy. I’m pretty sure I don’t kill myself off in the end, so I’m pretty interested to see if that manuscript ever makes a reappearance.

I wrote stories all through secondary school, which varied from moderately ok to spectacularly bad. I remember in year nine, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, my school had a little short story competition. My best friend and I so started writing what we that was an amazing story, where we wrote the opening scene. It started off with a girl on a motorbike, charging somewhere to save the day, and her female guardian angel is also there and basically they just kick arse. We were so proud of this, but annoyed when we submitted it that we never heard back – I think it’s because so few people actually went for it. Nevertheless, my friend and I decided that this idea was to good to let go, so for the next few years at school, we would go to the school computers in our lunchtimes and write this incredible story. We had writing sessions at each other’s houses, thinking we were creative geniuses, and wrote in hilarious lines and scenes. I think I even tried to write a song when I went through my ‘I can’t sing that well so instead I’m going to be a songwriter’ phase. Our book had everything: two kick arse female leads (because what with Twilight, the usual heroine in books didn’t do that much arse-kicking), a few guardian angels because who doesn’t like a bit of supernatural, and two beautiful male love interests because hello we were hormonal teenage girls. I think our twist was that these two guys, similarly one human and one guardian angel because there were no inter-species relations in our book, were actually the bad guys and the girls end up kicking their arses too because they don’t need no men in their lives. It was a good time. We even had such beautiful descriptions, one that I remember to this day. ‘The hospital smelled of soap and rubber’. Pure poetry.

Going back and reading some of the things I wrote is at once completely embarrassing and wonderful. I have one unfinished book (because although I have over 170 files of different book ideas, I very rarely finished one) where I essentially took all of the books I recently read and changed them. It included TwilightThe Vampire Diaries, and the House of Night series. From what I remember, I essentially created a new female character (modelled after yours truly) who travels through these different story worlds and basically puts all the female leads to shame, telling them to ‘grow some balls’ (yes, I know, I actually wrote that) and beat the bad guys themselves. No attractive male vampire to save the day, the human girls were going to do it. You can probably tell that I had a bit of a thing for female leads basically bossing every scenario. I’m pretty sure it’s because Kim Possible was my idol.

And now I still write story after story, jotting down every idea that I have even though 95% of the time they’re absolute crap. Despite that, I’m still going and hopefully one day I’ll be able to write for a living. This year, despite I’m busier than ever, I’ve decided to participate in ‘NaNoWriMo’ – National Novel Writing Month, where you try to write a novel in a month. To ‘win’, you have to reach 50,000 words, but that isn’t my goal. As always, I strive to make sure that writing never becomes a chore for me, so instead my goal is to have fun, try and write as much as I can, and not get stressed out when I don’t hit the word count because I have several assignments for university to finish and even more books to make a start on.

If you’re interested in NaNo, then you should definitely check out their website: nanowrimo.org/

And If you’re already on NaNo, then be sure to add me as a writing buddy! Of course, my username is ‘Stammydodger’.

Anyway, I hope you’re all having a wonderful day and feel free to leave a comment down below – preferably something to do with this post, but at this point anything will do. Catch you next time!

On Being Happy – Dogs

So recently everything has been a bit doom, gloom and a bit more doom. With the last post being quite a big one for me but not necessarily the most cheerful post and seeing as the past 4 days I’ve been waiting to have my laptop returned to me after being attacked by a virus, I think it’s time for a bit of happiness. I was going to write about all the things that make me happy, but realised that could take a while, so instead I’m starting a series ‘On Being Happy’. People often ask me how I’m always happy, or that I’m one of the happiest people they’ve met, when in reality I’m nowhere near being happy all the time. I cry, I whine, I complain, I shout, I yell – all those standard emotions and feelings that go out of control. But there are a few things that make me happy, and of course the first one I’m started off with is dogs.

For those of you who really don’t know me, I really like dogs. Seriously, I’m going to be the dog version of the crazy cat lady. I have my future dogs and their names sorted out in my mind. I’m the one who spams all of my social media accounts far too often with pictures of my own dog because he’s just so cute and so lovely and so happy and so fluffy and I love him. Here’s the necessary picture of my dog Pete in all his glory:

Dogs in general make me happy, but Pete makes me even more so. He’s a bit of an idiot and a complete wuss (seriously, if someone was to break into my house covered in tinfoil, Pete would probably cover under the table). He loves water but can’t swim, he rolls whenever possible (even on the pebbled beach), and he slobbers whenever someone says the word ‘cheese’. Whenever I go home, it doesn’t matter if I’ve been away for a few weeks or for five minutes, I’m greeted like I’ve been gone away forever. He charges into my legs, runs around with his whole body wriggling as his tail knocks down everything within its vicinity, then he goes to find anything to bring as a present – either one of his slobbery toys, a stray sock, or even the towel we use to clean his paws when it’s muddy.

I’ve always thought that dogs are typically shown in a positive light. Like in films, how the cats are always evil and the dogs are the best friend. Or how you know someone is a bad guy if he kicks a puppy or a dog doesn’t like him. Dogs in horror films are the only ones you care about, because despite the fact that they’re barking their heads off because there’s an evil ghost out to kill everyone in the house, their idiot owners don’t listen. Scooby Doo is the best sidekick in cartoon history, Balto is the half wolf half husky who we all rooted for – need I go on?

When I see a dog in the street, I almost always ask the owner if I can say hi, and if I see a puppy I usually grab the person next to me (hopefully it’s someone I know) and point out that yes there is a puppy over there and yes we are going over there right now so I can squish him.

So that’s all I’ve got for you today about being happy. Go forth my friends, and hug some dogs. If you’re allergic, find a toy instead, and if you’re scared of dogs, then go live dangerously.