How To Do Everything And Be Happy

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Boxing Day Mugs

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mug-and-flapjack

The eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that a rather fetching ‘Boxing Day’ Mug often features in my posts on twitface. I love it, it’s my favourite mug, makes me smile every time I use it and I just love how it’s white (and red, obviously) on the outside and black on the inside.

Anyway, having been asked where I got it from a few times now, I decided maybe it was about time I made it available to the rest of the world (or other fans of Boxing Day). So here’s the ‘sales spiel’……..

There are actually several versions.

  • There’s a simple mug that says KEEP CALM AND HAVE A BOXING DAY on both sides (the perfect gift for that stressed out individual in your life) {£11.60}
  • For right handed people there’s a mug that says KEEP CALM AND HAVE A BOXING DAY on the side facing you and KEEP CALM I’M HAVING A BOXING DAY on the side facing everyone else! {£11.60}
  • Then there’s a left handed version of the same mug – I know, I know – I have literally thought of everything! {£11.60}
  • And for those who want to save a couple of quid, there’s a moderately cheaper version, but without the black interior. {£10.90}

The mugs are expensive. There’s no denying it. And I only make a quid or two on each one that gets sold. But they are beautiful. The design is lovely, of course – I did that – but the mugs themselves are really good quality. I’ve had mine well over a year, use it almost every day, and put it through the dishwasher several times a week, and it still looks like new.

To get a mug for yourself or a loved one, hop over to my Zazzle shop front at zazzle.co.uk/peterjonesauthor

mug-and-pen


TTATCM sidebarIn other news… 

The Truth About This Charming Man (my second NOVEL) is one year old this week and to celebrate it’s just 99p for the next 48 hours. Download the book for your smart phone, tablet, or kindle, today.

Visit BUYTHEBOOK.TODAY to buy the book… today!

(The FREE kindle reading app is available for everything. Seriously; EVERYTHING.)

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How to talk to Michelle Ward about Boxing Day and Everything

keep-calm-today-is-boxing-day
Almost exactly a year ago I popped into Phoenix 98 FM, to chat to the lovely Michelle Ward.

If you’re a regular visitor to the blog you already know that I’m a regular guest on the show, and together we present a slot called ‘Happy Club‘, whereby I dispense some tips and hints on happiness, and related subjects (for instance; here’s a show that we did on how to survive Christmas).

This particular time we were supposed to be talking about Boxing Day, but instead we ended up talking about, well, me – specifically, how I became an author and my tendency to get totally wrapped up in building a career, unfortunately at the expense on my own happiness.

We do eventually get around to discussing Boxing Day.

Eventually.

Anyway, if you’ve got a few moments, have a listen. Click the PLAY button in the image below, or click here to open YouTube. The last couple of minutes of the interview went a bit screwy, so I’ve just faded it out on this version – you haven’t missed much, honest.

If you’re not able to listen to audio at the moment, you can read a blog post about Boxing Day here.

Do you already have Boxing Days? Why not tell me (and other visitors to this blog) about them in the comments below, or over on facebook.


The Good Guy’s Guide To Getting The Girl (mentioned in the show) has been out a year now – get your copy for mere pennies from your local amazon store.

For other happiness tips, like Boxing Day, check out How To Do Everything And Be Happy, available everywhere in all formats… but also on amazon (.co.uk | .com)

And remember, Christmas is just around the corner and books do make incredibly good gifts!


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How I Re-invented Boxing Day And Found Happiness

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For most people, Boxing Day is a slightly downbeat, re-run of the previous days festivities. More Turkey. More Christmas pud. Perhaps a change of venue and/or relatives. That’s certainly how it used to be in my family, but when my wife Kate came along Boxing Day became ‘our’ day. A chance to finally be alone together, to declare Christmas well and truly ‘done’, and to bask in the healing power of the unplanned moment.

I remember our first Boxing Day together. We got up around midday, opened a bottle of champagne, looked at our presents from the day before, roasted chestnuts in the oven, played a silly board game, watched “Ghost Busters” in our bath robes, and stuffed ourselves on posh nibbles. And as the sun gave up its fruitless attempt at breaking through the grey December sky, and the lounge was once again lit by tree lights and candles, I found myself giving Kate a chair to sit on, whilst I went down on one knee.

“Marry me,” I said.

That gives you some idea how good Boxing Day made me feel about life. And there hasn’t been a Boxing Day since that hasn’t given me that same inner glow, that same joy for life. And I can speak with some authority here because in the last seven years I’ve celebrated Boxing Day approximately eighty three times.

* * *

Not that long ago, before the days of conjuring words out of the air and rearranging them into an entertaining order, I worked in banking. Credit Card Banking.

I was a fix it man. An ideas man. Wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money with the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it the ‘credit crunch’ is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was there, pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.

I hated banking. It was about a million miles away from what I’d always hoped I would be.

Other than usual childhood dream of being a fireman or an astronaut, my earliest ambition was the desire to create books. I remember taking as many sheets of paper as I was allowed, folding them in two, and using my grandmother’s stapler to create a spine. I’d then proceed to fill the pages with illustrations and narrative, until I ran out of space, which is when the story would – sometimes quite abruptly – end.

These books were distributed on a strict ‘read and return’ basis. I don’t remember the stories I wrote and I have no idea what happened to the manuscripts but I remember it used to make me happy. I remember that.

But you know how it is. You grow up. Put aside childish things. Get real. And all the dreams you had – becoming James Bond, becoming an actor, working in a job that you enjoy – they all get compromised. Down to nothing.

On my thirty-second birthday, I finally realised that there was a distinct possibility that the last of my ‘dreams’ might also never come to pass.

At the time I hadn’t even realised that it was a dream – I just hadn’t had a proper girlfriend for a while. A long while. A really long while. But I’d always assumed that things ‘would work themselves out’. Eventually. It appears I was the only one who thought so.

Colleagues had long since stopped describing me as an eligible bachelor, and some had even questioned my sexuality, which wasn’t helping the situation.

The thought of being single for the rest of my days was unacceptable.

Something had to be done.

* * *

So in order to avoid a life of bachelorhood, I started to plan. I made lists. I came up with a strategy. I took all the problem solving skills I was developing to make rich men richer, and applied them to my own life.

Around that time there was a TV show on the BBC called ‘Would Like to Meet’ where a team of experts (a flirt coach, an actor, and an image consultant) would take some hapless individual and turn them into a heart-throb or a man-magnet. I’d watch it avidly from week to week hoping to pick up some tips. And quickly came to the conclusion that I too could do with a similar makeover, albeit without the entire viewing nation of theUnited Kingdomlooking on.

So over the next few weeks I ordered a truck load of ‘dating’ books and stacked them by my bedside ready for those evenings when I found myself alone. ie. all of them.

I also tracked down an Image Consultant, picking the one I fancied the most on the grounds that any woman I found attractive would probably dress me in a manner she’d find appealing. Of course, back then Image Consultants really only worked for corporations but I had surprisingly little problem persuading her to broaden the scope of her client base to include one sad and lonely thirty something guy. And once my wardrobe had been completely replaced I went in search of a flirt coach.

At the time Channel 4 regularly hired a lady called Peta Heskell whenever they needed a relationship or ‘flirt’ expert, and as luck would have it Peta ran weekend flirting courses. I sent myself on one, took my place in the front row and when instructed, nervously introduced myself to the stunning blonde sitting next to me.

“I’m Peter,” I said.

“I’m Kate,” said the blonde. Then she smiled. And I was smitten.

The course wasn’t that much of a success, in that it didn’t teach me anything new, not that it mattered. My strategy had worked, albeit somewhat differently but infinitely better than I’d hoped. Kate and I were married exactly a year later.

* * *

Kate was a wonderful person. A true entrepreneur. A real visionary. When we met I had vague notions of settling into a rather typical domestic life-style; putting up with a job that I didn’t care for five days a week, in return for the company of a loving woman in the evenings and at weekends.

Kate had very different ideas.

Life wasn’t about ‘settling’ for things. To her there was a world of possibilities out there. We could go anywhere, do anything, have everything, all we had to do was put our minds to it.

When my wife wasn’t trying to convince me that we could escape the ‘rat race’ – or at the very least change races – she was reading. I’d lay money that a copy of every self-help book published around the millennium somehow found it’s way onto my wife’s bookshelf, where it would wait in line to be digested, scribbled over, highlighted, deconstructed and eventually incorporated into ‘Kate’s big theory of everything’ – a kind of pseudo social-science technical manual as to how the world works, and the people in it.

During the two and a bit years of our marriage Kate became more than my wife, she was also my teacher.

And when she died in my arms I was heart-broken.

* * *

People rarely ask me how Kate died. It’s just not the sort of question they feel comfortable asking. Most assume she must have had cancer – that we’d have had some warning. We didn’t.

I’ve learnt since that sudden deaths like hers (a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage) are surprisingly common. Kate had a weak part in her brain, probably since birth. It could have happened at any moment. It was almost inevitable.

I learnt too that after the shock comes the guilt. Every cross word, every nasty thought, every lie – they all come back to haunt you. And amongst the demons that were queuing up to torment me was the realisation that I still wasn’t happy, and maybe I never had been.

There had been happy moments, of course. Quite a lot of moments. Most of them in the previous three years, and most of them down to Kate, but they were moments none the less. And I wanted to be happy all the time. Not just occasionally. Not just for a moment.

Something had to be done.

* * *

And so I decided to tackle the problem in the only way I knew how: by making lists, and coming up with a strategy.

One such idea was Boxing Day.

That first Christmas after Kate passed away my mother, concerned for my welfare during the festive season, asked if I’d like to spend Boxing Day with them. It was a generous offer but I decided to spend it just as we always had.

I got up late, I opened a bottle of champagne, I sat in bed and browsed my collection of gifts from the previous day. Then I took the Brie from the fridge, a box of posh crackers (the edible kind) and worked my way through the whole lot whilst I sat in front of the telly and watched “The Santa Clause”. A little later I emailed friends I’d been meaning to catch up with, and followed that with a walk down to Old Leigh. I looked out at the boats resting in the mud, and then I went home, wrote down some thoughts, and did some planning.

By the time I went to bed I felt like I’d had a week’s holiday, and all I’d done was get out of bed and see how the day unfolded. It was such a good day that I caught myself wishing that Boxing Day happened a little more frequently than once a year, at which point I had the following crazy thought: Why can’t it? What was to stop me replicating the same structure – or lack of structure – on any other day of the year?

Answer: nothing.

From that day on I decided to have a ‘Boxing Day’ once a month. Once a month I get up with absolutely no plans whatsoever and see how the day unfolds. And that was almost seven years ago.

* * *

Though the ‘Boxing Day rules’ expressly forbid pre-planning, my Boxing Days definitely have themes.

I’ve made chocolate brownies, treacle tart, many many pizzas (base included), and truck loads of flapjacks.

I’ve ‘dropped in’ on friends, my family, visited junk shops and museums that I’ve always wanted to go inside.

I’ve set off in the car for Cambridge or other far flung places I can get to, and back, in a day.

And I’ve worked – working is a completely valid Boxing Day activity if it’s what you really want to do, and it isn’t pre-planned. I’ve written whole chapters, spent a day blogging, caught up on all my post and emails.

I’ve had plenty of successful Boxing Days (in that I achieved that holiday feeling by the end of the day), but I’ve also had less successful Boxing Days (when I didn’t). What I hadn’t realised at the time was that I was experiencing something that scientists refer to as ‘Hedonistic Habituation’. Regardless of how pleasurable an activity is, much of its pleasure is actually derived from its ‘newness’. So whilst I thought I was relying on activities that had worked on previous Boxing Days, I had, in fact, got myself into a Cambridge-based flapjacky rut. The trick, it seems, is to think of something you enjoy doing – then tweak it enough to make it ‘new’.

* * *

HowToTakeControl-drop-shadowOf all the ‘happiness’ ideas I’ve had over the years, Boxing Day has been without a doubt one of the easiest to implement. It’s also the one that raises the most eyebrows.

“That’s bonkers,” my friends say. “Brilliant, but bonkers. But don’t you ever feel lonely? Or at a loss to know what to do?” And the short answer to both questions is, yes, of course. Though it pains me to admit it, I can’t guarantee that Boxing Day will work each and every time. But I’ve learnt that when this happens it’s best just to shrug, and move on. When it comes to creating happiness whilst Boxing Days are great, they’re not the whole answer.

“So what is?” They ask. “What else is in this… ‘happiness strategy’?”

At this point I usually tell them to get another round in. And then, over the noise of our fellow festive revellers and ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ thumping out of the juke box, I tell them about my ‘Now List’,  my ‘Wish List’, how I set myself yearly goals, and how I make sure I actually achieve them.

I tell them how I’ve taken back control of my life, decided how I want it to be, pointed it in that direction, and given it a kick up the backside.

I tell them how I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. Smiling more than I ever did. How there’s love in my life again. How I think Kate would be proud of me. And that I can finally say, I’m happy.

“Those ideas are too good to be kept to yourself,” they say eventually. “You ought to write those things down.”

And so I did.

Thirty something years later I am finally doing something that I wanted to do. I’m realising a childhood ambition. I’m making books.

And I remember now, how happy this makes me.


Originally written for the Guardian, December 2012 – find out more about Peter Jones, his books, and other exciting stuff at peterjonesauthor.com


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External Forces – What are yours?

Sometimes the thing that’s making you unhappy is staring you right in the face. People might tell you that you need to relax more, calm down, try not to take things personally, roll with the punches, “make lemonade when life gives you lemons”, but sometimes – that’s not going to cut it.

Sometimes, it isn’t you.

Sometimes it really is them.

Let’s take a look at who they are

For me, ‘Other People’ have more power than anything else to drain my enthusiasm and suck the pleasure out of life.

It isn’t always the people you think it would be either. Sure, the angry idiot who gestured at me from his car as he drove past took the edge off what might have been a pleasant drive home, but he’s soon forgotten, and I can take solace in the fact that by the way he’s driving he’ll probably wrap his car around a tree in the not too distant future.

No, the people who really have the power to make me really unhappy are either people who I care about, or people who are in some way, important in my life.

We all have them: The manager you don’t get on with – one who seems intent on making your life a misery. The ex-partner you still have to see at family gatherings. Less extreme but just as soul destroying might be the moody work colleague you have to tip toe around. Or the aged relative who you love dearly, but has started to take you for granted.

Sometimes it isn’t the interaction with these people, but the lack thereof. Like the client or a supplier who never returns your calls, never answers your emails, and is somehow never in the office when you ‘pop by’. Or the friend or sibling who is so wrapped up in themselves that after an hour or so in their company you really begin to wonder whether all you are is some sort of audience.

Then there are the corporations, companies and government bodies that determine the structure in which we live. Rarely does a day go by when I haven’t got to deal with an some brow-beaten representative from a corporation or organisation that really couldn’t give two figs about whatever my plight might be.

Sometimes, it feels as if these organisations must be run by people who’s entire aim in life is to make as much money as possible, by any means, but without bringing the slightest bit of joy to anyone involved in the process. And having worked for a number of such organisations I can divulge that this is indeed the case.

That’s just me of course.

So in order to make this section a little more rounded I decided to conduct a quick poll by email with a view to coming up with half a dozen broad sub categories of what brings people down.

That may have been a mistake.

In the last two minutes I’ve been so overwhelmed with ranting emails that instead of depressing both you and myself, I’m just going to list a tiny extract of the items that made me smile or had me bouncing up and down in agreement.

External Forces – popular culprits

  • Hormones
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • People who walk in front of me very, very slowly
  • Being late for anything
  • Not getting any sleep
  • Rubbish Call Centres – “we’re experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment” – no you’re not! This is the same volume of calls you’ve had for the past ten years! You just haven’t got enough staff and you don’t want to take my call!
  • Loud, constant noise (e.g, the roadworks we’ve had outside my building since I started this job)
  • Unfairness
  • Making a mistake
  • losing out on a job
  • “If your call is about something trivial, press 1. If your call is related to something else trivial, press 2. If your call is related to a trivial matter not related to the first two trivial matters press 3. If your call…”
  • Clients who yell at me or get annoyed just because they can, when there’s nothing I can do about it
  • The UK winter (being dark at 4pm)
  • Friends letting me down or losing touch with friends
  • Family not ‘understanding’ me or saying something that makes me feel a bit low
  • “Did you know you can check your balance or order a replacement card via our website…” – yes, I did! Stop telling me this rubbish and put me through a real person!
  • Having a fat day or a bad hair day (yes I am a girl)
  • Being broke and worrying about money
  • The January sales when I’m trying to save
  • Getting stressed about ‘my life’
  • Family or friends being sick or ill, i.e worrying about them
  • Not spending enough time with my family
  • Not having a holiday
  • Being lonely – stuck in the house
  • Realising I haven’t done anything fun for weeks
  • Parking tickets or fines
  • ANY kind of fine, e.g bank fees
  • Having to go to the doctor
  • Paying for a coffee then finding that it’s rubbish (same goes with going out for a meal and it’s bad food and bad service)
  • “I’m a state of the art automated telephone system. Please tell me the nature of your problem.” “I’m sorry, I thought you said you have a frog in your bidet – is that correct?”
  • Reading bad news in the newspaper
  • Thinking about climate change
  • Other people littering
  • Walking past homeless people
  • Bad hairdos
  • Boredom
  • Mess, that I have to clean up
  • Procrastination (makes me guilty, then consequently blue)

Doubtless you’ll have your own items that you can add to that list. Feel free to add them here using the comments section below.


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Selective Attention

Brains are amazing. Especially yours. Even mine has its moments. And one of the most fascinating mechanisms of the human brain is how it deals with “focus”.

Have you ever noticed how when you buy a new car, or even when you’ve merely decided what type of car it is you want to buy, you start seeing that same car everywhere!

Or the kettle packs up, the DVD stops playing, and suddenly half a dozen other electrical items in the house decide to turn up their boots, like they’re all suffering from some sort of appliance manic-depression?

Or how you can sleep through a thunderstorm, the traffic noise, and the sounds of revellers returning from a night on the town, but if your new-born’s breathing changes even slightly – in the next room – you’re awake!

Or have you ever seen someone across a crowded room, started to walk towards them, and somehow walked into the table, the person, the immoveable object, that was directly in front of you but momentarily invisible?

Or have you ever fallen in love, fallen out of love, had a tiff, a blazing row, a passing thought about that girl you used to know – and the words of the next song on the radio seem to capture your feelings precisely?

That’s the power of focus. Your brain is extremely good at noticing things, or disregarding things, depending on whatever it is you’re currently focused on.

The following video – a ‘selective attention test’ – is an intriguing demonstration of the brains uncanny ability to focus only on what we deem important. Press the play icon in the middle of the image, and concentrate carefully on the number of times the players in white pass the ball to each other.

You can find out more about this video, and the science behind it at here.