Size matters: small things make us happy


It really is the small things that make us happy.

This is what’s made me happy this week.

1.    Treating myself to a coffee on the way to work, and it wasn’t even Friday

2.    Buying My Lovely Husband (MLH) a caramel donut, to make him happy

3.    Having the first draft of a feature signed off with an accompanying email that says, “I like it. I have no changes. Consider this signed off.” Bliss!

These are small, trivial acts. The don’t cost very much, if anything. I haven’t booked a safari trek to South Africa and I haven’t bought a new car. In fact, if I did, I’d only worry about what I’d spent to get them.

So, if it’s the small things that make us most happy, why don’t we do them more?

1.    The treat

Remember the vanilla latte I bought on the way to work? This is exactly what I’m talking about. But what constitutes a ‘treat’? you ask. Well, let’s look at the evidence. Elizabeth Dunn (UBC), Daniel Gilbert (Harvard) and Timothy Wilson (Virginia) wrote ‘If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right’ in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, which summaries research into eight recommendations. One is to buy lots of small-ticket items – my coffee, or a trinket necklace, a new scarf or a car magazine – instead of fewer large items – the TV you don’t need, the reverse cameras for your car (sorry, that’s a private dig at MLH, I digress), the uber-expensive leather jacket.

Studies prove you’ll be happier by the frequency of the purchase, rather than its greatness.

2.    The good deed

If you walk into a shop and buy something meant for someone else, the chances are you’ll feel pleased with yourself. I certainly felt pretty smug with MLH’s caramel donut.

Why though? Again, let’s look at the evidence. In the Journal of Social Psychology’s ‘Acts of Kindness and Acts of Novelty Affect Life Satisfaction’, 86 participants took a survey measuring life satisfaction. Then they were split into three groups. One group performed daily acts of kindness for 10 days. The second simply did something new each day. The third group did what the hell they wanted. The results showed that the groups that practiced kindness and engaged in novel acts were both significantly happier. The third group didn’t get any happier. 

So to come back to the question, why are we happier when we’re nicer? Human nature. The small deeds that make others happy, in turn, dials up our happiness barometer. In addition, the more we feed off others’ happiness, the more likely we are to do more good again and again and again. Oh dear, my husband could get very fat from all the caramel donuts…

3.    The positive feedback

Forget constructive feedback. Sometimes we just need a pat on the back and nice words. Let’s see why. Findings from a study by Harvard Business School showed that when people were reminded of their best work, they work more creative and less stressed. It’s a little gift of confidence. And it’s the difference between a good and a bad day. So why don’t people praise us more, and why don’t we tell the people we admire that we admire them? Because we’re a society that hates braggers. And we all resist the urge to seek praise. It might be fashionable to think that praise is bad, but when it comes on an unexpected day, from an unexpected place, it can be a powerful thing indeed.

What makes you happy? Are you treating yourself to the right things? Partaking in random acts of kindness? And are you giving praise to people around you? Remember, it’s the small things, after all.

Follow me on Twitter, if you fancy it! @akmanvell

Most depressing day of the year


I’m feeling bright and I’m feeling breezy, but wait: it’s officially the most depressing day of the year.

This year Blue Monday – the day that researchers say is the most depressing day of the year – is today and will be a foghorn for all mental health illness. The hashtag #bluemonday24 (for 24 hour posts) is set.  So use it!

The world health organisation says that in 2030 mental health will be one of the biggest concerns. And we know that one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.  Many will come into contact with the police either as victims of crime, witnesses, offenders or perhaps when detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

Police are now working with a wide range of agencies, such as health services and voluntary sector services, to ensure there’s an appropriate response which meets the needs of individuals with mental health problems. But, there still isn’t enough support for mental health services and governments need to sit up and take notice, like Mind is already doing.

The mental health charity recently received an accolade in recognition of the valuable work it does – via its helpline – to support those affected by mental health problems. Recent figures show demand for the Infoline has risen by 55 per cent in two years. Since 2012 the number of people contacting the Mind Infoline for advice and support has risen from 51,300 to 79,600.

I’m trying to do something good on the most miserable day of the year, so, if you want to do something great too, please share this, or join in the conversation on social media, using #bluemonday24.

There is a stigma for those in ‘possession’ of mental health of feeling alone, so today, spare just five minutes – on the most depressing day of the year – and help others feel a little bit brighter, and maybe a little better.

Picture citation: Natalie Schmid, Eyes Closed, Mind Open (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Guest post: a response to ‘mindlessness’


Written by Charlotte Birkett, Dietitian London

This is a response to Anna’s recent article mindlessness’, I suggest you read it first.

I remember the day Anna and I went for coffee and cake with a friend, and had a full-blown debate about mindful eating – have you read Anna’s winning explosive arguments’ piece yet?! Anyway, I had just been on a mindful eating course in London and we talked about why some people are already in tune with their bodies and others aren’t.

Being in tune = being mindful

For instance, I know that without water I don’t concentrate on my tasks at work, and without fruit and vegetables I feel sluggish and uncomfortable. You could definitely argue that I’ve had nutritional training, so ‘of course!’ I know the positives and negatives of a balanced diet, but others (who are in tune), haven’t – this is what Anna coined ‘mindlessness’, and there’s nothing wrong with that! But, if some people are out of tune with their bodies and don’t feel satisfaction after a meal, they might need to reconnect, using mindful eating tips.

Why we choose food

There is definitely a place for mindfulness but we mustn’t forget the other factors as to why we eat what we eat.  It is not limited to one or two reasons, yes the media craze – as Anna puts it – is a major influencer, but there are other factors too:

  • Cultural
  • Psychological
  • Mood
  • Environmental
  • Biological
  • Survival
  • Genetic
  • Regulatory

Regulatory system

Let us take a magnifying glass to the regulatory system for a moment. It consists of a multitude of signalling systems telling the brain and gut: how much has been eaten, what needs to be processed and how much of it needs to be stored.

Brain data log

This information is processed by the brain along with the social, survival and biological factors, so – in truth – the brain has to deal with a magnitude of inputted data. It is daft – yes, how British, daft! – to assume that our brain uses this data to set everyone at a ‘healthy level’.

Last piece of the jigsaw

We also know the brain can be overridden (computer says no) and we can choose what we eat.  So, here’s my question: are the other factors completely void then? If I ask myself that question, the answer is simply ‘no’. We just don’t know enough about how the complex jigsaw of factors slots together and why it works for some but not others. Segway ‘mindfulness’.  Maybe, if ‘mindlessness’ works for some (like Anna) and ‘mindfulness’ works for others, it’s just one small piece in the big jigsaw and only a tiny glimpse into why we eat what we eat.

Edited by Anna Johnston

Picture citation: Jeanette Goodrich Scale-Apple-Measuring-Tape-Diet CC BY-NC 2.0




Mindful eating is a popular craze. But I wonder, could mindlessness catch on?

I recently went to an independent pâtisserie in Croydon, (yes, the town has a pâtisserie) with friends after a causal dinner, for coffee and dessert.  Whilst my friends ordered sumptuous pieces of cake, I opted to have a small coffee and two milk truffles.  My friends scoffed at my choice.  But when they asked why I wasn’t trying the delights of the shop in all its glory, I said simply, “I feel full, I just fancy a taste of something”.  My friend, who’s a dietitian, said to me in a knowing voice, “now that’s mindfulness Anna”.

That’s not the first time I have been termed as mindful.  In the new craze of mindfulness I look to uncover where it comes from, what it means for day-to-day life and if you really need to learn about mindfulness.  Or, as I like to believe, can you just be mindful without knowingly trying? A term I call mindlessness.

According to The Center For Mindful Eating mindful eating is about allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. Now, I immediately switch off when the phrases, ‘inner wisdom’ and ‘listen to your body’ are thrown around.  But consider this, in the above scenario, did my body tell me I was full? Yes. Did my inner wisdom suggest that I might want something small and sweet? Yes.  So, the Center’s words speak the truth.

They claim that by using all your senses you will choose to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.  If you become aware of physical hunger and allow satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating, you can change your relationship to food.

I have a rebellious streak that doesn’t like to be told what to do.  For example, this article is a great article and gives practical tips around mindfulness and food.  Tips to improve your diet include; letting go of shame and guilt, using the 80:20 rule and my favourite; listening to your body.  All great tips.  But the fact they’re written down for me to read and consume, makes me uneasy.

Isn’t the concept of mindfulness, knowing? So if we already know, if we already have a body that we listen to, then are we already mindful?  If you don’t come to your own dietary conclusions, how can you be in control of your own knowledge?  For example, take the first tip, ‘letting go of guilt and shame’, if I did that, I would never feel the shame of having eaten a bag of popcorn, and so I might eat a bag of popcorn and ‘pick n mix’.  Take tip two, the 80:20 rule.  What if I ate so much in the 80 part that the ratio became 100:40 or 120:60, I’m suddenly eating so much in the 80 section that the 20 part needs to catch up in a big way.  Now that’s a lot of cake.  And tip three, ‘listening to my body’ is wholly unreliable.  My body wants coffee at 08.00, cake at 11.00, 15.00 and 18.00, it wants Praline’s Haagan Daz at 21.00 and sometimes, no breakfast.

Without the top tips, and with only my well nurtured knowledge to base decisions on, I’m well-rounded, balanced and mindful.  I keep moving and I eat when I’m hungry.  I eat meat, fish, vegetables, and have the occasional cake or biscuit.  I’m also partial to a can of coke and coffee, but I know it’s not good for me, so I drink lots of water.  Everyone and no one has taught me to do that. It’s the subconscious and environmental learning journey that I have travelled on throughout my life.

Mindfulness is growing in popularity and it’s popping up in lifestyle magazines left right and centre. But I’ll ask again, is mindlessness a craze that could catch on?

Picture citation: Truffles 02 James Yu, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0