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)

Celebrating contortionists


My ears are still ringing from the low punched-gut ‘ooh’ growl of a man’s bass voice, which was a mere accompaniment to rocking-out drums in bizarre nod to surrealism, made cool.  Of course, I went to see Cirque du Soleil perform KOOZA.

Combining acrobatic skill and sheer physical human performance, it made me think: how do you discover that you can bend like that?

The running commentary of my fellow audience followed a theme. We watched a male gymnast stack 25 wooden chairs, whist he shifted upwards in various elegant two handed, gravity-defying poses (and the occasional headstand).  But, I’m ashamed to say, my prominent thought, instead of ‘wow’ was: is that your party trick? The punched-gut music was the soundtrack to two men on two rotating wheels; they jumped, back flipped, in, on and around the very fast (and very large) copper wheels. How do you find out you have that skill?  What party do you have to be at to discover that you can run on a wheel? (Perhaps some kind of Romany Gypsy event on a fair ground site?)  That being said, the most bizarre act of all was the brilliantly named – by myself, even if I do say so – Bendy Ladies.  Of course, if you’re going to be pedantic, they are called contortionists. I came away in awe, and simultaneously, in disgust at the Bendy Ladies’ performance.  But I was determined to discover whether their skill was a party trick gone too far or in fact, a combination of nature and nurture.

Bendy Ladies uncovered

I have discovered that Bendy Ladies, as a rule, are either ‘frontbenders’ or ‘backbenders’, depending on the direction in which their spine is more flexible. Relatively few performers are equally adept at bending both frontwards and backwards.  I know what you are thinking; phew, at least we can agree that even Bendy Ladies have their limits.

I have also discovered that they performed what is called an ‘adagio’ act, which is an acrobatic dance in which they work in partnership to lift and carry the other partner as she (or he) performs splits and other bendy poses.

Now, I have grown quite attached to my Bendy Ladies and so I’ve uncovered some myths which should be put to bed right away.

Contortionist myths

  1. Myth: Contortionists apply snake oil to their joints.

This was a popular myth in the 19th century.  Bendiness is of course the result of both genetics and intense physical training. If there was oil on offer, I’d be applying it so that I could eventually touch my poor forgotten toes.

  1. Myth: Double-jointed people have more joints than most people do.

The term double-jointed is incorrect; it is actually hypermobility, and not two separate joints.

  1. Myth: Contortionists have to dislocate their joints when they bend.

Most extreme bends can be achieved without dislocating the joint.  In fact, dislocations make the joint more unstable and prone to injury. Bendy Ladies one, bendy haters nil.

  1. Myth: You are either born a contortionist or you’re not.

Muscle flexibility is a result of persistent training, as long as the shape of the bone in the joint does not limit the range of motion. So they are hardworking Bendy Ladies.

  1. Myth: Women are more apt to be contortionists than men.

The average woman tends to be more flexible than the average man (I do not include myself in that), but contortionists throughout history show equal numbers of males and females.

So, there we have it.  Contortionist myths uncovered and a glimpse into the wonderfully random KOOZA show, which, ear-ringing after-effects aside, was brilliant.

Picture citation: Eric Vardy “The Contortionist Series”, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Like this post?  Read my post: The ordinary do the extraordinary.