100happydays – day 101

I don’t like internet memes as a general rule.

My default position is that if you need a hashtag or inspirational graphic to tell you how to live a better life, you’re doing something wrong. Even if it involves an air-punching baby.

And then I tried #100happydays.

Right from day one, I was curious. Would I make it to the end? Apparently 71% of those who start don’t cross the finish line. How would it feel? What would be different? The official website of the movement makes all sorts of ambitious claims about people noticing what makes them happy, being in a better mood every day, getting compliments from others, realising how lucky they are to have the life that they have, being more optimistic, and even falling in love during the challenge.

From about day 60, I started getting nervous. What if, when it all ended, I stopped being happy? What should I do next? Should I just carry on indefinitely spamming people’s social media with pictures of my ride to work, of my mum eating chips, of me on the beach or all of the other stuff that’s made me smile over the last few months?

Now it’s here, now it’s really over, I know the answers.

I’ve looked back at those ambitious claims.

And I’m still single.

But other than that, every last one of those things has come true.

And it doesn’t stop there.

HappinessI finally understand that saying about happiness being a journey and not a destination. That it’s fine, even essential, to have goals and targets to work towards that will give long term gratification. But that it’s just as important to appreciate the things you already have – particularly the little things that are sometimes hard to notice. And that the days when nothing feels good about the world are when it’s most important of all to find or create something that makes you feel glad to be alive.

I haven’t just learned what makes me happy. I’ve learned what happiness is.

So where do I go from here?

I dabbled with the idea of extending the challenge (#wholeyearofhappy crossed my mind) but decided against for two reasons. Firstly I’m going abroad on holiday in a few months and the mobile data roaming charges would’ve been horrendous. But more importantly, at some point I’d either have to stop on my own terms, or fail. I don’t want it to end like that, so it makes sense to stop here, after 100 days, where I’d originally intended it would.

That doesn’t mean it’s over. What I’ve learned over the last 2400 hours will, I hope, stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m considering making it an annual event.

We’ll see.

A number of people started this challenge with me. None of them made it to the end. I’ve wondered why. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Maybe my 100 days were easy. I’m physically and mentally healthy. Nobody I love died, had an accident or got ill. I’ve still got a job, and somewhere nice to live. Maybe if I’d had to deal with some of those sort of challenges along the way, I wouldn’t have got this far. Who knows. What I did learn is that there are days when it takes more effort to be happy than not. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

So if you’re one of the people who’s been playing along, or quite fancies having a go but doesn’t think they can make it, my challenge to you is to go for it.

You never know where you’ll end up.

Won’t someone think of the children

I didn’t write Fever Pitch. Nick Hornby did. It’s rather good actually. Not as good as About A Boy (‘are we having duck?’) but a decent read. I recommend it. What I’m trying to say is that meandering pieces about the beautiful game aren’t my thing. In fact, I’m not that keen on football at all.

Even when you could watch it on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, I don’t remember professional football being a huge part of family life.  I learnt all the words to the Anfield Rap in 1988, in an effort to impress one of my siblings, and we occasionally played football in the garden (jumpers for goalposts and all that) but I was always in goal.

‘One Muzzy Izzet, there’s only one Muzzy Izzet’

I dabbled with it a bit more in my teens, like most kids do, to fit in with the crowd. For a while I had quite a lot of Leicester City branded clothing, and, when Walkers were still their shirt sponsor, spent several notable years dressed as a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

But the fact that England have just delivered their worst performance in a World Cup finals since 1958 holds no particular emotional significance for me.  I’d struggle to name anyone much in the squad, in fact. Even the goalie, although I recognise him from the Head and Shoulders advert.

I don’t particularly like what football does to the people of this country either. Normally rational, decent friends of mine start getting quite sweary on Facebook, and it becomes very difficult to establish which pubs are showing the matches, and which are hosting BNP meetings (are we meant to call them ‘Britain First’ now? I’ve lost track).

But I join in, in a light-hearted fashion, feigning some sort of interest and participating in the sweepstake at work (admittedly I drew Brazil this year, which suddenly made it considerably more enjoyable). I do this, because England’s semi-final loss against West Germany in Italia ’90 was one of the formative moments of my childhood.

For a start, the England team that year had a great song. As we’ve already established (see: ‘Anfield Rap‘), I was a sucker for a good song. World In Motion remains, in my view, the best football song of all time (I mean, I like Three Lions, but it hasn’t got ‘Arrividerci’ in it).

Exhibit A

It also had a great mascot. (Exhibit A). The mascot was basically a load of Tetris bricks with a football for a head. I was, at the time, desperate to own a Gameboy. I was hooked. (I have also literally JUST realised these bricks formed the component parts of the Italian flag. Oh the shame).

To tell you the truth, I can remember nothing of the group stages. Wikipedia tells me that England topped the group with one win (against Egypt) and two draws (Ireland and the Netherlands), so I imagine things weren’t looking hopeful. Apparently it took extra time to get past Belgium with a one-nil win in the last sixteen, so maybe the rose tinted glasses through which I see this tournament have much to do with the fact that I didn’t actually watch any of it until the quarter final against Cameroon. 

I say ‘watched it’. I didn’t, in fact, watch the quarter final.  Mum and dad had chosen the day of England’s world cup quarter final to go and visit some family friends who lived about a 90 minute drive away in Surrey. As an nine year old, I remember thinking it odd that my normally sociable older brothers, then 17 and 19, didn’t come with us. As we got in the car to come home, dad put the radio on, and I realised why…

There’s a quote in the film, The History Boys, that I’m rather fond of. Daykin is talking to Mr Irwin about moments when history ‘rattles over the points’ – and small, seemingly insignificant factors from the past turn out to have had massive impact on the present (‘If Halifax had had better teeth, we might’ve lost the war’). England’s game against Cameroon went to extra time, and I might’ve made it back to watch my hero Lineker’s penalty put England through to a World Cup semi-final for the first (and so far only) time in my life, had we not had to stop on the way home so I could be car-sick into a window cleaner’s bucket outside the Happy Eater at Broadbridge Heath.

And so that semi-final, that pivotal moment, that game which taught me so much about hope, and disappointment, was the first and only game of the entire tournament that I saw live.

I could recount every moment of that game. Tell you about the flag I made, about how many times I replayed West Germany’s first goal in my head, about how much I loved Gary Lineker when he scored that equaliser in the 80th minute. But all you really need to know is that after extra time and penalties, when not even the genius that was Peter Shilton could save us, I went to the downstairs toilet, locked the door, and cried my eyes out.

At that moment, I needed to be alone. Because in a house full of people, I was the only one who had really thought we were going to do it. I was too young to be cynical. Hadn’t yet learned to expect disappointment. I had hope. Real hope. With a tinge of expectation. Based on nothing more scientific than childish optimism and a cheesy song by New Order.

So yes, England have finished the group stage with one point. Yes, they were rubbish. But if you’ve got small people in your life, remember that learning to deal with disappointment is nowhere near as important as learning the value of hope.

Chin up. It’s only four years to the next one.


Socks are the future

Unless I was dreaming, this morning I saw an item on BBC Breakfast  about socks. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t dreaming, because I saw the same item about three times (I’m on a course this week and my morning timing is completely shot), but I can’t find any evidence of it anywhere online now apart from on the Daily Mail website.

Clearly, I have morals, taste and integrity, so I’m not going to link you to the Daily Mail website. If you really want to read the original article, let me google that for you.

The gist of the item, which featured an interview with an eager looking man, who may or may not have been blessed with a splendid beard and eyebrows to match (in my head he is, but I might have made that up) was that not wearing shoes in the classroom helps children learn. Apparently it makes them more relaxed and ‘it’s very hard to bully anyone when you’re not wearing shoes’.

Now, if I’m honest, I think that anyone with that attitude can’t possibly have been anywhere near the internet (much less the Daily Mail website), a place awash with faceless, argumentative, numpties who it must be assumed spend large parts of their day sitting in tracksuit bottoms looking for things online that they can vehemently disagree with. I can’t imagine many of these people are capable of dealing with velcro, let alone shoelaces, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion.

Leaving aside this, and the obvious practicalities about fire drills and the point at which sharing a room with 20 odd shoeless, hormonal teenage boys becomes hazardous to health, I think this is a stroke of pure genius. It started me wondering what other activities could be improved by the absence of footwear…

1. Weddings.

When you’re about seven, there’s a well known window of opportunity at any wedding. It’s after the speeches, when the lights have gone down, and your parents have had just enough free table wine to stop noticing exactly what you’re doing, and before they’ve had so much that the lure of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘YMCA’ becomes irresistible.

You’re over-dressed (come on, you’re seven, wearing ANYTHING feels like being over-dressed), probably a bit sweaty, and high on fizzy drinks and whatever confectionary you were bribed with to stay quiet during the service.

The dancefloor beckons, polished, shiny, and oh so slippery. You kick off your shoes (they’re probably new, so pleading blisters is absolutely feasible), edge away from your parents’ table (aim for the table full of inebriated friends of the groom, they’ll enjoy this) get a good run up, and…

You get the picture.

Weddings would be so much better without shoes. Then we could all join in.

2. Supermarket shopping

To put this into context, my nearest supermarket is a large Asda with a massive catchment area. I rarely go in if I can help it (the slogan for their click and collect service should be ‘Asda prices without the Asda people’).  It’s always full of people with no spatial awareness whatsoever. That’s really all I can say about the clientele without being rude.

If, at the door, you were made to remove your shoes (possibly checking them in at some sort of kiosk, like when you go bowling), the whole thing would be much more civilised. People would be more careful with their trollies, because you’d be able to exact a retribution much more painful than a tut and a disapproving look. Supermarkets would be cleaner, quieter, and, on reflection, breeding grounds for verrucas and athlete’s foot.

Might need to rethink that one.

3: Televised sport

Admittedly I’m mainly thinking about football here, where the amount of pointless rolling around on the floor every time an opposing player so much as breathes in the same direction is, frankly, an embarrassment, but imagine the fun you could have with other sports. Professional basketball in socks would be a much more challenging endeavour, and there would be scope for the addition of many more Olympic events (see ‘Weddings’, above).

4. Job interviews

Take a look at the guy in the picture above. What are you thinking?* Me too. You can tell a lot about someone from their socks.

Imagine how much more effective job interviews would be if everyone took their shoes off. We could just walk in, do a quick sock comparison, realise that my George at Asda, £2.99 for 5 (with the days of the week on them) are never going to be compatible with your Joseph Turner, 89% wool, £16.99 a pair argyles, and save ourselves the bother.

5. Work in general

I’m probably not the best judge, because I will readily admit that my ideal job would be one where trousers are optional, but if it works for primary school children, why wouldn’t it work for adults? I mean obviously, if you’re a bricklayer or something, it’s not very practical. But I basically sit at a desk all day, with the occasional pause to secure more tea, more cake, or deal with the obvious after effects of the aforementioned tea. All of which I could happily (and safely) do in my socks. Except maybe for the last one. Although I’m sure providing those little blue overshoes that they sometimes make you wear at swimming pools would work in such unpleasant situations.

Right. Who do I need to write to to make this happen?



*If you’re thinking, ‘he looks a bit like someone I know’, then we probably used to work together, and I was thinking the same thing.