Category: Wellbeing

Turning 27: Lessons so far

Credit: Tyler Mullins via Unsplash

Saturday 4th June, 2016

I looked into the mirror this morning and I was 27. Twenty-seven. Though I look no different from yesterday, and not even so different from 5 years ago (I’ve pretty much had the same face since I was a toddler – blessing/curse?), there has been a lot of growth and learning in my twenties.

I thought I’d write a list of 27 things I’d share with my younger self (there are hundreds of them – these are the ones that first came to me sitting here after a long day at around 11pm), and to other “younger selves”. Here are some of those most significant breakthroughs/lessons learned in the last 1-3 years:

1. Love is really important

From parents, siblings, family and friends. It’s such a basic need and transcends pretty much everything else. As The School of Life tells us, “next time you see a guy driving by in a Ferrari, don’t think it’s someone unusually greedy, think it’s someone with a particularly intense vulnerability and need for love.”

“It’s said that we live in materialistic times, but it’s more poignant than that. We live in times where emotional rewards have been pegged to the acquisition of material things.” — The School of Life: Status Anxiety

2. Self-acceptance is really, really important

We all have flaws, imperfections, things about us we’d like to change – usually because we’re so damn intent on comparing ourselves to others and dwell on the negatives and what we don’t have, in comparison to having working limbs, a nice smile, etcetera. But self-acceptance is more than just the physical, but also about our personal characteristics and perceived “flaws”. Again, work in making positive changes, but focus on your strengths and the good stuff too.

3. Quality over quantity when it comes to relationships
At school, I used to wish I was less geeky and more popular and better with the opposite sex. Over a decade later and the same can often apply. With the media (celebrity), social media (“friends”, “followers”, etc) it’s so easy to believe that having the most friends, the most connections, the biggest network is what it’s all about. And despite writing this, I keep getting fooled into thinking that’s the case. Until I have a great evening with a small group of friends (e.g. my Monthly Mastermind group), or an amazing 1-on-1 conversation with someone, or, like today, a really nice family day out.

I’ve come to realise that there’s no harm in knowing lots of people (in fact it has all sorts of benefits having a diverse group of relationships), but fewer, stronger social relationships are far more fulfilling, and better for wellbeing (and less overwhelming to manage – especially as an introvert!).

4. There are many different types of intelligence (with schools/educational institutions only focusing on 1 or 2 forms at best; there are many more)

5. Being different beats being dull/boring/“normal” (whatever “normal” even means!)
It’s the “different” ones which stand out, whose weirdness causes them to see things from a different point of view, and perhaps even inspires them to change the world.

6. No one has their sh*t totally together or life figured out
I used to think that there was a magic age at which you became adult/grown-up and just had everything figured out, job, kids, where you lived, everything. No one has it all sussed, and often just has to go through with it and deal with it as best as they can, no matter what it might seem like on the surface. This is both extremely reassuring and terribly frightening at the same time.

7. We all need to open up more … or be given the platform to do so (once given “permission”, it’s amazing how open we are)
Mental-health wise – we all go through really sh*t, terrible periods. And that’s whether we have/are diagnosed with mental health conditions or not. This is what I loved about Positive Psychology, and (partly) why I quit my job to do a year-long Masters in the subject.

8. The quarter-life crisis is a thing
For some reason, a whole bunch of us in our 20s and 30s have gone through/are going through it. Lots of debt, being told we could be anything we want to be, having high expectations, expecting a family, job and mortgage by our early-mid twenties like our parents/the generation before us, an increasing desire to do work that we care about, lack of jobs due to the economy/the generation before us living for longer/retiring later…. Whatever the reasons, it’s happening, and it almost has been silently for lots of us. I felt like an anomaly when I had my own, which culminated in quitting my job, beginning a Masters, and using that year for self-exploration. It’d have been nice to have known I wasn’t “alone” when doing that, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to connect with so many likeminded people. It turns out they were there all along.

9. There are so many more career options that I knew of back at school (and they are becoming more common too)
Unfortunately, the “careers advice” of today is generally stuck in the dark ages.

10. Even introverts need interaction!
Again, social relationships – high-quality and close – are so important for our wellbeing.(PS. Discovering I was an introvert in the first place was a significant breakthrough — thanks to Susan Cain — it’s all about where you get your energy from, not how shy/outgoing you are).

11. Growth really does happen outside the comfort zone
As cliched as that sounds. Feeling the fear and doing it not feels really satisfying afterwards (short term benefits), but also leads to personal growth (medium-long term benefits)

12. Career transitions are scary but exciting at the same time
There’s no right answer. Both frustrating and beautiful at the same time.

13. Your 20s really should be about exploring and experimenting
You can’t be expected to commit to a job/career when you’ve got no sense of what “working” is like; and you don’t know what you enjoy until you’ve tried it (and like it/discount it). On another note, I think it’s incredibly risky to choose a career path where you’re investing a lot of time/money up front to get there – especially given the world we live in today and all of the options available.

14. In the 21st century, we no longer have to choose
A job isn’t a job for life, and it’s predicted many of us will have several jobs even at one time (freelance economy)

15. Some (many) of us are naturally generalists/multipotentialites/scanners, rather than specialists.
Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk and blog have been eye-opening.

16. Money determines happiness/wellbeing only up to a certain extent, however…

17. Money does buy happiness…
In the way that it affords freedom from stress about paying bills/mortgage/etc (and a bit left over to spend on the right things is good too). As Gretchen Rubin says, “Well, money can’t buy happiness, but it sure can buy lots of things that contribute mightily to happiness”. The Money vs Happiness relationship is certainly a complicated one.

18. Money is better spent on experiences rather than things
Event better, on shared experiences with the people who matter most. (You look forward to it, dwell on it afterwards, and it has the double effect of combining the “social relationships” element – so lots of good for your wellbeing/happiness)

19. Minimalism is really interesting and probably good for us
And there are plenty of millionaires (and even 1 or 2 billionaires) who opt for a simpler, less-materialistic life and seem far happier for it. (Less paradox of choice when it comes to your wardrobe, and your life in general, too; hence the reason Steve Jobs wore the same jeans & turtle-neck sweater every day).

20. The pursuit of more and more stuff, in isolation, is empty.
We get used to those shoes, that car, that house, and need bigger and better. And then the same again. It’s a never-ending pursuit. Stuff like the richkidsofinstagram page is utter crap and damaging for impressionable young minds. Richard Layard writes about that, and even George Lucas has spoken about it – referring to “pursuing pleasure over joy” (from 8:10 in this short video).

21. “Work hard, play hard” doesn’t have to be the way
It connotes doing work you don’t particularly enjoy/put up with, only to drink heavily at the weekend as an escape. Better just to “live well” all the way through (doing “work” you enjoy, so you don’t necessarily have to “play hard” away from work)

22. In the western world, the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is becoming more important
Probably as we are more materially abundant than ever before, thus the bottom layers are sufficiently met, but leaving us increasingly deprived of the upper layers.

23. “You are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with”
A famous quote by Jim Rohn, which also happened to be one of Scott Dinsmore’s all-time favourites. Find your tribe. Consciously choose who you want to be with. (It takes self-awareness and understanding to first know who you are, and then find similar people with the same values, beliefs, mindset, etcetera; I’ve only really started doing this in the last year. Before that, I used to hang around with mostly anyone who came my way, whoever I worked with, whoever was in my class/group, etcetera).

24. “Keeping up with the Joneses doesn’t do us any good”
Economist Richard Layard said something along those lines in his book. We compare ourselves with our peer group, and our intrinsic self-worth gets defined by what we “do” for a living, and what our status/earnings are with others around us. Being aware of this can make us be more mindful/accepting/realising of how these things don’t matter so much in the grand scheme of things, and we mustn’t let them take over our life/self-worth! Otherwise it keeps us from living how we want, doing the work we love, and even staying stuck and earning (and spending!) more than we really need to.

25. Societal/cultural/parental/school/external/all expectations can be felt MASSIVELY, but…
That’s all they are, expectations. Live life how you want to live it, and not defined by others. Easier said than done.

26. We’re all human beings and we really aren’t so different from one another.
Some of us are male, some female, some younger, some older, some western, some eastern, some business owners, some teachers, some short, some tall and yet… fundamentally we’re all the same and have the same needs. e.g. love, belonging, social relationships, purpose/meaning and so forth.

27. The best is yet to come
Life tends to get more beautiful the longer it goes on as you grow and develop as a person. At least it has for me, and long may that continue…

young me
This post also featured on Medium.

The best way to start your day

I went to an early morning rave yesterday. MorningGloryVille is really good fun. Highly recommended.

What that meant was, for the first time in a long time, I got an early train with commuters to Waterloo, before continuing onward to Bank and then Bethnal Green, before the short walk from there to Oval Space. This meant lots of people in suits reading, scrolling or sleeping. And it also meant 4 minutes of Waterloo & City-line bliss (I’m being sarcastic, obviously).

Trains are a funny place in the morning. Aside from the snoozers inevitably catching up on sleep, perhaps still catching up on sleep-debt from the busy bank holiday weekend, the vast majority of people are either reading the Metro Newspaper or scrolling on their phones – most of the time reading news or on Facebook.

Now I’m not going to judge – partly because I used to do exactly the same thing. On my morning commute, I used to devour the Metro cover-to-cover (especially looking forward to what Justin Bieber et all had been up to in the “Guilty Pleasures” section), or used to read BBC news or social-media-scroll.

In the last few months I’ve made some changes. Firstly, I’ve decided to consciously decide upon what I put into my brain – especially so at the start of the day. Is reading about the ills of the world really the best idea? Will it really make that miserable commute better – or more miserable? Don’t get me wrong – ignorance is not the answer, and it’s a good idea to generally be aware of what’s happening in the world – but do we really need to be bombarded with it constantly? Through the newspapers, through the news itself, through our mobile phones?

I initially had this unjustified fear that I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on and I would be caught out and embarrassed in a social context. This hasn’t happened for 2 main reasons:

1. At the weekend, I’ll flick through The Times
2. Through snippets on the TV/snippets of conversation/etc. it is pretty difficult not to have a general gist of what’s going on in the world!

If you simply have to know what’s going on, why not try Positive News instead? Shining a much-needed light on the good that’s happening in the world…

Second, comes the mindless Facebook-scrolling. Whilst my FB consumption has now reduced and is more controlled, Twitter has become my latest social-media-platform-I-really-need-to-manage. In today’s busy world, we are being bombarded more than ever before, and not just in the physical world, but in the digital world too. This information overload is such that we can’t properly process it nor are yet aware of its effects… one thing I know for sure, it’s a good idea to A) Limit what’s going in and B) Consciously decide what’s going in rather than being fed it!

Again – do I really need to know what’s happening (through a curated lens) in other people’s lives? There’s evidence to suggest that the more we spend on Facebook, the worse we feel. I can relate to this! There’s so much going on, and quite often you feel terrible that you’re not partying on that rooftop or standing atop that mountain (bizarrely, even if you don’t even particularly like rooftops or mountains!). Social media does have its uses and its advantages, but too much of it can be detrimental. (PS. whatever happened to making phone calls and meeting people? I’m trying to get better at this myself – and take more of a “quality over quantity” approach when it comes to my social relationships).

So, I guess I would question whether in the morning:

A) News bombardment is a good idea
B) Social media / general mindless scrolling is a good idea

Read some positive news instead :) Or do some exercise. Read a book. Write.

Oh – and once in a while – you really need to try a sober rave. You’re likely to be on a nice buzzy high for the rest of the day. Try it!

Credit: Heiyeuiu via Pixabay

The School of Life on “How to Find Meaningful Work”

“Our interests don’t manifest themselves spontaneously. They require us to patiently analyze ourselves and try out a range of options to see what feels as if it might have the best fit for us. But unfortunately, schools and universities, as well as society at large, doesn’t place must emphasis on this stage of education – on helping people to understand their authentic working identities. There’s far more emphasis on simply getting ready for any job, than a job that would be particularly well-suited to us.

Which is a pity – not just for individuals, but for the economy as a whole – because people will always work better, harder and more fruitfully when their deep selves are engaged.

-Alain de Botton, Philosopher & Creator @ The School of Life

Full Video:

Forget Networking. Start Kindworking.

I read this article yesterday which really resonated with me.

If you are just unashamedly nice, warm, human with others, whether they’re a friend you sit down with for a coffee, a stranger on the train, someone in a professional context you meet for a coffee one-off…even if you don’t physically meet them, but rather are nice to them online, send them a positive message/tweet/FB message, connect them with someone likeminded, point them in direction of something they might like, help them in some way, but here’s the catch…without expecting anything back in return.

If you do that consistently and for long enough (sometimes just a few weeks/months), the universe will conspire in your favour, and this niceness and help you gave will be sent back in your direction – either from the person you were nice to, or from another person entirely.

As Tony Hsieh wrote in Delivering Happiness, he found that it took about 2-3 years before a nice/helpful act towards someone paid itself back in some way in the future, via them.

It costs nothing to be nice. And yet it often proves to be extremely valuable later on. And even if it doesn’t, being nice and helping others is good for the other people, and also good for you. Wellbeing boosts for both. Win, Win.

Forget networking. Start Kindworking. Kudos to a brilliant article by Laurence @ Happy Startup School.

“Meaningful” work

I have come to believe that there are 2 main was meaningful work can manifest itself (this is quite a simplistic summary, but these are the main ones):

  1. Working for a business whose mission and values match yours (and ideally those of the employees/your colleagues do too)
  2. Creating a business around something that you care about

I have also come to believe that, in order to find meaning, purpose, fulfilment, etc. in our work, we must somehow be able to feel the way in which we are helping others.

As I have heard before, perhaps the best question to ask young people rather than “what do you want to do?” is “In what way do you wish to help others?”

(We also need a new word for “work” – its connotations aren’t always great and have come to mean something along the lines of “a necessary chore to do for ‘x’ hours each day to pay for mortgages and holidays to help us get away from the chore, and which will after years and years of it lead to a lovely payout at the end and a retirement full of joy.” – that sentence is incorrect on many levels!).

Of course, doing work that you care about in some way will do wonders for your wellbeing.

My last MAPP weekend & new beginnings

This weekend was the last university weekend for my MAPP (Masters in Applied Positive Psychology course). Another strange weekend as lectures were merely a half-day on Sunday as it turned out, though I also spent Friday evening and half of Saturday in East London with my classmates.

The weather was terrific and we had a really great time. When I first met UEL and Bucks universities (the 2 closest, geographically, to where I live – and only 2 of 5 in the whole of the UK currently offering the course), the latter had told me that the course was often transformational for all, and often led to some form of career change.

As I had been transitioning already before the course had become, and there were various other things I was involved with which were playing a role in my own change, perhaps I’d forgotten what the effect on others the course would have. It’s been great to see many others slowly transitioning to more meaningful work, reducing their hours at their workplaces, as many of them are starting to build up a coaching practice / workshops alongside, to hopefully generate enough revenue to transition fully.

Much of our identities get so wrapped up in the work that we do. It really does take a look of mental toughness and courage to take steps to move away towards something you care about. There are lots of tricky aspects to this move, but one that stands out is that one has to embrace uncertainty, to do things without knowing where they’ll lead, to take action and have trust in the whole process or the universe itself… so many times I’ve seen individuals do this and, even if things haven’t turned out the way they thought they would, it has moved them in a better direction and towards a better life, work they better enjoy, and overall better wellbeing.

That trust in the process is a tricky, tricky thing. Surrounding yourselves with others who hold the same values and are going through the same process will also help. (See also: my post on Communities).

Communities: There’s magic in them


This post also featured on Medium.

There’s something wonderfully magical about communities. I’ve been harping on about this fact for a while now, bending various ears in the process (apologies if yours are recovering!), so I thought it’s about time I wrote a post about them.

Hmm where to start.

So a couple of odd decades ago, the UK — and the world at large — was a very different place. Technology, globalisation and other big trends have changed things, a lot.

For example, one thing more typical to see in 1960 was this: more went to church service on a Sunday. Whether you’re into religion or not (that’s not my point here), this was a good thing. People came together in their communities every week, in unity, for a single purpose. There was social support, a feeling of belonging, sense of self worth and a temporary loss of sense of self… this did wonders for everyone’s wellbeing.

On describing his transformative experience where he went to a massive rave for his 26th birthday, Tony Hsieh (in Delivering Happiness) describes how:

“The entire room felt like one massive, united tribe of thousands of people, and the DJ was the tribal leader of the group…Everyone in the warehouse had a shared purpose. We were all contributors to the collective rave experience.” (p.92-93)

He goes on to say:

“I didn’t know it at the time, but ten years later I would learn that research from the field of the science of happiness would confirmed that the combination of physical synchrony with other humans and being part of something bigger than oneself (and thus losing momentarily a sense of self) leads to a greater sense of happiness, and that the rave scene was simply the modern-day version of similar experiences that humans have been having for tens of thousands of years.”

Going back to 1960, I’ve heard stories of neighbours leaving their back doors open and wondering in and out as they pleased(!). Apparently, this was quite commonplace. A huge sense of trust (again, a reason why wellbeing in the western world has flatlined/fallen since then), and also the signs of a close-knit community.

Over the last 12 months in particular, I have grown in many ways (though not height — I seem to have stagnated an inch or so below the coveted 6-foot mark, annoyingly), and much of this has been down to the communities I have been fortunate to have been part of.

Whether it’s going through a career change (Escape The City) or talking about mental health and happiness (Action For Happiness; my Masters cohort), setting up a purpose-led business (Happy Startup School), or anything else for that matter — the “thing” which has brought you together doesn’t seem to matter so much as having an excuse to bring folks together, for real, authentic, high-quality, warm, open, social interaction.

And it would seem that this is a void that has, for many of us, whether we know it or it not, been missing.

Why? That’s a difficult one to answer, though I can hazard a guess at a couple of the determining factors:

– In the status/fame/money-driven world we live in, the pursuit of profits (above all else, and at the expense — ironically — of other things) seems to have gone into mega-drive. As a result we’ve naturally become more self-centred and individualistic, competing with one another at all costs. This feeling is felt particularly strongly in the “inner city” of London, and wears off a bit the further you go into the suburbs.

– London, and mostly places, are getting busier and busier. It sometimes feels that there are too many people to really harbour a sense of community. After all, we can only have meaningful relationships with a set number of people (this magic number always seems to be changing, though the general agreement is that such a number does exist). This also explains the “more dense population = more competition = greater individualism = lesser community / trust” equation, and vice versa (less dense population = less competition = less individualism = greater community/trust). Of course, the equation isn’t quite as simplistic as that, but this is a general trend seen in various (western) geographies.

It’s incredible when you venture onto a train outside of London and people actually talk. Seriously — mind-blowing. And amazing.

– Technology and social media — we text/Whatsapp/Facebook message one another all day long. We even have groups of family and friends that we dip into and out of. So we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re more connected. The reality is that we spend less time talking on the telephone, actually spending time in front of one another, in-person. And when we eventually do get around to doing the latter, we’re so glued to our screens — presumably because of everything we’re “missing out on” (hello FOMO) even during that treasured one-hour of quality time we’re spending with that friend or family member.

Economist and happiness expert Richard Layard (Happiness: Lessons from a New Science) describes how “family relationships” and “community and friends” are two of the Big 5 factors affecting our wellbeing. We need real-life, high-quality social relationships more so than we think. It is actually more detrimental to have lots and lots of acquaintances, with fleeting low-quality interactions, than it is just to have a couple of high-quality interactions. We need to stop trying to have everything at once as it’s clearly not the best way to go.

Crossfit is the latest fitness craze that has gone global. There’s a gym near me where member pay £165 a month. £165 a month! Why? I asked someone I know who goes and he spoke about the group-workouts, how everyone is in it together, how there’s a huge social element to it. I see AirBnB connecting people with one another, BlaBlaCar doing the same… in fact, isn’t the sharing economy doing just that? Connecting people, building trust, fostering high-quality interactions. Businesses everywhere — even the huge, gigantic ones — are trying to foster relationships with their customers, but also between them. After all, the best networks are the ones where there is cross-interaction and -collaboration within them, like this:



Communities are awesome. I would urge you to join at least one or two if you aren’t part of any in some way. (Though at one point I was probably part of too many communities, which was ironically lessening the quality of my interactions and friendships…which defeats the whole object! To start with, I’d probably dip into just one or two and take it from there.)

Here are some of the communities I’m aware of, some of which I’ve been part of and some of which I haven’t (for those I’ve not been involved with, I have done my research and they are certainly groups I’d recommend).

Escape The City
Happy Startup School
Action For Happiness
Live Your Legend
Sunday Assembly
Chaps Choir
Good Men Project
World Domination Summit
Rock Your Purpose Live (RYPL)

(There are literally hundreds upon hundreds more out there — in the form of clubs, groups, societies, gatherings; a community can take all sorts of forms, shapes and sizes).

Note: It isn’t the “collective purpose” of the community that matters as such. It’s the people that make the community what it is. The purpose is just the reason for the getting-together.

There is magic in communities – may they continue to thrive…


Mental health: Prevention is better than cure

“Prevention is better than cure” applies all of the time. (I’m not aware of any situations where this isn’t the case).

For example, when it comes to your teeth, you’re far better off looking after your teeth in the first place, treating them well, brushing them consistently, rather than having to fix the problems once they arise. Don’t get me wrong, the problems can be fixed, but your tooth will never be the same again once it has, say, developed a cavity. That cavity has to be filled, and the stuff with which it is filled isn’t tooth.

It’s the same case when it comes to mental health. First of all, we know about the issues with diagnosing mental health issues in the first place, with matters of the mind not being visible like, say, a broken bone. However, rather than take anti-depressants and other drugs in order to “fix” these issues once they arise, why don’t we just try to prevent in the first place, rather than cure? (And, indeed, even when we are trying to cure – make sure that we exhaust all other possibilities and avoid using these “band-aid” drugs in the first place – that’s what they are, a band-aid just to temporarily stem the bleeding. I know they have helped those suffering with mental health issues, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that they are merely temporarily stemming the flow, and not eradicating the problem at its root).

For example, take schools. Mental health issues are on the rise in youths, from young children through to late teens. Given the ever-increasing and ridiculous curriculum demands, added exam stress, added pressure, added expectations in the world we live in for all sorts of reasons, it is no surprise that these issues are on the rise.

So, several sensible things could be done here, for example*:

– Reduce the curriculum requirements; a lot of the time, the stuff that has to be learnt, and then regurgitated for the exams, is quite meaningless; I estimate I am using a tiny percentage of everything that I “learned” between the ages of 18 (and I was one of the studious ones, who actually enjoyed learning!)
– Encourage an art/drama/music/similar subject – it’s good for the mind, and it helps develop the holistic student
– Incorporate mindfulness, other forms of meditation, or simply just being “still” for a few minutes each day
– Go outside more! Experience nature
– Exercise, or do something active
– Eat better
– Sleep better
– Be part of a community, for social support and for the feeling that you are part of something beyond yourself
– Use your strengths, and focus on them, rather than your weaknesses
– Work on / learn / read something – entirely of your own volition
– And the list goes on…

In the youth world, of course cases will always vary dependent upon individual circumstances. However, the big root cause I see is curriculum and exam stress – prevalent everywhere and, I would argue, especially so in some of “top” state grammar and private schools, where expectations are particularly high and the environment feels hyper-competitive.

Until the root changes, I suspect we will always have the same issues, and mental health cases will continue to rise. Let us not forget that mental health is a spectrum. Let’s say everyone is somewhere on a scale between 1-100; even if we put aside those cases where mental health issues have been diagnosed (say, those who have a score between 1 and 30, let’s not forget the huge numbers who are a 40, or a 50, or even a 60 or a 70, who are still stressed out some (or a lot!) of the time and experiencing difficulties, and so can still move up the scale. None of us are a 100, and so mental wellbeing can always be improved, always cultivated.

Implementing practices like some of the ones above can drastically improve mental wellbeing, and help to control/negate the array of difficulties young people are now faced with each day.

*Interestingly – many of these practices are being researched and investigated in the field of Positive Psychology, and so there is now scientific evidence showing that these methods actually work!

My GP’s statement on mental health

I visited my GP yesterday for the first time in over 3 years. We exchanged pleasantries as we always do, and had a brief catch up. On finding out about what I’m studying my Masters in, he said something along the lines of:

“Psychology and mental health are very important. I think it accounts for about 50% of the patient cases here at the medical practice.”

What a profound statement to make. Though I was surprised at how high that percentage was, I wasn’t so surprised in the grand scheme of things.

Just adds more fuel to the fire dictating that we need to give mental health at least as much attention as we do to physical health and ailments.


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