Books I read in January

Last year I did a reading challenge. I wanted to hit 40 books read for the year and was recording my progress on Goodreads.

I promptly forgot to log anything on Goodreads for the entire year, tried to remember what I read throughout the year and hoped that I remembered everything.

I didn’t. I got mixed up with books that I read in 2016 so I have no idea how many books I read last year.

In 2020, I’ve realised that doesn’t matter at all. WHO CARES if someone has read a book a week for the entire year…

Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of time spent reading rather than the number of books read.

Using the number of books and a measuring metric encourages skimming, and picking shorter books to stay on track.

Trying to maximise the amount of time spent reading accomplishes the whole point of these reading challenges. To read more – without making you feel bad for being “slow” or “reading short books” or “lying about the number of books read”.

I’ve said my piece… onto the good stuff.

Books I read in January

January books

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts – Laura Tillman

An insightful read that has evidently been treated with the appropriate sensitivity required of a case like this. She managed to bring in the impact the case had on a small community through valuable interviews and research.

Unfortunately, overall, it wasn’t all that interesting.

When I finished the book, I genuinely felt that her talents were wasted on this case. She has the ability to navigate sensitive areas well but my goodness, the case, while gruesome, just failed to interest me. Pity.

The Girl Who Stole An Elephant – Nizrana Farook

A very enjoyable and easy read (and I was disappointed it was over!) The characters were a pleasure to know as their friendship grew during their journey.

Apparently, stealing an elephant will force you to become well acquainted.

I picked this up because I loved the cover and I’ve been enjoying children’s books a lot. This didn’t disappoint – though the ending was slightly rushed.

Ayoade On Top – Richard Ayoade

This was a short, enjoyable read about, yes, a film no one has seen. Including me. However, this has convinced me to fill the aeroplanecentric-comedy-hole in my heart.

Ayoade’s personality shines through every page and it’s wonderful that it isn’t just another biography.

I still haven’t watched the film yet though, so my opinions may change after the viewing…

The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

This book is a wonderful thriller and I haven’t read one of this sort in a while.

The main shortcoming is that it’s only in the second half of the book do we understand just how talented Mr Ripley is… And how much luck he has on his side.

But the ending was a masterclass in tension building. Brilliant!

Really enjoyed this read – mainly surprised I hadn’t read it sooner!

A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond

Everyone has heard of Paddington but I realised I had never read the books. Without a doubt, one of the most fun books I have ever read.

Paddington, a bear from the darkest Peru always gets himself into some kind of commotion but despite his best intentions. … But let’s not forget, he is a literal bear.

We can’t blame him for too much, can we?

Ladies and gentlemen, 2020 may have only just started but this may be my book of the year. I decided that, during lunch and my afternoon walk, I’d go to Waterstones, sit down and read a chapter.

The perfect cure to a bad day. I recently watched the film too – wonderful adaptation. I love Paddington, I love the Brown family, I love Mr Gruber, I love everything about Paddington Bear.


And that brings me to the end.

The number of books may be unsustainable for the year but I will do my best to maintain or increase the amount of time I spend reading.

It’s been incredible amounts of fun.

Socials:

Facebook – Improving Slowly

Twitter – Improving Slowly

4 Ways To Be Happy for Other People

It’s easy to feel bad about other people’s achievements. We compare ourselves to their personal position in life (as though life is a straight line with a finish!) and usually note the bad stuff.

“She’s got this wonderful job – I’m stuck here!”

“He’s in really good shape and I’ve just finished a burger and chips with plenty of regret on the side”

Whatever it is, it tends to follow the pattern of “they’ve done x, I haven’t done x so I suck”.

This kind of thinking pattern sucks out a lot of joy from every interaction.

Our joy becomes inauthentic, we dislike ourselves because of what someone else has done and the other person may feel guilty for sharing their happiness.

Instead, we can practice mudita or appreciative joy.

Here are four skills we can slowly develop to increase the amount of happiness we have for other people!

  1.  Empathy goes both ways

Empathy is usually spoken about in terms of making sense of another person’s suffering. We step into their shoes to experience the path they walk in order to treat them better in the future.

But really, empathy is a neutral term. It is:

The capacity to understand and share the feelings of others ~ google 2017

Meaning we can do the same for happiness as we can for sadness. And don’t worry, you’re not stealing happiness from them the same way you’re not taking sadness from someone by simply being empathetic.

It’s the result of the empathy which tells you whether you’ve been kind and helpful.

We can develop empathy in a variety of ways. For now, I’ll pass you onto the lovely book Empathy by Roman Krznaric

2. Start with those we do not have a complicated relationship with

Oddly enough, it’s those closest to us which may cause us the most sadness. The self-comparison is often that bit more intense.

But when we start with people our relationship isn’t too complicated with, we reduce the chances of feeling envious or frustrated because we see less of their lives (and have less to compare ourselves too).

So this can be a distant friend or an acquaintance. We take ourselves out of the equation and simply experience the happiness that comes from someone else’s joy.

When we start practising appreciative joy towards people who are closer to us, that feeling becomes more intense and valuable. We’re likely to understand just how much someone wanted that job or how hard they worked to achieve the results they did.

The extra context, instead of inspiring envy, intensifies the joy.

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Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

3. Keep your ego in check

Ego is the Enemy says Ryan Holiday and in many respects, I agree. Especially when it comes to being happy for other people.

When the feelings of jealousy and frustration arise due to someone else’s happiness, much of it can be attributed to our ego being starved for attention and jealousy is its way of taking it back.

It doesn’t care whether it brings sadness or happiness, all it wants is attention.

It’s incredibly difficult to be genuinely happy for another person and at the same time be completely self-absorbed.

So when you notice those feelings arise you can ask yourself: am I simply craving attention? The answer is likely “yes”. If it is, you can gently return you attention to the other person’s happiness.

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Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

4. Enjoy being happy

It may be tempting to think something along the lines of “I don’t deserve to be happy because someone else is happy!”

That’s just the comparison monster creeping in again. And it’s speaking complete tosh.

When do you deserve to be happy, then? When you’ve crushed everyone around you with your unwavering financial success? When everyone in the world is happy for you and you’re too cool to smile and say thanks?

Forget about whether you deserve to be happy by rejoicing in someone else’s joy.

What you’re doing is a lovely act of compassion. You’re allowing yourself to calm the feelings of envy and you’re directing even more happiness and pride in someone else’s path.

How wonderful is that?

And that is appreciative joy. A remarkably simple practice but one which brings plenty of happiness to everyone who experiences it.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Who are you happy for? 

Comment down below :)

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Will I be OK? – Accepting and running away

I’ve maintained a journal for over three years.

Every day I sit down and write something. Usually about my day, a topic that’s interested me or thinking about how I’m feeling. The main topic tends to be about pain because I tend to write these words late in the day when my energy is low and my pain is high.

A theme that continuously appears in my journal is this: Will I be OK?


I’ve noticed that being in continuous pain and face to face with my bodily limitations on a day to day basis feels like a personal failure.

I wasn’t the one who caused this pain nor was I the person who asked for it. Yet, being in pain and lying in bed for hours or struggling through work feels like I’m doing something wrong and it feels like I am staring failure right in the face when I think about how I am in the present moment.

I’m exhausted even though I’ve barely left my room. I’m sad even though there are many reasons to be happy. I’m disappointed even though I’ve reached difficult goals in the past (like completing a Masters degree).

So, when I’m in pain, I feel as though I am also experiencing failure however irrational that might be. Perhaps you feel the same way.

Despite the belief that I’m “failing”, why do I still believe I’ll be OK? How do I know I’ll be OK?

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Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash

What does it mean to be OK?

Maybe a strange question but it deserves some attention. Generally, it’s defined as something that is simply acceptable. Perhaps not good but not bad either.

We say it to our friends all the time:

“Don’t worry, you’ll be OK, alright?”

“We’ll be fine, we’ll make it through”

“You’ll survive this tough patch”

Should a life of pain be “simply acceptable”? Is it simply acceptable?

There isn’t much to like about chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean that living a “simply acceptable” or even good life is impossible despite the challenges.

Experiences in life and relationships with others are thankfully a bit more complicated than the following argument:

  1. Life with chronic pain is bad
  2. I have chronic pain
  3. Therefore, I have a bad life.

There are many other people, experiences, relationships, gifts and so on to find richness in. To “be OK” is a reasonably personal definition because only you know what you find acceptable or which areas of your life are worse than others.

We can be OK in some places, worse in others. Upon reflection, we build an overall idea of whether we’re OK.

Engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult.

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I don’t know

Let’s look at it differently.

Perhaps I don’t know at all. Perhaps any time I say to myself or to my friends “you’ll be OK” is simply a leap of faith.

Perhaps I won’t be OK.

When faced with uncertainty, could it be best to believe it because it’s the most helpful option? Admitting we don’t know if we’ll be OK doesn’t mean we should definitely believe we won’t be.

Instead we believe it anyway because it helps inspire action that will help us walk in the right direction.

It reminds us that engaging with difficult emotions is simply that. Difficult. It is unlikely to be life threatening and can help us in the long-term with a healthy approach to addressing emotions we usually avoid.

Reminding myself that I’ll be OK started off as a near meaningless chant that I simply really wanted to be true.

Only telling yourself that you’ll be OK isn’t how to begin to believe it. It comes from slowly working through emotions and trying to address them any time they come in.

Anger, frustration and sadness are akin to unwelcome visitors. It is best we welcome them in and let them leave on their own.

Otherwise they’ll pick the lock and let themselves in.

Will I be OK?

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This doesn’t have much to do with the post. But I like it. Photo by Ricky Kharawala on Unsplash

And we’re back to the main question and my answer is this: maybe I will be. Maybe I’ll be good or even brilliant!

But that starts with slowly and softly giving ourselves a way to address and accept our difficult emotions instead of running from them. This way, when they come up in the future, we have practiced and know how to handle them.

We can start with a few things:

  1. Give ourselves a place to be vulnerable

Sometimes, everything just becomes overwhelming. And you know what? That’s fine. Having a physical place we can relax and simply experience our emotions is useful.

For me, it’s lying in bed or the yoga mat. For others, it can be a park they know they’ll have privacy.

Whatever it is, it’s a place for honesty. Over time, it may even become a place of strength. A place where you can say to yourself “I’m not running from this”.

2. Let the fear pass

The fear of the negative emotions approaching can be just as bad as the experience you’re hoping to avoid.

It can be difficult to notice but with some mindfulness training, it becomes easier. You may find that your body becomes tense or you crave junk food (not personal experience…).

But the fear won’t bite. We just sit and focus on something small. With time, the fear will subside and we will have the focus to engage with the tough emotions.

Like many skills, emotional acceptance is one to be developed through practice. We may not know we’ll be OK (whatever that means to us) but sometimes it’s helpful to believe that we will be.

Then, with time and practice we can answer the question of “Will I be OK?” meaningfully. Maybe we’ll accept that we do not know the answer.

Will I be OK? Perhaps.

Will you be OK? I definitely hope so.

Whatever it is, let us appreciate that we’re developing the skills to help ourselves along when times are difficult.


As always, thank you for reading!

My question for you is:

Do you have a sacred place to be vulnerable? 

You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for more updates!

If you liked this post, share it with others!

 

 

Pigeons

I was waiting from my train after my mentoring session and saw two pigeons. I assumed they were just completing part of their daily routine.Walk around and look for food, fly around and look at a few sights, poop on people going to important interviews for good luck and entertain small children by flying away.

I saw them picking at two of bread crusts on the floor. They both seemed pretty enthusiastic so they must have been hungry.

Of the two pigeons, one was more aggressive than the other. Similar to David and Goliath but they were pigeons and David has no chance of winning the battle at all. I’ll call the dominant pigeon Goliath and the more submissive one, David.

Goliath had the bigger piece while David ate the smaller piece. Oddly enough, I smiled a lot at this fact even though it was bound to happen because pigeons aren’t known for their sharing.

However, something that struck me as more interesting was that they both had the same problems. David and Goliath both failed to keep control of their food. Every bite they took resulted in the food flying in the air for a brief second as they lifted their head to swallow the bread. Then they would walk around, nodding their heads, to find the piece of bread.

Goliath finished his food first and stole David’s piece. It looked like an armed robbery but that wouldn’t describe the power imbalance. David accepted his fate. He walked away, nodding his head, and began picking at smaller crumbs on the floor. He looked slightly dejected but the other pigeon didn’t care. He was clearly enjoying his food too much.

My train came and they started walking in opposite directions. Were they scared of being seen together? Possibly. I didn’t see them together after that. Goliath actually flew away to increase the distance between them. Perhaps it was a mistake to think they bonded over those two pieces of bread.

After all of that, I looked at my watch and saw that whole experience was only 5 minutes . I was one of two people at the train station but the only one laughing at pigeons eating food. The person next to me may have thought I was odd but that didn’t matter.

I was entertained by pigeons and that’s ok.

They enjoyed their food and I enjoyed my wait for the train.

Why am I writing about pigeons?

It was a very simple moment and allowed me to appreciate the beauty of living in the present.

A lot of small and surprisingly interesting things happen when you just observe your surroundings. If I battled the boredom-induced anxiety with my phone, I would have missed this! The David and Goliath of pigeons! Who would want to miss that? No one? Perfect answer.

Try living in the present sometime. It can be very relaxing.