I wrote last week about figuring out what makes you feel better and doing more of it ( link here ). That post focused on Christmas and, in particular, starting to get into the festive spirit whenever you like, though writing it got me thinking about other things in life which make me feel better. Parts of my life that always make me feel comfortable, safe and warm, rather than anxious, on-edge and self-critical. So, this post is essentially a summary of that. It may be a little self-indulgent, and it may resonate with absolutely no-one but me, though I hope it can prompt you to think of the elements of your life which invariably make you feel better. Quite often, it’s the simple things…
I love heart-warming TV. TV shows that give me a warm, fuzzy glow inside. Shows that remind me of the good in people. Shows such as DIY SOS (I’m not ashamed to admit I shed a tear at the end of most episodes). Love Your Garden, The Repair Shop, and The Pride of Britain awards. This is what I consider to be comfort blanket television. Shows that always remind me that when we look beyond the constant barrage of negative news, there is a lot of good in this world.
Family TV shows:
This does not necessarily mean family-friendly shows! My daughter is 15 now and we watch a lot of TV which certainly isn’t suitable for primary-age children. In saying family TV shows, I’m referring to those programmes which the 3 of us always watch together. Shows such as Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (which is perfect television as far as I’m concerned), Gogglebox, The Great British Bake Off, The Apprentice, First Dates, and Derry Girls (though the latter is more a pleasure for me and my daughter – I don’t think my wife is fully bought into it…). These are the shows which have my daughter fetching her duvet downstairs just before the start and we snuggle up together to watch. My daughter is 15 now and I know I won’t have these opportunities for too much longer so in addition to enjoying the shows, I appreciate every single minute of being able to do this.
Listening to music:
Regular readers will know how important music is to me. It brings me pleasure, comfort and joy on a daily basis, without fail. Genuinely every single day of my life. Whether it’s constantly having music playing at home or singing songs at sonic volume levels in the car, music is as essential to me as food, sleep and the air that we breathe.
I’m sure most of us have favourite bands or artists who bring sheer joy to our lives. For me, at the moment, it’s a band called The Lottery Winners. Followers of my personal page on Facebook will already know this, and I’m not being biased because they were formed in a town very close to where I live, but they bring absolute joy to my life. In preparing for this post, I remembered some sleeve notes which Matt Lucas wrote for the album The Best of the Proclaimers. They really resonated with me and I’ve taken the liberty of copying some of them here as they are wonderful words:
If the words I am about to write turn out to be faltering, if I am inarticulate or if the prose is littered with gushing hyperbole, superlatives colliding with clichés, and the end result nonsensical, then forgive me. It’s just that I find it hard to put into words quite how the music of The Proclaimers makes me feel. I’ll have a go…
It makes me laugh. It makes me cry. It just makes me feel generally euphoric. It moves me – physically – to dance around the room, into furniture, so that I trip and hang my head on the stereo. It makes me sing without reserve at the top of my voice, in my best Scottish accent. It makes me drum with my bare hands on the table, loudly.
This is soul. Craig and Charlie Reid’s music may not sound like anything else you ever heard but it does evoke the same feeling you get when you hear Dexys or Ian Dury or The Housemartins. There is the same immediacy, the same sense of commitment, the same refusal to compromise and the same identification with the material so that the performance and the material becomes one. And like the aforementioned, there is great wit and intelligence. Craig and Charlie’s lyrics are frequently emotional, often unashamedly sentimental. Other times their words are as dry and pithy as their melodies are simply divine. They write with unabashed honesty and understated eloquence about what they know best – life, death, love, sex, marriage, parents, kids, football, politics, alcohol and Scotland – and leave the rest, quite happily, to everyone else.
I was going to attempt to find my own words to express just what the music of The Lottery Winners means to me but why bother when this example does that so eloquently and accurately? Remove the Scottish references and this is exactly what their music does for me. It’s joyous, life-affirming, and hugely appreciated. Their songs lift me on difficult days and make my heart sing even more on good days. In addition to that, I listen to their song Open Letter to Creatives ( link to the video here ) every single day. Written in the midst of the Covid pandemic, this gives me the daily shot of positivity and inspiration I so desperately need. They are a brilliant band: hugely talented, amazing songs, down-to-earth & humble, and hugely likeable. If there is any justice in the world, they should be at the top of the charts and selling out arenas – I’m sure they will before too long.
I’m conscious that this might sound odd to some though I hope not and doubt it. We all have our favourite artists. Other than family and friends, does anything truly resonate with us more in life than music?
It has been scientifically proven that getting outside, getting active (even if only mildly so) and connecting with nature to some degree is hugely beneficial. That is especially true for me. I love to get out with my beloved Rosie – a feisty Jack Russell Terrier – early in the morning, when the day is breaking and my favourite locations are quiet. As I’ve written about in previous blogs, this is the one situation when I somehow manage to truly switch off and appreciate the beauty around us. Sometimes I listen to music or a podcast, other times I leave the earbuds at home, but either way, this is as close to a meditative state as I get. I also really appreciate walking with friends. I now get to do this frequently – usually once a week – and it is calming, beneficial and hugely enjoyable. We chew the fat on life in general – our friends and family, priorities, enjoying the simple things in life, music, film, television, books, politics – whatever comes to mind really and the hour or two we spend doing this just flies by. It really is invaluable to me.
Laughing in the house:
A simple yet hugely important part of my days. Life can be tough and can easily get us down. I’m particularly mindful of the struggles my daughter is currently experiencing, particularly as she’s in her final year of secondary school and her mocks and final exams are looming large. These are stressful times and whilst we of course have serious conversations at home, we try as often as possible to not take life to seriously, to gently rib each other, and to laugh. Not just gentle chuckles but huge, bellowing, tear-inducing belly laughs. Without quoting particular examples (they really are personal to us), it gives me great joy when my daughter collapses to the floor, doubled up in laughter. There is humour to be found in most situations in life – we always try to remember that.
Playing the guitar / playing at weddings:
I won’t dwell too much on this as I’ve written about it a few times before, but there are few more pleasurable experiences in life for me than picking up a guitar and learning a new song which is good enough to be included in a future setlist. We play a lot of weddings as the duo I’m part of (Lux Bay) and I can think of no better way to take what started as a hobby all those years ago and develop it further. We love a good wedding and as we concentrate on acoustic music throughout the key daytime elements of a wedding, such as ceremonies, cocktail receptions, and playing at wedding breakfasts / meals, we get to witness some of the most special moments of these days. To play an intrinsic part in that, and to see such joy, love and positivity, is a huge bonus for us. I always come home after these gigs feeling uplifted and grateful.
Curling up with a good book for an hour or so:
Simple but so vitally important. I’ve struggled devoting enough time to this of late and that is something I need to rectify as reading is one of life’s most simple yet rewarding pleasures. Rather than ramble on about it, I’ll summarise it by including two of my favourite quotes on reading:
When I’ve had enough of reality, I just open a book.
A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad and happy times, for books are people – people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my mum & dad for encouraging me to read when I was a child and creating a love of books which will never fade. I’d particularly like to thank my dad for taking the time, often at the end of long working days, to frequently take me to Bolton library and tolerate me spending far too long choosing the ten books I’d be taking home. Simple yet hugely important memories which I’ll always hold dear.
Some regular readers will no doubt be reading this and thinking ‘you hypocrite’, given that I’ve written on numerous occasions about the need to reduce time on social media and being glued to screens. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t value the WhatsApp groups I’m part of, for different reasons. Some are just purely silly and inane, and frequently make me laugh out loud (though if anyone outside of the Jollys Boy Outing group saw some of the posts, they may well be horrified…), whilst others with friends generate more serious debate about life, the universe and everything. I also really value the various family groups – nothing replaces face-to-face contact but whilst the majority of us seem to lead ridiculously busy lives, these groups are an invaluable way to keep in touch.
Spending time with people close to me who I feel completely at ease with:
This blog started as a result of me feeling it important to share details of the parts of my life affected by anxiety, low self-esteem, and a lack of self-confidence. There are certain situations in life when I tend to experience these more. On the flip-side of that, there are people close to me who make me feel completely at ease when I am in their company. This is a mix of family and friends and is vitally important to me. These are the people I choose to spend my time with. These are the people who make me feel better and generally more positive about life. I won’t quote names here though I strongly suspect that the vast majority of these people know who they are.
There is nothing like the feeling of being at a really enjoyable live music gig. Absolutely nothing. Whether it’s a euphoric concert or a more stripped back and mellow type of gig, being in the presence of gifted performers is a sensation which I’ll never tire of. It can generate feelings of intimacy or feelings of pure, unadulterated joy. It can make me beam from ear to ear or it can make me cry (certain gigs have done both on the same night, not least a recent gig by the wonderful aforementioned Lottery Winners ). It can make me want to throw my arms around complete strangers and jump around like an absolute loon. It can inspire me to go home and try writing songs. It certainly takes me away from everyday life for an hour or two. Music is life and music is vitally important. I’ve always said that I hate the phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ – all music needs to do is to make the listener feel something, that’s all. It really is that simple. If music stirs up some kind of emotion in us, it has done its job. There’s no better way of experiencing that than in a live environment.
We all like to laugh. Surely that’s the case, isn’t it? Whilst there is plenty of comedy to consume within the TV schedules and streaming channels, seeing it live, on a stage, is unbeatable. I’ve lost count of the number of comedy gigs I’ve been to over the years though I genuinely think it will now be heading toward 3 figures, if it hasn’t reached that number already. For the same reasons mentioned above regarding live music, live comedy is one of life’s greatest joys. It certainly takes us away from the trials and tribulations of ‘real life’ and in the hands of gifted comedians (and there are many out there – not just the household names we see on our TV screens), a night at a comedy gig is pure, unbridled joy. If you haven’t been to a comedy gig before, please, please, please give it a try – you will see what all the fuss is about and there’s a damned good chance you’ll leave feeling better than when you arrived.
I’m sure there are many other examples but I’ll leave it at these key areas, primarily as I’m very conscious I could go on all day! Ultimately, it is of paramount importance that we all try to understand what these areas are in our own lives and constantly pursue them. They are perhaps the best coping mechanisms any of us have.
If you’ve made it this far, as always, thanks for reading, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. But especially yourself.