I’m going to start off this blog post with a quote from the Dalai Lama. Before you think I’m some sort of philosophical and spiritual guru, please be aware that I originally spelt Lama like Llama, as in the big fluffy sheep-horses. So it’s safe to say I’m anything but:
“Happiness is not something readymade. It comes from your own actions.”
This really struck a chord with me because it’s 100% true. What he’s said is fairly obvious but he’s hit the nail on the head. He’s good, is ole Dalai. True happiness isn’t a thing, or another person, or a place, or an event. They can fuel happiness but they don’t create it for you. Happiness is something you have to nurture and grow within you. It’s unquantifiable and it’s unique to every person. It won’t be handed to you. It can’t be. So you have to take action to create it.
If you’d asked me if I was happy ten years ago, I would have said “Yeah sure, why not?”. If I was honest, I would have said “no”. If you’d asked me one year ago, I would have said “happier” but I wasn’t really cooking on gas. If you asked me today if I’m happy, I’d be able to say “Yes”. Life is good. Life isn’t easy, in fact it’s probably a lot harder and more stressful in some respects, but how I approach things has shifted massively. haven’t reached the ultimate level of transcendence or anything like that. I’m still learning and I will always be learning. I’m also keenly aware that life can change at the drop of a hat. But as things currently stand, at this very moment, my hat is balanced nicely and I can say I’m happy.
Now you’re probably wondering what I did to feel like this. What’s my secret? What was my master plan? What was my Happiness Protocol. The truth is…I didn’t have one. Happiness didn’t just come to me magically. It didn’t drop into my lap. I didn’t even actively chase it. I did however make some subtle (and not so subtle) changes which ultimately made a massive difference. I also didn’t notice at the time however with the glorious benefit of hindsight, I’m able to see the steps I was taking. So in honour of #SpiffyHappyWeek, I thought I’d share my journey with the hope that it gives you a little bit of inspiration to find your own happiness.
Work Out What Makes You Unhappy
Deciding what makes you happy is big. You know what makes you smile, what perks up your day, what makes you laugh. But to work out what truly makes you happy is a big undertaking. It requires experience, bravery, reflection and change to name a few. All huge things which us humans aren’t overly fond of, primarily because for a lot of us, we just don’t know where to start. To seek out happiness can feel alien and unusual, almost selfish, and definitely overwhelming. So I did what I was comfortable with - I worked out what made me unhappy. And man alive, was that easy!
In fact, I’d known that for a LONG TIME. For me, it was my job. It wasn’t a bad job, it was secure, it was relatively hassle-free, I was surrounded by lovely people. But it didn’t make me happy. I built my life around finding the quickest way to do my daily duties so I didn’t have to spend too much time trudging through them. I had my daily routine fine-tuned so I would only spend my contracted time there every day and I’d be home as soon as possible. And then as soon as I’d get home, or when the weekend came around, I’d make sure I made the most of it to reward myself for the misery I’d endured that week. But the whole time, the lingering doom of Monday morning was hanging over me.
For years (and I mean YEARS) I thought this was normal. Because most people believe this is normal. You leave school, you get a job and you work until you retire. Keep calm and carry on. That’s what we’ve been raised with, it’s the British way. But deep down, I knew this wasn’t how I was meant to live. I fought it initially, then I accepted it, then I fought it again. This battle waged for a long time.
I can remember meeting my partner’s aunty for the first time, somebody who he admired hugely and I wanted to give a good first impression. And as she asked me what I did, I told her and I remember thinking “Wow that was such a boring answer. I bored myself saying it. If you hate it this much, why are you still there?”. It was at this point that I finally acknowledged something had to change.
Pinpoint WHY It Makes You Unhappy
Once I knew what was making me unhappy, I needed to work out why it was making me unhappy. Again, this takes a lot of insight, reflection and personal development and took me years to understand but it was incredibly necessary. It was a journey and I don’t think it’s something you can rush.
For me, I wasn’t able to be creative. I was allowed to use my creative skills but within the confines of a rigid guidelines. I had to work in line with rules and regulations that I didn’t agree with and just didn’t make sense to me. I had to work within a hierarchy and answer to somebody else just because that’s the done thing. All these things were the themes of my daily rants to my partner, friends, mum or anybody else who cared to listen. Or not listen. I was ranting either way.
I gradually started to take a step back and look at why these things were making me unhappy. I discovered I was craving freedom, control, creativity, autonomy and I wanted to help people. So what did I do with these earth-shattering revelations?
Nothing. Well, not immediately anyway. Because ultimately, I didn’t know what they meant or how to use them. So I did the next best thing.
Open Yourself Up to Possibilities
This is an odd one because I don’t really know how I did this. Essentially I started saying “yes” more often. Or even if I didn’t say “yes”, I’d say “Ok, let’s consider this for a bit” and think “what if?”. As a child I learnt risk was a big no-no, so exploring different possibilities was a big change for me.
When my partner first suggested he’d like to open a shop, I was horrified. It seemed reckless, a huge undertaking that would surely fail and would ruin our lives completely. (Like I said, I wasn’t keen on risk). However, after the initial “YOU WHAT?!” moment, I took a step back and thought “what if?”. He’d struggled to find anything other than seasonal work which wasn’t really challenging him. His entrepreneurial skills and experience were going to waste working for somebody else. So actually, when I thought about it, opening a shop made a lot of sense. He was more prepared and committed than most, and knew a hell of a lot so it was less of a risk than it first seemed.
But if it was going to work, we’d both have to be involved because we knew I’d be far too jealous of him while I was at my 9 to 5 (9 to 4 if nobody was looking). Plus a shop would give me a lot of autonomy, I’d be my own boss, I’d make the rules and I could be as creative as I liked (Shaun would like me to point out he makes the rules and I need to get off Facebook and finish this blog post). The only bit that was missing was helping people, so that became the focus of the shop – helping people to live well. And Spiffy was born!
After lots of soul searching and exploring the possibilities, I realised there was only one way forward. I had to quit my job. After 12 years, with the only employer I’d only had, I quit. Just like that. Only one other person even knew what we had planned (our resident Live Well Workshop trainer, Lesley) and she was probably even more excited than we were. Safe to say, it shocked a hell of a lot of people (which I loved, I’m not going to lie.). My parents took a bit of convincing however deep down I knew I wanted to do it and I had to do it.
And it was TERRIFYING. This was the only job I’d ever known and for all its faults, I was comfortable and to stay there wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. But it had to be done. If I’d just dipped my toe into the shop, I would still be bitter about being tied to my ‘day job’, so I took a leap of faith and quit. And it didn’t initially go to plan.
Accept That Things Will Go Wrong
I won’t bore you with the full list of hiccups we’ve encountered on the way to opening Spiffy. However, the biggest one was losing our chosen premises mere days after finishing my job. This shook me big time. This felt like the biggest sign the universe was giving me that this was a horrible mistake and I had to give up on our dreams and go back to my sensible, predictable job. At the time, I was still technically employed so it was possible to change my mind. This was when panic set in, because it forced me to make a huge decision.
As I said, I took it as a sign from the universe. Us human beings are pretty pessimistic in nature, so when something goes wrong, it’s easy to tell ourselves “it’s a sign”, so we can justify staying as we are. But the universe doesn’t really give ‘signs’. I think it’s got better things to do than cosmically manipulate some random bloke from the back-end of West Wales. What actually happened was something didn’t go to plan. And that’s ok, that will happen. If you think it won’t, you’re in for a bumpy ride. If you hit a road block, don’t turn back – go around, up, under, through, whatever. Take a deep breath, relax and work out how best to adapt.
As it happens, we were able to secure another premises, however we could have so easily given up and packed it all in. It did mean we had to delay our plans by two months and lose the summer tourist trade, but that’s the nature of business. Instead, for the first time in 12 years, I had a summer! I didn’t realise I needed it but it was one of the most transformative periods in my life. I wasn’t spending my time meditating in a yurt in the back garden or anything, and a lot of the time was spent watching This Morning and making bread, but it gave me the opportunity to explore what I wanted and need.
This kind of goes without saying but a big part of how we survived this tumultuous period was having supportive people around us. Having people in your corner is a huge part of what makes you happy. When we had our hiccups, they’d remind me that that’s all that they were – hiccups, and it kept us on track. Having somebody giving you that helpful nudge, or being that shoulder to lean on, will mean the world and make a world of difference.
You often don’t notice your happiest times until you look back on them and reminisce on what was. However, since opening the doors of Spiffy, I’ve learnt to be grateful for what I have. Like I said, it’s not always easy, and sometimes it’s downright exhausting, but I really do appreciate everything we’ve got and created together. I make an effort to acknowledge all I’ve got whenever I can. And because my previous job was sucking the life out of me, it became my sole focus, whereas now, I’m able to appreciate so much more. Whenever I get up and it’s a sunny day, I take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous weather, whereas before I’d just notice it was sunny and head off to work.
What I did was a huge life change, going from a job I knew inside out to one I was completely clueless about, however it made me happy. It’s not something everybody has the luxury to do, nor is it what you need to do. But being unhappy drains your energy. It steals your focus. It saps your inspiration. Whereas happiness breeds happiness. It’s energising and affirming. It fuels the parts of you that look for the good in other aspects of your life.
Finding what makes you happy is daunting and strange and a lot of trial and error. It’s only now I’ve explored the ins and outs of running a shop that I’ve truly understood what I enjoy about it. It’s also something you probably won’t notice while you’re in the period of transition. But if my story has done anything, hopefully it’s inspired you to start your journey towards happiness, wherever it may lead.
Some additional final thoughts...
Finding Your Purpose
I’ve often read that the key to finding true happiness is finding your purpose. Ultimately, this is probably true. However, I don’t really buy into the idea that we have one predetermined purpose. That’s a bit boring if you ask me. For years, I thought I was meant to be a writer and I couldn’t see how that fit into opening a shop. But actually, what I wanted was freedom and creativity, and now I have that, just in a different form. Look at me now – writing! I wouldn’t get wedded to one aspirational, perfect idea, because you can find happiness in ways you never expected. Try out different things. See what works for you. Have fun.
Coaching and Counselling
A huge amount of my own personal development is thanks to coaching and counselling. I’ve had two coaches and two counsellors, as well as becoming a qualified coach and a somewhat-qualified counsellor, so introspection and self-analysis has become a hobby. Both coaching and counselling are daunting and there is a stigma attached to them, but they’ve been life changing for me and incredibly rewarding.
Paul co-owns and runs Spiffy with his partner Shaun. His face is plastered all over our social media and is mildly obsessed with the Avengers and Kylie Minogue.