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Baking, Yoga, Making Friends With Random Strangers

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How am I? Oh, you know. Could be better? Mustn’t grumble. That’s how most of us trudge through life, isn’t it? Notwithstanding episodes of genuine sadness, most of us, most of the time, potter around in the middle ground between not-too-bad and been-better.

Well, I’ve had enough. In these doom days of recession, I’m mounting a happiness campaign. Prime Minister David Cameron is keen to promote General Wellbeing (GWB) over GDP as an indication of the state of the nation. Jessie J. keeps telling us it’s not about the price tag. Krug champagne has even hosted a bubbly “Happiness Exhibition”, curated by Amanda Harlech. Could it be that we’re ready to draw our attention away from money and on to something sunnier? For an entire week, I aim to bask in the glory of life and discover whatever happiness is simply a matter of attitude. Now, wipe that disbelieving smirk off your face, you kill joy, and strap on a smile.

Smile more

Actually, smiling is my first task of the week. Scientists believe facial expressions can affect mood; one study has shown that if you hold a pencil between your teeth – causing your mouth to approximate a smile – you’ll find cartoons funnier. I start my challenge at London’s Victoria Station, where an unscientific observation has shown that there are fewer smiles per face than anywhere else on the planet.

Everyone is in a hurry or angry or both, and the bus drivers are the very distillation of all that is miserable. I get on a Number 73 and offer an ear-to-ear grin to the driver. He doesn’t look up, but emits a low growl, like an Orc of Mordor. Undaunted, I smile at all the passengers. They look at their feet. I think they’re worried I might busk.

HAPPINESS LEVEL.Diminished.

Follow an American guru’s advice #1.

Back home, I log on to US author Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”, which charts her year-long journey to joy. Boy, this woman is happy. She leaks happiness, right here, all over her blog. Reading it, you feel as though a cheerleader has climbed inside your head to wave glitter pom-poms and shout, “You go, girl!” into your soul. This is not the British way. While Americans endlessly make lemonade from lemons, we Brits are more reserved. We rain on parades, or at least worry about the cost and whether there are enough loos. Rather than tickertape explosions of glee, we prefer low key expressions of happiness. Perhaps a party popper or an amusing tea towel.

Rubin, who provides her reader with regular tips on happiness has come up with a jaunty series of tasks, and the first to catch my eyes is, “Think about yourself in the third person.” Her reasoning is that, by framing questions “from outside yourself”, you will make more objective decisions about what’s best for you.

Hmm. Mimi is not sure this will work. Mimi feels that people may not respond positively to third-person speech. But it appears to work for Rubin. Asking herself, “What is the best medicine for Gretchen when she feels drained?” seems to help her realise that she needs to spend the weekend resting. Other examples include saying to herself, or to anyone idiotic enough to be standing close by, “Gretchen gets frantic when she’s hungry, so she can’t wait too long for dinner.” “Gretchen needs quiet time each day.” “Gretchen feels the cold, so she can’t be outside too long.” Gretchen sounds like a Chihuahua.

Mimi thinks this is a bunch of baloney. But she tries it later that night, over supper: “Mimi is wondering whether you want any more mashed potato.” Husband looks blankly at Mimi: “Is Mimi feeling quite well? “Mimi is happy, as it happens, thank you. But she needs some quiet time each day.” Husband leaves the table. I get some quiet time to do the washing-up.

Follow an American guru’s advice #2

Rubin must have been offered “happiness guru’s status for a reason, so I try one more tip. This time, I go with the “you’re-my-friend-from-camp!” technique, which is designed to engendered warn relations with strangers and involves imagining that every person you meet that someone you’ve known for years. It kind of makes sense. Too few of us bother to talk to strangers these days, but most fellow humans have a story to tell or a snack to share. Don’t they?

So, I’m in the Co-op, buying cheddar and Domestos. “Hey, Joan,” I say to the check-out lady, zapping her with a dazzling smile, having cleverly noticed the name badge dangling from her left breast. “Joan! How have you been seen…”I stop, as I‘ve never met Joan before and have no back story to colour her in. “Well, since, well since New Year?” We all had one of those, right? “Erm,” says Joan. “Have you got a Co-op card?” No I do not. Deflated, I tap in my pin, pat Joan on the sleeve and leave.

Outside, I buy a Big Issue from a seller and his dog on a rope. “Hello Dog!” I chirrup, smiling like mad. “Still loving those bones? How’s the rope working for ya?” The seller asks me to move along.

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