Monthly Archives: October 2016

Shall I compare thee to a Brussels sprout?

I’m afraid it’s a fact of life that, just as not everyone likes Brussels sprouts, things won’t always go your way.

In fact there may be days when it all goes any which way but yours.

While it may seem as if an existence with no problems would be an utter blessing, (a) sorry, it’s not going to happen, and (b) there’s the distinct possibility that a totally predictable life could soon get boring anyway.


When a Brussels sprout seed is sown, it needs water, sunlight and nutrients from the soil if it’s to thrive.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, gardeners and cooks agree that the flavour of a sprout improves no end after the plant has endured a frost.

It’s as if it needs to come through adversity in order to reach its full potential.

Brussels sprouts sometimes get such bad press (completely unfairly in my view, but there you go) that it would seem the height of rudeness to compare you to one.

But perhaps it really is the case that when we overcome our problems, difficulties and challenges, we truly do become a better brassica.

Spell it all out when you express gratitude.

As children we were all taught to say please and thank you, and there’s little doubt that a little civility goes a long way in life.

Although I try my best to do my bit in this respect, I still sometimes forget the powerful reinforcement that can be added to a simple thank you when it’s coupled with some words of explanation.

For instance I could simply say to you, ‘Thanks for reading this post.’

But mightn’t it be better to go a little further?

How about, ‘Thanks for reading this post, and for taking time out of your busy day to think about it. Knowing you’ve done this gives me a warm feeling that my work here has all been in a good cause.’?

It’s better when it’s more spelt out, isn’t it?


Giving to someone else is an excellent fast-track way to feel good yourself, and of course there are plenty of different ways to give.

And saying thank you is a nice easy one.

Expressing gratitude and putting it in context can go even further.

So what do you think?

Is today a good one to give thanks?

Who’s the best listener you know? Cherish them.

Things don’t always go as you’d wish.

Life’s like that.

But when they don’t, it can help to talk about them.

The very act of speaking about your feelings can help you process them.

It can help you rationalise your situation and solve your problems.

Generally we know this.


Unfortunately, who you talk to plays a big part in the outcome of this process.

Tell the right person and you’ll walk away from the conversation with shoulders raised and spirits lifted.

Tell the wrong person, however, and you could feel worse than you did before you began.

One key to success is to identify someone with that pretty rare combination of patience, good listening skills, and the ability to be relatively non-judgemental (yet, of course, not so bland that they have none of their own opinions).

Few have these talents, instead all too many will be eager to dictate what you should do.

Ask them, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms.

Better perhaps to hold your breath until you’re with that special person who lets you talk, while they simply listen.

You know who they are, so cherish them, and hang onto them, because they’re worth their weight in gold.

By all means, empathise when someone’s problems overwhelm them. But try to avoid taking them on yourself.

Although I’m personally not a prolific Twitter or Facebook contributor, I check both sites on a pretty regular basis to learn what friends and those I follow are up to.

It’s fascinating to recognise two very different styles among those who are prodigious in their content generation.

There are those who are overwhelmingly positive and light-hearted in their posts, then there are others who seem to consistently dwell on the negative.


I suppose this online behaviour simply reflects real life.

I’m sure you know those who seem to radiate light wherever they go, and others who cast a sense of grey glumness over everything in sight.

Social media makes it relatively easy to avoid the posts of gloom-mongers, if you choose.

Not so simple in the real world, however, particularly if they’re people with whom you need to have regular contact for one reason or another.

Although emotions are contagious (if you’re not careful, someone else’s misery can get through to you too) it seems to help if you’re determined to see another’s burden as something you can help with, rather than needing to take its full weight on your own shoulders.

Just as they seemingly can’t deal with it on their own, neither will you.

Share the load, by all means, but don’t try to carry it for them.

Technology is great, but so is turning it off.

I don’t feel old, but I do remember a time before technology.

My parents didn’t own a television until I was four or five.

We didn’t have a telephone until I was old enough to remember it being installed.

Of course there were no computers, games consoles or iPods.


However, to claim there was no technology wouldn’t be correct.

In our living room sat an old-fashioned valve radio which took quite a few seconds to warm-up and come on.

There was a record player with its associated stack of shellac 78s.

I say I don’t feel old, but writing this does make me sound decrepit.

The thing is, though, we’ve probably all had gizmos and gadgets around us for most of our lives.

They’ve become hugely more complicated and sophisticated, but one way or another we’ve adopted them as part of our lives.

Good or bad thing?

Well not surprisingly I’m in favour of a lot of the fantastic stuff that technology allows us to do.

As a teenager I published my words to fifty people at a time using a primitive spirit duplicator (I loved the smell of the copies).

Now I can write to thousands of people, sitting at a table in a coffee shop.

But simply because technology can be incredibly useful doesn’t mean it should be allowed to take over our lives.

From time to time it can be enormously liberating to unplug.

Not to check your email every few minutes.

To leave your phone at home.

To just be.

Try it.

You might like it.

Live life in small installments, celebrating each of them.

You might conceive of your whole life as one vast project, but if you did, when would you reflect on the project’s hopeful success?

It would be crazy only to do so on the last day of your life as, for a start, who knows when this might come?

Surely it makes more sense to consider this one overall ‘project’ as being built up of many smaller packages, and to look back frequently at how you’ve done.


Being more aware of the ups and downs of your mood means that when things go well, you’ll have the reward of seeing how you are holding up.

Alternatively if you’re not having such a great time you’ll gain the insight necessary to take action, ideally before things become overly low.

In general I’m sure it makes sense to live your life day by day, reflecting often on how things have gone and what you might do to maintain a positive state of mind.

What can you do today that might make you feel better tomorrow?

Say goodbye to a worry by writing it down, and sealing it in an envelope.

If something’s troubling you, write it on a piece of paper, then seal it in an envelope.

That was the conclusion of research conducted at the University of Singapore Business School.

Participants were asked to write about a recent decision which they regretted, then half of them handed in their papers as they were, while the other half sealed their papers in envelopes first – then handed them in.

The envelope sealers reported feeling less negative about the event than the non-sealers did.


While I can think of factors which might have muddled the findings (maybe those who sealed their envelopes worried less that their regrets were going to be pored over by the experimenter?) the basic principle seems sound, and you could possibly even add to the effect by destroying or discarding the envelope.

Definitely worth a try.

The comfort of a small treasured possession.

When I was about five, one of my Christmas presents from my parents was a little pocket compass.

It went absolutely everywhere with me.

I loved it.

When I was forty I spent a year travelling the world and the pocket compass went with me, tucked into my wash bag.


While it was hardly practical (it was just a toy, for goodness’ sake) it symbolised something important, for I believed that if I ever became lost, it was a reminder that I could always find my way home.

Right now it’s in my pocket as I type this.

I still treasure it all these years later.

Isn’t it odd that an inanimate object can offer such reassurance?

I bet there’s something you own which may have a similar effect on you, and if it’s not already to hand, dig it out and leave it somewhere so you’ll see it from time to time.

It can be a real comfort.