Category Archives: Happiness strategies

Brilliant book. Rocket reaction.

Around one-in-ten Moodnudges readers already know what I’m going to say.

Does this mean we have a lot of mind readers in our database?

Well, possibly not.

The truth is that about 10% of our readership is currently taking part in the trial of Signpost, the new emotional health management tool we’re building.

What these trialists will know is that this week has been what you might call eventful.

A calculation hiccup resulted in some people being told they were angry when they weren’t.

I joked (nervously) that even if they weren’t actually annoyed to start with, being told this might irritate the heck out of someone.

Fortunately, everyone concerned seems to have taken it with good grace, understanding that these kinds of wobbles are the very reason you run pilot tests.

In fact, it gave me renewed joy to be reminded that you and our other readers are just so very, very nice.

What a fabulous community we have here, frankly.

In between discovering how physically tiring it can be when you exert yourself mentally, as I tried to fix the “anger-stat” (and a great reminder of how intrinsically linked physical and mental health are) I’ve also been enjoying reading a new book by Johann Hari: Lost Connections.

In his book, Hari argues that a great deal of depression may actually be due, not to disease, but to someone’s life circumstances.

Now there’s a thing.

If you feel friendless, lonely, or under-appreciated, he suggests, slipping into depression might simply be a natural reaction to unpleasant situations, rather than a chemical imbalance in the brain.

I am of course grossly oversimplifying the book’s theories, but they do really make sense to me.

Johann Hari has come under fire from some in the psychiatry profession, who claim he is suggesting that antidepressant medicines serve no purpose at all, and that he is claiming that people can recover from depression by making, on the face of it, simple life changes.

(Although you and I both probably know that, when you’re depressed, nothing is ever simple. Nothing.)

Actually, Hari doesn’t deny the usefulness of meds to some.

What he does say, though, and I think he makes the point strongly, is that medication must never be the only tool in the box.

And in fact this is entirely the view I’ve taken since Caroline, Adrian, and I started Moodscope in 2007, and also while I’ve been Moodnudging since my transplant to California in 2013.

Simple things like getting out in nature, connecting with others, remembering to be grateful, getting healthy exercise… these are all surefire ways to boost your mood.

As I say, I’m relishing Johann Hari’s book, which you may also enjoy. It’s a fast-paced, definitely not heavy, piece of writing.

My heartfelt thanks, as ever, to all those who are experimenting with Signpost, and my heartfelt thanks to you for reading today’s nudge.

If you fall into both camps, well, consider yourself impeccably thanked.

One last thing: that rocket launch on Tuesday.

Boy oh boy, what a magnificent achievement by Elon Musk and SpaceX, almost certainly doing their bit to lift the world’s mood.

Along, of course, with a cherry-red Tesla roadster carrying a Starman, who’d like to come and meet us, but who thinks he’d blow our mind.

He certainly blew mine.

Treat yourself to a really good stretch.

A two-part message today, starting with a nudge, and ending with an update on the experiment I’m running with Signpost, our new online emotional-management tool.

Let’s begin, then, with a quick reminder of how closely connected your emotional health and physical health are.

With so much sickness around this time of year in the northern hemisphere, I’m sure you’re familiar with how rotten someone can feel, mentally, when they’re suffering from a cold.

Perhaps you’ve experienced it yourself this winter, but even if you haven’t, you’ll probably have observed others coughing, sneezing, and complaining their way through the day.

However, just as low physical health can make you feel mentally drained, the opposite can also be true.

Actively taking care of your physical well-being can give your emotions a much-needed boost, too.

Now, I bet you’re expecting me to remind you to get some exercise, eat healthily, drink more water, or something like that.

Well, although they’re all great ideas, no, actually.

This nudge is something much easier to do, but is an action it’s all too easy to forget.

I’m talking about the terribly simple idea of stretching.

Yup, simply taking a moment or two to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your muscles.

Go on, try it now.

Stretching is relaxing, and it can put you in touch with your body.

If you’re able, here’s a great back stretch known as the “standing cat-camel.”


Here’s how to do it:

1. Begin by standing with your feet roughly shoulder-width apart, and your knees slightly bent.

2. Lean forward and place your hands on your legs, just above your knees.

3. Curve your back, with your shoulders forwards, and your chest closed.

4. Now arch your back backwards, opening your chest and rolling your shoulders back. Arms in the air, if you like.

5. Rinse and repeat a few times.

It can feel especially good if you’re spending long periods sitting at your desk.

In fact I’m going to stretch right now.

Ah, that’s better.

So, one good stretch later, how are things progressing with the beta test of Signpost?

Last week I asked for volunteers to experiment with a seven-day trial of the app I’m working on.

It provides daily feedback and tips to your smartphone in audio form, recorded by yours truly.

I’m happy to say that lots of people have kindly offered to help, so this week I’m phasing in over 200 willing individuals.

It has made sense to introduce people in several waves, to ensure the systems are working as expected.

So far, there have been no serious malfunctions (although I’m sure I’ve jinxed it by saying that) and some really positive reactions.

It’s not too late to add yourself to the list of trialists, and thank you if you do, or already have done.

More details on what I’m learning next week.

Meantime, I’m getting the bottom of how many digits there are in a Dutch cellphone number, and how to work out what time you need to instruct a server in South Africa (when you yourself are on California time) to send a text to New Zealand, at 8 AM local time. It’s complicated.

Ready to try Signpost?

Hope you’ve had a good week since we last spoke on Jan 18th. Where does the time go?

Things have been busy for me here in California, with a ton of progress made on readying the trial of the brand new Signpost, which I told you a little about last week.

Signpost incorporates more or less everything I’ve learned about managing emotional wellbeing over the past ten years into one neat package, designed to help you take simple, practical actions to take better care of yourself.

You use Signpost on your phone once a day. Daily text messages prompt you to report how you’re doing emotion-wise, via a brief 10-item questionnaire.

Then you’ll hear me giving you about 90 seconds of feedback, tips and advice, customised to your current state of mind. There’ll be new feedback every day.

Signpost also stores your daily questionnaire scores, showing them on a graph, to which you can add notes of explanation.

We’re pretty close to starting a seven-day trial, for which there is obviously no charge, so I’d now like to invite you to register your interest in taking part.

You’ll find a short sign-up form here:

I’m probably going to need to phase in people as they start the seven days, because I’m sure there will be teething troubles with the systems. But I promise you that if you volunteer, you’ll get a chance to try Signpost quite soon. Maybe as early as next week.

You’ll also earn my planet-sized gratitude for helping me get this new show on the road.

Which way next? Check the Signpost.

We’re another week into 2018 and, as promised last time, I’d now love to tell you a bit about what I did work-wise in 2017.

Then – hopefully the more exciting part – I’ll do my best to give you a feel for where things may be headed this year.

To be honest, ever since I began writing regular posts at Moodscope in 2007, I’ve always been deliberately vague about references to my own financial circumstances.

It was a conscious decision, as it felt that for me, our relationship (yours and mine) ought to be more about you than about me.

The truth, however, is that like the majority of people, I need to work to pay the bills.

After I moved to California at the end of 2013, I applied for a visa on the basis of the development I’d carried out with Moodscope, and was granted this in 2014.

It meant I could start earning money (phew), but only in a limited way (ooh).

Then last year, after submitting an application accompanied by more than 1,000 pages of evidence, I was fortunate enough to be granted a Green Card, which makes me a “permanent resident,” although not a full citizen, of the USA.

This gives me many more employment options than my original visa did.

For a couple of years after I got to the USA, I worked as a freelance copywriter for a San Francisco biotechnology company.

Among many other projects, I wrote over a hundred weekly newsletters about the microbiome (the bacteria that lurks in and on our bodies) which others said were more fun than they might otherwise sound.

In May last year, this same company offered me a full-time position as their creative director, which I happily accepted.

I therefore spent a sweet (but short, it turned out) six months commuting to San Francisco every day, to work with a talented team of really fun people.

Somewhat extraordinarily, this was my first proper employed position since I started my ad agency in 1986: other than this one job, I’ve always worked for myself.

It was fantastic to get paid every two weeks (which is the way it usually works here in the States) along with all the usual SF start-up perks like free lunches, all the snacks you could eat, even your commuting costs paid, but I soon came to see that it just wasn’t what I came to California to do.

My mission when I came here was to continue my work in supporting people’s emotional health.

It really wasn’t about writing newsletters about E. coli, pooping, and unpleasant diseases.

It really wasn’t.

Towards the end of last year, therefore, I bid a reluctant farewell to my co-workers, my paychecks, and the free lunches, and found myself with greatly renewed energy to get back to really making a difference in the mental-health world.

Hardest of all was turning my back on the unlimited snacks, of course, but sometimes these things just have to be done.

Almost exactly a year ago, I experimented with publishing one of my “nudges” in audio form, which met with significant approval from lots of readers or, rather, listeners.

Then in March, I took this concept a stage further, playing with an idea where rating your emotional well-being with a simple test took you to one of four audio nudges, each customised to a particular state of mind.

If you tried it, and many did, you would then have gone on to hear tailored feedback if you’d been feeling anxious, angry, or sad, for example.

Again, this met with gratifyingly positive feedback, and it’s this broad idea which forms the basis of what I plan to do next.

Measuring and tracking my emotional well-being has made the most enormous difference in my own life, so it’s not surprising that I’m a huge advocate of the principle that, as in so many areas of life, we can only manage what we measure.

Coming soon, therefore, is an app called Signpost that has three strings to its bow.

Sign up with it, and you’ll get a text message every day, prompting you to take a brief test that rates your emotional well-being.

You’ll take the test on your phone, where you’ll also be able to view a graph showing your progress over time.

Finally, you’ll get immediate audio feedback from me, tailored to how you happen to be doing at that very moment.

I’ll be recording fresh feedback every day, so my intention is that this will really strengthen the relationship we have, enabling us to work together on managing either occasional or even chronic emotional health challenges that you may face.

I know of nothing else quite like this, so it’s new and somewhat experimental work, but based on my now ten years of working in this field, I have a really good feeling about Signpost.

Offering it will have associated expenses, making it necessary to offer it on a subscription basis from the start, but I will all I can to keep the price as affordable as possible.

By this time next week, I plan to have a bare-bones version of Signpost working well enough to offer a (free) seven-day version of it to a small number of Moodnudges readers.

More details next Thursday, therefore, along with full information about how you can register your interest.

Thank you so much for reading today, and for hopefully being okay with rather more personal disclosure from me than I’ve historically been comfortable with.

Have a great week – see you on January 25.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

Time. Goodness me, where does it go?

We’re already over a week into 2018, so it’s not before time that I wish you a happy New Year.

My sincere hope for you is that the coming twelve months will treat you with kindness, fairness, and lightness.

May your best dreams come true, and your worst fears prove groundless.

I last wrote a Moodnudges post on December 17th, explaining that I’d be taking a break from writing until the New Year.

As a result, a veritable multitude of readers got in touch to wish me well.

This was a delight and surprise.

It was also a joy for me to spend 10 days back in the UK, almost entirely with my mum, and my brother and his wife.

Although I adore my life in California (it’s been four years now) and do keep in close contact with my family at home, nothing beats being in the same room as the people you love.

Having a few weeks to take stock of things has also enabled me to start weighing up what might be next for Moodnudges.

Some readers have joined us recently (thank you) while others have loyally followed me since I began writing my daily newsletters for Moodscope in (hold your hats) 2008, a whole decade ago.

One heck of a lot has changed in that time, and although there have been good times for us both, I hope, I’m not so sure that the world in 2018 is much of a happier place than it was ten years ago.

Among many other monumental evolutions and revolutions, the way we communicate is very different.

In 2008, for example, email seemed – and was – a fantastic medium for someone such as me to communicate with a reader like you.

Not so much today, I think.

If you’re anything like me, your inbox has become virtually unmanageable.

The sheer volume of emails has made it all but impossible to deal with.

The Moodnudges email list used to grow consistently, but during the past year it has remained pretty static as some new people subscribed, while others left us – usually explaining a bit ruefully that they were just generally getting too many emails all-round to cope with.

Part of my thinking about taking a break over Christmas, therefore, was to give you a break from at least four messages a week, even though I suspect this would have been but a drop in the ocean.

Partly because of this, and also partly because my own work situation is in flux (in a good way, I hasten to add) I’ve concluded that it may be time to reimagine Moodnudges.

I have some exciting ideas, and I also want to involve you in the process. After all, we’re in this thing together – and I hugely value our friendship.

Over the next few weeks, therefore, I’m going to trim back the frequency of my messages, to just one per week, but I’m going to step up the openness of our communication, giving you more insight into what’s going on behind the scenes in my world, while also doing my best to prevent this becoming self-indulgent.

I hope you’ll find the next few weeks interesting, and that you’ll witness the evolution of something new and exciting.

More importantly, perhaps, you might take advantage of this experience to think a little about stuff in your own life which could benefit from a change or two.

Although stirring things up can sometimes feel uncomfortable, it’s frequently good to make a change or two.

Next week, I’ll tell you a little about what happened to me work-wise in 2017, and what I foresee developing in 2018.

See you next Thursday.

Let’s take a break.

It tends to be a busy time of year for everyone, and – often – a strange time of year, as well, for many.

Perhaps for you.

Life can sometimes feel complicated around the end of the year, often accompanied by a nagging fear that you might not get everything done.

Whatever “everything” is, exactly. I mean, organising gifts is one thing, but I hardly think we’re going to solve global warming by December 25th.

So partly because I really don’t want to add to all the “noise” you may be experiencing right now, and also partly because I’m going to be travelling for the next couple of weeks, I thought we’d take a Moodnudges break over Christmas.

I’ll be back in January with an update.

I fly from California to the UK tomorrow (December 18th) to spend ten days with the family.

A week early, therefore, I’d like to wish you a very good, and hopefully happy, Christmas.

Most importantly, thank you for being a loyal and supportive member of our Moodnudges community.

I can’t tell you how much of an honour it is for me to have you here.

See you in 2018.

You and your hidden powers.

Can you remember what you wanted to be when you grew up?

In my case I desperately wanted to be a cameraman for the BBC, specifically working on ‘Blue Peter’, my favourite children’s television programme.

I used to think this would be my idea of heaven.

It’s funny. When you’re a kid, everyone encourages you to want to be something you’re not.

I guess it’s what you’d call ambition, or having goals.

And there’s nothing wrong with those.

They give you something to aim for, something to look forward to, after all.

But I wonder if there also comes a time when it actually makes sense to stop trying to be someone else?

To accept who you are?

To a pretty great extent, you are who you are.

Like everyone, you can change some things about yourself.

And a few people do change radically.

But I suspect they’re in the minority.

On the whole, however, your main building blocks are probably pretty firmly set in place by now.

So instead of focusing on the things you’re maybe not so good at, doesn’t it make more sense to be proud of your unique strengths?

We’re all different.

We each have our own talents, our own special abilities.

And today’s the day to remind yourself of yours.

These are a few of your favourite things.

What are you good at?

What were you good at, but haven’t done for a while?

Whatever the skill or strength, it feels great when you’re doing something you excel at.

For me, it’s making things.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than getting out the glue to bind a book, or construct something out of paper or card.

Someone else may love fixing things, or cooking, or flower arranging, or brick laying.

The thing is, it’s good to identify your unique talents, and even better when you get a chance to dust them off and put them to use.

So what are you good at?

What were you good at, but haven’t done for a while?

More importantly, when are you going to do it?

I’ll gladly take all the help I can get.

Can I help you?

We’re used to hearing it in shops, but wouldn’t it be great if we could be asked this question at other more pertinent moments in life?

We all need a little help at times, but unless we’re lucky it’s not always easy to get.

And even when it’s offered, it’s all too easy to decline.

Thanks, I’m fine.

No, everything’s alright.

Last week I caught myself doing just this.

When a friend emailed to touch base and to remind me that she was there if I needed her, I replied saying thank you, but all was well.

Why do we do this, when a sympathetic ear is probably just what we need?

Next time someone offers you some help, bite their hand off.

In a similar vein, never (never) be afraid to ask for help.

As far as we know you’re not superhuman.

There will always be times when you’ll benefit hugely from a little bit of assistance.

The right answer to ‘Can I help you’?

Yes please.

What could you learn, at a stretch?

The other day I had a computer-related task Looming Large on my To-Do list.

My Mac and I are joined at the hip.

It and its predecessors have formed an indispensable part of the greater part of my life, and there’s not (too) much that phases me (whoops, fazes me, thanks Bev – see the Comments) when it comes to technology.

Generally I relish the opportunity to get down and dirty in the digital world.

However the particular challenge facing me was outside my comfort zone and I really didn’t think I’d crack it.

But I did, and it felt great.

As a result I’ve boosted my knowledge.

When we’re told that life-long learning is a great thing, it’s easy to imagine that this can only apply to ‘proper’ formal lessons like learning first-aid, upholstery, pottery or taxidermy.

In fact, we can all learn every day.

It might be finding out how to unjam the photocopier, rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

It could be discovering how to say good morning to a new neighbour who speaks a different language.

It could even be teaching yourself to do something new on a computer.

Time to pick up a new skill?