Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day balloonsThe cards are in the shops. The adverts for champagne and chocolates are on the TV. Pink love hearts are popping up everywhere. We cannot fail to notice it is Valentine’s Day very soon.

The annual celebration of love puts high value on grand ideas and romance. Couples that have been together for a long time can naturally feel a bit removed from this. Life gets in the way and spontaneity can begin to decline. Grand gestures make way for a simple exchange of cards and little else.

Does that mean Valentine’s Day is unimportant when you have been together a long time? Definitely not.

Valentine’s Day is still important

Everyone has an opinion on 14th February. Some think it is romantic and a date to be strictly observed and never missed. Couples can spend hundreds of pounds on gifts, a romantic meal or getaway. Others are horrified at the commercialism of your favourite restaurant charging double for the same meal you had last week. Whatever your opinion on Valentine’s it is important to ask whether it is the same as your partner’s perspective?

Valentine’s is only for ‘young love’

It is not unusual to meet couples who have been together for a while saying that they “don’t celebrate Valentine’s” and that it is “only for young love”. But behind the seeming disapproval of its commercialisation and contentment not to be involved there can be an individual who is secretly coveting a bit of attention.

On this one day of the year they might actually be desperate to get a surprise or enjoy a day that is not just like every other Tuesday. The bottom line is this: ask and do not assume, even if you have been together for 20 or 30 years.

Valentine's Day cuddly toyRemind them how valuable they are

Just because Valentine’s Day has not been a big deal for you and your partner in the past couple of years does not mean that is still the case. Where an individual has experienced a difficult time – perhaps due to the loss of a parent or loved one – they might really need a day of being reminded how valuable they are.

That of course is not to say that valuing your partner equates to how much you spend. Despite what jewellers, restaurants and travel websites tell us, a genuine demonstration of love is far more precious. Simple things mean the most like preparing a meal on Valentine’s Day at home or booking him/her in to a local spa for a massage.

In making an effort to celebrate your love as a couple, it is the little gestures that mean the most. A kiss, a hug, a rose picked from the garden are the kinds gestures that hold our partners close and keep the spark alive. Whether it’s your 1st, your 15th or your 30th anniversary this year, celebrate your love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.


Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love and relationships. For couples just starting out in a relationship it can end up feeling like an obstacle course full of opportunities for misunderstandings, overblown efforts and underwhelming gifts.

To help couples navigate that first Valentine’s Day we have 3 simple tips to help you both enjoy your day.

1. Talk about Valentine’s Day in advance


Valentine's Day heartTalk to your new partner about what you should do as a couple for Valentine’s Day. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship no matter how long or short it has been. In the build up to Valentine’s Day, particularly for new relationships, it is essential.

The 14th February is a potential banana-skin for any relationship. It is loaded with expectations and often, assumptions. Not to mention the peer pressure of what his/her friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend did for them/bought for them being broadcast on social media.

If you like your new partner a lot but are not quite madly in love yet you might feel a card is sufficient. When you turn up to your work to a bouquet of roses, a giant novelty card, cuddly toy and an invite to dinner at the priciest restaurant in town, you might wish you had talked about it beforehand.

Valentine's Day -James Nesbitt Cold Feet Rose
James Nesbitt’s Adam serenades Rachel (uncomfortably) in Cold Feet.

2. Romantic gestures in the movies and TV rarely translate well into real life

Whether it was Adam wearing nothing but a single red rose for Rachel in Cold Feet or Colin Firth proposing to Aurelia in Love Actually, we love sweeping, romantic gestures. But in real life they can sometimes be, at best, embarrassing or, at worst, a relationship breaker.

If you have had a discussion with your new partner in advance you should be clear on where they stand. For some a grand romantic gesture on your first Valentine’s Day would bring them nothing but joy. For others it will be mortifying. Knowing how you both feel about the day and your relationship will avoid any potentially painful (the thorns on that rose – ouch!) embarrassment.

Few relationships blossom or whither on the basis of a single Valentine’s Day so really think about what your new partner would enjoy most.

3. Agree on gifts or no gifts (and no surprises)


The question of gifts and their value is another minefield for that first Valentine’s Day together. Initially there is the stomach churning awkwardness of saying “you shouldn’t have” as you exchange your £1.50 card for a bracelet and a first edition of the Velveteen Rabbit. Then comes confusion and hurt from a complete misunderstanding of the status of your relationship and its perceived value.

Agreeing whether to get gifts or not and a price limit is a great idea. For that first Valentine’s Day agreeing no gifts but to share a night out/night in is a good starting point. If one of you is excited to give a gift (“I’ve seen something you will really like!”) then agree a realistic price limit. Once that is agreed, stick to the agreement! Do not ‘just get something anyway’. Instead of your partner feeling great they are likely to end up feeling guilty for not surprising you.


These conversations might feel awkward at the time but they are a good way of avoiding more difficult ones later. And they can go a long way to helping keep expectations in check and avoid the hurt of Valentine’s Day disappointment.

Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.

Growing up on social media

When it comes to posting pictures on social media we tend to operate a bit like the archetypal cowboy in a spaghetti Western; ‘shoot’ the picture first, ask questions later. This minor epiphany came to mind after reading an article about parents, kids and social media.

Growing up on social mediaGrowing up on social media

The feature posed this question: should parents stop posting pictures of their children online? Not because it is annoying/boring/infuriating for their friends/followers. Instead due to the ‘digital shadow’ they are creating for their child – a treasure trove of embarrassing moments from potty training to the first time they tried to put makeup on.

Should we think before sharing pictures of our kids as they grow up? In the context of maintaining and building strong, positive relationships the answer is yes.

Parent – child relationships and social media

No generation before the ‘millennials’ had to deal with the aftermath of a digital shadow. Of course almost all of us can recall parents showing our new boyfriend/girlfriend embarrassing pictures of us when we were little. That was in a far more intimate and limited setting compared to the realities of growing up on social media.

Nowadays that image (or more likely video) can be shared with hundreds of people. If the parent in question is not particularly savvy with privacy settings, that could multiply to thousands. And it is there to stay. Online and visible until mum/dad work out how to delete their profile or Mark Zuckerburg pulls the plug on Facebook.

Related article: Teens, relationships and social media

Self-image on social media

Growing up on social media
Sarah had just found her mum’s Facebook profile…

Advance a few years and your little darling is now a pre-teen/early teen with their own social media persona. How are they likely to react to all those – undoubtedly cute at the time – pictures and videos? Coming to terms with self-image is one of the toughest issues for adolescents to cope with (and judging by social media, many adults too).

From a relationship perspective maintaining a positive connection between parent and teen through adolescences is naturally a significant challenge. Toss a digital shadow in to the mix for an image conscious teen and the damage could be significant.

The original article that sparked this post went as far as to ask whether parents should seek permission to pre-empt legal action by their offspring later in life. In the USA (somewhat unsurprisingly) there have been attempts to make ‘shaming’ kids online (those potty training pictures again) an offence under law. This all feels too much and plain silly. Can you imagine asking your 2 year-old to slap a palm print on an image rights contract?

Perhaps the answer is much simpler. We should try to be less like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Think first and then ‘shoot’.

Relationship counselling and support

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling charity. Through counselling and support for couples, individuals and families across Scotland we help our clients understand and improve their most important relationships. We operate from 17 locations with a team of professional counsellors highly skilled in relationship problems.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team free on 0808 802 0050.

Songs for Sound Minds #9 – ‘I Won’t Back Down’ by Tom Petty

Our series on music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health is heading over the Atlantic for a signature track by Tom Petty.

I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty

Not many artists can get George Harrison and Ringo Starr to perform as their backing band. Tom Petty can. Fewer still can get half of The Beatles to appear on a song written about an unsuccessful attempt on their life. Tom Petty can.

I Won’t Back Down is a song about not backing down. On the surface the lyrics seem to make it easy to determine the meaning – angry song writer writes about not getting his or her way. It might even seem a bit vacuous. Just another bit of disposable pop music. But I Won’t Back Down is much more than that and far more powerful and important.

Music stars complain about their ‘problems’ a lot in their songs. These days it tends to be about badly behaved partners, inadequately sized private jets or being ‘direspected’. Instead Petty’s classic is about something really serious – an act of arson that nearly killed him.

Out of the ashes

Tom Petty I Won't Back DownPrior to recording his debut solo album Full Moon Fever, an arsonist burned down Petty’s house while he was in it with his family and their housekeeper. Thankfully everyone escaped the blaze but the house was severely damaged.

For a period of several months the family lived between hotel rooms and rented houses. Out of the ashes of Petty’s house came a song about defiance in the face of real trauma – especially as the arsonist was never caught.

During an interview with Harp in 2006 Petty talked about the song: “That song frightened me when I wrote it. I didn’t embrace it at all. I thought it wasn’t that good because it was so naked. So I had a lot of second thoughts about recording that song.”

Connecting to a song

Despite his reservations the song was recorded: “everyone around me liked the song and said it was really good and it turns out everyone was right – more people connect to that song than anything I ever wrote.” Since the song was released in 1989 it has become a personal anthem for thousands going through tough times: “I’ve had so many people tell me that it helped them through this or it helped them through that. I’m still continually amazed by the power a little 3-minute song has.”

Even amongst a back-catalogue of hits featuring American Girl and Free-Fallin, I Won’t Back Down remains the most important. Written out of real pain, fear and anger, I Won’t Back Down is a song for anyone needing a reminder why it is important to stand your ground and act on what you believe in. Even if that means there is no easy way out.

#SongsForSoundMinds are our picks of the music music written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

january blues

The January blues or winter blues are something we are all familiar with. Gone is the colour and excitement of Christmas leaving behind credit card bills, cold weather and long, dark nights.

Here at The Spark we are saying ‘no’ to the January blues in 2017. We want to help you make the most of January!

Beat the January blues this year!

We have put together 10 great ways to help you beat the January blues. Each day we will be posting a new tip to help make the best of the first month of the New Year.

January blues messy kitchenDay 1: Expect a lull after Christmas and New Year

Even though we know it is coming we still go in to January unprepared and almost shocked by its lack of fun. After the excitement of Christmas and New Year, returning to the mundane aspects of everyday life – washing dishes, paying bills, going back to work – catches us by surprise and lays the foundations for the January blues.

Instead of wallowing, accept that January will be less fun than the festive period. Look at January as an opportunity for some self-reflection and take advantage of a quieter few weeks.

Use that extra time to consider what you would like to do, learn or achieve in 2017. Think about a New Year resolution – read our blog on how to set and keep a New Year resolution – or consider what you want to make 2017 like for you.

hug-cuddle-winterDay 2: Consider what you have right now instead of focusing on what you don’t

Even if we did get what we wanted for Christmas, in our era of consumerism the chances are we will still end up wanting more. There can be a sort of ‘Christmas present hangover’ when we realise someone else got a bigger, faster or more expensive version of whatever we received.

Try going back to basics and consider what you have right now. And not just in terms of ‘stuff’. What about your health, your family, good relationships with friends or your steady job? Consider how much you enjoyed the Christmas break and what you have to look forward to in 2017.

A different mind-set can go a long way to tackling the January blues.

Day 3: Have a realistic New Year resolution or resolutions january blues motivation

We have all fallen victim to making bold New Year resolutions that evaporate by the end of the first week in January. Consequently we add more negative energy to the January blues by using our failure as a stick to beat ourselves with.

Take some time to decide on your New Year resolution. There is no law that states it has to be sorted before midnight on 31 December!  Read our article on sticking to your New Year resolutions and set a resolution or resolutions that are realistic in terms of time, finances and other commitments.

For example, setting out to ‘join a gym, work out 3 times a week and lose half a stone in weight by February’ is likely to fail. For starters that 1 resolution actually incorporates about 8 pretty tough resolutions within it:

  1. Join a gym
  2. Get in to a habit of going to the gym at least once a week
  3. Don’t quit the gym after 2 weeks like most people do
  4. Create enough space in my week to go to the gym 3 times per week
  5. Build up to going to the gym consistently 3 times per week
  6. Get a healthy eating plan
  7. Start the healthy eating plan
  8. Stick to the healthy eating plan for more than 2 weeks
  9. Cut out sweets, chocolate and sugar.

Be realistic and consider setting out smaller, more achievable goals to get you started towards your ultimate goal.

january blues divorce-papersDay 4: Don’t give up on relationships

Sadly January is the peak month for couples beginning divorce proceedings. Often the pressure of Christmas and New Year leaves one or both parties to a marriage waving the white flag.

Before Christmas we encouraged couples with relationship problems to seek marriage counselling/ couple counselling in advance. In January we ask that couples consider counselling as a way to heal their relationship wounds before opting for separation.

The emotional, mental and financial cost of divorce or separation is immense – more so when children are involved. Counselling is a genuine alternative to accepting divorce is the only outcome. All too often couples will try to resolve issues privately but counselling is a better alternative. Working with a professional counsellor can provide couples with the opportunity to work through their problems instead of heading straight to court.

Day 5: Commit to an exercise planjanuary blues beat them with exercise

Exercise is good for us, plain and simple. The endorphins and other chemicals released by exercise are the body’s natural way of making us feel good. Beyond that exercise can help with weight management, reduce our risk of serious illness like heart disease and can be a great way to socialise.

Banish the usual ‘it’s too cold, wet and dark outside’ January excuses and get some back up plans in place. Swimming, gym classes or yoga are perfect indoor activities for colder months when a brisk walk or jog is less appealing.

talking-coffeeDay 6: Which relationships do you want to improve in the New Year?

Scientific research is piling up every week to confirm that good, healthy relationships are key to our happiness. More than wealth or status, strong long-lasting relationships are the key to good mental and emotional wellbeing.


In January consider which relationships you want to improve or enjoy more of. Instead of dwelling on how those relationships might be in a bad place or have been neglected, consider talking to a relationship counsellor about how to approach key issues in those important relationships. Then you will be able to take some positive and proactive steps towards improving them.

Day 7: Get some daylightjanuary blues beaten with a winter-walk

Though it might not feel like it, from around 22/23 December the days actually started getting longer. Admittedly by only a few seconds at first but by the time we reach late January the days are nearly 4 minutes longer (and lengthening!).

Instead of staying indoors from January to April, plan in a regular lunchtime walk during work or get out at the weekend while the sun is up. Even low intensity winter sunlight can positively impact our mood and January tends to be drier than November and December too! (we didn’t quite believe it either but its true!)

As Billy Connolly always says: “In Scotland there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Wrap up and get out there.

whats-next-blackboard-schoolDay 8: Work on one aspect of your life at a time

Self-reflection at the start of a new year is a valuable thing to do. But it can often become a stick (or several) with which we beat ourselves with. We can end up analysing all aspects of our life and come to the depressing conclusion that everything needs attention. Overwhelmed we do nothing and feel even worse about ourselves.


Pick one area of your life and focus on that. Is it your relationship with your partner? Is it a desire to spend more time with your kids? Do you want to get more exercise or learn a new skill? Do you want to socialise more with friends? Pick one area and work on that.

Once you see positive signs of progress, consider adding one other aspect of your life you would like to work on but remember the principles of our Day 3 advice on setting resolutions and goals.

Day 9: Take a look at your jobjanuary blues at work

Few people head back to work in January with a spring in their step. Most of us would happily spend a few more weeks chilling out in our Christmas pyjamas watching our favourite movies. But if you are genuinely unhappy at the prospect of going back, it might be worth taking a look at your job.

It might be time to look for a new opportunity elsewhere. But also consider what you do like about your current job. Are there ways to do more of that? Similarly are there any ways you can think to make your day more enjoyable or interesting?

Alternatively could you move to a different team or department within your organisation? Could you learn new skills to broaden opportunities in your workplace?

You might be surprised how many options are available that could mean you do not need to find a completely new job to get more satisfaction.

Family beach walkingDay 10: Plan a holiday

Getting a holiday booked and in the diary is a great way to tackle the January blues.  And it does not have to be an expensive trip overseas.

Planning a few days off or a ‘staycation’ give us something to look forward to as much as a trip to the sun. The excitement and anticipation of the holiday is believed to release endorphins in a similar way to exercise.

While the January credit card bill might not allow you to book a trip away, there is nothing to stop you getting some ideas and starting planning. When the January blues start to kick in get yourself loaded up with travel brochures and start planning!

Counselling and support

January can be a difficult time for any of us. Relationship issues, financial worries and the winter blues are common at this time of year.

We provide expert private counselling and support for individuals, couples and families across Scotland.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our counselling enquiries team on freephone 0808 802 0050.

January is the busiest month of the year for couples beginning divorce proceedings. But by choosing to turn to counselling first your marriage does not have to become just another New Year statistic.

Peak season for divorce

divorce-papersWithin legal circles January is widely regarded as the peak season for divorce. Statistics vary but the initiation of divorce proceedings in January is typically higher than any other month. The increase can range from 60% to a startling 300% according to some surveys.

Indeed many legal firms have narrowed the January ‘divorce month’ phenomenon down to a specific day – D-Day or ‘Divorce Day’. The Monday of the first full working week after New Year is generally regarded as D-Day in the profession. Christmas stress, January credit card bills, ongoing arguments come to a head during the festive season and January inevitably becomes a release valve for the pressure.

Divorce Day

The prospect of a marriage splitting up is a heart breaking one. As providers of marriage counselling and relationship counselling, The Spark work to help couples avoid reaching the stage of believing separation is the only answer. Amongst the media coverage of celebrity ‘quickie’ divorces and aggressive advertising strategies by legal firms, it is completely understandable why many couples think relationship problems can only be resolved by divorce.

Couple separate divorceDivorce is not the only option

When a couple is facing relationship problems and the very real risk of relationship breakdown, counselling is a realistic and practical solution. Relationship counsellors work with both individuals to discover the underlying issues behind their marriage problems.

By discovering those core issues a couple are then able to work through them with their counsellor. The journey of self-examination and self-discovery often leads to not only a better but vastly improved relationship.  This is quite different from couples simply building up their defences ahead of a divorce battle or attending mediation.

Mediation is becoming an increasingly familiar concept.  It is however important to understand the very specific role mediation plays.

The difference between relationship counselling and mediation

Meditation does not help a relationship normalise nor deal with the underlying problems. Instead mediation is about negotiating the overall terms of a separation in order to avoid legal battles over issues like child custody and financial settlements. Mediation can be vital for many couples but it is still ultimately a choice that signifies separation is considered inevitable.

Relationship counselling to help your marriage


At The Spark we see a considerable spike in couples seeking marriage counselling in January. In the context of divorce day this is broadly a good thing; these are couples that have not gone straight down the road of divorce or mediation.

Sometimes separation is the only option for a couple. In many cases relationship counselling can still benefit couples by helpling them to divorce amicably. When children are involved the opportunity to cease hostilities through counselling can help to lay a strong foundation for future co-parenting.

On the cusp of ‘Divorce Day’ please consider that if you are experiencing relationship problems, divorce is not the only option. Speak to us and use the extensive knowledge and expertise of our counsellors to help your relationship.

Marriage counselling

The Spark has been providing relationship and marriage counselling for 50 years. Our team of BACP and COSCA accredited relationship counsellors are specialists in helping couples tackle marriage problems.

With 17 counselling centres across Scotland The Spark is ready and waiting to help your marriage get back on track.

To make an enquiry freephone our enquiries team on 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

new year resolution staying on target

January is probably most famous for New Year resolutions. It is also famous for something else: the complete failure of New Year resolutions before the end of the month.

No matter whether your New Year resolution is to lose weight, keep date night with your spouse sacred or actually take a lunch hour, here are our 6 ways to help keep your resolutions.

new year resolution will power is like a muscle1. Willpower is like a muscle so exercise it

How often do we say ‘he/she has such great willpower’ or ‘I wish I had more willpower’? A lot. But willpower is not a static thing that we are either blessed with lots or little of. Like a muscle, it can increase with training.

You would not go from zero exercise today to running a half marathon tomorrow so do the same with willpower. In the build up to starting your New Year resolution (there is no law that says it has to start on January 1st by the way!) try some smaller, will power ‘gym sessions’.

Ahead of a healthy eating resolution try to ditch the chocolate biscuit with your morning cup of tea for 2 days, then 4, then a week. Or get outside and walk for 10 minutes each day as you build up to a ‘get fit’ New Year resolution.

new year resolution focus on one resolution2. Be specific about your New Year resolution

An important factor in sticking to your New Year resolution is to be specific about it. Something too general or non-specific can actually be demotivating. Or worse give you an easy way out that you will regret almost immediately.

For example swap ‘I want to spend more time with my partner’ for ‘I want to set aside 2 Wednesdays a month for a date night with my partner’. The specifics give you something detailed to aim for, make the resolution time limited and gives you a clear idea of what you need to do to achieve it (pick 2 Wednesdays a month and ring fence them from work, housework, football, running or a night out with the girls/boys).

3. Makprioritye only one change at a time

It can be tempting to set yourself a few New Year resolutions. Social media does not help as we are bombarded with images of people who have lost weight and got fitter, or spent more time with family and less time at work.

The upshot being we feel inadequate for not achieving any of these things and not having more than one resolution.

Decide what your top priority is and focus on that alone. Placing your efforts in one area will reap greater rewards.

new year resolution break it in to small sections4. Break your New Year resolution in to manageable chunks

If you are part of a couple that feels like they rarely spent more than a minute together in 2016, a resolution to spend an hour together each night sounds like a great idea. But if you were that busy last year, this oversized resolution will likely fail after a month or so leaving both of you feeling despondent. Breaking it down in to manageable parts would be a much more fruitful approach.

At first, aim to carve out 10 minutes a day to talk while phones, TVs, tablets and other distractions are switched off and preferably not even in the room with you. Gradually over time increase the amount of time and/or frequency by a realistic amount.

Eventually the time set aside will become habitual and the overall target of spending more time together will be achieved.

new year resolution do something rather than nothing5. If you can’t face doing it all, do something

There will be days when trying to keep the resolution to take an hour for lunch at work or exercise for 20 minutes will feel like a personal Mount Everest. Instead of giving in and beating yourself up about it, do something.

An early-morning 20 minute jog might be out of the question today, so do 10 minutes instead. If you genuinely cannot take your lunch hour, take at least 20 minutes away from your desk.

Doing something is better than nothing. With something rather than nothing achieved you will be in a better, more positive frame of mind to crack on with your New Year resolution again tomorrow.

new year resolution get a resolution buddy6. Get a resolution buddy

Even with a will power ‘muscle’ that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush, we all have days when the motivation needle is on empty. This is when having a resolution ‘buddy’ can help.

Pairing up with a friend or colleague on your quest is a great option. You can boost one another on difficult days and the personal commitment made to each other means you are less likely to skip whatever you are doing. It will be harder to stay in bed for that 6am run if you know your friend is waiting outside for you!

Is keeping a New Year resolution the least of your worries this January?

The Spark provides counselling to help individuals, couples and families work through the challenging issues they are facing in life. No matter whether you are looking for stress counselling, help with anxiety or marriage counselling you can access help from one of our 17 counselling centres around Scotland.

Find out more about counselling with The Spark or find your local counselling centre.


Songs for Sound Minds #6 – ‘Dignity’ by Deacon Blue

#SongsforSoundMinds are our picks of the best music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health. Pick number 6 continues our Scottish theme with a track that many regard as the unofficial Scottish national anthem – ‘Dignity’ by Deacon Blue.

Dignity – Deacon Blue

deacon-blue-ricky-rossIn a time when the world seems obsessed with vast wealth and celebrity as a measure of worth, Dignity is a track from another world. The story of a humble council streetsweeper and his dream of a dignified retirement is at odds with contemporary music’s obsession with fame and excess. But that is what makes it such an inspirational song. It is a celebration of an honest, quietly dignified approach to life and the importance of finding your own slice of contentment.

It is difficult not to feel your heart burst with pride at the imagery of a faceless ‘nobody’ utlimately winning in life. When times are tough the values exemplified in Dignity are often of the greatest worth. Yet conversely they are often celebrated least in modern culture.

In an interview with The Scotsman, Deacon Blue front man and song writer Ricky Ross talked about Dignity as an anthem for the working man/woman, recounting a particular story from 2009 when Deacon Blue played Glasgow’s Hogmanay.

“There’d been a big freeze and during the soundcheck all these working guys from the council were chipping away at the ice…one shouts up, ‘Ricky, gonnae do Dignity?’ Now, we never do that song at soundchecks. But I said, ‘You know what? Let’s do that.’ So, for about three or four guys and whoever else was in George Square at four o’clock in the afternoon, we performed the most moving version of Dignity that I can remember. Those guys probably didn’t realise, but it meant more to me than anything.”

If it feels like life is working against you and you find it hard to believe good guys/girls can find happiness, turn up the volume on Dignity. When you need a boost to get up and tackle the world all over again, few songs are better than this one.

#SongsForSoundMinds are our picks of the music music written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

The Christmas gift set: a cautionary tale (with tongue firmly in-cheek)

Other brands of gift set are available.

The Office for National Statistics has estimated that, in the run-up to Christmas, a gift set will go through an average of three giftings before the final giftee is given the item on Christmas Eve and it’s too late to pass it on. At this point the final recipient either keeps it for next year’s gift-set-pass-the-parcel or sticks it in the back of the bathroom cabinet and never thinks of it again.

This of course is a complete lie but there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. According to Wikipedia, this is what Christmas has become:

 “Because gift-giving and many other aspects of the Christmas festival involve heightened economic activity … The economic impact of Christmas has grown steadily over the past few centuries in many regions of the world”

Finding fun on the high stress pre-Christmas

Let me start by saying this is not a rant against Christmas consumerism. We live in a consumerist society and Christmas is bound to be part of that. It is just a suggestion that the holidays are meant to be fun and that the card and gift buying, for most people, is clearly not.

In December the shops are piled high with things that nobody really wants, to be bought by people who probably cannot really afford them for people they don’t really see that often. All of this seems to be based on the horrible anxiety that someone might give you a card or a present and you haven’t got them one. And the ultimate expression of this anxiety is the Christmas gift set.

The Christmas gift set

gift set
The ultimate insulting gift set – moustache removal & a foot ‘sander’.

Christmas gift sets are either insulting by implication – the implication being that you know little about the person you are giving it to and thus have to select the most generic Christmas present known to man. Or just plain insulting – think hair removal kits and body wash sets. The upshot of this is that we spend a lot of Christmas being anxious, skint and insulted. And by early January the charity shops will be groaning under an avalanche of gift sets.

Someone I know, in a particularly explosive reaction to seeing a Christmas hair-removal kit gift set (Happy Christmas, Darling, and… um… would you mind doing something about the ‘tache?) decided to stop buying cards and presents at Christmas completely. Here is what happened. Year One: 3 people were a bit miffed; Year Two: 1 person was a bit miffed; Year Three: nobody was a bit miffed.

In the 17th century, laugh-a-minute revolutionary Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentary Party cancelled Christmas in England. This was a bit extreme and not at all necessary. By all means, choose presents you can afford for people you care about and if you have children, please try to avoid home-crafting their presents or get them a charity goat (you know why).

Enjoy the bits of Christmas you like

There are lots of very nice things about Christmas. Two public holidays which can be eked out with your remaining annual leave leads those of all faiths and none to say ‘Thank you Jesus!’ In 1882, less than three years after Edison unveiled the lightbulb, Edward Hibberd Johnson produced a garland of small, flashing coloured lights which he rigged to a revolving Christmas tree. That is what I call an inventor!

Just do the bits you like: enjoy the food, enjoy the company and enjoy the lights. If someone gets you a card (or a gift set) and you haven’t bought them one – the most apocalyptic thing that may happen is that they will be a bit miffed – but they probably won’t.

Songs for Sound Minds #5 – ‘Next to Me’ by Emeli Sandé

#SongsforSoundMinds are our picks of the best music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health. Pick number 5 comes from Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sandé and her modern anthem ‘Next to Me’.

Next to Me – Emeli Sandé

emeli sandé

These days its hard not to feel that songs about men tend to fall in to one of two categories: ego-driven tracks glorifying wealth, excess and womanising; or ones written about their roles as heart and promise breakers. Which is perhaps what makes Emeli Sandé’s track ‘Next to Me’ so unique and brilliantly uplifting.

Beyond her spectacular vocals the lyrics celebrate men (and people in general) rather than bashing them.

“I guess when I write, I always want to write things that are important to me and things I’ve experienced in my life… I’m lucky that I have had very strong men in my life and who have always been very loyal to me…” she explained to music website The Boombox.

“So I just felt, how cool would it be if I could hear a song celebrating those qualities not just in men, but in people. You know, loyalty between one another and a real uncompromising love between on another… I wanted a positive outlook on it.”

In an interview with Spinner, Sandé revealed she addresses different individuals when she performs ‘Next to Me’ depending on how she feels at the time: “…I was thinking about having somebody strong beside you. Sometimes when I sing it I’m speaking about God. I’m just speaking somebody or something that’s with you all the time. that’s constant in your life.”

Sandé’s music and lyrics honour any and all who exhibit those often rare but extremely valuable qualities of loyalty, strength and devotion. Whether you are one of those loyal people or someone who wants to thank them, ‘Next to Me’ is a song that will resonate with its powerful and inspiring lyrics.

“When the money’s spent and all my friends have vanished
And I can’t seem to find no help or love for free
I know there’s no need for me to panic
‘Cause I’ll find him, I’ll find him next to me”

#SongsForSoundMinds are our picks of the music music written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds