how to be happy find your flow - child blowing bubbles

Picture the scene.  A teenager opens their exam results: an A in Art, two Cs in English and French and an F in Maths. The response from their parent is likely to focus on either the good bits or the not so good bits.

For example, their response might be:

‘An F in Maths. What went wrong?  I know you struggle with numbers but that’s why I paid for Maths tutors to help you.’

Or alternatively: ‘An A in Art. That’s fantastic! I wonder if we can help you use all that creativity and imagination to improve in your other subjects…’

How to be happy: don’t focus on your weaknesses


Being honest, which option would have been your default response?

Most of us would probably have focused on the not so good bits. Humans are problem-solvers by nature and society has conditioned us to focus on the areas that need work. Anyone that has experienced an appraisal at work will know how obsessed we have become with weaknesses.

If you were more likely to focus on the success in Art, then you are in agreement with one of the newer branches of psychology: the field of positive psychology.

Positive psychology


Positive psychology suggests that you can improve yourself, become more satisfied with your life and increase your happiness by working on your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

When Professor Martin Seligman became president of the American Psychological Association in 1998 he noted that much of the focus of psychology had been on mental ill health and diseases of the mind.  In fact, professionals in the field relied on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a comprehensive and regularly reviewed ‘bible’ for the diagnosis of mental illnesses, personality defects and behavioural difficulties.

Seligman’s view was that too little time had been spent looking at the positive side of human nature; its potential, talents and possibilities.  With colleagues, he resolved to fill this gap and in 2004 they published the seminal book, ‘Character Strengths and Virtues.’

You can find your own Character Strengths and Virtues by completing the questionnaires at authentichappiness.org).

How to be happy: develop your character


Commonly, we tend to think of character as something that is fixed and unchanging. For example, ‘he’s a shady character,’ or ‘she is always honest and straightforward’.  Positive psychologists view character in a different way.

Their perspective is that character and character virtues are something that can be worked on and improved.  Well-being can be promoted by working on 4 or 5 key strengths at any one time according to this nascent branch of psychology.

The following video by filmmaker, Tiffany Schlain, gives a little more detail on the science of character.

“The Science of Character” – new 8 min film from Let it Ripple on Vimeo.

How do we develop our character strengths and virtues?


Character is like a muscle; the more you use it the abler you become. Therefore by focusing on and enhancing your positive character traits, it is possible to further develop them.

Here are some examples taken from our own guide, ‘Relationship Tips for New Parents’ to illustrate positive character traits and ways to build upon them:

  • Take time to introduce children to their new sibling or step-sibling. (Fairness)
  • In the early days when you are both tired, take turns to look after your new baby. Give each other a break to sleep, shower, etc. (Kindness)
  • Be patient with each other and listen to each other’s perspective. (Perspective)
  • Talk about what you need to buy and what can be borrowed from friends and family. Talk about your finances and how you can realistically manage your budget. (Prudence)
  • There can be a change in the balance of your relationship if one person is staying at home to look after the baby. Be sensitive, talk about how this feels, and find ways to share responsibilities. (Teamwork)

 

How to be happy: find your flow


Jonathan Haidt, author of ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ gives his explanation of the link between exercising our strengths and happiness.  He suggests that using our strengths encourages us to immerse ourselves in the moment, in what we are doing right there and then. Eventually losing self-consciousness and achieving a feel-good factor that psychologists call ‘flow.’

Being in the ‘flow’ – whether that be in your work, in your hobbies or time with friends – can create feelings of happiness and joy that we struggle to find in our normal, everyday life. Ultimately by doing more of the things we are good at and enjoy doing, the more we will develop our positive character virtures and therefore experience feelings of happiness and joy more frequently.

Check out this excellent talk by leading positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on ‘flow’ and how to be happy.

 


The How to be Happy series

Catch up with part 1 of our How to be Happy series and find out how post-traumatic growth can be the key to a healthier, happier life.

Believe it or not, there are two words in every language that should be considered the most dangerous in the world. With just over 700,000 words in the English dictionary, there are plenty of potential suspects.

In the era of Trump and global warming you would be forgiven for thinking they might be ‘launch missiles’ or ‘climate change’. The reality is, however, that the two words in question are far simpler and seemingly insignificant.

Simple words with great power


Despite their simplicity, they possess profound power. They have the ability to inspire, to challenge and to catalyse positive change.

They are the essence of Martin Luther King Jnr’s earth-shaking ‘I have a dream’ speech. Every piece of great (and not so great) fictional writing, song-writing and movie-making started with them. They were the driving force behind the likes of Mother Theresa, Winston Churchill and Maya Angelou.

what if we were positive in life

However, as every superhero/comic book fan knows well, the power to do great things comes with a risk of them being used for something darker. That is the problem with these two words. And in case you have not worked it out yet, the two words are ‘what if’.

The darker side of ‘what if’


Imagine for a moment a ‘what if’ thought in the mind of a ‘born worrier’ or someone dealing with anxiety. For them, it will often turn towards something depressing.

‘What if’ accelerates the mind through multiple scenarios, decisions and outcomes; a single thought leading, almost endlessly, to successive bleak results. In their mind, a single thought can hurtle them hours, days, months and even years into an increasingly bleak future.

Consider this example of what happens in the mind of someone that struggles with anxious thoughts. Imagine for a moment that you are struggling with your workload in your job and have missed a deadline:

What if the boss thinks I’m rubbish at my job? What if they decide I can’t hack it? There were rumours recently about cutbacks – what if they use this to get rid of me? We can’t afford our mortgage payments if I lose my job. What if I can’t get a new job? What do I do when our savings are gone? What if my partner can’t handle it all? What if they leave me?

The unpleasant side of ‘what if’


This thought process can happen within a matter of minutes or even a few seconds and with it comes all the attendant emotions of what it would be like to be in each of those situations.

what if

A thought creates a feeling – good or bad – and that feeling is experienced even if it is a thought about something yet to happen. Though the body does not physically pass through these imagined scenarios in real time, both body and mind experience a sort of compressed reality. In this example, the emotions of several weeks/months are experienced in a matter of a few minutes.

Why ‘what if’ can be so exhausting


For mind and body that is an absolutely exhausting experience. We are not built to live through several hours – let alone days or weeks – of emotions in a matter of minutes. This is why anxiety has the potential to drain and, if left unchecked, debilitate an individual.

If you are experiencing anxiety and constant worry that is negatively impacting upon your health and wellbeing, it is important that you speak to your doctor. In the interim, there are some things you can do to reduce the impact of ‘what if’.

Focus on facts


The power of ‘what if’ comes partly from assuming thoughts to be true. This is often based on very little in the way of actual evidence. One way of reducing its impact is to focus your mind – and therefore your thoughts – on facts.

Using the example from earlier, the facts of the situation might be as follows:

  • Prior to this moment, you have been a model employee
  • Your boss has never raised any issues at appraisals in the past
  • There is nothing concrete to indicate job losses are going to happen
  • Right now you have a job, an income and savings in the bank.

Reviewing these truths compared to the assumptions of ‘what if’, the situation looks far more positive.  It can be helpful to write these truths down so you can refer back to them if/when ‘what if’ thoughts re-emerge.

Stay grounded in the present


Grounding, staying in the present and mindfulness are different ways to describe a simple concept: basically considering and thinking only of the things of the moment. Instead of beating yourself up over the past or worrying about the ‘what if’s of the future, focus on what is happening right now.

By staying focused on the present, another part of the power of ‘what if’ can be reduced. Returning to our earlier example, we cannot undo the missed deadline. Similarly, we cannot predict what tomorrow will bring or what our boss might decide.

We can, however, focus on today which might mean learning what we can about why we missed the deadline. Taking that and applying it to our work today, in order to do the best job you can.

what if

Mindfulness classes, meditation and guided meditation – audio tracks by the likes of Jon Kabat-Zinn – can be helpful in building your ability to stay grounded in the present.

Control what you can control


What gives anxiety its ‘punch’ so to speak are the associated feelings of helplessness and lack of control. When our focus is drawn to that – instead of what we can actually control – the feelings of worry intensify.

By focusing on what you can control, you take back control. Again using our earlier example, the individual can control what they learn from the situation. They can focus on the present, staying grounded in the facts of the present. Similarly, they can choose to be proactive and speak to their boss, rather than waiting for something that may never happen.

Start living for today instead of worrying about tomorrow


We spend a lot of time these days worrying about tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes, we are already worrying about the next day. Put simply, yesterday cannot be revisited or changed. Tomorrow does not exist beyond plans and intentions, therefore it is a waste of time, energy and creativity to try and second-guess it.

As Martin Luther King Jnr and Mother Theresa demonstrated, that time and energy could be much better spent looking at life positively and inspiring others.


Follow The Spark on Twitter and Facebook or find out more about The Spark Counselling.

gift how to be happy

This is how to be happy according to Stacey Kramer.

“Imagine if you will a gift. I’d like you to picture it in your mind. It’s not too big, about the size of a golf ball. So, envision what it looks like, all wrapped up.

gift how to be happy

Before I show you what’s inside I will tell you that it’s going to do incredible things for you. It will bring all of your family together. You will feel loved and appreciated like never before and reconnect with friends and acquaintances that you haven’t heard from for years. Your life will have new meaning.”

So begins a TED Talk delivered by Stacey in February 2010.

I want to know how to be happy


What were your thoughts when reading those words? I will confidently wager they went something like this: ‘Where can I get this gift? How much do I have to pay for it? How soon can I get it?’

how to be happy

Later on in the talk, Stacey admits, ‘It was a rare gem. A brain tumour…’ This revelation will stop you in your tracks and, no doubt, the talk is structured deliberately to achieve this. Specifically, it is designed to force you to take time to reflect on your initial impressions of this ‘gift’.

Re-reading Stacey’s seemingly glowing description of what is a horrendous diagnosis, you may doubt the words you read earlier. How can such a difficulty result in so many positive outcomes? How can something that tragic help me learn how to be happy?

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger


Remarkably, in his book ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ Jonathan Haidt reports that modern psychologists consider some level of adversity and suffering necessary for a psychologically healthy and fulfilling life.

We are not naïve or heartless enough to suggest that all traumatic experiences are good for you. Unfortunately, there are illnesses that the sufferer does not survive. There are tragedies that dramatically change people’s lives for the worse. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is very real and blights lives. In The Spark’s work with children, we are very aware that Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs like neglect and abuse can result in health, relationship and social problems in later life.

Most of us will, consciously or otherwise, seek to avoid difficulties and strive to live a problem-free life. But Jonathan Haidt, who is Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University, suggests otherwise.

In short, if you want to know how to be happy, prepare to experience the lows as well as the highs.

How to be happy and the ‘Adversity Hypothesis’


The ‘Adversity Hypothesis’ is a philosophical version of the themes we explored in our Songs For Sound Minds feature on ‘(Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You’ by Kelly Clarkson. The principle is that it is possible to grow from your suffering.

Haidt’s book illustrates 3 specific benefits, contrasting ‘post-traumatic growth’ with post-traumatic stress disorder:

  • Meeting challenging situations uses abilities that you may not have been aware of and gives you confidence in dealing with future difficulties. If we never face challenges or setbacks, how will we get through really difficult periods like the serious illness Stacey endured?
  • Adversity helps you identify who you can rely on in hard times and builds your relationship with them. This is one of the things Stacey Kramer discovered when she had her brain tumour.
  • Surviving trauma can make us take stock and change our perspective on life. Indeed, many of our counselling clients who come through very difficult periods develop a new attitude to life. An attitude focused, for example, on savouring time with family and friends, and less on being chained to their desk at work.

Helping you learn how to be happy


In practice, we sometimes need support to unlock these benefits from emotionally challenging times. Discovering and using those abilities we never knew we had can be difficult on our own.

Similarly, the process of taking stock can come naturally to some people but for others, it might require a guide. Therapeutic counsellors can be those guides.

Counselling is fundamentally about helping individuals and couples determine how to deal with situations, emotions and past experiences. It is about how to take time to consider what has happened and how we might wish to live our lives differently in the future. In essence, it is about personal growth from times of trouble.

Sadly we will all face hard times in our lives, of that we have no choice. But we can choose to take the path of post-traumatic growth as Jonathan Haidt suggests, and counselling can help us find and walk that path.

Counselling and relationship support services


Find out more information on The Spark and our counselling services for individual, couples, married couples and families.

Alternatively contact us directly via our enquiry form or on freephone 0808 802 0050 to talk about how counselling could benefit you.

Nina Simone I Got Life

Songs for Sound Minds #26 – ‘I Got Life’ by Nina Simone


‘I ain’t got no home, ain’t got no shoes
Ain’t got no money, ain’t got no class
Ain’t got no skirts, ain’t got no sweater
Ain’t got no perfume, ain’t got no bed’

Why is it that we often focus on the negative side of things? Glass half empty, not half full. Counting our tribulations, not our blessings. Sometimes we seem stuck in a rut imagining all the things that might go wrong and all the things that we believe are ‘wrong’ with our life.

This melancholy outlook on life is exhibited perfectly in the opening lines of this Nina Simone classic. Focused on the negatives and downsides of life, she sounds like a women concentrating on the things to be upset, scared or worried about.

I got life… for now, says the caveman


One explanation for this behaviour offered by psychologists and sociologists is that it is a primitive instinct.

The caveman that was vigilant to danger was more likely to survive than his ever-optimistic friend. While the former considered rustling in the bushes a reason to be on guard, the latter headed towards them in wide-eyed anticipation. In that situation, expecting the worst – a sabre-tooth tiger perhaps – was a necessary element of survival.

Thankfully these days we only need to avoid overly-pushy double-glazing salespeople or high-street ‘chuggers’. But the mind-set remains for many of us.

In maintaining such an outlook on life, we risk falling into a life of constant pessimism and, potentially, isolation and depression. There is a reason Eeyore – from AA Milne’s much-loved Winnie the Pooh stories – was always alone.

Forget the bad things, I got life


Simone’s song takes a sudden positive turn however and we realise that it is not about darkness after all but rather it is about the opposite:

‘I got my arms, got my hands

Got my fingers, got my legs

Got my feet, got my toes

Got my liver, got my blood’

The song is encouraging us to acknowledge the simple things in life, to appreciate what we already have and to stop worrying about what we don’t have or might never have.

Nina Simone I Got Life

Nina Simone was a prominent activist in the US civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. She experienced first-hand the segregation and discrimination of the time. Despite her natural musicality and training as a classical pianist, she failed to gain entry to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia due to the colour of her skin.

Simone’s personal experiences and that of African-Americans throughout history give added meaning to another of the song’s verses:

‘Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture

Ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schooling

Ain’t got no love, ain’t got no name

Ain’t got no ticket, ain’t got no token

Ain’t got no God’

But in spite of all of this, she still proclaims the virtues of maintaining that positive attitude to what life throws at you.

Celebrate life today


‘I Got Life’ is a real celebration.  There are always reasons to choose the positive side of life, no matter how bad things seem or how difficult the way ahead looks.

Nina Simone’s exuberant response to adversity brings to mind the words of poet Maya Angelou, another civil rights activist:

‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.’


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

confidential sign

We have reached the final part of our 4-part series looking at the most common counselling myths.

The Spark is busting the myths and misconceptions that can end up stopping people from considering counselling as a way to overcome the challenges and difficulties of life. By highlighting the truth about counselling we hope to offer a clearer picture of the ways counselling can help navigate the challenges of life.

Read on for part 4 of the series or catch up on part 1, part 2 and part 3.

Counselling myths no. 9: A counsellor will judge me or look down on me


There are many different types of counselling. There are also different types of counsellor, with unique approaches to therapy. But one thing unites them all: the desire to help others.

Individuals that become counsellors do not do so in order to look down on clients or to judge them. They do it to be able to provide assistance to those struggling with life or dealing with painful experiences.

In many cases, but not all, individuals decide to become counsellors because of experiences in their own lives. Influential psychoanalyst Carl Jung coined the phrase ‘wounded healer’ to explain this. Jung determined that a ‘healer’ (in this case a counsellor) is often compelled to do so because of their own difficult experiences in life.

Carl Jung
Psychoanalyst Carl Jung

Counselling myths no. 10: People will know I’m seeing a counsellor


Privacy is the cornerstone of counselling. Anything and everything you discuss with a counsellor is private and confidential.

A counsellor will never disclose information about you or your therapy sessions without your express permission.

There are some exceptions to this rule when there is a suspected risk to your own life or that of another person, which a counsellor will explain to you at your first appointment.

More detail on this is covered in The Spark’s privacy policy.


The truth about counselling

Heard a myth about counselling we haven’t covered? Send it to us on Twitter or Facebook and we will bust that one too!

Find out more about individual, couple, marriage or family counselling with The Spark or complete an informal enquiry form.

marriage counselling broken heart satchel paige

Chances are you will have heard or read the idiom “love like you’ve never been hurt before”. Similarly, the chances are you have no idea where it came from or who said it first.

This particular piece of simple but deeply profound advice did not come from any of the usual suspects like Confucius, Aristotle or Maya Angelou. It came from one Leroy Robert ‘Satchel’ Paige.

I’ve never heard of Satchel Paige…


Paige is considered by many as the best pitcher in the history of American baseball. Not only that, Paige holds a record unlikely to ever be beaten – the oldest player ever to have pitched in major league baseball history, which he did at the age of 59.

His advice is a nice sentiment. In practice, of course, it is too hard to actually follow through, right?

How can we live and love like the hurt and pain inflicted upon us in the past never existed? In the case of Satchel Paige, he did despite a life that was scarred by racism, segregation, abuse and poverty.

The life and hard times of Satchel Paige


Satchel Paige
Paige was African-American and grew up in the time of the USA’s Jim Crow segregation laws. One of 12 kids in a poor Alabama family, Paige started work aged 8 carrying luggage at the local train station (where he gained the nickname ‘Satchel’). Petty crime followed and 5 years in reform school. During that time he developed an incredible ability to throw a baseball with extreme speed and accuracy.

Because of the colour of his skin, Paige was only able to play in Negro leagues. These were formed by black players barred from playing in the major leagues. Unable to make enough money playing, Paige worked second and third jobs and toured the country in ‘showcase’ teams – a sort of Harlem Globetrotters for baseball.

Eventually, Paige’s showmanship and skill drew white fans to the games and in 1949, at the age of 41, Paige stepped up to the major leagues with the Cleveland Indians.

More hurt than we could imagine


Paige’s time in baseball – like all African-American players – was plagued by racist abuse, in some cases from fans of his own team. Rival teams would deliberately line up their best batters to try and embarrass him on the big stage. Throughout his subsequent 18 year career in the major leagues, Paige experienced hurt and pain most of us will, thankfully, never have to experience.

All of this makes his attitude to life all the more powerful and highlights the importance of forgiveness.

Overcoming hurt and finding reconciliation


In life, it is often the people we care about the most – spouses, our kids, close friends – that end up hurting us the most. Invariably the pain of whatever they have said or done overwhelms our ability to channel the love we still feel for them into an attempt at forgiveness and reconciliation.

marriage counselling broken heart satchel paige

Many individuals, couples and families come to The Spark for counselling because of the difficulties of repairing relationships and finding reconciliation.  Often, to use another popular idiom, they tell us they have been fighting for so long, it is impossible to remember what started it. The hurt is left to fester and builds, creating more unhappiness in our own lives and diminishing the chances of rebuilding those broken relationships.

Be more like Satchel Paige


Our advice is simple: be more like Satchel Paige. Pick up the phone to that friend that you fell out with. Send a card to that family member who hurt you. Or if these feel like big steps you are not ready to take just yet, consider speaking to a counsellor about the hurt you have experienced.

We might not all be able to enjoy a life and career as long as Satchel Paige’s was, but we can certainly try and replicate his outlook on life.

myths about counselling

Welcome to part 3 of our 4-part look at the most common myths about counselling.

At The Spark have been looking at the misconceptions that can end up discouraging people from considering counselling. We are busting the myths and highlighting the truth about how counselling can help navigate the challenges of life.

Read on for part 3 of the series or catch up on part 1 and part 2.

Myths about counselling no. 7: Counselling is only for really serious problems


Many individuals with really challenging issues like addiction or self-harm can benefit from counselling. This does not mean however that there is some sort of minimum criteria for counselling.

The vast majority of The Spark’s clients are dealing with issues and challenges that we all face from time-to-time. Relationship difficulties, stress, depression, parenthood and bereavement are just a few examples.

Couple counselling couple back together myths about counselling

Increasingly individuals and couples are viewing counselling – as we at The Spark do – as a normal part of managing the ups and downs of life. Often they will undertake a block of counselling sessions to deal with a new issue or life challenge as therapy is about developing strategies to deal with everyday issues.

Counselling is non-discriminatory in every sense of the phrase. There is no issue too small to be of concern and if it is of concern to you, a counsellor will be happy to help you with it.

Myths about counselling no. 8: Counsellors have it ‘all sorted’


Though it may come as a surprise, counsellors are human beings like you and me. They face the same challenges in life that we do and will go through the same emotions when it comes to loss, bereavement or relationship breakdown.

myths about counselling

Through their extensive training counsellors develop a skill called self-awareness, which allows them to leave any of their own ‘baggage’ at the door of the counselling room. Once a therapy session starts, the time is devoted to you and the challenges you are facing.

Counsellors also undertake something called supervision. This is where they use the services of a clinical supervisor to review their own work, how they are progressing professionally and also to deal with any issues in their own personal life.

This combined with self-awareness allows professional counsellors to be completely focused on each client during a therapy session.


Myths about counselling

Look out for part 4 coming up soon by following The Spark on Twitter or Facebook.

Catch up with part 1 and part 2 of our ‘Myths about counselling’ series.

Find out more about individual, couple, marriage or family counselling with The Spark or complete an informal enquiry form.

Heard a myth about counselling we haven’t covered? Send it to us on Twitter or Facebook and we will bust that one too!

myths about counselling

We are continuing to look at the most common myths about counselling in part 2 of our series.

These are the misconceptions that often discourage or prevent people from considering counselling. At The Spark, we are busting the myths to highlight the truth of counselling and its ability to help us deal with the challenges of life. Catch up with part 1 of the series.

Myths about counselling no. 4: Counselling will take forever


A common myth is that as a result of the counselling process, you will need to be in counselling (or therapy as it is often called) for a lengthy period of time.

The duration of your counselling depends on many factors. For some clients, it can be a process that takes half a dozen sessions, for others longer. In some cases, clients may come back to see a counsellor a couple of times a year to talk about new issues in their lives.

myths about counselling

Couples, in particular, are increasingly using counselling intermittently to help them tackle the natural challenges of life. Major life transitions like starting a family, career changes, periods of financial worry, or bereavement have a way of unsettling us.

Ultimately it is about what best fits your circumstances and your needs. By way of a rough guide, the majority of our clients typically see a counsellor for approximately 6 sessions.

Myths about counselling no. 5: Counselling is only for ‘weak’ people


The reality is quite the opposite. A decision by an individual or couple to seek counselling is actually a demonstration of strength and wisdom, not weakness.

It is an admission that the challenges faced have proven too great for an individual or couple to resolve on their own. That is a brave decision for anyone to make. And it is a decision which comes from a determination to protect the individual or the relationship in question.

myths about counselling - it is only for the weak

In our experience, people seeking counselling are often some of the bravest we have had the pleasure of meeting.

Myths about counselling no. 6: You can only receive counselling face-to-face


Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, counselling is no longer restrained by the confines of the therapy room.

While many clients prefer to see their counsellor face-to-face, The Spark provides counselling via telephone, online and video streaming. Meaning you can undertake your counselling session pretty much anywhere.


Myths about counselling

Look out for part 3 coming up soon by following The Spark on Twitter or Facebook. Catch up with part 1 of our ‘Myths about counselling’ series.

Find out more about individual, couple, marriage or family counselling with The Spark or complete an informal enquiry form.

Heard a myth about counselling we haven’t covered? Send it to us on Twitter or Facebook and we will bust that one too!

achieving good mental health

The focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week has been ‘stress: are we coping?’  This got us thinking about books that have helped us cope with the stresses of life.

One, in particular, is a recommended read for us. And it just happens to be the birthplace of many of the idioms that pop up regularly on your social media feeds.

Are we coping when life gives us lemons?


‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ was first published in 1948. Yet it contains timeless wisdom that has helped people through periods of severe stress.

Alongside author Dale Carnegie’s own guidance ‘when fate gives you a lemon make a lemonade’ there are references to ancient wisdom and true life stories of battles with anxiety and stress.

Cover of Dale Carnegie's book How to stop worrying and start living

Carnegie is best known for his book ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’.  The book was written in the 1930s and became a template for a certain type of guide to personal development. As examples of this, see the more recent ‘The 12 Rules of Life’ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

The book is highly rated by many including successful American businessman and investor, Warren Buffett. Despite being over 75 years old it still regularly appears on bestseller lists.

How to stop worrying and start living


Whereas ‘How to Make Friends…’ focuses on how to succeed in a business arena, his follow up, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’, attends to tried and trusted ways of dealing with life’s trials and tribulations.

Both books have one important point in common; they are not meant for casual reading.  Rather, they are to be used as prompts for action.

The book is structured into sections that look at worry from different angles. Chapters include ‘Seven Ways to Cultivate a Mental Attitude that Will Bring You Peace and Happiness’ and ‘How to Keep from Worrying About Criticism.’

Each section contains 3 or more chapters with the section ending with a short to do list.  For example, the section on criticism ends:

  1. Unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. It often means that you have aroused jealousy and envy. Remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog.
  2. Do the very best you can, and then put up your old umbrella and keep the rain of criticism from running down the back of your neck.
  3. Let’s keep a record of the foolish things we have done and criticise ourselves. Since we can’t hope to be perfect, let’s do what E. H. Little did: let’s ask for unbiased, helpful, constructive criticism.

This is where your favourite #WednesdayWisdom quote came from…


Carnegie loves slogans and, in a way, was the forerunner of the social media phenomena of ‘Monday Motivation’ and ‘Wednesday Wisdom’.

He was well read, often quoting leading philosophers and psychologists of the day like William James (‘Be willing to have it so.  Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.’)

Wednesday Wisdom text How to stop worrying

He also understood that his way was only one of many ways of approaching the challenge of worry and anxiety.

Carnegie concludes one chapter with the Serenity Prayer, a central part of the Alcoholics Anonymous approach: ‘God give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Are we coping? From the perspective of people like you and me


‘How to Stop Worrying’ ends with a section of short case studies written by individuals about their personal struggles dealing with worry.  Much of the content of the book centres on stories of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.

Written just after the Second World War many stories relate to the personal challenges men and women faced during this difficult time.  Other stories in the book are more familiar and deal with the common experiences of life, for example, losing a loved one.

This reliance on everyday examples was used by Carnegie in his other books, as a direct result of his background in public speaking.  It is said that he listened to and critiqued over 150,000 speeches in his lifetime and these provided a rich seam for his books.

‘How to Stop Worrying…’ was written some time ago and there are many self-help books that have been published since.  Perhaps there’s a book that you turn to when times are challenging.  If so we’d love to hear about it.

Share your favourite books with us on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #TheSparkMindBooks


Are you coping with life?

If you are finding life a struggle, speaking to a counsellor can be helpful to understand the emotions you are experiencing and develop strategies to cope.

At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples and families for over 50 years. We are also the biggest provider of school-based counselling services in primary and secondary schools in Scotland.

Find out more about counselling or talk to a member of our team on 0808 802 0050 during our opening hours. Alternatively, complete an online enquiry.

us time

Life is busy. For couples with children life is even busier as they shuttle kids from activity to activity, keep the house running and hold down full-time jobs.

It is not a surprise that when our counsellors ask couples about how much ‘ us time ’ they get, the answer is usually ‘no time for that’.

No time for us time


When our counsellors ask why, the responses are again similar.

us time

The general theme being that as a relationship matures, the practicalities of life – raising children, demanding jobs, caring for older relatives – impinge on our time. ‘Us time’ simply gets squeezed out.

That realisation saddens me because we are sleepwalking into an exhausted acceptance that ‘us time’ is a luxury we simply cannot afford.

Thinking about relationships as living entities


We have talked before about how the relationship with our partner is a living entity in its own right. By that definition we must think of it in the same way we would our children; vulnerable, precious gifts that require time, love, attention and protection.

This consequently poses some tricky questions we all need to consider.

Ask yourself honestly if your relationship gets the time it deserves. For example, when was the last time you sat down with your partner and talked? And by talking I don’t mean the nightly bedtime ‘did you pay the insurance?’ Q&A session.

us time

I mean a proper conversation about both of you and your relationship. Discussing hopes, fears, emotions and how you are doing in life right now.

How much love do we give to our relationships?


Equally does your relationship get much love?

In the busyness of life we often take it for granted like the foundations of a house; reliable, out of sight and requiring little thought. Investing love in our relationship becomes something we used to do when it was fresh and vibrant.

Going through the motions during us time


How much attention we give to our relationship goes a long way to deciding how healthy it remains. Neglect a child and their behaviour, health and wellbeing will deteriorate rapidly.

So is ‘us time’ an afterthought?

Do you plan a date night together and really make it a special occasion or is it a case of going through the motion when you have time?

When it does happen are you guilty of being present in body but not mind? Distracted by work emails or Instagram on your smartphone?

us time
This is not what date night is for

Protecting our relationship


When we think about protecting a relationship, typically our minds turn to the risks posed by affairs and neglect. Threats, however, can be more subtle.

A good example is whether your time together is protected. Or is it the first thing to go when schedules get really busy?

Do you nourish it by thanking and praising your partner for what they do or is it more often harsh criticism (to their face or behind their back)?

Give your relationship what it needs to thrive


The relationship with your partner is far too valuable to sacrifice.

We must ask ourselves if packing the week with activities for our kids and working every hour that God sends is worth it if our relationship becomes a deeply unhappy, lonely mess.


The Spark Counselling

The Spark’s couples counselling and marriage counselling services offer the opportunity to speak to a professional counsellor about the difficulties and challenges you are facing in your relationship right now.

To find out more freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an online enquiry.

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