Archives for category: General

Are you a glass half full person, or a glass half empty? Tradition has it that the optimist is glass half full, the pessimist half empty.

But what’s the realist? I like to consider myself a realist, borne out of experience. This realism is often misconstrued as pessimism. I admit it, I’m a whinging pom sometimes, and I’m in the second age category that Wilde refers to when he says ‘the young know everything, the middle aged suspect everything, the old believe everything.’ But I’m still a realist, there’s no contradiction there in my view.

Consider these phrases, which I attribute to realism:

  • Hope for the best, plan for the worst
  • Sh*t happens
  • C*ck-up theory
  • Chance, happenstance and circumstance
  • It is what it is

To continue the glass metaphor, that makes me a glass 50% kind of a guy. It’s not half full, it’s not half empty, it’s simply half.

You can work and plan to improve the 50%, and that’s where your experience, track record and realism comes in. Hoping it’s going to happen, and fearing it won’t happen; they’ll do you little good.

Life is a series of peaks and troughs, it’s almost never straight line, until life is over I suppose. These peaks and troughs can cover dietary, fitness, work, energy levels, lifestyle, family. You’re either busy or you’re not, and if you’re in the middle it tends to be not for very long.

What usually happens around holiday times is that people take time off to re-charge, and often this is when they succumb to illness or viruses, since their bodies might be at a low ebb and their defences are down. They’re also socialising more. Unscientific, but anecdotal, and true, I think.

So it is with me over the holidays. I try to avoid emails, and I’m much less strict about the food and drink I consume. I even let in the foods that can cause me to be unwell, since it’s, well, the holidays. So it is, then, about early January time, that following a holiday trough and before a work peak that it all catches up with me and I wonder whether it was worth it to indulge to such an extent.

Ah, but the memories! If only I could find a way of slightly levelling out the differences so that I still have a great time and the come down isn’t so epic.

Back to work for a rest, as they say. The younger ones I presume.

New Year’s resolutions are old hat, apparently. The new new year thing is New Year’s aspirations.

I suppose the logic is that we resolve to do something and then it falls flat – maybe it’s too lofty a goal, or we can’t sustain it – whereas an aspiration is something more realistic, something we can ease up to, to give ourselves time, to make a gradual behaviour change rather than go cold turkey.

I don’t really start my New Year’s stuff until a few days after the first of January, usually my first working day of January, which is today in fact. There’s too much of a social hangover from the holidays for you to stop dead in your tracks and change direction. You know what they say: stop smoking gradually, the way you started. Also, I tend to be away for New Year’s and then you end up getting home a couple days after the start of the month, and it’s hard to effect real change when you’re travelling.

I like the idea of New Year’s aspirations, though. It fits in with the science of effecting true behavioural change. You prep for change, you change, and then you enforce the change repeatedly until it’s the new normal.

I wish – or aspire for you – a great new normal.

The Germans have a word, actually I’m sure they have several other such examples, that conveys something that’s really hard to express in English without using a far less economical explanation.

Wikipedia describes the word as ‘a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance.’

Whenever I think of the word I imagine being in a warm chalet half-way up a ski slope, with a roaring fire, comfy chairs, a bunch of friends and family, and a glass of gluhwein or a bowl of gulaschsuppe with a hunk of bread. I don’t ski very often at all, but I hope I’m conveying that feeling of snugness, without I hope, the feeling of smugness, that we can all experience without going alpine.

One of the wonders of there being loads of different languages is that they all have certain words relating to their own culture and are so idiomatic that you need a paragraph or even a book to do them justice in your own tongue. Another example would be the Danish word hygge, which is surprisingly close to gemütlichkeit in its meaning.

Whatever your own preference of word, I wish you much of it.

C’est la vie – this is the life! Or, as my good lady’s aunt pronounces it, ‘sest lav eye’.

What better phrase is there to sum up the pinnacle of being alive in a great moment? When you’re lying down with the sun on your face, or admiring an amazing view from the comfort of a chair, or enjoying a drink with friends in a place with gemütlichkeit, it’s those precious times when you are conscious of how lucky you are.

I wrote recently about the importance of enjoyment, and making an effort to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing. The self-help best seller and blogger Tim Ferriss also alluded to it in his 5-bullet Friday email when he picked for his ‘quote I’m pondering’ a Kurt Vonnegut line from the book A Man without a Country:

‘And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.’

Which, I guess you could say, is the exact North American translation of c’est la vie.

You can’t beat a lovely looking natural Christmas tree.

These days, the argument over natural or artificial is an environmental one. The natural brigade point to the difficulties of disposing of an non-recyclable artificial tree. The artificial aficionados argue that their version lasts for years and years without having to uproot a tree every single year, and clear up after it as well.

As long as you’re buying from a source that is self-sustaining, natural Christmas trees win hands down for me. We get ours from Galway Christmas Trees, and I love the whole ritual of arguing over which one is the best, before we settle on our favourite, get it netted up and bring it home.

Not only is the natural look more welcoming, but the smell of it is great too. It’s like having a bit of forest in your own home. And, if you buy one that comes with a root ball, you can plant it afterwards and watch it grow – winner!

How to live a long healthy life, stimulated in both work and play, with a loving family and trustworthy, supportive friends?

I was watching this video recently from BBC Reel about a certain region of Japan where they believe they’ve found the 4 secrets to long life. It’s probably no surprise that the world’s longest living nation puts its longevity down to diet, exercise, the ability to help yourself and a mutual help system, otherwise known as a socialising – at least in my book.

Speaking of my book, what do I think the secret of a long healthy life is? I’m barely half way to the age of Japan’s famed centenarians, so I’m hardly an infallible data point. But anyway, I think the secret is to enjoy. Enjoy who you are, what you’re doing, and the company of those you hold dear.

The enjoying who you are bit I think is the most important element. Being comfortable with who you are, what you do well, what you do less well, what you like and what you don’t like. A key part of being comfortable with who you are is being easy on yourself. Give yourself a break. Being down on yourself is almost always counter-productive.

That’s why I always try to have a one word parting gesture when someone’s about to embark on something they’re looking forward to, and, if I’m honest, on something they’re not looking forward to: enjoy.

I’ve always detested the so-called Reality TV genre. Really can’t abide it at all. It doesn’t matter what topic: celebrities, regular folks, dancing, surviving, loving, hating, watching reality TV. I find it awful and depressing.

I think this is because reality is not real. At least, reality television isn’t real. It’s an edited down, souped up, hammed up, extreme version of real life. All the good bits, the dramatic bits, put together for our entertainment. Packaged up as real, but not really real at all; simply entertainment, of a type.

It doesn’t convey real life, and I don’t think it was ever meant to. Real life is running all the time, and has always run, and you simply can’t convey the huge periods periods of not much happening, periods of normalcy, not even with vlogging. Normalcy is not viewable as entertainment, not even if you attempted some Truman Show-type of constant coverage. If you did you’d get the view the camera gives you, not your view, the individual’s.

When I was much younger, well before reality TV emerged, I sometimes day-dreamed about what it would be like televising me driving on a long journey, exploring my musings and regaling myself and my unseen audience with my wit. How would that ever be interesting to others, even if you had the most charismatic person in the world, unless you presented the highlights?

You can’t ever replicate the individual’s perspective of the reality they see and experience. Maybe there’s a different format yet to be explored which will do justice to real life. But probably not.

I used to think they’re were two groups in society, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. It turns out there’s a third group.

I didn’t realise this, and I never heard the phrase before. There are the haves, the have nots and the have lots.

The have lots have loads of money, and can pretty much stay in a hotel any night they wish, and any hotel too. They can pretty well do what they want. So can we all, I might argue, but there’s always a fairly large ‘within reason’ hanging around. Money stops the vast majority of us doing literally anything.

Now obviously there are tiers within tiers, and not all the have lots can buy a Premier League football club. But, it must be a funny feeling if you can do what you want, without compromise. How do you choose? Does it make choosing more difficult?

I like reading interviews with well known people when they’re asked the question: what is the best invention ever?

For me, the greatest invention of all time, as far as it impacts on my daily life, is the dishwasher. It’s a massive time-saver, time spent on that most tedious of chores.

I’m reminded of this every time my mother hosts a dinner in her apartment, because she doesn’t have one of these magical appliances. My mother would not be shy in using implements in the creation of one of her masterpieces. It’s not unheard of for one of her boys to come from the washing up into the living room to say: Look Mum, I found something in the kitchen you didn’t use!

I’ve briefly touched on the satisfaction of using this appliance before. You stack your dirty stuff, throw in a tab, set the program and close that sucker up. Return a couple of hours later and it’s all done, ready for you or an offspring to load the shelves and cupboards. You can also get cute and stack your dirty things in a way that makes it easier to put the clean stuff back. Awesome.

I realise that this is not the most earth-shattering or uplifting answer to the best invention question, but for me it’s one I’m thankful for every single day. Now if they could figure out a machine that will allow you to wash everything…