What does happy really look like...?

How are you?

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumAnd you don't have to answer with 'fine'. I'm genuinely asking... Email me to let me know if you'd like to be heard. I'm here and listening. 

What emotions are you feeling right now?

As I sit typing this, I'm actually feeling pretty happy. I've been jumping off sand dunes in the rain with my kids much of the day, and now it's 'movie afternoon' time while I get down to writing this newsletter.

...which is late. And so I'm feeling frustrated and self-judgemental about that. Right now, I'm doing my best to acknowledge those unhelpful feelings and let them go, without turning to chocolate...

Are you happy? What does happy really look like? 

I smile and I laugh a lot. So I probably seem pretty happy.

But, I also cry more easily than most other people I know. About the same amount as my kids in fact. Which is a lot.

People who don't know me so well don't tend to see that side of me. 

So am I sad person or a happy person?

....I'm both.

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of Mum

In fact, I think there's a clear correlation between my big smile and my easy tears: I let myself feel stuff. I'm vulnerable.

These days, I can manage those emotions a bit better than my kids can (not always...!). I don't squash them when they come. 

I let the laughter bubble up. And I let the tears run free...

Because I've learnt that if I try to numb the difficult feelings, I can't help but numb the positive ones too. Not acknowledging the sadness means not acknowledging the happy. It's so often the most challenging moments that show us the value of the deeply joyful ones. That allow us to feel all the extremes - to treasure being alive amongst the mess of emotions.

Which doesn't mean that the horrible feelings aren't still horrible. Or that I don't still try to numb them now and again - by eating thoughtlessly and spending too much time on facebook.  Yep, I try to squash them with chocolate, cake, social media, crap TV, working late, or by blaming other people instead of just sitting with feelings of guilt, anxiety, sadness or shame. 

Brene Brown talks about how so many of us numb our vulnerabilities. Over-working (tick), eating (tick), drinking (tick), watching TV (tick), over-exercising (not so much...): we all have our own ways of blocking out the unhappy feelings. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that any of those activities are wrong, in moderation. What's numbing for one person can be revitalising for another - it really depends what's motivating us to do whatever we're doing.  Any of those activities can make us feel happy.

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumA piece of chocolate can lift my mood, a slice of smiling cake with friends can be a deliciously lovely treat, and making positive connections on social media - as we do on our #somum Make Dates - can fill me with joy.

But when I'm using any of those things to numb my discomfort in some way, it doesn't make me feel any happier.

So I try to notice when one piece of chocolate turns into five, or a little bit of time on social media turns into incessant scrolling through status updates, seeing if anyone has 'liked' my photo yet

...because, annoyingly, that usually means that I'm trying to avoid something: a feeling I don't like. 

And the truth is, I'm only going to be able to feel happier if I pause and explore what that not so happy feeling might be. 

What really helps to make me feel happier in that moment? Reaching out to someone I trust, and sharing how I'm feeling. Being heard. Being held, literally or emotionally. Writing it down or talking it out. 

Naming the feeling starts to lessen it. And breathing through it lets me think about what I can do that will truly make me feel happier in that moment... (See this month's activity...!)

When have you been the least happy?

I track my biggest struggles with happiness to two significant points in my life: As a young teenager, being bullied at school. And motherhood.  

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumAnd oh my, am I grateful that I have so many more resources to manage those challenges now! Funnily enough, I also have motherhood to thank for that.

Motherhood hasn't only been my biggest struggle, it has played a vital part in my journey towards more moments of true happiness.

In spite of how hard I found the transition into early motherhood - and still find the everyday confusion, exhaustion, and constant change of parenting - becoming a mother has changed me for the better.

It has given me a bright raw passage to intense fear and intense joy. And the invaluable gift of being able to pause and be present in the moment - rainclouds, sunshine, tantrums and all.

My children have taught me to be curious, more aware of what is going on around and inside me - and to live each minute. To feel it all. 

I don't always stay present, I'm too easily pulled away by emails and apparently urgent work: my phone-checking reflex. But when I know I need to feel happier, I step into the present with them.

I breathe. I go outside. I pay close attention to something beautiful. I choose to do something that I know will make me feel better - something that will engage as many senses as possible, and remind me of all that is good in the world.

Luckily for me, I live in Cornwall (another gift, this time from my Cornish husband). I can step outside and see trees and flowers, hear birds singing.

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of Mum

I can walk for a minute and stare out at the sea, watching waves crash against the coast as I search for heart-stones. I can sit and make a mandala out of flowers with my kids.

But my connection with nature doesn't have to be that full-on. You don't have to be in Cornwall to feel it. Often, the sky is enough.

Sometimes I simply take a moment to feel the grass under my bare feet as I pour coffee grounds around the edges of our tiny front yard in a vain attempt to dissuade cats from using it as a toilet... 

Bare feet, the sky - those simple connections with nature fill me up as much as the big ones. Even when I'm also feeling frustrated at discovering yet another entirely 'natural' byproduct of neighbourhood cats ;)

What do you do that makes you feel happier?

What are the simple things that cheer you up - looking up at the stars, your favourite uplifting song, a hot cup of tea, a sunset, putting a letter in the post... What fills you up when you're feeling empty? We hope to remind you this month over at Story of Mum.

We'll be making Happy Hearts to capture those things that make us happy, holding them in simple paper hearts and hanging them somewhere special to remind us.

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of Mum

...If you follow me on instagram, you'll already know that I have an obsession with noticing random heart-shaped things everywhere.

My collection of heart-stones is ever-expanding, I can't stop photographing heart clouds, cracks, leaves, flowers, holes, you name it.

And despite the fact that it is always accompanied by a heart-stopping screech of 'MUMMY!!!!!", it thrills me when my kids want to show me a heart they think I've missed.

In short, hearts make me happy. And I hope they'll make you happy too

So this month, we'll be taking a little time for ourselves to think about those little things that lift our moods - writing them down on strips of paper, and making them into a simple love heart together. Join in any time and add your heart to our gallery.

And join us to talk happiness and make Happy Hearts at our next #somum Make Date on Wednesday 10 June from 8.30 to 10pm on twitter. 

Happy Baby, Happy FamilyHappy Baby, Happy Family

In keeping with our happiness theme, we'll be celebrating the launch of lovely Sarah Beeson's new book Happy Baby, Happy Family by giving away some copies during our twitter date - so join us for a chance to win!

Sarah gently reminds mothers to trust their instincts - there are no one-size-fits-all solutions in motherhood. If you're still in the first year of motherhood, this will help. And if you're not, pass it on to a new mama you love.

Embrace Happy at Brit Mums Live

On Saturday 20 June, I'll be at BritMums Live in London, hosting an Embrace Happy session with lovely Karin Joyce

We'll be talking about all things happy, getting creative, and reminding mums to take time to look after themselves.

I'm starting to get very nervous now, so please do let me know if you're going to be there with an encouraging smile. We'd love to see you! #embracehappy

Want to feel happier right now?

OK. Here are five things that you can do to feel instantly happier (all scientifically proven, not by me, but by people with impressive name badges who do that sort of thing...)

1. Breathe - yes, just pause and take five deep quiet breaths. All for yourself. (You could even listen to a short meditation while you do - see below...)

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of Mum

2. Feel Grateful - state three things that you are grateful for right now (even better, write them down every day: Karin has a lovely facebook group for this - or keep a journal by your bed and do it at bedtime)

3, Be Kind - plan to do something today that will make yourself or someone else feel better - leave a Leafy Love Note, make an Encouragement Card, give a compliment, smile at a stranger, thank somebody... Then do it.

4. Notice Nature - head into the wilds, or just spot the blades of grass finding a way through the paving stones. Take a moment to notice a tiny miracle.

5. Smile - even if you're not feeling happy, smiling will make you feel happier. And if you can smile at someone else, that's even better - double the benefits.

BONUS: For extra happiness points, make a list of all the things that really make you feel happy, and bring them along to make a Happy Heart with us, any time. Do it in a happy gang on Wednesday 10 June on twitter.

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumWhat happy things happened last month...?

Well, I hosted my first Individual Mamas' Retreats at Prussia Cove and it was heavenly!

The weather was perfect, the company and food delicious. And it definitely had the desired effect:

"Thanks so much again for yesterday, I feel so refreshed! I woke up feeling really good this morning. It was an incredible day and you are a very special lady!"

In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to give myself a mamas' retreat too the next day...

I so wish you could have been there at Prussia Cove with us... So I recorded a little mama meditation to give you a five minute taster - crashing waves, birdsong and all. Eek! I was nervous about sharing that on you tube, but it seems to have gone down well. 

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumTake a few moments for yourself and have a listen any time you need a break.

For our shared activity, we made encouragement cards for mamas that we loved, and talked courage at our #somum Make Date - reminding ourselves of just how brave we are every day.

I also shared a heartfelt blog post this month: Remember this on the bad mothering days - which made people cry, happy tears we hope...!

More retreat news...

We're starting to host our first virtual mamas' retreats this month! Would you like one? Find out more over here...

Our next Sunday Morning Mamas' Retreat will take place in Penzance on 5 July. We'd love to see you there.

Jump in now and book your tickets over here - as you're the first to hear about our early bird offer (valid until 7 June)...

What does happy really look like? A newsletter from Story of MumFancy a small group mamas' retreat? We've had an enquiry about hosting another small group mamas' retreat (day or residential) this year: 10/11 October might work, but we'd need some other mums to make it feasible...

So if you think you might be interested in joining a small group of mums in Cornwall for rest, nurturing, creativity, good food and mama support in October, reply to this email with a quick YES! 

No promises required at this stage, we're just trying to decide whether to do it. Thank you!

Goodness me, that was a long newsletter. Happiness might lie in the simple things, but it seems to take me a long time to explain what it really means to me...!

Wishing you so much happiness and sending you love, 

Pippa and Penny

PS We'd love to host a happiness retreat for you - find out more here.