Things are somewhat exciting in my world at the moment. By this time next month – or thereabouts – there’ll be not one, not two, not three, but four editions of “stuff what I wrote”. ‘How To Eat Loads And Stay … Continue reading →
Needless to say, I’m pleased as punch, and for the first time in my short writing career I suddenly feel the need to celebrate with all those people who helped me get to this point. In other words, YOU. How does the afternoon of Sunday the 10th of February sound? From 1pm. Here in sunny Southend on Sea, at Waterstones Bookshop. Put that in your diary.
There’s no need to feel compelled to buy a new copy of the book if you’re an existing reader – I’ll sign whatever copy you have – but most of all I’d like to shake you firmly by the hand and thank you for your support.
As well as handshakes I can say with reasonable certainty that there’ll be FREE pens, badges, lollies, and glasses of fizz! Possibly with alcohol in them! And if none of that’s enough to entice you then there’s always the official How To Do Everything and Be Happy Balloon Hat! With his big smiley face and out-stretched arms, your smiley-balloon-hat will either communicate love for your fellow man, or stand in for you should you be feeling a little light in the love-giving department. And when you’re finished with him, just pop with a pin and pretend like it never happened. Definitely recommended for kids of all ages.
Obviously feel free to just ‘rock up’ if you find yourself walking past the store that Sunday afternoon – though it would be mildly useful to get a feel for the number of people likely to show. You know, just so that I have enough bottles of fizz. Use the comments below or click here to let me know on facebook. Oh, and bring your friends.
Waterstones Southend is opposite Marks & Spencers at 49-51 High Street, SS1 1HZ. Map below.
So how’s it going so far? Is it all lovely and exciting? Or is it pretty much like last year? Perhaps even a little bit dull? Would you say that, aside from joining hands with friends and family on the stroke of midnight and mumbling the words to a song you only sing once a year, it’s actually quite difficult to know where 2012 came to an end, and 2013 began?
I know how you feel.
Which is why, in a few days time, I will be hosting the first of this years Happy Clubs, here in Southend-on-Sea.
Happy Club – starts Thursday 24th January 2013
If you’re a long time visitor to this blog you’ll know that this year I’ve run numerous How To Do Everything And Be Happy workshops in various parts of Essex.
I think it’s safe to say that the workshops went down a storm, and I’m delighted to announce that using the invaluable feedback I received, Southend’s Therapy Life Centre and I will be running a series of monthly Happiness workshops – starting next Thursday, on the 24th January – to coincide with the recent re-launch of the paperback.
Each month we’ll spend the first hour looking at a different idea from the book How To Do Everything and Be Happy and how to implement it into your life, whether that be Boxing Day, Wish List, Now Lists, Focus, Trophy Boards, or Diaries. Then after a short tea-break (biscuits provided – probably, if I remember) we’re back, looking at your Goals, how far you’ve got with them and how you can take the next step towards achieving them.
This Thursday we’ll be concentrating on how to eliminate unhappiness, and working out exactly what we want for the coming months. It’ll be fun! I can definitely promise you that. But I have a feeling it’s also going to be the start of something special.
Is it a workshop? Or a course? It’s a “club”.
Technically it’s a series of six stand-alone, related, repeating, workshops (when we get to workshop number six we’ll start afresh the following month). You can come along to just one, a series of six, or every month, it’s totally your choice.
The evening will have more of a club-feel to it making the whole experience less “rushed”, more intensive, and introducing a strong focus on helping you achieve your goals as the months roll by.
It’s a fun way to get motivated and fired up about making changes in your life, whilst being practical, realistic and keeping your feet firmly on the floor.
How much does it cost?
The cost is just £60 for six sessions (if you pay in advance – see below), or £12 per session if you pay on the night.
Where and when?
The club starts on January 24th 2013
Subsequent clubs are on the last Thursday of each month and last two hours (including a ten minute break around half time).
We start promptly at 8pm (so maybe get there about 7:45? Put that in your diary).
We meet at The Therapy Life Centre, in Southend On Sea, Essex. (the old driving test centre) – there is reasonable parking.
The address is 11 Prittlewell Chase, Southend-on-Sea, SS0 0RX
The nearest station is Prittlewell (just fifteen minutes walk away) which is on the Liverpool Street – Southend Victoria line.
So there I was, sitting at home, having me tea, when the phone goes and me ol’ pal Matt (who never, ever calls me) says, “Mate! Your book’s just been on the telly!!”
And he was right too. As part of a short feature on ‘Self Help’ books, on the BBC’s One Show, the new version of How To Do Everything and Be Happy briefly makes it into the shot along side books by Paul McKenna and Deepak Chopra.
If you’re interested you can view it here - on the iPlayer website – but only for a day or two, then it’ll be gone forever!
For most people, Boxing Day is a slightly downbeat, re-run of the previous days festivities. More Turkey. More Christmas pud. Perhaps a change of venue and/or relatives. That’s certainly how it used to be in my family, but when my wife Kate came along Boxing Day became ‘our’ day. A chance to finally be alone together, to declare Christmas well and truly ‘done’, and to bask in the healing power of the unplanned moment.
I remember our first Boxing Day together. We got up around midday, opened a bottle of champagne, looked at our presents from the day before, roasted chestnuts in the oven, played a silly board game, watched “Ghost Busters” in our bath robes, and stuffed ourselves on posh nibbles. And as the sun gave up its fruitless attempt at breaking through the grey December sky, and the lounge was once again lit by tree lights and candles, I found myself giving Kate a chair to sit on, whilst I went down on one knee.
“Marry me,” I said.
That gives you some idea how good Boxing Day made me feel about life. And there hasn’t been a Boxing Day since that hasn’t given me that same inner glow, that same joy for life. And I can speak with some authority here because in the last seven years I’ve celebrated Boxing Day approximately eighty three times.
* * *
Not that long ago, before the days of conjuring words out of the air and rearranging them into an entertaining order, I worked in banking. Credit Card Banking.
I was a fix it man. An ideas man. Wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money with the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it the ‘credit crunch’ is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was there, pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.
I hated banking. It was about a million miles away from what I’d always hoped I would be.
Other than usual childhood dream of being a fireman or an astronaut, my earliest ambition was the desire to create books. I remember taking as many sheets of paper as I was allowed, folding them in two, and using my grandmother’s stapler to create a spine. I’d then proceed to fill the pages with illustrations and narrative, until I ran out of space, which is when the story would – sometimes quite abruptly – end.
These books were distributed on a strict ‘read and return’ basis. I don’t remember the stories I wrote and I have no idea what happened to the manuscripts but I remember it used to make me happy. I remember that.
But you know how it is. You grow up. Put aside childish things. Get real. And all the dreams you had – becoming James Bond, becoming an actor, working in a job that you enjoy – they all get compromised. Down to nothing.
On my thirty-second birthday, I finally realised that there was a distinct possibility that the last of my ‘dreams’ might also never come to pass.
At the time I hadn’t even realised that it was a dream – I just hadn’t had a proper girlfriend for a while. A long while. A really long while. But I’d always assumed that things ‘would work themselves out’. Eventually. It appears I was the only one who thought so.
Colleagues had long since stopped describing me as an eligible bachelor, and some had even questioned my sexuality, which wasn’t helping the situation.
The thought of being single for the rest of my days was unacceptable.
Something had to be done.
* * *
So in order to avoid a life of bachelorhood, I started to plan. I made lists. I came up with a strategy. I took all the problem solving skills I was developing to make rich men richer, and applied them to my own life.
Around that time there was a TV show on the BBC called ‘Would Like to Meet’ where a team of experts (a flirt coach, an actor, and an image consultant) would take some hapless individual and turn them into a heart-throb or a man-magnet. I’d watch it avidly from week to week hoping to pick up some tips. And quickly came to the conclusion that I too could do with a similar makeover, albeit without the entire viewing nation of theUnited Kingdomlooking on.
So over the next few weeks I ordered a truck load of ‘dating’ books and stacked them by my bedside ready for those evenings when I found myself alone. ie. all of them.
I also tracked down an Image Consultant, picking the one I fancied the most on the grounds that any woman I found attractive would probably dress me in a manner she’d find appealing. Of course, back then Image Consultants really only worked for corporations but I had surprisingly little problem persuading her to broaden the scope of her client base to include one sad and lonely thirty something guy. And once my wardrobe had been completely replaced I went in search of a flirt coach.
At the time Channel 4 regularly hired a lady called Peta Heskell whenever they needed a relationship or ‘flirt’ expert, and as luck would have it Peta ran weekend flirting courses. I sent myself on one, took my place in the front row and when instructed, nervously introduced myself to the stunning blonde sitting next to me.
“I’m Peter,” I said.
“I’m Kate,” said the blonde. Then she smiled. And I was smitten.
The course wasn’t that much of a success, in that it didn’t teach me anything new, not that it mattered. My strategy had worked, albeit somewhat differently but infinitely better than I’d hoped. Kate and I were married exactly a year later.
* * *
Kate was a wonderful person. A true entrepreneur. A real visionary. When we met I had vague notions of settling into a rather typical domestic life-style; putting up with a job that I didn’t care for five days a week, in return for the company of a loving woman in the evenings and at weekends.
Kate had very different ideas.
Life wasn’t about ‘settling’ for things. To her there was a world of possibilities out there. We could go anywhere, do anything, have everything, all we had to do was put our minds to it.
When my wife wasn’t trying to convince me that we could escape the ‘rat race’ – or at the very least change races – she was reading. I’d lay money that a copy of every self-help book published around the millennium somehow found it’s way onto my wife’s bookshelf, where it would wait in line to be digested, scribbled over, highlighted, deconstructed and eventually incorporated into ‘Kate’s big theory of everything’ – a kind of pseudo social-science technical manual as to how the world works, and the people in it.
During the two and a bit years of our marriage Kate became more than my wife, she was also my teacher.
And when she died in my arms I was heart-broken.
* * *
People rarely ask me how Kate died. It’s just not the sort of question they feel comfortable asking. Most assume she must have had cancer – that we’d have had some warning. We didn’t.
I’ve learnt since that sudden deaths like hers (a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage) are surprisingly common. Kate had a weak part in her brain, probably since birth. It could have happened at any moment. It was almost inevitable.
I learnt too that after the shock comes the guilt. Every cross word, every nasty thought, every lie – they all come back to haunt you. And amongst the demons that were queuing up to torment me was the realisation that I still wasn’t happy, and maybe I never had been.
There had been happy moments, of course. Quite a lot of moments. Most of them in the previous three years, and most of them down to Kate, but they were moments none the less. And I wanted to be happy all the time. Not just occasionally. Not just for a moment.
Something had to be done.
* * *
And so I decided to tackle the problem in the only way I knew how: by making lists, and coming up with a strategy.
One such idea was Boxing Day.
That first Christmas after Kate passed away my mother, concerned for my welfare during the festive season, asked if I’d like to spend Boxing Day with them. It was a generous offer but I decided to spend it just as we always had.
I got up late, I opened a bottle of champagne, I sat in bed and browsed my collection of gifts from the previous day. Then I took the Brie from the fridge, a box of posh crackers (the edible kind) and worked my way through the whole lot whilst I sat in front of the telly and watched “The Santa Clause”. A little later I emailed friends I’d been meaning to catch up with, and followed that with a walk down to Old Leigh. I looked out at the boats resting in the mud, and then I went home, wrote down some thoughts, and did some planning.
By the time I went to bed I felt like I’d had a week’s holiday, and all I’d done was get out of bed and see how the day unfolded. It was such a good day that I caught myself wishing that Boxing Day happened a little more frequently than once a year, at which point I had the following crazy thought: Why can’t it? What was to stop me replicating the same structure – or lack of structure – on any other day of the year?
From that day on I decided to have a ‘Boxing Day’ once a month. Once a month I get up with absolutely no plans whatsoever and see how the day unfolds. And that was almost seven years ago.
* * *
Though the ‘Boxing Day rules’ expressly forbid pre-planning, my Boxing Days definitely have themes.
I’ve made chocolate brownies, treacle tart, many many pizzas (base included), and truck loads of flapjacks.
I’ve ‘dropped in’ on friends, my family, visited junk shops and museums that I’ve always wanted to go inside.
I’ve set off in the car forCambridgeor other far flung places I can get to, and back, in a day.
And I’ve worked – working is a completely valid Boxing Day activity if it’s what you really want to do, and it isn’t pre-planned. I’ve written whole chapters, spent a day blogging, caught up on all my post and emails.
I’ve had plenty of successful Boxing Days (in that I achieved that holiday feeling by the end of the day), but I’ve also had less successful Boxing Days (when I didn’t). What I hadn’t realised at the time was that I was experiencing something that scientists refer to as ‘Hedonistic Habituation’. Regardless of how pleasurable an activity is, much of its pleasure is actually derived from its ‘newness’. So whilst I thought I was relying on activities that had worked on previous Boxing Days, I had, in fact, got myself into a Cambridge-based flapjacky rut. The trick, it seems, is to think of something you enjoy doing – then tweak it enough to make it ‘new’.
* * *
Of all the ‘happiness’ ideas I’ve had over the years, Boxing Day has been without a doubt one of the easiest to implement. It’s also the one that raises the most eyebrows.
“That’s bonkers,” my friends say. “Brilliant, but bonkers. But don’t you ever feel lonely? Or at a loss to know what to do?” And the short answer to both questions is, yes, of course. Though it pains me to admit it, I can’t guarantee that Boxing Day will work each and every time. But I’ve learnt that when this happens it’s best just to shrug, and move on. When it comes to creating happiness whilst Boxing Days are great, they’re not the whole answer.
“So what is?” They ask. “What else is in this… ‘happiness strategy’?”
At this point I usually tell them to get another round in. And then, over the noise of our fellow festive revellers and ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ thumping out of the juke box, I tell them about my ‘Now List’, my ‘Wish List’, how I set myself yearly goals, and how I make sure I actually achieve them.
I tell them how I’ve taken back control of my life, decided how I want it to be, pointed it in that direction, and given it a kick up the backside.
I tell them how I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had. Smiling more than I ever did. How there’s love in my life again. How I think Kate would be proud of me. And that I can finally say, I’m happy.
“Those ideas are too good to be kept to yourself,” they say eventually. “You ought to write those things down.”
And so I did.
Thirty something years later I am finally doing something that I wanted to do. I’m realising a childhood ambition. I’m making books.
The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that it’s been a while since I posted an entry on this blog. I’d like to tell you that I’ve been ludicrously busy, and whilst that wouldn’t be a lie (these past few months have been possibly the most manic I can remember) it certainly wouldn’t be the whole truth.
The thing is, I’ve been feeling a bit of a fraud.
This is my author blog – it says so right there at the top of the screen, but with only book to my name, published through my own company, there have been times this past year – quite a lot of times – when I’ve felt that calling myself an author is akin to the average man on the street buying himself a second hand lute and declaring to the world that he is a musician. But no more.
Allow me to give you a potted career history of Peter Jones.
Back in my early twenties, a series of poor choices and lucky accidents resulted in me becoming self-employed and working for most of the UK’s Credit Card banks as a freelance business consultant. I was (and I suppose, still am) an ideas man, and a fix-it man; wealthy men would ask me how to make even more money using the tools they had at their disposal, and I would tell them. Though it pains me to admit it, the credit crunch is partly my fault – not my idea, but I was most definitely pulling the levers and pressing the buttons that made it happen.
It wasn’t a bad way to make a living – the money was nice – but whilst I enjoyed the problem solving, and the company of the people I worked with, as the years rolled by I became less and less comfortable working in that industry. By the time I met my wife Kate I wanted out, and much of our time together was spent trying to find ways to use the few skills we had between us to create an alternative career. We tried everything from website design, to property investment. None of those things really worked. And when she died, it felt like my dreams of escaping credit card consultancy died with her.
How wrong I was.
What actually happened was that my focus changed. And instead of trying to dig myself out of the pit I’d spent almost twenty years getting myself into, I concentrated my solution-finding skills on seeking out the very thing that I seemed to lack; happiness. I read a lot of books, made a lot of lists, and tried anything and everything I could think of. Most of the ideas didn’t work. But some.. did!
One day a good friend of mine (hello Tina) suggested I ought to write down some of the quirkier ideas. Several months later I found that I’d accidentally written a book.
Around that time one of my banking contracts was drawing to a close, so I took the somewhat risky decision to dedicate the next few months to publishing my strange work of accidental non-fiction, first as an e-book, and later as a (Print On Demand) Paperback. If you’re a regular visitor to this blog you’ll also know that not only did I achieve that but that the book was quite successful. And when I say ‘quite’, I am of course being extremely British about the whole thing. I’m using ‘quite’ in the same way that some Americans might use the world ‘wildly’. By Christmas of last year my sales were such that I’d started to wonder if I could actually get away with not returning to my previous life – whether I could achieve the impossible, fulfil a child-hood dream, and become a full-time author.
“I am supporting myself
doing the things I love & enjoy,
and no longer worry about bills.”
By March, and thanks to the persistent efforts of my assistant, I found myself one of the many authors taking part in the prestigious Essex Book Festival. A few weeks later I signed a three book deal with audible (.co.uk | .com), the world’s largest supplier of audio books. I asked if I could audition to read my own book – I passed the audition, recorded the title, and timed the second e-book edition of How To Do Everything and be Happy to launch alongside the audio in June.
It was always my intention to bring out this updated version in paperback too but events took a slightly different turn. The ebook success and audible deal got the attention of an agent, who in turn was able to get the attention of some fairly major publishers. On August 31st I officially signed a deal with publishers Harper Collins to relaunch the book that got me here in the first place. Essentially How To Do Everything and Be Happy has broken into the mainstream.
What does this actually mean?
Well firstly the book has a brand new funky cover. Secondly, the e-book is now available EVERYWHERE, for every e-reader on the planet, from all good e-book retailers. Thirdly, it’s still only £1.99 (or your local equivalent).
And last, but by no means least, a brand new paperback version – with all the lovely second-edition extras & goodies – will be on shelves, in bricks and mortar UK book stores, on the 17th of January 2013 (a little later in the US – be prepared for half a zillion pictures of me in bookstores up and down the country on facebook in the New Year)
To celebrate the re-launch of the paperback I’m planning on having a book-launch thingamy. I’m not a huge fan of book launches, or indeed any social gatherings (you seem surprised?), but even I’ve got admit that this can’t go by without something to mark the occasion. And so long as I’m left in charge of organising it please consider yourself (and a friend) invited, because I could never have got this far without you!
So does this mean I’ve achieved my goal?? Am I no longer worrying about bills? Pfff! Not quite. But I’m a good deal closer, and I’m still working on it.
The next book - How To Eat Loads and Stay Slim - is finished. In a few days I’ll be able to tell you where and when it’ll be available. And right now I’m half way through writing a third book, and about to start a fourth. I am quite frankly stunned at what I’ve managed to achieve. Not proud – just stunned. Pride will follow shortly I’m sure, but right now I’m still reeling on a daily basis from how much you can achieve if you set your goals correctly, and put some effort in.
And you’ll be pleased to know I’m feeling a good deal less fraudulent. Expect more frequent author blogging from this point on. At least, assuming I’m not too busy.
One of the best things about being an author – if not the best thing – is the opportunity I’ve had to meet my readers, many of whom have interesting ideas, fabulous suggestions, or extraordinary tales of their own to share.
Take for example, this week (or last week when you get to read this). Reader Jamie Anderson popped by How To Do Everything and Be Happy‘s facebook page to “LIKE it“, having just finished listening to the audio book. I got an email telling me he’d done so and moments later I found myself admiring his “cover photo” (all of which will mean something if you happen to use facebook). Anyway, we struck up a conversation, and a while later Jamie dropped me an email to tell me why the image meant so much to him.
Here’s part the email I received:
About 4 years ago I was running a company I had set up 3 years previously doing something I was good at but didn’t really love. Suddenly one night I was struck ill, and ended up in hospital. The doctors told me I most likely had an autoimmune condition and that my life was about to change forever. I lay in my hospital bed reading pamphlets they had given me about how my life was about to change. I downloaded Audible on my phone and purchase Michael Heppell’s “Flip It” book, which helped me look at this potential nightmare in a different way.
Anyway, I was discharged and went home with my huge basket of new drugs to deal with this condition.
I sat down, and started to list all the things that I wanted to do. All the things I wanted to change. All the things I wanted to try before this condition got the better of me. “Fly a helicopter”, “buy a stupid red American 80s sports car”, “Try rock climbing”, “travel to…”, “Get out of this company I hate”. You get the idea.
6 hours later, I got a frantic answerphone message from the doctor whose care I had been in. “Please call us back urgently Mr Anderson, we need you to come back in”. I feared the worst. Had the biopsies shown cancerous growths? Could this get any worse?!
I headed back to the hospital, and met with the anxious Doctor. “Mr Anderson, I’m sorry, we have made a big mistake”. “Oh God… it’s cancer isn’t it” I thought.
“You don’t have this autoimmune condition at all!” She said. “It’s a simple bacterial infection that has caused all of this, and we can clear it up in 7-10 days with these pills”. She thrust some new pills into my right hand, and took the bag of pills from my left hand.
It had all been a terrible mistake, and after about 1 month I was fully recovered. But it made me think how fragile life is and how quickly it can change. If that’s the case then what the hell was I doing living a life I didn’t love, doing things I hated every day, and not doing the things I really wanted to do!?
Well, it took me another 18 months to close that business, and it was horrible. But the result is that I’m now happier! I’ve flown a plane (not a helicopter yet), done several sessions of rock climbing, and bought (and sadly sold) a burgundy 1987 Pontiac Fiero. My God, I loved that car. I want to get another one. I will get another one. I own a 1988 Pontiac Fiero – 20th December, 2012. See, I’ve read the book! I’m now a self-help junkie, and your book is one of my top 10 (out of the 150 or so I have read so far).
Anyway, my cover image on my Facebook page came about as follows: I thought long and hard about who best to ask about how to live life well and make the most out of every day. I realized that the dying (those who knew they had 1-4 weeks to live) would be the best people to ask. It’s amazing how that sort of news can suddenly make you very wise and bring incredible clarity to what you think about life. The same week, I found an article about a nurse who had asked the dying their main regrets.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
These were so striking, I kept reading them every day, but they weren’t very powerful written in that way. I then read a related article where someone had turned them into commandments, and another had created the image you’ve shared.
It’s not perfect (the don’ts are a problem), so it’s on my list to remake the image with more powerful affirmations. But my feeling is that if you follow these affirmations in life you can’t go too far wrong.
What an amazing story, eh? And I have to say I couldn’t agree more! Thanks for sharing your story Jamie – here’s hoping you get to fly that helicopter soon.