RETROSPECTIVE/HOW TO: Creativity as therapy

I make a lot of things. I have been for a really long time. So I wanted to talk about creativity as therapy – and how making things can help, hinder, and where it can take you (or where it took me).

I started making things really young – I think I loved cross-stitching as a kid (and have been playing with the idea of learning to sew for real this year). I made a lot of things with paint, and kind of sucked at it. I’ve always been someone who writes – and has been quite lauded for it. In my adult life, I have over 20,000 people looking at my creative work. This has certainly added a different dimension in some capacity, but I think in a lot of ways, I still think of creativity as something I just do and then push online to say, ‘Hey! I made a thing! Let me know what you think, maybe!’

I think, as I’ve mentioned, zines are my favourite way to get my feelings out in a creative capacity. But I worked a lot with writing, and for a long time, that was both a way of doing something artistic and really summing up a situation. My poetry professor in university, Ruth Padel, said, ‘Poetry is the most beautiful and efficient way to express a message.’ So for me, I found compressing life events into something that was pretty gave me the capacity to process hardship and see the beauty in it.

That’s a bit about how art helped me – and I don’t think it’s a good summary, because I didn’t get a lot from writing stuff down. I get something out of it – I think there’s connection – but for me, it’s more about moving on than it is about processing. Like yelling at someone and then walking out and being okay. I think writing can help you process your feelings when done in a specific way, as I mentioned in a post about writing to your feelings – and I think there’s also a lot of development in journaling and developing a voice where you don’t feel judged. A lot of art is difficult in a sense because you often create twice – for yourself, and then for others. There’s a sense of being looked at – and it’s hard not to care when people don’t like your work, I think.

How would I recommend starting an art as therapy practice? Similarly to journaling, I would say that it’s important not to care too much about the quality of what you’re making and just to get something down for the sheer sake of achievement. You don’t need to be able to rationalise or explain the things you are making, because that might come in time, or not at all, or immediately – you just need to make something, even if you think it’s trash at the time. You can layer on top of stuff, as well.

I think a lot of what people find appealing in art is the busyness and meditativeness of the activity – you’re focusing on something beyond your feelings, or on expressing your feelings in a very specific way, so I would recommend keeping an eye on your emotions and physical sensations throughout the process – if your breathing’s getting shallow, if you have a stiffness in your chest, if you feel heavy or sad and can’t say why. It’s not about explaining, but exploring.

For some ideas:

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BOOK CLUB: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari

This book sucked. I wish that people who wanted to write self-help books in a narrative format would just write a blog post. I know this is a blog about mental health, but I feel like the framing devices involved in this kind of format are really obtrusive and boring, and make the actual lessons more difficult to unpack. Worry not, though, because Sharma definitely included summaries at the end of each chapter – unfortunately not detailed enough summaries.

Let me tell you what I did get from this book, aside from the fact that it sucked. In fact, here is a four minute summary, so you don’t have to read it.

The main premise, numero uno – your mind is like a garden, to be cultivated or left to run awry. True enough, and ever since my first therapist visited my house and talked to my parents, my dad has been super fond of the phrase, ‘Bad thoughts are weeds and I want them out.’ This is a fine premise, except that it gives no advice for how to achieve this in the moment aside from increasingly ominous messages about how you can’t afford a single bad thought. There are some exercises and tips, as follows:

  • The Heart of the Rose – look at a rose for as long as you can every day. I think the implication is that you build up to twenty minutes. This seems kind of like a nice externalising meditation. I cannot buy a rose every few days to look at, but it’s a cute idea. I just do insight meditation instead. I think the point is that you focus on something for a period of time longer than twenty seconds.
  • Listen to music so as not to get stuck in a bad place.

Other things this book talks about:

  • Dedicating your time adequately – I think this is important, so I can’t fault it, but again, very little advice on how to do it. In this day and age, calendars and to-do lists are pretty failsafe, and I enjoy colour-coding. If you’re up for it, try out Fantastical.
  • Be lonely/alone for a bit in the morning. It isn’t a bad idea to be alone, I guess, and also to have the time to clear thoughts.
  • Remove unnecessary things. Sharma doesn’t really talk about how to overcome sentimental attachment, just that you should do this, like, somehow.
  • Always follow your principles (thanks for the vague advice).
  • Engage in personal reflection.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Always think about how you can do good.

Other advice in this book that I don’t think is great – don’t eat dead food (or do, but be aware that it’s killing you?). I’m not particularly preachy about vegetarianism, but I guess if you want to, it’s nice to ease in – I mostly try not to eat anything that isn’t raw until dinner anyway, so 2/3 of my meals are vegetarian by default and then I also aim to eat a vegetarian dinner four days a week. Mostly what I found myself doing is replacing meat with halloumi, to be honest. Also, this isn’t really important – meat might not be great for you (or something), but in your quest for a healthy mind, choose your own dang diet.

Basically, if you want to read a more interesting version of this, maybe read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and learn to meditate. Or read this blog post again. You’d probably waste less time.

BOOK CLUB: Ikigai

Oh boy, another one of these books on how different cultures live well. There sure are a lot of these, and it’s interesting that one should come out of Japan of all places, given Japan has only recently started to put preventative measures into place regarding its high suicide rate. Puigcerver doesn’t really explore too many aspects of mental health, misleadingly – his focus is on ‘living well’. It’s kind of misguided, if you ask me, because ‘living well’ for him looks like the longevity of Ikaria. So, to go on a tangent for a moment – my grandparents are all in their nineties. This week I visited them (which is why I’ve been posting less, I suppose) for the first time in five years or so, which is the longest any family member hasn’t visited. I got status reports from all three of them about how they haven’t been able to climb stairs/walk independently for the past two to three years. This despite one of them only retiring a couple of years ago and walking regularly (which Puigcerver recommends). I don’t think longevity is necessarily where it’s at – in fact, people are shown to experience severe decline in mental wellbeing when they perceive themselves as lacking control in a situation, and with old age often comes that lack of control and reliance on others.

The word ‘ikigai’ doesn’t actually indicate anything about living well – it’s about finding a focus, a lens with which you can direct your life, or raison d’être. For some people it’s weaving baskets really well. Ironically, this book has no focus. I’m not sure it has any ikigai, either. It’s quite a confusing and contrived read. I’ll move onto my summary of what this book reports to be living well, so you can at least digest those tips:

  • Stay active, don’t retire – retiring means giving up doing things you love (???) and that’d be pretty bad for you.
  • Take it slow – leave the concept of urgency behind.
  • Eat until you’re 80% full.
  • Surround yourself with good friends.
  • Get in shape.
  • Smile.
  • Reconnect with nature.
  • Be grateful.
  • Be present.
  • Follow your passion.

Alright, there’s my summary of the book’s summary chapter. Moving swiftly onwards to my scathing critique – most of the tips in this chapter are so obvious that I’m actually a little insulted. ‘Get in shape’? ‘Smile’? Really? I get that some aspects of mental health are simple, but some of them are devastatingly complicated. Something I’m realising more and more is that few self-help books mention that maybe you need to seek out more than a picnic with your friends in the forest to be consistently well (and you’ll note I didn’t say ‘happy’). That maybe engaging in self-assessment and developing self-awareness is a really important and vital step in being a thriving human being.

Secondly, the focus of ‘ikigai’ is really the barely-veiled Westernised ‘follow your passion’ concept all over again. Need I remind you that the individualised mindset and the pressure to follow a passion is what got us into this mess? To address this quickly: passion is built, not generated by luck. It’s mostly a combination of being good at something and enjoying it (and when things are addressed in an environment of growth, i.e. seeing yourself get better, you obviously enjoy it more). So this book is already on my bad side. And moreover, it gives you no actual tips towards finding your ikigai – it tells you how to live around that concept, and then waves its hands around and says ‘by the way, this thing that I titled the book after is also really important, but you know, not gonna tell you much about how to achieve it.’

But also, this book just…goes all over the place. It’s a total mess, tonally and structurally. I’m not even sure how it really relates to Japan – the authors ask a bunch of centenarians how they’re still alive, and that’s kind of the extent of it. The authors went on a trip to Okinawa once, or something, or something, or something. If this book focused on the interviews with those centenarians more, it would at least have a focus that made sense, but there’s also a bunch of other stuff in there that doesn’t work – constant talk of vegetable gardens and rural living (an impossibility for those of us who live in the city), diet, achieving flow state, and something about Hayao Miyazaki and the efforts he puts into his movies and how he refuses to retire, and something about Murakami?

Of course, anyone who’d looked into Miyazaki enough to wave hands at him in their research-based book would probably know about his disillusionment with where the art industry is going and how that affects his position as one of animation’s best-loved directors. Or how maybe seeing people a few times a year the way Murakami does is not a super healthy way to live your life and most people need more social interaction than that. But whatever?

To conclude, this book makes little sense and the tips it does offer are platitudes at worst, things you’ve definitely heard before from your mother for free at best. Moreover, I think that a book that preaches the value of work and keeping busy as a tenet of wellbeing but fails to acknowledge the frequency of death by overwork that exists in the country it’s tokenising has no place on my shelf. This book has nothing to do with finding purpose, and everything to do with somehow living a long life. My red pen comments: ‘????? See me after class.’

BOOK CLUB: The Happiness Project

This week I was thinking about Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness project is perhaps my unhappiness project.

I want you to close your eyes.Imagine yourself living on the Upper East Side, your adoring husband and two healthy and academically gifted young girls trailing behind you. You’re invited to parties. You have friends. You have a nanny. You have an office and you can afford to pave it with bluebirds without a care. Yet something is missing. You spend most of your time (it seems) thinking about how you aren’t acknowledged enough for the good you do, how it doesn’t count for enough, and griping at your family for not following what you want or acknowledging your actions enough. You ready? You got it? Congrats – you might just be Gretchen Rubin.

See, I’d have a lot more stock in Rubin if she’d literally any chops of her own. But she admits to being relatively happy, incredibly privileged – and refuses to engage in therapy. Perhaps in refusing to do so, or otherwise, she neglects to tell the reader what she has overcome that gives her the right to preach to us about being happy. Because without that information, this comes across as, ‘I was bored and trying to deal with the ennui of being a person who is finite and can’t possibly matter to everyone, so I wrote this book and spent a year giving myself gold stars to fix it.’

Alright. Gretchen is a self-described perfectionist. I accept that. But a lot of what being a happier person looks like for her, is also…being a better person. It’s griping less. It’s complaining less. It’s buying shit she doesn’t need and pestering her unbelievably patient friends to let her clear out their closets. It’s downright preachy, and coming from someone whose wealth, health, and familial security I can probably never hope to match, it’s not genuine. Being a better person is all very well – kindness and community is a large part of being happy. Being good to others makes us happier. But Gretchen can’t hope to deal with any of the initial stages of developing self-worth this way. I guess she doesn’t have to, though, since she’s too busy battling that one kind of bad book review her Churchill biography got once. Also, this does not STOP. It’s always ‘my time as a Supreme Court clerk’, ‘my Yale degree’, ‘my very rich and obedient husband’, ‘my adoring daughter’. It makes it so hard to relate to her, because the entire thing seems like a humble-brag about her whole damn life. Like, Gretchen always says, ‘identify the problem’. In one major case of what brings her misery, the problem is her not having a set-aside place for her to put things she wants her daughters to remember. Her solution? A box. Great. Thanks, Gretchen. A box.

So, what is this book about, aside from a rich white woman figuring out how to best use her privilege to her advantage? I’ll summarise. She sets aside twelve commandments, and twelve month-long mini-projects where she has a theme and actions in correspondence with the theme. Some of the more useful things (hint: all of them can be found elsewhere, because Gretchen has not had an original thought in the whole book):

  • don’t complain for a full week
  • start a gratitude journal
  • keep a line a day journal
  • be authentic (she says ‘Be Gretchen’ like, every four lines)
  • exercise regularly (DUH)
  • learn to laugh at yourself
  • buy the happiness you can (as in, spend your money on quality things that make you happy. That is, if you’re not living paycheque to paycheque)
  • make time for friends, and make room for likeminded people
  • try to stop needing affirmation from others

This is mostly good advice (I should fucking hope so, she cites enough secondary research to fill a library), but the lens through which it is delivered makes it patronising and condescending. I’d suggest you take your reading to a summary or a review of this book instead. However, the last few pages do tell you how to start your own happiness project, and the ‘truths’ (platitudes) that Gretchen works with, and I’ll gladly write them here so that you don’t have to buy this!

‘Secrets of Adulthood’ (so trite I could just die)

  • We’re more like other people, and less like other people, than we suppose.
  • Things often get harder before they get easier.
  • It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.
  • The things that go wrong often make the best memories.
  • We can’t make people change, but when we change, others change, and a relationship changes.
  • Most decisions don’t require extensive research.
  • Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination.
  • Every room should include something purple.
  • Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • Nothing stays in Vegas.
  • When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
  • Starting again is harder than starting.
  • Go slow to go fast.
  • Don’t expect to be motivated by motivation.
  • Everything looks better arranged on a tray.
  • Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.
  • It’s easier to change your surroundings than yourself.
  • The days are long, but the years are short.

To be honest, most of those are things I feel like I’ve heard in Aesop’s Fables. Or The Hangover. Whatever. Moving on, Gretchen’s advice for building your own happiness project:

Answer the following questions:

  • What makes you feel good? What activities do you find fun, satisfying, or energising?
  • What makes you feel bad? What are the sources of anger, irritation, boredom, frustration, or anxiety in your life?
  • Is there any way in which you don’t feel right about your life? Do you wish you could change your job, city, family situation, or other circumstances? Are you living up to your expectations for yourself? Does your life reflect your values?
  • Do you have sources of an atmosphere of growth? In what elements of your life do you find progress, learning, challenge, improvement, and increased mastery?

Identify specific, measurable solutions that will allow you to evaluate whether you’re making progress. See, this is where I start to have a problem – happiness is not necessarily measurable, and often it’s not to be measured in these kinds of evaluable terms! Moreover, I feel like addressing your happiness for monthlong periods at a time is a really terrible and unsustainable way to do it. Maybe as a learning experience – but it’s important to establish which aspects you like, why, and figure out how to keep them going in a sustainable way!

Mine:
1. Radiate love, softness, and honesty. Be kind.
2. Think about you can help others in all things.
3. Breathe into your difficulties.
4. Don’t buy it unless you’ll use up.
5. ‘I like your shoes. What brings you here?’ – a good way to talk to strangers.
6. Be your own punk. This means making shit! It means putting it out there! It means not being scared!

I will leave you with this one example from a book, to really convince you why you shouldn’t buy it. One of Gretchen’s aims is to stop seeking outside approval. She spends ages planning a party for her mother-in-law – arranging for one family member to cater, others to wrap gifts, etc. And she’s feeling hard-done-by that everyone is enjoying it but no one has said, ‘Gretchen, what a wonderful party!’ Fortunately, her angel husband, Jamie, saves the day by presenting her with some expensive jewellery. What’s that life like?

I will also leave you with this: Gretchen compiled the best of her blog posts (a free online resource) into a book. Huh?

BOOK CLUB: The Alchemist

So, my mum recommended me Paul Coelho’s book, The Alchemist, for this installation (I’m reading The Happiness Project for the next one). I read this book about two weeks ago and I didn’t want to just shit all over it, so I waited in the hopes that it would gestate for me. It did, a bit. But also, not in the way I was hoping it would.

Here’s the thing with this book. It’s beautifully written, and simple, and those two things can really carry a story forward. I highlighted a lot of sentences on the grounds that I thought they were the ‘lessons’ the book was preaching. You can probably read those instead of reading the book, so here they are:

  • ‘When you want something, the whole universe conspires to help you.’
  • ‘Even if my neighbour doesn’t understand my religion or understand my politics, he can understand my story. If he can understand my story, he’s never too far from me.’
  • ‘He told himself that he would have to start reading thicker books: they lasted longer, and made more comfortable pillows.’
  • ‘It was he who had become accustomed to their schedule.’
  • ‘Shepherds, like seamen and like travelling salesmen, always found a town where there was someone who could make them forget the joys of carefree wandering.’
  • ‘It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.’
  • ‘When someone sees the same people every day, […] they wind up becoming a part of that person’s life. And then they want that person to change.’
  • ‘Everyone, when they are young, wants to know what their Personal Legend is.’
  • ‘A shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget about his sheep.’
  • ‘Learn to recognise omens and follow them.’
  • ‘Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life’
  • ‘People need not fear the unknown if they are capable of achieving what they need and want.’
  • ‘The caravan and the desert speak the same language, and it’s for that reason that the desert allows the crossing.’
  • ‘Everyone has his or her own way of learning.’
  • ‘The desert was once a sea.’
  • ‘It’s not often that money saves a person’s life.’
  • ‘Where your treasure is, there will also be your heart.’
  • ‘No project is completed until its objective has been achieved.’

So, a great many life lessons. I kind of wish that this book had just been a list, because I wasn’t particularly attached to the main character – nor did the author seem to want me to be, because Santiago’s name was barely mentioned throughout the book. I have a great many criticisms of this book. So, first I’ll say – this book is probably for you if you struggle to reclaim your time and aren’t so good at doing things you really want to do. That’s about where it ends.

This book preaches a lot about Personal Legends – a concept I have qualm within itself because it implies an intrinsic knowledge of what you want to achieve as a person. As you probably know, the mindset of following your passion without recourse is the spark of many a quarter-life crisis. Coelho fails to acknowledge that not everyone knows what their Personal Legend is, or, therein, that the Personal Legend may be a myth, or that it changes a lot. Or that you’re meant to achieve a whole bunch of things with your life and none of them make sense. Moreover, Coelho crystalises the protagonist’s Personal Legend (swiftly becoming a term I hate) by having him find treasure. At no point has Santiago demonstrated any form of materialism, having given up all he owns to traipse the desert, and having chosen shepherdhood and travel over a stable and reasonably lucrative life. Yet his treasure is…literal treasure. Coins that he digs up. It’s unconvincing, and doesn’t work. On the other hand, Coelho spends about one page describing him finding the treasure, which maybe leads me to think there’s an overarching ‘the real treasure was the friends we made along the way’ kind of message going on.

Also, this book falls into the horrible trap of saying, ‘Pursue the thing you think you’re meant to do at all costs!’ – detrimental at the best of times. Santiago abandons his wife to go find something he’s never shown any care for. In fact, when you put it in perspective, it doesn’t really make any sense.

I see no point in going on for a long time about this novella. What I will say is that it’s well-written. What I will also say is that a lot of its lessons are dangerous and uncompassionate, and to be considered if you’re literally burning yourself out doing unnecessary things for other people just to be nice. We’re talking, like, taking time out of your 60 hour work week to make your husband muffins and hand-deliver them. I don’t really understand the place of this book otherwise. Follow your dreams, I guess? But also, follow them with the caveat that they might change, that you might not tap into the Universal World Language or whatever, and that there are other people around you and if you mindlessly pursue one thing you might find it’s not something you wanted at all and also you’ve managed to alienate everyone who ever cared about you in the process.

As an alternative, maybe listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus. It takes less time and is about the same.

BOOK CLUB: Radical Self Love

A note: this ended up being half review, half addendums from me. Sorryish.

I am not the biggest fan of this one. I wish I were – Gala Darling has always been someone I’ve really wanted to like a lot but can’t ever seem to quite get around. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, where I watched it and the whole time my brain was screaming at me, ‘That might have been funny, but don’t you dare laugh’ for no ostensible reason. I can concur that something about that movie, and also about Gala Darling’s methods, doesn’t sit right with me personally, though I will say that a lot of people find it lifechanging.

Perhaps it’s because I encountered her first in the throes of being 17 and depressed out of my mind and living in a tiny town and my only real driver being to get good enough grades to study in a big city, Gala’s jewel-encrusted life seemed…not only totally unattainable, but trite. Very ‘MY PROBLEMS DON’T EXIST BECAUSE I HAVE CRYSTALS AND PLANTS IN MY BATHROOM AND I ONLY WEAR PINK AND EVERY MORNING I WAKE UP AND LIGHT A STICK OF INCENSE AND SNORT THE ASHES. PROBLEMS? WHERE?’ Overly optimistic in a world that, as I knew it, wanted to suck me dry. I’ve been working on those mindsets in a slower way, on the logistics of thinking more positively, but even now that I’m much healthier than I was then, I can’t quite parse where Gala’s dialogue fits into my life.

This book is lovely in a sense – I’m glad Gala is doing her, and it does work for a lot of people (the Amazon reviews hover at four stars). But a lot of things in here didn’t work for me, and more often than not, I found myself in a conversation with this book:

RSL: You have to love yourself!
Me: Alright, book, how do I go about it?
RSL: Use affirmations! Tap on it! Use the law of attraction! If you feel good, you will attract good things!
Me: I need actual concrete step-by-step advice on how to do those things.
RSL: Here’s a link to buy something else I made that will teach you how to do those things!
Me: But I already spent money on this book.
RSL: Uh…
Me: Have you considered that this sends a message that self-love and self-compassion is not available to everyone who can’t afford your products? And also that this is not what self-love looks like for everybody, even people who are establishing their practice while reading your book for ideas?
RSL: Uh…

I want to clarify – I’m not shitting on an entrepreneur for promoting themselves here. I am an entrepreneur, in some senses, and I understand that need for self-promotion. What I am going to shit on, however, is the fact that I have already bought into this product, and am receiving very little meaningful information in return.

Without further ado, Gala starts:

This ain’t your mama’s self-help book.

But at the same time, I don’t really get what’s new about the things she preaches – it segues in and out of a lot of different ways of being in a way that I don’t find cohesive or extensive. A lot of it seems built to almost sell other things she’s done – for instance, Gala goes on about EFT, or Emotional Freedom Technique (affectionately referred to as ‘tapping’) as something she uses to burst through her blockages quickly. Instead of saying anything about how it’s actually done, we get a few paragraphs about how she tapped her inner negative beliefs and her eating disorder away. All well and good. EFT is a technique that a lot of people believe in and set store by. I have multiple problems with this.

Firstly, she’s very nonchalant about tapping away things like an eating disorder and asthma. This is not a good way to be. I get it, and good that it worked for her. I don’t think this is an encouraging thing for people who are struggling with their mental health to read. People with psychiatric disorders may be helped by tapping, but it is NOT a replacement for an adequate care plan (whatever that looks like for you and your psychiatrist). Posing it as though this can help everyone, regardless of their situation, is dangerous and irresponsible.

Secondly, instead of even a small comprehensive guide about it, she then delivers a link directly to a page on her website called Tap That, which is a digital course that you can purchase for something like $145 (I didn’t check, because it would have logged me into Paypal before telling me the price and I really didn’t want to accidentally end up paying out my month’s worth of grocery money). Bear in mind that there is plentiful information on this topic for free, and Gary Craig, the modern face of EFT, has actually done multiple public-domain Q&As and video guides. So in comparison, Gala’s statements on EFT struck me as really disingenuous – like, what, you couldn’t put a few more pages in on the very basics?

I can summarise what this book told me, and my responses to the way that information was delivered, in a (long, but not as long as the book) nutshell. If you don’t want to read this detailed summary, skip to the bottom.

  • I used to have an eating disorder and hate myself (I am glad that this is contextualised, and glad that Gala has dealt with these issues so successfully. That is truly admirable).
  • Loving yourself makes sense, because hating yourself is bad for you and makes you miserable (thank you, that’s why I bought the book).
  • Radical self-love is treating yourself as you would treat your best friend (okay, but I don’t know how to actually go about doing that – I give myself time and space, I take good care of myself, I eat good food and spend time with good people, I meditate, I give myself creative space; my issue is thoroughly with the fact that I do these thinsg and need help understanding how to actually internalise that information, not just the knowledge that I should somehow be my best friend).
  • Take yourself on dates; learn to spend time with yourself that isn’t just distracting yourself with social media and with external things (this is good advice).
  • Happiness is within, and not found in any material goods (the real treasure is the friends we found along the way. I feel like I learnt this information intellectually when I was four, but it is true and also good advice).
  • Meditate using guided meditations, I recommend Headspace (fine) and smile while I meditate (fine if you’re focusing on positivity, but my own meditating experience would lead me away from the striving for positivity and more towards equanimity around both positive and negative feelings).
  • Use tapping to clear emotional blocks (learn how to in just six weeks with my $145 course!)
  • Accept your body (how?)
  • Find exercise you like (definitely a good idea, but Gala goes on about how she would willingly go to the gym five days a week – so in addition to finding exercise you like, find a pace that suits you too. Just because you like it doesn’t mean you do it five days a week or seven days a week or never have any time off from it).
  • Walk tall (power posing is kind of a myth, but this will convey that you look and feel good and confident to others, which is never a bad thing).
  • Get in some small wins to build confidence (my problem with this is not with the advice – it is that I struggle to aknowledge my wins as successes rather than neutrals, which makes me feel like my failures are massive and my wins are minimal even though when business is as usual, it means that I’m winning by default. I’d have really welcomed some advice here on how to make those wins feel like wins rather than ‘whatever’s, and translate to confidence).
  • Reinvent yourself, if that suits you (her point here is actually about changing your name, but I repurposed that into all-purpose advice. Also, I think this is kind of bad advice and puts a lot of pressure on you to be a certain kind of ideal and feel like an impostor – my interim advice would be to see what your values are, and how you can extent those values into being somebody you want to be).
  • Do the best you can (excellent. Truly excellent advice – something that’s almost oversaturated, but seldom said with the best of intentions, and I really do believe that Gala had those in mind).
  • Forgiveness and acceptance is important, and it’s not easy, but it is empowering (this is nice, but I really don’t understand it, because there’s no advice on how to work on that forgiveneess or acceptance – or how any of the techniques in the book necessarily link to it. For instance, meditation does link to developing those things, but she only draws the link between meditating and being calm or positive).
  • Take responsibility for your actions and thoughts (GOOD. Really good advice – responsibility and accountability are big. They’re big in the way that you grow. I wish she’d gone into how to do so more – a lot of it feels a bit blamey in the way that it’s presented, and I know it’s not meant that way, so I’ll try to do one better. Basically, you’re responsible for your reactions to all things, and that includes your feelings. If you are feeling bad about something, you can choose to take it out on somebody else and pass on the negativity, to let it ruin your whole day, or you can choose to drop it. Sometimes dropping it takes a minute, it takes saying ‘I need some time out to feel sad, and I will give myself that time to feel this and be done with it’. Sometimes it takes shaking up your routine or breaking out of it by doing something differently, listening to music, etc. Often my way through these things is to sit with those feelings and see where they come from and try to offer them love and care – I visualise the feeling and tell it it’s welcome to stay and I’ll listen to it).
  • Important clarification from Gala – you’re not responsible for any abuse you’ve undergone, but don’t cling to victimhood as an identity (my interpretation of this is that you shouldn’t take your victimhood as a reason to treat others poorly or fall into negative cycles of behaviour. If you find yourself doing something you know isn’t good – picking fights with people who love you, for example – it’s up to you to stop that rather than saying, ‘But this person hurt me so I’m hurting you/myself’).
  • Bring magic into your daily life, and make things special for yourself (fine. Solid advice, shakes up monotony, encourages you to treat your experiences, even ones that happen every day, with care).
  • Learn to be nice to yourself – accept compliments, treat others with care, eat well, be friends with people you actually like who want you to do well (good, fine).
  • Learn to experience pleasure without guilt (ooft, difficult. How? I don’t know, and Gala doesn’t tell me).
  • Take note of your self-talk and your regular talk, and curb it if it’s negative – start a gratitude practice (GOOD! Solid, tangible advice! It’s actually as simple as noticing that you’re saying something and not saying it! If you notice, stop, or change it! I’d recommend this app for Gratitude journaling – I used to just keep a list on my computer but found it difficult to get to every day, whereas having it on my phone means I can take notes as soon as something good or fun or nice happens. This app does cost money and there are free alternatives, even using Evernote is a decent way to go, and you can form categories to separate your gratitude notes from your other ones).
  • Use affirmations (I’m not very good at this one, but Gala’s advice is to let the feeling build inside of you, so I would suggest saying an affirmation and seeing how it makes you feel, and really exploring that feeling – if it’s negative, why? Do you have a shred of doubt about it, and if so, can you rework it into something that feels true for you?)

This is where the self-love portion of the book ends, and about where I lose interest. There’s a full section on ‘loving others’, which I can summarise much quicker:

  • Make friends on the internet, don’t be picky about where your friends come from.
  • Give people a chance for you to like them.
  • Be nice and kind.
  • Demonstrate active listening skills (i.e., be interested in someone). Ask open-ended questions, demonstrate non-verbals (nodding and ‘mhm’s), mirror their body language subtly.
  • Don’t try to meet new best friends in bars.
  • Try to sell hi to new people (incidentally, my method of talking to someone new is, ‘I like your X.’ Then they say thank you. Then I say, ‘So what brings you here?’ and it usually does pretty well).
  • Don’t fall into a routine with your friends; constantly be trying new things and growing together.
  • Make the effort with your friends, and be open in your communications with them. If someone is doing something you don’t like, flag it with them gently, because they might not mean to be doing it. If they do something that’s worth burning bridges, don’t hesitate to do so.
  • Don’t be an asshole to your friends. Don’t flake or cancel – if you can’t make it, you should know in advance (obviously, this doesn’t apply to emergencies).
  • Basically, making friends is great, and you’re not above it, and you never should be.

All of these things really do strike me as sensible, but they might not strike you as such. In terms of adding much advice to my life, this guide didn’t really do it for me, but it might for you.

The third section is a bit weird, and is actually the part that fits the least for me. The ‘kindness to others’ section isn’t new, but it is stuff I already live by, so I can see how someone might need it. The third section is about magic in your life. This strikes me as almost out of place in a self-help book, because it’s about manifesting, which she’s already described in a fair amount of detail already with affirmations. I also find manifesting confusing in itself, because her initial advice is that you have to do something after putting your request out to the universe, but then she says that you have to trust the universe and let it do your bidding. So, not really sure which one of those it is – I figure it’s a convoluted way to say, ‘do what you can and leave the rest’.

The gist of manifestation is to think good thoughts – practise gratitude through list-writing and get clear on the things that you want to happen to you and look for the good in the things around you (the gratitude list is a really vital tool in doing this, though. I like using my phone for listing because it means I can literally pull it out as soon as I see a dog or have a good meal. A lot of my gratitude points are good meals. Nothing is too small. Earlier I was looking for a train ticket on my phone and found myself at an impasse with someone, and we sidestepped each other, and I said ‘sorry’ and he didn’t, and for a minute I was miffed. But later when I was waiting for my train, I saw him holding his kid and spinning her around, and it was a nice way to reshape him, and I’m grateful I didn’t get to remember him as some jerk who didn’t apologise).

Gala suggests several things:

  • Writing down your affirmations and getting clear in writing on exactly what you want
  • Writing, ‘I am so grateful for’ the things you already have that meet that goal (in present tense).
  • Act as if you already have what you want (embody whatever it is – obviously if material goods don’t suit, that’s something to sidestep for now).
  • Make a vision board.
  • Commit to visualising daily and to your gratitude practice.

I approve of the gratitude stuff here, and getting clear on your goals if only so that you can work out how to meet them, universe or no universe. Some of this stuff is a little tenuous, but overall it is clear and well-delivered.

The second to last chapter of this is on style. I’m not even going to summarise that chapter in bullets – it utterly perplexed me. The gist is to wear things that convey what you want to convey, to wear what you want, and to wear things that fit. I guess I understand this stuff, but on the one hand, Gala kind of treats me like I’m really capable of Just Feeling Good, and here she is kind of telling me to dress good. I’ve also never really been one for taking fashion advice, so this whole portion just sat really poorly with me – not in a grumbly way, just me sifting through it like, ‘Wha…what?’

The practical advice in this chapter is basically, dress for yourself, dress in a way that you like, but also dress for your lifestyle (i.e. no ballgowns if you’re a personal trainer) and your budget (thank god she mentioned this, I thought she never would). I just found this section totally perplexing and incongruent with all the other stuff in the book. It’s like she suddenly went, ‘Wait! I like fashion!’ – or a classic example of a writer thinking that her reader is interested in the same things she is. I am not into makeup and I’m good with how I dress, I’m here for learning how to love myself, and I’m not getting all that much out of this! Sorry!

The last chapter? Also confusing as hell, sorry. This one is about how to meet people. Summary: good handshake, eye contact, use touch sometimes (Gala doesn’t mention consent, but definitely don’t just assume that’s okay), don’t be afraid to take the lead and start conversations (this is a big ‘get over yourself’ point, because I can think of several times where I’ve been sitting in silence with someone an awkwardly long amount of time before I’m like, okay, screw it, I’m going to talk to them, and then I whip out the patented Ishani Jasmin ‘I like your X [WAIT FOR THANK YOU], so what brings you here?’) be legitimately interested in the other person and make them talk about themselves a lot. Uh, How to Win Friends and Influence People called, and it has a bone to pick with you.

Alright, that’s my giant summary over. To commence with actually reviewing this book, and not just being scathing about it: this was a surface level attempt at making me like myself. There were some genuine and good pieces of advice in here, and they are not to be undervalued, but there was so much left unexplained, so much where I had to pause and ask, ‘What is this doing here? Why isn’t it in another book? Why isn’t it somewhere else?’ – particularly the last two sections. I understand that making friends that are good for you is part of loving yourself, but at the same time, I think it should have been an extension or a second book, not in this one. I would really have welcomed a cohesive piece of work on how to Work With Myself To Love Myself – not how to work with others on it. And although style is a big part of self-image, I think that I would have welcomed more information on how that could work with your emotions, whereas it kind of came out of nowhere as though it were relevant.

Overall, I really wanted this book to be actionable. Some was. A lot of the advice was dripping in glitter with no substance. Overall, it struck me as a very white feminist piece of work. Theres nothing explicit in it to indicate that it’s not intersectional, but it doesn’t encourage that self-work in a way that someone who has to deal with those kinds of microaggressions, someone who has to undo those traumas on a daily basis would be able to use fully. To continue this half-statement-half-simile, the advice doesn’t deal with a root problem, but is almost cosmetic – things white feminism preaches like growing out and dying your armpit hair or not wearing a bra or weaponised femininity would have fitted in perfectly. Meanwhile, the rest of us are out here like, ‘Uh hey, I’d appreciate a narrative that I actually relate to being represented in the media and maybe not people stereotyping me?’

So, read this book if you’d like to read a longer and feistier version of what I wrote above. Gala is living her best life, and I’m here for that, but I’m not here for paywalling your biggest solution. There’s good in here, but maybe if you’re just learning about the concept of liking yourself for the first time. Definitely not for anyone who’s read into the topic before at all, ever. Sorry, Gala, but it’s a two stars on Goodreads from me!

BOOK CLUB: The Little Book of Lykke

I gave this book five stars on Goodreads.

The only books that get five stars from me on Goodreads are Philip K. Dick novels and Tillie Walden comics. It is a rarity that I actually enjoy a book enough, think it sincere and lovely enough, to rate it that way, leave alone write a review. And yet, this one had me on it. I was taken in by its cover – I came across Meik Wiking’s other book, one about Danish cosiness, a while ago, too.

So, I like Denmark. It’s bitterly cold – once I was there and I was so furious about how cold I was that I yelled something at my boyfriend that implied that no one else in the world had ever been cold before, only me, and no one could possibly empathise. I’ve been to Copenhagen twice in the past couple of years. But what strikes me about Denmark most of all is how well-known it is for its overall wellbeing.

This hails back to a few things (as Wiking so astutely pins down).

First – fewer working hours. Danes finish work at four to five, work a steady thirty-five hour week, and are able to place life above work – i.e., picking up your kid at four rather than sticking around for a meeting. This is something I, a Londoner, am a little agog at. I’ve been looking for full-time work (half-heartedly, I think), and part of what I’m looking for is a regular nine-to-five, something that won’t keep me late just because I’m young or overwork me. I’m looking for that because partially, I want to do things outside of work – creative things, sports, seeing my friends, keeping my community alive. But also, it’s well-established at this point that long hours = less productivity, and the backwards nature of employers demanding that their people pull long weeks in the name of capitalism just strikes me as silly.

Second – a level of trust and care for the everyman that doesn’t exist elsewhere. Consideration and empathy for strangers. Not just holding the door open, but returning a wallet, not stealing a baby in a pram, helping someone with a lot of bags up the stairs.

Third – a sense of community that Denmark is careful to encourage. Wiking underlines that the way this looks varies through communities – it can look like a committee meeting, an annual tomato canning event, a film festival. It can look like anything, and depends on the individuals involved.

Fourth – cycling. Wiking goes on a lot about cycling. I am scared to cycle in London. It makes me feel ill and if it didn’t I’d be scared to do it anyway because I think I might get run over. But cycling lanes in Denmark are huge and the biggest risk most days is a bump between friends. The gist of this is, staying active is important – exercise can ease depression, and it’s one of the New Economic Foundation’s five recommended steps to wellbeing.

Fifth – readily available social care. The knowledge that you pay high taxes for the good care of yourself and others. The unlikelihood of ending up homeless if you’re not working, the ability to go to the emergency room if you break something without worrying about the bill.

That’s a brief summary of what Scandinavia has to offer that makes its residents so happy. But what really impressed me about Wiking’s book wasn’t his confirmation of hunches I’d had for years – I kind of already knew that Scandinavia’s high levels of social care and lack of long-hours-equals-hard-work culture were good for people – in spite of the fact that it’s miserable and mostly dark there for about four months a year. What got me about The Little Book of Lykke most of all was the easy and actionable steps in it to make yourself and those around you happy.

In a nutshell, those personal steps are:

  • Keep physically active, whatever that looks like – Wiking discourages pursuits like the gym, stating that the Danes treat exercise as transport – cycling or walking to work, for example.
  • Develop a sense of community – ask your neighbours over for tea or wine when you first move in, keep in contact with them, develop a community register of your local residents’ names, phone numbers, and any heavy-duty tools that you can borrow and lend instead of buying yourself. Set up a meeting to see what people want to see in the community, and who can make it happen. See what agrees with all of you and what you can do together.
  • Be the change you want to see – I know that’s trite, but in a sense, being trusting of your fellow man, tossing compliments around and accepting that it might not come to anything, it might even be awkward and a bit strange.

Overall, I loved this book. I don’t actually feel that compelled to pick up The Little Book of Hygge – I’m seldom in long enough to light a candle. But this book made me as happy as a Dane, if only fleetingly. I think of it as a good pick-me-up.

You can buy it here!