There is much discussion in my house about what to buy me for my fiftieth birthday in August. Everyone keeps asking me, to which I seem to always reply, in my best Mavis from Coronation Street voice with, ’I don’t really know.’
The person who seems to know least what I want, is me. Oh yes, of course it would be nice if I had a luxury villa retreat in the South of France. I’d love to visit India, despite my fair skin and inability to tolerate hot climates. A diamond ring wouldn’t go amiss and perhaps Simon le Bon personally serenading me with ‘Rio’, might be quite nice for an odd half-hour?
But what do I really want? My wardrobe is bursting with clothes. My dressing table has more make-up than the beauty department in John Lewis. I’ve got bottles of perfume. I’ve got piles of books. I have no desire for anything material as believe me, I have enough. Nowadays we are bombarded with adverts on every platform from Instagram to online newspapers, trying to convince us that our life would be so much better if we bought that incredible menopause vest to stop hot sweats, or what about that magical mop that can spray at the same time as it wipes or even some floral jumpsuit from Boden that all the mummy vloggers are wearing? The trouble with all these things is that they give us instant gratification but that is all. Do they really make us happy? Of course not.
If I am truly honest, I’d like one last conversation with my brother, and I’d love to have a relationship with my Mum. But neither of these are going to happen.
I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve had very little and yet still been happy. I’ve also experienced incredible sadness and turmoil in my life, when I’ve had every material benefit. I’m not saying that we should all go and live in a cave, but material possessions do not always lead to happiness. I do believe that happiness in life is to be measured in our relationships with others as well as our relationship with ourselves.
I am now very happy in my life. I am doing a job that I love. I have two children who give me much joy and I am fortunate to have them in my life. I have a wonderful husband, who is incredibly unselfish. This month I am temporarily working eighteen-hour days until July. My husband does as much as he can around the house so that I can just get on and work. Life has the right balance that I need.
Surprisingly, it was whilst I was at a work conference last week that I realised how non materialistic and yet how valuable, some gifts can be. I was working in a very posh hotel in Manchester with many welcoming and like-minded people. I now go to this conference every year for work and I love it. It is hard work, it is intense, but I meet so many new people and we have a great laugh. I wasn’t feeling at my best health wise because of anxiety. At times I have very serious anxiety and I will wind myself up by over-thinking to such a point, that I will become physically ill. I had been very anxious about something in my life and as a result I had very painful swollen glands in my neck. I had glandular fever when I was in the sixth form and every so often it comes back. It is all linked to anxiety.
I was talking to a lady and telling her about how I stopped working in senior management in schools and have now fulfilled my lifetime ambition by becoming a writer and working on a book that will be published next year. “You are so very brave to do that.” She told me, “That requires such bravery and courage.” I thanked her for her comment, and I thought about it much later at home. Here was I, crippled at times with anxiety, and yet someone else perceived me to be brave. I was brave. She was right and yet for some reason, I saw myself as weak and anxious and incapable. This simple kind remark from someone made me realise that I was not such a mess of worry. I kept repeating it to myself. “I am brave.” Therefore, the next time I must face a hurdle that would normally reduce me to a mess, I will be able to remember this lady’s words and tell myself ‘I am brave. I can do this.’ Remarks like this that give us strength, and an ability to face our fears, are the true gifts in life. They cost nothing in terms of money or even time, and yet they make such a difference.
Single acts of kindness encourage us to pass them on and to be kind to others. Kindness becomes contagious, especially when we see how our actions have such a positive impact. This is a simple message to pass onto our children and it is so important. I want my children to realise how inexpensive and yet how priceless, kindness is. When will we realise the rewards that come from kindness and judge people more on their ability to be kind rather than by how expensive their car was or how big their house is? The Sunday Times publishes a Rich List every year. How about a Kindness List instead?
This has led me to decide that for my birthday this year I don’t want anything material and yes, Jonathan, I really mean that. All I want is to spend time with the people that I love, who give me happiness. We might go to a nice hotel or we might go and have a meal out. Yet even if we stay in and play Monopoly or just sit in the garden and chat, I shall be happy. I have everything in life that I could wish for and more importantly you don’t need to struggle to wrap it up.