Breast cancer lesson 137: Why I am looking for happiness in the everyday

Fifty days ago, I challenged myself to take part in the #100happydays project (click here to read more) as a way of focusing on all that is good in the world before the end of active treatment (and, as it turns out, slightly beyond).

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Am I happier as a result of posting pictures of positive moments on Facebook for the last few months? If I think about the process of finding an internet connection when away from home and uploading pictures, I would say not. But, when I think of the way in which the project has forced me to live in the present, make things happen and take note of the parts of the day that make me smile, I would argue that, even though I am still only half way through, it has already been a resounding success. I wouldn’t say it has made me happier, but rather reminded me of just how happy I really am.

When I think back over the photos that have made the cut (click here for the first 20 and see below for the following 30), I am not faced with a montage of far-flung destinations and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Yes, there are a few moments that are unlikely to be repeated (my hair is growing back so bald cliff walking is out, and I doubt my name will ever feature in The Guardian again). But, what my photo reporting highlights is that happiness exists in the everyday. It’s on the doorstop, in a teacup, in friendship, at the park and in a homemade loaf. Simple pleasures lead to lasting smiles.

On day 41, for example, I talk about a play called The Blue Bird, which is mentioned a couple of times in Gretchin Rubin’s The Happiness Project. The play is about two children who spend a year searching the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to find it waiting for them when they finally return home. I think this is something we could all quite easily apply to our own lives. How quick we are to attach happiness to life’s big events, when what we should be doing is making the most of the everyday, accepting that big events are a bonus.

I may have peripheral neuropathy, sore nails, sleep deprivation and chicken fluff for hair, but, right now as I write this blog, I can honestly say I am truly happy. Cancer has taken a lot, but given me so much in return. I have looked hard at myself in the mirror and have decided that life is too short to not smile back at the reflection.

It’s true that you can’t be happy all the time (and in many ways you wouldn’t want to be). But, if you can seek out and grab hold of little moments of happiness, it will make those moments of sadness so much easier to bear.

Good luck finding happiness in your day.

Here’s a quick overview (click here for the first 20 if you missed lesson 124) of the last 30 day happy days:

Day 21: Today is a mini milestone day! It marks the last day of my zoladex implant injections. Here’s hoping this giant needle, which has created a constellation of six dots on my left side, has helped in the fight against infertility caused by chemotherapy. I am happy to have been offered it, but as the cause of lots of my hot flushes (it is designed to send you into the menopause), I will be happy when the drug is officially out of my system in four weeks time! Thank you medicine for advancing in this way and thank you nurses for making the giant needle as painless as possible (even though this hole is still bleeding as if in protest). One more milestone down! Yippee!

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Day 22: Lunch, lollies and smiles with my mum. What better way is there to spend a Wednesday (if we ignore the hospital trip and blood test that is). Three cheers for mums! They make this world a happier place – and they help with the washing! I love my mum very much and wouldn’t be smiling through treatment without her.

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Day 23: Last chemo day tomorrow looms, so what better way to celebrate its arrival than with a cake made up of pills! It’s not made of ginger (vanilla syrup sponge with buttercream instead), but looking forward to cutting into it tomorrow before Tax steals my tastebuds for one last time. Feeling happy and very excited!

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Day 24: This is it! Four months of poisoning and am about start my last three-week chemo cycle! While there are dark days to come and then radiotherapy, today is about celebrating and chemo cake. Thanks for the sign Shelley Varley! This could just be the happiest Friday of 2014 so far!

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Day 25: Green things from the garden! If you’ve never tried growing your own veg, I would urge you to start. It is such a wonderful feeling to take something from the ground and walk it metres to your plate. Chilli peppers, broad beans, courgettes and dwarf beans for dinner it is. Excited! Hope you’re having a wonderful Saturday.

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Day 26: a beautiful afternoon catching up on 14 years with a beautiful friend. I look forward to writing in this wonderful notebook when the sparkle of inspiration hits me. Thank you for you. Must get a picture next time!

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Day 27: I nearly lost my great aunt at Christmas two years ago to illness, so it has been amazing to spend this sleepy post chemo day in her company. The gift of family is a great gift indeed. She is one of life’s fighters and is making the most of the moments life has gifted her. Tired, but very very happy.

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Day 28: Inspiration is never far away if you open your eyes to the world. It might come in the form of a message on a billboard, a note through the door, or even a clipping from the newspaper. Today, it’s a pitta recipe ripped out of the Metro (apologies to the next reader). Something I have never tried to bake and now I have the recipe and the time to make it happen. Hope you’ve found something to inspire you wherever you are today.

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Day 29: There are few things that excite me more than having a diary packed with special moments to enjoy. So thrilled that this morning’s post has brought with it the date of MY LAST DAY OF ACTIVE TREATMENT. 15 SEPTEMBER here we come! Ignoring the 10 years of drugs and potential post-radiotherapy side effects, this is one day that will be cherished for the rest of my life. 54 days to go! Just need to think of a way to celebrate!

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Day 30: Cut flowers from the garden are a gift from nature. What I love so much about them is the fact you have to keep picking them to get bigger, brighter and more beautiful flowers. So, pick them I will! Applied to life, I love the idea that by getting knocked down, we have to chance to come back stronger. Who knows? I might have a few more petals when this all ends! Here’s to beautiful flowers!

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Day 31: the great British sunshine. When it shines, I find it hard to think of anywhere I would rather be. Have a wonderful weekend one and all.

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Day 32: Play! We often do so little of it, yet it always has a way of making me smile. It has been so long since I played snooker, I couldn’t even remember how to set up the balls! More play in future methinks. Hope you are all finding ways to play today.

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Day 33: Sometimes, there are just no words to do justice to the kindness of others. I think this picture says it all. Thank you so much Hannah Guy and Anne Johnson. It means more than I can say. Enjoy the mud – and great tutus!

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Day 34: Number 17 on the brighter life list is officially ticked off. Standing on top of a cliff with no hair is as liberating as it sounds! When I set out on the treatment journey I vowed to do more of what makes me happy. The brighter life list (on my blog smallboobsbigsmiles.com) is an important part of this. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, but somehow find a way to put it off, start planning it now. You can’t see round the corner, so you’ve got to make the most of the path you’re on. Enjoy!

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Day 35: it was only a matter of time before ‘tea’ made an appearance on the happy days list. For me, always best served large in a cup or a mug. Milk not optional. I gave it up for a year and remember the first time I tasted it again. It was amazing. I don’t think I will ever deprive myself if this simple pleasure again. Best drink ever!

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Day 36: arguably the best bread and butter pudding in the world. It is the third time I have eaten this particular dish (first being 2011 when I tried bread and butter pudding for the first time). With its own personal message from the chef about why he loves it, it is pretty special. Question is, will he ever divulge the recipe? Whatever indulgence you crave, seek it out. A great pudding is a little way to raise a big smile.

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Day 37: spending time with my beautiful godson. Children, with their curiosity, zest for life and innocence, are a joy to be around. I feel very blessed – even if I was quizzed on who lives down the toilet at story time!

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Day 38: the best days are the ones where you learn something new. This is a grotter on Whitstable beach. We came for the fireworks at the end of the oyster festival. We got not just fireworks, but lots of little lanterns on the beach crafted from oyster shells. It was a beautiful sight. Have a wonderful weekend one and all.

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Day 39: Time together with people you love is always time well spent. We all want more hours in the day, but what’s important is making the most of the hours we have. I know I am, and I hope you are too. Here’s to spending the day with the people who make you smile! Happy weekend one and all.

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Day 40: home and happy. I always love coming home after a trip away. I think I appreciate it just that little bit more. This time, we had some rather unexpected GIANT vegetables waiting for us. That’s base for the chutney sorted for this year. Just got to freeze them! Hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend.

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Day 41: How lovely it is to exercise in the sunshine in such a lovely part of London. I feel very lucky to have Greenwich Park on my doorstep and feel spoilt for choice with the many paths there are to discover. Beauty isn’t hard to find if you look around you with a thankful heart. In her book, The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin cites a play called The Blue Bird. The play is about two children who spend a year searching the world for the Blue Bird of Happiness, only to find it waiting for them when they finally return home. May you find happiness where you live.

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Day 42: Happiness is homemade bread, homemade granola and an email from one of my favourite restaurants with their bread and butter pudding recipe. I always think things taste better when made by hand with a healthy helping of love. I have decided to try and go a year without buying a sliced loaf. That means I’ll either be baking lots of bread or going without! Should be fun. Indulge your passions and you will be rewarded.

As a side note, thanks for all the pledges so far. If you haven’t already, please head to my blog to read about why pledging to buy me a drink can raise funds for a great charity (click here). Thanks.

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Day 43: Cleaning (and decluttering in general) is a great way to reengage with your possessions. This fountain pen, which was bought for me by my grandparents (they engraved it with my name, which makes it extra special), hasn’t seen the light of day in years. But today, having rediscovered it, it has a new cartridge in it and is ready to go. I think sometimes we are so busy looking for the next thing that we don’t often appreciate what we already have. I urge you to rummage through those drawers to see what treasures you can find and bring back to life! Happy hunting.

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Day 44: Today’s happy moment comes not from my first tattoo (more on that later), but from a little surprise. Duncan Sloan’s pink shorts have made it onto the homepage of the Guardian website. The Life and Style section (click here) picked up my Breast Cancer Care blog about running and we’ve made it onto the Running Blog. That means Emily Pinkerton, Fran Walker and Robert Pinkerton have made the nationals! Three cheers for Duncan’s pink shorts!

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Day 45: Utopia does exist. It’s in my TV and it is an amazing series oozing with vibrant colours that I have only just discovered. I love a great TV series addiction. Somehow, life doesn’t feel complete without one. Yes, I appreciate I am miles behind. But, at least I got there in the end.

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Day 46: not pretty I’ll admit, but happiness is feet out of heels after seven hours in them at a wedding is the best feeling in the world! I don’t think I was made to wear anything other than a ballet pump.

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Day 47: the first glass of post-chemo wine I can actually taste. Oh my, it tastes good. The only good thing about being deprived of something is the joy it brings when you get it back. My little bit of heaven on a Sunday night. Hope you’ve found yours! J xx

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Day 48: how wonderful it is to learn something new! Today it is a word: ‘Hygge’. This Danish word means ‘creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with the good people around you’. If we Brits had such a beautiful word in our vocabulary, maybe we too could be considered among the happiest people in the world. Here’s to a life with more ‘hygge’!

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Day 49: Number 9 on the brighter life list ticked off! Lovely walk round the Olympic park with mum and dad. Visited the velodrome and have worked out my route to the aquatics centre when I am once more allowed to swim! It feels great to be able to start ticking things off! The brighter life list has given me a focus. Hope you can find your focus too.

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Day 50: I love finding shops in London where skilled people can fix things without charging a fortune. My watch is ticking again and was actually fixed in front of me (instead of sent away to expensive battery sorting elves for weeks on end). I feel naked without my watch and I never get bored of people asking me why I am consulting my bracelet to tell the time . Time is so important. It slips by and, once spent, is lost forever. Here’s hoping ithis watch and I enjoy many new batteries!

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4 comments

  1. Really liking the pics here – sometimes it is the simple things that bring “happiness”.

    The picture we REALLY want to see, though, is one at the end of your active treatment – exactly one month from today!
    Looking forward…

  2. Hi Jackie,
    Inspired by you, I’m also doing 100 happy days. I’m finding that I often forget to take photos so have to ‘bulk post’ every few days, but it’s certainly helping me identify the positives. I just looked back through my first 50-it’s amazing how quickly one can forget the little things. Thank you for inspiring me to do this challenge!
    Lucy x

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