In praise of the little things that can make it all worthwhile

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Some might accuse Maeve Haran of setting the bar a little too low when it comes to what makes her happy.

While there are those who dream of fast cars, exotic holidays and fatter pay packets, Haran is much less ambitious.

“Good bread, warm towels, crisp mornings, girls’ nights out, eating the froth on the cappuccino are ordinary things which can make life worth living,” says the writer who found fame with her first novel, Having it All, and whose latest book is Small Pleasures to Save Your Life. “In a world where change is fast and we often can’t control it, we can sometimes feel powerless and stressed and find it hard to take pleasure in anything.

“So what can you rely on which isn’t immoral, illegal or wildly expensive to make you feel that, despite all this, life is wonderful? The answer is small pleasures.

“Lady Thatcher, when asked what gave her greatest satisfaction in life, replied, ‘Taking the fluff out of the tumble-dryer’.”

Haran doesn’t quite resort to fluff picking, but suggestions in her book do include plumping cushions, buying yourself flowers and, perhaps most curiously, pretending to be a tourist.

“Sometimes we spend large sums of money visiting other cities but forget the pleasures of where we actually live ourselves, she says. “From time to time, I try to see the city I live in as if I were a visitor. I ask myself what I’d do if I were only here for a weekend.

“Work out which landmarks to look at, which museums to visit, or consider a river trip or lounging in a pavement cafe. The point is to look at the familiar with new eyes.”

While Haran can clearly wax lyrical about the joys of seeing your home town and city with new eyes, there are some things she doesn’t recommend looking at too closely if you want to avoid continual disappointment, chiefly your own face.

“The singer Jarvis Cocker was once asked to give a piece of advice on life, and his answer was, ‘Avoid looking at yourself in mirrors in lifts’,” she says.

“I feel there’s a grain of truth here and I extend it to all mirrors. The idea is not to get too obsessed with how you look because 
most people don’t really study 
you and it just makes you feel 
bad.

“I have evolved the ultimate confidence-boosting ‘getting ready to go out’ system. I work out what I’m going to wear, right down to tights and jewellery, and hang it up on a hanger.

“Then I whizz and change into it in record time, looking in the mirror for just one brief second to make sure my skirt isn’t stuck in my tights. It’s amazing how much more attractive and positive this makes me feel.”

While Haran also sticks to the old adage that it’s good health rather than wealth which makes people most happy, she also recommends keeping a pot of what she calls “running away money”.

“There are so many situations in life that are fraught with stress: a bad relationship, a job that bores you, the threat of debt closing in,” she adds. “Running-away money gives you a passport to freedom – whether actual freedom or just freedom from feeling trapped.

“It gives you the capacity to say, ‘I don’t need this any more’, whether you actually choose to keep it or not. And just having the capacity to choose can change things. I’ve never needed my little nest egg, but the fact that I know it’s there makes me feel free.”

Small Pleasures to Save Your Life by Maeve Haran is published by Hay House on September 3, priced £8.99.

Dean Johnstone, chief executive of Minds Ahead and joint leader of the centre of excellence in Leeds.

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