Tuesday 27 September 2016

So Little Things can make a big difference

Published 02/11/2015 | 02:30

John Masterson loves an open fire.
John Masterson loves an open fire.

The HSE has been running a mental health campaign recently called the Little Things. It got me thinking, which I suppose was the aim of the exercise. The thrust of the message is that we need to look after our mental health and that it is many of the little things in life that keep us going. They give the people with whom we interact a bit of a lift also.

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The campaign suggested that we focus on the little things that are important for our own sense of wellbeing. I have to admit I was stumped. At first I couldn't think of anything. I had no difficulty thinking of the things that ­remove the spring from my step. At this time of the year going to work in the dark and ­returning in the dark certainly fits the bill. It seems a long way to that morning when I notice that there is daylight to greet me on waking up. I am not a winter person. I know we are still in autumn so it is probably best to avoid me until March. I think I get a touch of SAD .

The more I thought of the little things, the more I found them pointing to the mainstays of my life and they fell into three overlapping categories - being alert to experiences that produce a feeling of wellbeing, doing things or generally being active, and connections with people.

I struggled to think of a winter experience. I thought of summer days with the heat on my back and sitting with a pastis in a café looking at the sea. Then I remembered I do love a ­blazing fire and I think the environmental police have not quite made burning things illegal yet.

The quickest way to get down is to spend too much time in front of the television. Life is too short to watch rubbish. Do something. Anything. Even the ironing. I slowly realised that the key to my relatively robust mental health is that I am a doer. I am very bad at being idle and I get bored easily. And there are always things to do. Achieving things - and that can be from cooking a meal to painting a wall - gives a feeling of satisfaction. For the ­record, cleaning windows has no mental ­benefits at all and should be avoided at all costs.

Then there are people. There are a lot of people out there that I like, adore, love in ­varying degrees, and without our making some effort we mislay a few people as the months go by as we are busy living in our own little bubbles. People who have children disappear for about a decade. People move countries. So I rang a friend of many years who lives abroad. We hadn't sat down together for over a year. I suspect we both felt a good deal better after the catch-up. And, as luck would have it, another neglected friend got in touch with me the following day. We need people, and relationships need a bit of attention.

So thanks to the HSE I will think more of the little things through the dark days until my favourite iris blooms in the garden and all is well again.

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