Happy Daffodil!

Always Choose Positivity and Happiness

This is a post from my My 20-day Zappos + Buffer Values Challenge

“Always Choose Positivity and Happiness”

I once watched a film on television. I didn’t know it at the time, but it had quite an effect on me, until today, I’d always attributed it to other films.

The film was the Pollyannathe 2003 adaptation of the 1911 book by Eleanor H. Porter. As Wikipedia explains:

Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centres on what she calls “The Glad Game”, an optimistic attitude she learned from her father. The game consists of finding something to be glad about in every situation.

It originated in an incident one Christmas when Pollyanna, who was hoping for a doll in the missionary barrel, found only a pair of crutches inside. Making the game up on the spot, Pollyanna’s father taught her to look at the good side of things—in this case, to be glad about the crutches because “we didn’t need to use them!”

I don’t think I realised quite the effect that this (and my family’s apparent worry-free approach to life) had had on me, until relatively recently.

It’s very easy to get distracted by things that induce negative thoughts, and often things seem like worthy causes, but consider this:

We’re put on this planet for a lifetime. The reason we care about anything is because it may impact on our happiness, or the future happiness of others. But if we aren’t enjoying the present, we are wasting our minutes.

We can do the right thing AND choose happiness.

I’ve blogged before about happiness and focusing on the positive. It’s clear to me that ‘objectively’ it’s a good thing – not just for philosophical reasons, there are clear pragmatic benefits.

I actually think this is one of the hardest core values, because I think that it’s something that most people attempt to do, but find it difficult to actually put into practice. It looks simple on paper but the concious effort required, every day, to do it, is nontrivial. Having the discipline to relentlessly pursue things is hard – but often very rewarding!

There’s a question everyone will someday consider:

What would I do if I won the lottery?

If you can bear to spend a moment thinking what you do if you won a spare couple of million, stop now and think.

Otherwise, let’s move on.

My feeling is the wisest answer to this question is, “continue doing what I’m doing now, just with more money (and I might not tell anyone about the cash)”.

One of the best things you can do, is to find what you’d like to be doing, and then everyday, cross one thing off your list of things to help you get there.

I think I am doing what I’d want to be doing, whether I won the lottery or not, and I find encouraging other people to be a way of renewing my own positivity… It’s complicated, but it seems like the more of it you give away, the more you get back. :)

Would you thank an awesome customer-droid?

It’s easy to write arsey letters of complaint (or moan about it on social media) when people get stuff wrong – but there’s loads of humans whom we deal with everyday, who are a pleasure to work with but rarely get credit for it.

Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to pass on positive feedback. Sure, it may not be fair if someone gets a positive note from a customer about just genuinely being nice, when there was also a time they went a long long way above the call of duty and got no credit for it, but hopefully this makes up for it.

Don’t get me wrong: I have shitty customer service experiences, but I feel it’s important to shout out about the great ones. If you think how many of the customer facing representatives have rubbish days, and think how many times they’re thanked in a more meaningful way than muttered words, then you can start to understand how a quick letter can brighten someone’s day. But it won’t just brighten one person’s day – “customer service departments” often is the name for “dealing with customer complaints departments” – even for the person whom you’re causing an extra email for, it’s an extra email they will enjoy receiving.

Think about giving it a go sometime – a few kind words that get through to someone’s manager could really make their day.

For me, it’s just about “Today you…. tomorrow me.”

I spend a lot of time on the train, and so frequently train companies have been my target:

Dear Mr Dobson

Thank you for your email dated 9 May 2013.

I was delighted to learn of your satisfaction with the level of service provided by a member of our staff of ScotRail. We have set ourselves high standards and I am glad these have met with your expectations. I will ensure that your comments are passed to the manager for the staff member concerned.

Thank you once again for your kind comments, it is always a pleasure to receive letters such as yours.

Thank you for contacting ScotRail.

(Simply a very helpful and friendly ticket office attendant – from my email “As they say on Ebay, ‘A*** Great seller, would buy from again!'”)


Dear Mr Dobson

Thank you for contacting us about your journey on 14 December 2012. I would like to thank you for your positive comments about the member of our staff who assisted you during the course of your journey.

Whilst we expect our staff to offer the very best possible service, it is always great to read when we have exceeded expectations, especially as I am fully aware that contacting us to provide feedback takes time and effort.

I have made the manager who is responsible for the member of staff concerned, aware of your contact so that they can pass on your kind words. We do have an internal GEM (going the extra mile) award programme and annual customer excellence awards, which also relies on passenger feedback.

I do hope that you did not experience a serious delay on your journey.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

(A train trolley/person attendant who deescalated/comforted a teenage girl out of confrontation as her mother was thrown off the train, whilst continuing to try and serve tea/coffee)


Dear Mr Dobson

Thank you for contacting us about your journey on 18 June 2011. Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused by the delay to your journey with us on board the 0846 service between Manchester Piccadilly and Windermere on this occasion.

The delay to your journey was caused as the result of a person being hit by a train on the line at Preston. As is policy with an incident involving a death on the railway the line was closed and the British Transport Police took control of the scene. Every effort was made by all concerned to reopen the line as quickly as possible, but First TransPennine Express had no direct control over how soon this happened. As a result of the line closure many of our services were disrupted. In addition some of our trains and staff were displaced from their scheduled location and other services across our network were consequently affected.

As you can appreciate, First TransPennine Express has no way of preventing an incident of this nature and as such, under the National Conditions of Carriage, compensation is not available for the resulting delay to your journey. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience or distress the event may have caused.

I would like to thank you for your positive comments about the Driver of this service. We expect our staff to deliver the highest standard of customer care and it is always a pleasure to learn that we have achieved this. Any feedback we receive from our customers is important to us and I know it takes a great deal more time and effort to write and compliment any company than it does to pass on negative feedback.

I have made our Train Service Manager who is responsible for the member of staff concerned, aware of your contact so that they can pass on your kind words, which will also be used towards our Reward and Recognition programme.

(A train driver who clearly and honestly communicated personally with passengers why there was a slight delay, without pussyfooting around the issue – a delay in the circumstances was understandably unavoidable, but great communication improved the situation immensely.)

What being a victim of crime was like for me.

Since reading my friend Dan’s travel blog of his exciting day in South Africa where he talked/sneaked himself out of two muggings in a day, I’ve given some thought to how I’d try to handle these kind of situations.

What happened

A few months ago, as I was cycling into town after work, I was stopped at the top of an isolated pedestrian bridge by 4 induviduals on bikes and was told in no uncertain terms that I was being mugged. As one of them tried to reach into one of my pockets contains a phone, I held onto it, which brought a few punches flying in the direction of my head. Deciding at this point, that I didn’t really fancy parting company with the contents of my pockets (phone and wallet), I pushed my bike towards them (step-through frames allow for easy dismounting!) and sprinted back in the direction I’d come. After hearing someone say “after him”, I decided that now might be a really good time to start loudly and choosing the most appropriate word I could think of, I started shouting “help” and by the time I reached the original end of the bridge, I was met by a member of the public who called the police.

Since then, I’ve spent at least 6 hours of my life giving statements and doing identifits etc. for an incident that, at most, lasted 30 seconds.


Considering that:

  1. I wasn’t seriously hurt (there were two minor and inconspicuous bruises)
  2. I wasn’t seriously missing anything (though I lost my glasses in the affray)

I think it’s fair to say that it went “about as well as an attempted mugging could go”. I didn’t lose anything to the robber and I wasn’t seriously hurt.

I’ve thought long about this. Could I have avoided any issues with them simply by dressing and acting differently? Could I have avoided any physical confrontation if I’d handed stuff over straight away? Could I have done things differently?

Ultimately, these questions will drive you crazy – the answer is “yes, probably”, but the fact is ‘shit happened’ and thankfully I came out of it pretty well this time, so that’s what I should focus on.

Immediately after the incident I was quite nervous, however, I’m very eager to avoid is demonising groups of people – young people growing up in the inner city are generally great people, and, in my opinion, more work needs to be done to help organisations like RECLAIM help empower young people in these areas.


The most interesting thing about the incident now, is actually observations of how people’s reactions to the incident subsequently affected me and the impact that had.

The most prominent reaction has been a statement or something like “hope you’re ok”, which whilst being the easiest, and probably least likely to upset, response, is quite passive.

Interestingly, for me, the worst thing that happened was being asked “What happened?”, and forcing me to recount the details of the incident in detail. It’s not that it was particularly traumatising, but reliving the incident each time I was asked doesn’t really help put the incident into the larger perspective, both for me and the person I was telling it to.

Perhaps one of the less helpful responses was suggestions that I could have been stabbed and being told that I should have just handed over my phone. Whilst there’s certainly truth in that, it’s a really unhelpful perspective to suggest to the victim at that point. Clearly there were worse possible outcomes, however, with the bigger picture, the given response resulted in about as good as one could hope, with an actual guarantee that the suggested response would result in am objectively worse outcome (with still no guarantee it wouldn’t involve stabbing) than what actually happened.

One possibly interesting reaction was being told that they know how I felt, and that anger that comes afterwards is worse than the event – probably an incredibly clear indicator of how clearly personal people’s reactions to events like this are – I suspect they did not know how I felt, as the anger wasn’t forthcoming…

One reaction was to simply label the perpetrators as “manchester dickheads” – possibly objectively true – but still unhelpful, rather pointless name-calling – “Ahah, you almost mugged me. You’re a dickhead! Oooh. I said a naughty word!”.

I’ve had people say that they hope this won’t change my approach to the world – and for me this was the most well-received response – mainly I suspect – because I’d already decided that this had to be the case, within 10 minutes of the incident.

In my opinion, perhaps, the most empathetic response is to ask how the victim is feeling, then be quiet and let them do the talking.

Final Thoughts

In many ways, however, I suspect that despite people meaning well, I might actually have been happier to not publicise it so much. This may be partly related to my distaste for verbally repeating anecdotes a number of times, but I suspect is also to do with coming to terms with things actually being quite a personal thing, and whilst other people’s perspectives are obviously helpful to themselves, I can find them, at best, hard to relate to, and at worst, somewhat unhelpful.

I was a bit shaken for a while (aka an evening) after the incident, and there’s still the odd flashback or moment where I feel irrationally unsafe, but I’d had enough of talking about it within hours of it happening.

I’m “over” the incident – shit’s gonna happen, in the past and the future, it’s not surprising really, and I’m happy it went as best it could this time.

I’d really like to look forward in life for a while now.

No news is always good news

For a while when I was younger, whenever I went away without my parents, I was confused. All my classmates and peers would always be in constant contact with their family, whilst my parents would cheerily wave goodbye and then eagerly listen to the second by second story upon my return.

It took me a while to realise that this approach was actually a bit different.

When ever someone went away, or travelled somewhere there was no expectation of being called, no excess worrying or thought given to what terrible things could possibly have happened to them – if they needed something, they’d be in touch.

I remember arriving at my French exchange partner’s house and one of the first things I was asked was whether I wanted to call home.

“But why?” I kept thinking – it’d been less than 12 hours since I’d last seen them anyway – they certainly wouldn’t be thinking of phoning me – and what would I have have said anyway?

“Oh hai, I’ve arrived in France, as you can hear, I’m not dead, yet, and the exchange family seem OK, but I’ve only spoken to them for 5 minutes, and in my experience, mass murderers don’t introduce themselves as such. Oh and pat the dog for me. Bye.”

It occurs to me that this mentality – assuming that no news means all is well, and not requiring constant status updates to confirm that, probably pre-dates modern communication technology – if communication is actually excessively laggy (like letters) or expensive (like international telephone communication in the not too distant past), then actually, it’s really the best approach to adopt, as there are very few other options.

Therefore, when I went to Sweden earlier this year, I went completely offline and offgrid for the longest time in many many years – I can’t actually remember the previous time I spent over 7 consecutive days without internet access (or any phone signal!) – my family were somewhat prepared to not recieve instant updates from me. If I needed to be in contact, I’d find someway of doing it.

I talk to my family all the time, but if I don’t hear from people for months at a time, I’ll just assume everything is good and they’re doing they’re own thing – if they have something to say, they’ll get in touch, as I would if I had anything to say.

I think it’s easier this way, don’t you?

Hiking in Sweden
Hiking in Sweden