Happiness Practice #11: Writing About Awe

For the past eight weeks. I have been engaged in an Edx programme, “The Science of Happiness” this is today’s assignment:


This exercise asks you to recall and describe a time when you experienced awe. Awe is an emotion that is elicited by experiences that challenge and expand our typical way of seeing the world. Research suggests that awe involves sensing the presence of something greater than the self, along with decreased self-consciousness and a decreased focus on minor, everyday concerns. Experiences of awe have been shown to expand people’s perception of time and improve life satisfaction.

Time required

15 minutes


Think back to a time when you felt a sense of awe regarding something you witnessed or experienced. Awe has been defined as a response to things that are perceived as vast and overwhelming and that alter the way you understand the world. This sense of vastness can be physical (e.g., a panoramic view from a mountaintop) or psychological (e.g., a brilliant idea). People may experience awe when they are in the presence of a beautiful natural landscape or work of art, when they watch a moving speech or performance, when they witness an act of great altruism, or when they have a spiritual or religious experience.

Try to think of the most recent experience you’ve had that involved the feeling of awe. Once you identify something, describe it in writing with as much detail as possible.

Evidence that it works

Rudd, M., Vohs, K. D., & Aaker, J. (2012). Awe expands people’s perception of time, alters decision making, and enhances well-being. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1130-1136.

In three experiments, participants who were induced to feel awe, compared with other emotions, felt that they had more time available, were less impatient, were more willing to volunteer their time to help others, preferred experiences over material products, and reported greater life satisfaction.

Why it works

Taking time out to reflect on past experiences of awe can help people break up their routine and challenge themselves to think in new ways. Evoking feelings of awe may be especially helpful when people are feeling bogged down by day-to-day concerns. Research suggests that awe has a way of lifting people outside of their usual selves and connecting them with something larger and more significant. This sense of broader connectedness and purpose can help relieve negative moods and improve happiness.

For More

Shiota, M. N., Keltner, D., & Mossman, A. (2007). The nature of awe: Elicitors, appraisals, and effects on self-concept. Cognition and Emotion, 21(5), 944-963.


Melanie Rudd, University of Houston

Here’s my awe-some moment:

” My first child, Jennifer Victoria was born on 24th May 1980. I went into the hospital,Rush Green, near Romford in Essex, six weeks before the anticipated event, due to high blood pressure. I would have been bored, but I was studying for my BA with The Open University. So I had plenty to occupy my mind, and to be frank, I have never found staying in bed for extended periods of time to be much of a problem …

I will spare you details of my labour which was three days long, and ended with spinal anastheasia, which was amazing. Not an easy delivery, but safe, and resulting in the arrival of this beautiful child. Who now has three children of her own.

Giving birth is pretty awesome anyway, but afterwards as I sat exhausted and exhilirated holding tnis new life in my arms I had the most amazing experience. From deep within me there arose a fountain of extraordinary emotion, and I heard the voice of God:

“NOW you know how much I love you!”

I wasn’t asleep or even drowsy, I was awake and if anything hyper-alert. I remember and carry with me everywhere the profound sense of joy and privilege of that precious moment when my soul touched the divine and He spoke to me. ”

“Hello From The Children of Earth”

This message, engraved on a copper, disc, encased in gold, is one of many sent out in 1977, riveted to the probe Voyager, in the hope that an intelligent being will one day find, and hear it. The hope and optimism embodied in this amazing project is truly inspirational, especially when you realise that Voyager's next encounter with a star system is 40,000 years away …

Earth is now well into it's six, (or seventh, opinion is divided) mass extinction event. Don't take my word for it, check it out: 50% of species are being wiped out at you read this: – climate change, pollution, deforestation, it's happening, it's real, it's here, and pretending it isn't, no matter how forcefully, isn't going to change that.

However, there is good news: it only takes a 7% of the population to wake up and work for change, to make it happen. Here's encouragement to do so from Professor Brian Cox, from “The Human Universe” (BBC2 Sunday 8pm):

“We are probably alone in the universe, and that makes us indescribably precious and valuable … We are the only islands of meaning in an infinite sea of lonely stars … We have the responsibility to work together as a civilisation to survive, and ultimately to explore those stars.”

Let's go for it – for the sake of the children of Earth.

Street Walking

Dennis, Alex and I took to the streets yesterday with our trade-mark trolley of give-aways, and passed the time it takes to walk from the Mission to the Shelter for the Homeless, engaged in earnest conversation. Dennis is a bit disillusioned. I think if there was an OFSTED for Churches, and I’d quite like to start one, (GODSTED?) he feels his would be in Special Measures.

I pause for thought. We are very fortunate at GCM (Gloucester City Mission) because when Dennis and I joined, the hard work had been done, Missioners are accepted and respected on the streets, and we have a fun time being nice to people. In the four years I’ve been dispensing loving-kindness in the shape of a sausage roll, I have never been insulted, assaulted, or treated in any way other than kindly. I am very grateful to the street-people for being so generous with their time and forbearance. I often wonder what they really think of us!

Dennis thinks his church is too complacent. He was particularly wound up by the apparent lack of concern for the poor by the bankers in his midst. I am surprised. I had stereotyped Dennis’ church as being low-brow evangelical, and necessarily short on bankers: goes to show how misleading prejudice can be.

“Dennis,” I say, having come over all preachy, “Why don’t you give the banker the same opportunity to open himself to you as you do Bill Jones?” (Bill is the poster-tramp of the Mission, and proud of it.) Dennis looks at me in awe, and I am overcome with smugness. I am, you may spot this, taking him to Martin Buper’s insight that, “All real living is meeting.” You can’t know anything about anyone unless you make the effort to share your vulnerability with them. Or just listen to them. Really.

“You should be the pastor of a church.” Dennis says, and I stare at him in disbelief: several disqualifications immediately springing to mind. One of the best things about being a Catholic is that I’m NEVER going to be burdened with THAT.

However, I did get to do some pastoring. The aforementioned Bill Jones was waiting for us in the porch outside the shelter.

Bill greets me with enthusiasm. He doesn’t so much flirt with me as insist that we get married. “Over my husband’s dead body, Bill,” I laugh, and he does too. It’s our ritual, so don’t get reading anything into it.

“I’m barred,” he says by way of explaining why he’s outside the shelter, not in it. He usually is. He’s also usually drunk, which is, more often than not, why he’s barred. Bill is not a quiet drunk.

He’s been ejected from his room in a hostel for, allegedly, killing one of the other residents. I ask him about this and he answers evadively: “You don’t want to know.” He’s wrong, I DO want to know, but I’m not about to press him.

“Where are you living now Bill?”

“Here,” he replies, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. Hey-ho Bill. Have a sausage roll.

He then engages me with a brilliant stare and begins to gabble. Well, this is new. So I reply in tongues, make the sign of the cross on his head and say a blessing.

“I liked it when you did that. Do it again!” So I do.

At this point. his social worker arrives essaying yet another attempt to get him to see sense on the housing issue. I hear him tell her he wants to go to Scotland. I get the feeling that she wants him to go to Scotland too, and really, I wouldn’t blame her.

Enlightenment And How To Miss It

It was only a matter of time.


I recently re-read 'A Leaf By Niggle' A quirky little fairy tale by JRR Tolkein about a man who had to go on a journey, but kept putting it off. I first read it in my teens, and it sat just under my heart waiting to be useful, as most fables do. It emerged recently, as the feeling of 'being in a journey grew in roughly the same place.


' In a journey' are well-chosen words, as this meander seems to be happening TO me: joyfully and poignantly, as in recently observing all three of my daughters approach important rites of passage, leading me to think, as one must, about my own final ritual and passing. Which, I hasten to add, is a long way off. Somewhere in the region of 43 years, if all goes to plan.


Mind you, I am content to slip away any time, filled as I am with intense gratitude for a life that it has been a privilege to live: so utterly blessed. However:


I am a curious soul, both in terms of being the tiniest bit eccentric, and in being full of curiosity. I am seeking Enlightenment with the help of my close associate, Celeste Finbow. I am very fond of 'Celeste', an ancient soul, named, I believe, for the fairies at the bottom of the garden, who is in this journey with me. She is as real as anyone else you may meet on the internet, in case you're wondering… . Well, I was musing about Enlightenment and Celeste remarked that I'd had my moment and missed it.


“You what?” I interjected, astonished, and not a little perturbed.

She handed me a stone tablet on which was inscribed:




An adept with Google Translate, I shall save you the bother:




Golly! That's it! So Celeste and I are going to start the Final Religion. We shall dispense with Latin immediately, as the first Rule. No, Celeste whispers, the Second Rule:


Rule One: Be Kind

Rule Two: No More Latin.


There are bound to be more Rules, though we shall stop calling them Rules forthwith, for very good reasons that we haven't thought about yet.


Be sure we will.


Four More Sleeps To Mrs Tyler!

Little Rowen Pedlar was four years old. He was due to start in the Reception Class the following Monday, and he was bursting with excitement.

I smiled, broadly. We would do what we could to make that enthusiasm last. But we don’t stay four for long, and soon the weight of the system would bear down on him, and his innocence would be lost in the drive to get him up to a SATS Level 5 in seven years time.

My daughter thinks, as I do, that we can’t vote Labour until The Wrong Milliband is replaced by anyone, except, maybe, Ed Balls. So two thousand sleeps until we mark a ballot paper then. She has one caveat. Michael Gove, the Education Minister.

” I am horrified that this man is in charge of my children’s education.” Everybody needs to be.

I know something about education. I loved my job when it was creative, experiential, pedagogically sound and a pleasure to do.

Now, I’m glad to be out of it.

I don’t have a privileged background. I was brought up in the poorest, toughest neighbourhood in Gloucester. I am where I am today because I passed the eleven-plus and had it in me to survive the casual neglect of the working- class girls in my Grammar School.

Hilda Mortimer, the head of this institution, sent for my mother to say:

“You don’t want Mary to go to College, You’ll need her wage.”

This was 1969, not the Dark Ages. To those whom she favoured, Mort is lionised. I know, I read the obituaries.

God! I’m sounding bitter. I’m not, though I must admit, I’m glad I got THAT off my chest.

Until my last post as Head Teacher of a village school, I taught exclusively in schools in areas of socio-economic deprivation ( As we were trained to call them.I used to call them, ‘home’.) so I DO know what I’m talking about.

I laugh like a drain when I hear nostrums touted like, ‘ Raise Standards! Introduce Latin!’ I love this one. I think of Vincent. It took me a whole year to teach Vincent to read and write his name. In English. You wouldn’t want to know what his home life was like. I expect Vincent Is now in prison, or dead.

A string of frustrated teachers will have spent the six succeeding years trying to get Vincent to a Level Four. He wouldn’t have made it. The most likely scenario is that Vincent’s frustration will have boiled up into such anger that he will have been ‘excluded’ long before he sat the Y6 tests.

It’s not LATIN, you f****** idiot, it’s the fact that schools that teach it usually have far fewer than thirty children to teach it to, that gets results.

I apologise. I reserve the F*  Word for the rarest of rants. It means something then, doesn’t it?

I expect you’re wondering what set me off: Sports Day at my granddaughter’s nice little school in the next village down.

What a ghastly occasion this is! I have hated Sports Day since my infancy. No-one ever told me that I was unlikely to win anything because I was short on height and protein. Perhaps they didn’t know? I was about eight when I resigned myself to the futility of it, and stopped trying. I became clever at other things instead.

Back to the present. I three times crossed the tracks at the gd’s Sports Day, in unsafe UV levels, to find and replace her hat. I smiled a lot though: I wanted only to be a mild pain in the arse.

I got chatting to one of the parents sitting nearby. The head teacher doesn’t speak to Lynne anymore because she opened her big Liverpuddlian gob to complain. These were her issues:

Her 11 year old daughter was taught by a Classroom Assistant in the weeks leading up to the SATS tests because the teacher wanted to concentrate on the students she thought might make LEVEL SIX. This is NOT what primary education is about, or shouldn’t be. Don’t tell ME being taught by a TA is the equivalent of a teacher’s attention: if it WAS, she could have taken those being hothoused, couldn’t she?

I don’t want to be over- dramatic, but isn’t this just the kind of pressure that is leading to increasing levels of child mental illness, and teenage suicide? Not a price worth paying for the kudos of a few insecure level 6 ‘s .

There were fourteen children in Sarah’s ‘exam’ class Ten were given prizes. Good for their self-esteem, but what about the four singled out as failures? Negatives like this SERIOUSLY impact learning. I know this.

( It’s the proportion I object to. This is double incompetence: too many awards to be worth anything, and so many, leaving the excluded four feeling all the worse for it.)

I’m not going on, the other issues relate to the school now being run as a business, and extras that were once free are now beyond Lynne’s reach. Football Club, for instance.

Don’t get me wrong, bad schools need fixing. But when I see backward-looking, score-based solutions, that won’t work, that won’t work, because they never have, being trumpeted, I get mad.

And now teachers are going to be paid by results. This will be fun. It’s hard enough to persuade colleagues to take a Year 6 class as it is… . And the ridiculous, I would say statistically dishonest, measure of a child making ‘two thirds of a Level a year’ is frankly unworkable.

( Dishonest because SATS levels are calculated on huge populations, they are unsafe predictors of individual performance. Speak to a statistician: I did.)

There’s a logic to this if you’re making widgets, I can see it clearly. But we’re not making widgets, we’re raising the next generation. Pissing a teacher off by further holding down her pay is not a good idea. It is not going to make for a happy teacher, and unhappy teachers run unhappy classrooms. I’ve seen it, I know. You’ve been in one, you know. And you can’t sack all of them.

There are alternatives. Intelligent systems that are liberal and humane, (and SUCCESSFUL) like the Primary International Baccalaureate, and (Dear God, I AM mad! ) scrapping Trident to lower class sizes so that EVERY child gets the start in life that the sons and daughters of politicians can have.

( Now you know what a wet I am, I expect you think I banned competitive races on Sports Day. You’d be wrong. I simply made them voluntary… .)


PS If you believe that class size doesn’t matter, you’re right. For rote-learning.


God’s Wonderful Railway


This train, just two coaches
Rattles and clangs through my lovely country
Where the green summer hills roll voluptuously across the
Greener landscape with soft woods
That do not spike and shade like yours -
But filter sunlight and harbour flowers of
Many generous hues.

I walked here so many years ago
With my lover, or maybe yesterday -
It depends on how his imagination works,
And whether we will always contain each other in
Our lazy hearts.

For You! You know who you are …

Go on! Describe the rain!
I dare you …

Look, I left you a space, and the trust,
Because everyone has words.
Long like loquacious, and endowed
With meaning:
Slate-stacked fire-steam dropping in my head like -
You know –

THAT kind of rain that leaves you

Will it ever stop?

I’m Afraid Aunty Ethel’s Dead …

I was about sixteen when I learned how to resurrect people – or at least ensure a sufficient flow of oxygen to the brain to hope for some kind of survival, in a recognisable form, until the paramedics arrive.

I expect the Youth Club and the Community Centre where I was trained with a revolting dummy, are both long gone, as neither are fashionable in these days of rugged austerity. But THIS is not about THAT. One day, when I’m mad enough… .

Here’s a bleak bleak scene. Manchester. The Peak Forest Canal – 1974: An empty lock alongside a smut-caked factory building – vast, as factories were serious affairs when Victorians built them. The lock is not completely drained. In a few feet of water a child is dying. Desperate men are trying to lift him out. It’s fifteen feet of slimy wall to the canal side above. A nine-year old brother shouts, ‘My mum’ll kill me.’ I walk slowly forward, I want to help. I always want to help.

I’m the only person with CPR training. But I am twenty-two, and it was so long ago.

I try. I take this lifeless boy in my arms, I lay him down, and I try. He gurgles, but he is limp, his eyes are dead. I keep trying, I turn him over, I try to empty him of water. He is dead. I walk away.

I grew older and I grew up and I became a head teacher. One day, I went to a head teacher’s conference in Harrogate. I am forty-eight now, and the tiny body, in my arms, is a distant memory. A man is about to drown beside me. I am in the hotel swimming pool doing some lengths in my black bra and pants, hoping no-one notices.

‘He’s going down!’ I heard a shout from the side of the pool, I turn, the man beside me cries out and disappears beneath the water. He’s a big man, and I’m in my underwear. He’s drowning.

‘Not this time you don’t.’ The thought comes so quickly, though time seems to stand still. He’s a big man. He’ll pull me down too – and he does. I instinctively bend my knees, so that when my feet hit the pool floor, I can spring up. I bunny-hop both of us in this absurd fashion, to the side of the pool. People haul us out.

‘Thank you! ‘ the rescued one splutters.

‘That’s all right.’ I reply, turning crimson, because I’m dressed in my underwear.

I bolt for the dressing room. I never see the man, who’s life I may have saved, again. It doesn’t matter. I am jubilant. Somehow, I can forgive myself for the little boy who’s life I couldn’t save, so long ago.

Aunty Ethel wasn’t even dead.

It was my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary, so I am fifty-one, and I ruined it. My father never, so far as I can recall, was ever seriously angry with me until this day. I thought he had the right to be a bit upset, though I maintain it wasn’t entirely my fault.

Aunty Ethel, in her eighties, collapsed in our dining room. I felt in vain for a pulse and couldn’t find one. Dad was right behind me.

‘I’m so sorry Dad, Aunty Ethel’s collapsed – she’s dead.’

Two things happened instantaneously. Dad groaned, and Aunty Ethel sat up. She was dead DRUNK and had toppled over in an alcohol-induced stupor.

‘Mary Ellen!’ My father roared, ‘ I wish you’d THINK sometimes!’

Everybody laughed about it afterwards. Except me. I am glad Ethel survived my diagnosis of death, of course I am, but imagine how I felt! My credibility as a first-aider was shot to pieces for ever.

Or was it?

The last time I renewed my First Aid Certificate the trainer, said, ‘ We don’t look for a pulse in very elderly patients, because very often, one can’t be found.. ‘

My colleagues were more than a little bemused when I punched the air and shouted,






Deficiencies In The Honesty Department

The thing is, I love to write. There is something so therapeutic about the gentle ‘pudd-pudd’ of my fingertips skipping across the virtual keypad in front of me. Today’s challenge, writer’s block. I’m fed up with God, the poet’s run out of inspiration, and my daily round is too mundane to mention. I will mention it though, just for fun:

Wake Up
Check Blog
Write email
Think About Getting Up
Listen to Radio

To Do:
Get Up
Art Class

Writing a List always does it for me. Here I go again:

Aowl and I had great fun the other day trying to get the microphone to type for us.. Its potential for the literary aspirations of a one-year old are pretty staggering I think, but what was typed up made no sense. What does? (Broad smile: Maybe something: Maybe sometimes.)

(A feature of an ipad. You talk to it, and it talks back. It is a Two on the Enneagram. It lives to serve.)

Microphone Man, Let’s call him Cyril, when asked to write something for me, was very helpful. ‘ I don’t know what you mean by, ‘Write something for me. How about a web search for it?’ I admit to being impressed. Technology is so cute. No sense of the ironic, doesn’t know when it’s leg is being pulled, just cute.

Having time on my hands, I actually took Cyril up on his offer, and a whole new world has opened up for me!

I was taken to a website wherein I can register to write papers for students with deficiencies in the honesty department. Nobody’s perfect. The paper I wrote on the ferns growing in Prince of Wales Park in Bingley, in order to escape the local College with a Certification in Education, owed much of it’s content to,’ The Observer Book of Ferns’. I’m in no position to judge.

Why in heaven’s name, did I choose to write a paper on the ferns in The Prince of Wales Park? I don’t remember, though I do recall my horror at finding just the one variety when I made my foray into the damper regions of this particular pleasure garden. Though the park was a mere five minutes walk from my digs, I did not, in the end, have to leave my bedroom to complete the assignment.

If the University of Leeds wishes to strip me of my Certificate in Education (Mary Cook, 1972) I invite it to be my guest. I wouldn’t return to teaching for a pension. Oh! Wait!


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