A licence to live?


Recently, a couple of my close friends—and a new friend—have been having a particularly rough ride. Career choice troubles, romantic break down, family illnesses… And I’ve taken the role of consoler & kind ear, as we all do for friends in need.

I’ve also had a difficult year in many ways. And so, I’ve been pondering the fact that we—all of us—need a little help to live.

Where does help come from?

Some of us might get help in living without even having to ask. Some of us seek it out from trusted friends, mentors and loved ones. Yet, many of us may not even, for whatever reason, be aware that we need this help, that we can ask for it. Some of us are too ashamed to admit to needing help.

Most of us, in the western world, live outside of a religious system to help us understand our traumas. Therapy still has a stigma attached to it. We don’t always want to readily admit to reading so-called ‘self-help’ books. Even receiving life coaching, or journal writing, might be embarrassing for some to admit. I wonder why this is.

I wonder why, though in both the UK and US you need a licence to drive a motor vehicle, we are left unlicensed in life. No wonder we experience so many life ‘crashes’—pile-ups, even! We are—each of us—behind the wheel of a life we may or may not have been sufficiently instructed to operate (and usually not.)

What I suppose I’m saying is:

It’s okay to look into finally getting your proverbial licence.
It’s okay if you haven’t ‘got this’ just yet.
It’s okay to live in the world your questions create.

And it’s okay to ask for help, because we’re all on the same road.


On noise & how we find ourselves in silence


Between the ages of seven and eleven, every school day for thirty minutes after lunch break, came my favourite time of day: silent reading. The aim of this, I suppose, was to help us coast into an afternoon of sober studiousness after our raging exertions on the playground. The real delight was: we got to read whatever we wanted. Even books from home were allowed (my heart would soar at the thought of thirty engrossing minutes of Jacqueline Wilson.)

I adored this time, and of course I still do adore reading. Yet, I see now that reading is not real silence. Ultimately, we were being encouraged to fill this silent time with another kind of noise—the very special noise (but noise nonetheless) of books.

And I wonder now: where was the silent time for our own young voices to emerge, unsullied, and announce themselves to the world?

We live on a very noisy planet (literally, we are sending out ever-expanding radio waves into space.) German philosopher, Heidegger, would call the totality of this noise “idle talk” or “chatter”—and it defines much of our existence. This noise is not just radio. It’s opinions, facts, Facebook, the Sunday paper, Netflix… It’s our culture—that messy, raucous thing we are all deeply entrenched in—telling us what to do, what to think, what to be.

What happens to us in silence—real silence?

Some of us get anxious—it can be nice being told what to do, think, and be. Why? Because it lets us off the hook. It lessens the burden of responsibility for ‘Making It’ or for getting life right. Even though—and I know you’ve heard this before—there is no right.

In silence, some of us feel regret, fear, hopelessness…

…and all those other sensations where we remain trapped in the past or recoil from a potential future.

Yet, what we can also find in silence is possibility. Possibility for authenticity—even if it might need a little excavating. Chinks of light where you might catch a glimpse, sometimes a very profound glimpse, of yourself at your essence.

We find ourselves in silence. [Tweet it!]

I encourage you to find some silence. Real silence. I encourage you to feel those uncomfortable feelings that come with the territory; to face them, even momentarily. Then, fill this silence with noise of your own making (words, wisdom, aspirations.) I do this by writing.

And, finally, be open to finding yourself, over and over—there, on the blank canvas of silence.

Create Your World With Questions


Given that, in a growing area of psychology, the self is a story, and therefore that we can think of our happiness as a kind of story, it seems logical that we ask how we are telling these stories. The truth is, we craft who we are with thoughts and tiny daily actions & interactions. Yet I believe that, most of all:

We craft who we are with the questions we ask. [Tweet it!]

What do I mean by that? I mean that each day we ask things of ourselves and our worlds that direct where we go and what we become (as individuals and as a collective.) Everything from what should I wear, to what am I doing with my life, to why am I so stuck? In psychology, there is a practice called Appreciative Inquiry or AI, and it’s when we ask: what is going really well?

How many times have you, in whatever words, asked yourself to be better? Focussed on what’s going wrong? Asked yourself to be different somehow? To change? And did that help – or has it left you feeling lacking? Left behind? Under-valued?

Although AI is primarily used today in organisations, it was actually originally developed  as a tool for use on an individual level. And that’s exactly what this article is for: to ask that you begin to appreciatively inquire into yourself.

Takeaway Truth:

“We live in the world our questions create.” – David Cooperrider


If you answered yes to any of the questions above, you’re not alone. Perhaps it’s time we asked better questions: kinder questions, more beautiful questions, more appreciative questions.

In addition, a great deal of psychological research suggests that we’re usually more successful in endeavours that we approach with intrinsic motivation. When we feel autonomous, we thrive. Therefore, instead of my offering up some go-to questions, why not create your own?

Try it: Create Your Own Questions

I want to help you begin your own appreciative inquiry; to ask the questions that matter, because you make them matter. Questions that get to the heart of what’s already going right in your world – and how to get more of it, rather than questions that sink you into the swampy depths of what’s gone wrong.

Below I’ve given you some structures and some mix & match beginning middle and ends. Have fun with them. Craft as many questions as you like. One. Five. Fifteen. Let your imagination run as wild (or as tamely) as you see fit.

Writing Exercise:

I am _______ [possible fillers: happiest, grateful, fulfilling my potential, at my best, at my most ambitious/hopeful/curious/relaxed/blissed out] when I am _______ [possible fillers: with friends, with animals, outdoors, travelling, writing, creating.] How can I get more of that in my life?

What’s going really well in my_______ [possible fillers: work, love life, friendships, writing, health] that I can _______ [possible fillers: focus on, expand on, replicate elsewhere, be grateful for?]

How can I _______ [possible fillers: create, reach, approach, attain, attract] more of this, in order to move closer to my dream _______ [possible fillers: self, gap year, job, daily schedule, lover] [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]

Who or what can help me _______ [possible fillers: uncover, build, change, plan, learn about] that thing I most want to _______ [possible fillers: create, see, visit, achieve, make] in my life [+ time reference: this week, this month, this year, in the next five years?]


These are just a few ideas to get you started, but there are limitless possibilities to the questions we ask in our lives. Try a few of your own from scratch. Zone in on those that feel most poignant. You might want to pick one question – or even a couple of questions – to guide you into the coming year. You might even want to make this a regular part of a writing for happiness practice.

Create beautiful questions & craft a more beautiful story.