Sunday, 4 March 2012

Happiness - The Big Issue

On my day off yesterday I decided to catch the train to Leeds to visit the art gallery.

I woke up in good time and was on the 8:45am train.

Once in Leeds I headed straight for Cafe Nero (a favourite place of mine) and had a bowl of porridge (with maple syrup) and a latte (with caramel syrup). After finishing my oaty breakfast I sat back in the nice leather chair with my latte and began to read an article in the Nov/Dec issue of Resurgence magazine. It's a special 'wellbeing' issue. The article I began to read was called Happiness as a Higher Good written by Richard Ryder.

It starts off with the following:

The word 'happiness' did not appear in English until the 16th century. It derives from the much older word 'hap', meaning 'chance' or 'good luck'. We see it still in 'haphazard', 'hapless', 'mishap', 'perhaps', and so on.

In between reading, sipping my coffee and trying to lick the maple syrup from my fingers, (it might've looked like I had a problem because my fingers would not stop being sticky so I kept on licking where I thought the syrup was) I looked up and noticed a man selling The Big Issue. He was getting soaked from the rain and yet there he was smiling at everyone who walked passed him, saying good morning to them and even waving to people on the other side of the road.

He walked around in a kind of square, getting excited when someone walked passed him, all in the attempt to try and sell the £2 magazine. He looked so happy to be there, to have that job, to be out in the open and be talking to strangers.

I got to the end of my article which ended with:

We now know there are seven main factors affecting human happiness, probably in this order of importance:
  • family relationships
  • financial security
  • work
  • friendships
  • health
  • freedom
  • personal value
I sip the frothy dregs and put the magazine in my bag, take the tray to the counter, say thank you to the staff and leave the cafe. The rain has got heavier now so I zip up my coat a tad further, which doesn't make any difference whatsoever, and cross over to this happy fellow on the corner of the street.

He has a woolly hat on. It's red, brown and yellow. He has a beard which gives him an unkempt appearance, but his eyes - it's his eyes that shine. There is so much joy coming out of them.

'Morning!' he says, waving at me, even though I'm only a few yards away.

I return the greeting and walk closer to him.

'Can I just tell you,' I say, fiddling with the coins in my pocket, trying to figure out what felt like a pound and what didn't, 'that you have made my morning.'

He looks perplexed. 'Why's that?'

'Because you're the happiest person I've come across so far today.'

His face softens. 'Thank you,' he says, nodding his head and smiling.

I pull out two pound coins and hand them to him and he gives me an issue of the magazine in return.

His smile oozes gratitude.

'Please keep it up,' I say.

'I will,' he says, grinning.

I walk over to the art gallery and try the door. It's locked.

'Doesn't open till 10, mate,' says a voice. It's a young guy putting chairs outside the gift shop below to my left.

'Cheers, buddy!' I say.

I have half an hour to kill so I wonder further up Headrow towards the shops. I walk into Whittards and look at the different teas, coffees and teapots. I catch the girl behind the counter smiling at me so I smile back.

'It's so cold,' she says.

'Compared to the last couple of days it is, yes. Everyone seems a lot happier when the sun's out, don't you think?'

'Definitely,' she says. 'I look out there and it's just,' she scrunches up her young, pale face, ' . . .grim.'

I laugh.

'Grim?' I say.

She laughs at her own comment, which I don't think she would've done if I hadn't have laughed in the first place.

'Yes, it's grim,' she says.

'You know, I've just bought a copy of The Big Issue from one of the most happiest people I've come across. Without doubt the happiest person I've seen today.'

Her face lit up.

'The guy that shouts morning and waves to people on the other side of the street?'

'Yeah, that's him,' I say, sounding quite surprised.

'You know,' she says, 'he has been like that for about seven years.'

'Maybe he's an enlightened one,' I say.

She shifts her gaze away from me without moving her head, as if pondering on what I've said.

'Maybe,' she says, coming back to me.

'So think on,' I say, heading towards the door, 'it's not grim.'

'It's not grim,' she says, smiling.

'Spread the joy not the grim.'

'Spread the joy not the grim!!' she says with passion. The other two customers look at her and smile uncomfortably.

I laugh.

'That's going to be my motto for the day!' she says. 'Spread the joy and not the grim . . .' she ponders again.

'Good bye,' I say, interrupting her thoughts.

'Yeah, see you!'

After two hours of looking at awe inspiring art in the gallery, I head home on the train and open up the magazine at the next article. It's called A Better Way of Life by Richard Layard. On the page there's a Happiness Pledge that reads:


If you see the happy Big Issue man him tell him how great he's doing and thank him for being the way he is - and you might as well buy a copy of the magazine whilst you're there too.

...and remember, spread the joy not the grim.


  1. This story has made my day!

    Came across your posts from a link from Action for Happiness. What a lovely positive blog.

    I often see upbeat people who make me smile - maybe I should actually tell them how great it is to see!


    1. Hi Lindsay! :) I'm glad the post put a smile on your face. I think you telling smiley people how great it is to see them smiling will make their smile last even longer. I saw a guy smiling today; as I walked passed I smiled at him and he smiled back. It was like we shared something in that moment. It was perfectly subtle and was over in the blink of an eye.

      G :)