“The other side is this realisation that while materialism underpins consumerism, and capitalism is wonderful and puts food on the table, we’ve become conscious focussing on materialistic consumerism that hasn’t delivered happiness. There’s rising rates of depression and massive concern about anxiety.”
“Happiness is something that is missing from lots of people’s lives because there’s all this pressure to perform and be busy. We have mobile phones that take away our happiness, and instead of turning them off and remembering life was okay without them, they’ve hooked us in.”
James keeps all his digital devices in a cupboard with a lock and timer, and leaves them at home when out with his 5 and 7 year-old kids, who don’t watch TV Monday through till Thursday.
He isn’t against digital consumption as long as it’s controlled. Gaming for example, offers ‘flow’ but should be balanced with the real world. He has a Kindle, a mobile and Netflix, but is strict about using them.
His book is arranged in chapters with an easy to remember ‘trigger’ word – STORIES – O for example stands for Outdoors and Offline, R for Relationships, with advice like: “don’t text a friend but go and spend time in their physical proximity over lunch”. This checklist is built on ‘robust science’: “I’ve done research into those who have researched,” he says, people he admits to being ‘cleverer than me’.
The findings perhaps aren’t rocket science, but things we all know we should do. As James says, in the ‘40s when smoking was promoted by healthy role models, at sporting events, and even advised by doctors to aid relaxation, smokers must have known that the cough it caused wasn’t ‘healthy’. It took the US general surgeon to put in black and white that cigarettes cause cancer for smoking to hugely decline.
The science, he believes, will nudge people to change.
“We live in a time where there are so many wonderful things designed by clever people who really know how to hook us into habits that make them money but aren’t good for our wellbeing. So what I’ve tried to do with the book is help people find it easy to choose better habits.”
His own life, he says, has improved hugely from implementing the rules, from his relationships to the quality of holidays and weekends.
E is for Extraordinary. Creating extraordinary stories that you can tell others and yourself – such as going abseiling or learning a new skill, which feeds into self-esteem and narrative psychology.
“The shape of the story we tell ourselves is really important for our own wellbeing but also seeing ourselves as the hero of our own story.”
He draws on B=MAT (Behaviour equals Motivation, Ability and Trigger), and gives the tools in the book to instigate change. “So when you’re lying on the couch you can ask, is this giving me STORIES? And you can run through that process.”
James hopes people will come to the talk, and buy the book, as he believes it can change lives: “Even if it improves your happiness by 5%, you’ve got your money’s worth.”
The ultimate advice he can give? “I’d probably say ask yourself whenever you’re thinking about what you’re going to do with your time – the most precious thing we have – will it give you stories – armed with that question you can make sure it does.”
James Wallman is one of three expert speakers at Berwins Salon North’s The Power of the Mind on Thursday 13 June at 7.30pm, The Crown Hotel, Harrogate.
Time and How to Spend it is out now in paperback.