Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Health & wellbeing

How do you adapt to working from home, keep fit, maintain a social life – and maybe even cut your hair?

How to keep your hair in check Sali Hughes

Social media is awash with professional colourists pleading with absent clients not to reach for the box dye while theyre closed for business. This is partly because, like every service profession, hairdressing will take a financial beating during this crisis.

But professionals are also genuinely worried about their clients hair, and tell me theyre bracing themselves for a plethora of complex colour correction appointments when they finally reopen. Colour correction can be a long, drawn-out and expensive process, warns Luke Hersheson, my own stylist and creative director of Hershesons in London. Until we know when salons might reopen, its much safer to use a temporary fix, like a root touch-up spray or powder that shampoos out, he says.

He believes many women can buy a few more weeks by just changing where they part their hair. Theres usually more grey at the temples, so a centre parting is a good stopgap.

Top salon colourist Josh Wood isnt against box dyes he even sells them under the Josh Wood Colour brand in Boots. However, the secret to a successful home dye job, he says, is in knowing your limitations. Now is not the time to transform the colour of your hair, or for tricky techniques like balayage, ombre or bleaching, he says.

Try a root disguiser to touch up your hair colour, Sali Hughes suggests. Photograph: Rui Faria/The Guardian

Retouching roots or toning existing colour should be the extent of your ambition as an amateur. Wood suggests applying a moisturising hair mask a couple of days before colouring, and always choosing dye in one shade lighter than you think you need from the picture, as too dark is impossible to correct. Follow the box instructions to the letter, Wood says, starting at the greyest point usually the front and cover roots for twice the length of time as the lengths. He suggests enlisting your spouse or teen to do the back.

In any case, you must always, always do a skin test in advance, according to instructions, to minimise the risk of potentially serious allergic reaction. It can be a lifesaver.

Hersheson (whose team, like Woods, is offering video consultations during the crisis) points out that its worth considering whether social isolation might be a good opportunity to push through the pain barrier of transitioning to grey. Its also a good time to grow out an unwanted fringe you can clip it back and not worry about how that looks, and not have the stress of trimming it yourself, he says.

Hersheson counsels against trimming your fringe, unless youre very adept. But I have trimmed dozens of fringes in extremis, and if you think youre up to the job, heres my own technique:

  • Always start with clean, but dry hair never, ever cut when wet or even damp. Clip back the rest of your hair, leaving the dry fringe isolated and loose.

  • Comb through, and with the comb, gather the entire fringe into a single, flat, one-inch section at the very centre of your forehead.

  • Clamp it between two flat fingers at the bottom of the section, approximately 1cm from the hair tips (use a plastic freezer bag clip instead, if you prefer).

  • Take the sharpest scissors you own and cut up into the one-inch section of tips, naturally stopping at the fingers. Do not cut across, only upwards. When youve snipped the entire inch-wide section, release your fingers and comb through to assess the length, snipping away any single hairs you may have missed.

  • If its still too long (always preferable to too short), repeat the process, nudging fingers up only half a centimetre at a time, before combing through and checking.

How to socialise online Elle Hunt

Not only is it eminently possible to maintain your friendships under lockdown, talking to people other than those you live and work with is highly advisable if you are to emerge with your sanity intact. Our social lives pivot to video just means a bit more planning.

If its a large group you are trying to meet with, you can gauge everyones availability using the easy web scheduling tool Doodle.

The best platform to use is probably the one the majority of people already have an account with. If everyone is using an iPhone or Apple computer, use FaceTime. WhatsApp permits video calls with up to four participants but, without calling on WhatsApp Web, ties you to your phone.

For many, Skype is a tried and trusted classic that supports up to 50 participants though rarely seamlessly. Otherwise, most people have a Google account, making Hangouts a straightforward choice.

The video conferencing platform Zoom, which has seen its shares spike since the coronavirus outbreak, limits free group calls to 40 minutes but you can always call back.

No matter the platform , some lagging audio and frozen faces are inevitable, especially for large groups. Adding some structure such as a book club, quiz or a table-top role-playing game such as Dungeons & Dragons can be helpful in adjusting to an unfamiliar medium and minimising people talking over each other.

The Houseparty app a conversation with eight people. Photograph: houseparty

The Houseparty app might be geared more towards younger groups, having been a fad among kids a few years ago. But now it seems to be a royal platform of choice. Its amazing, I just press a button and all my family pop up, the Duchess of Cornwall reportedly told a friend. The app can alert you when your friends are online, allowing you to effectively drop in on them. It also has in-built games, for up to eight players at a time.

Some people have ramped up, or perhaps rediscovered, their love of gaming as a means of socialising at a distance, with popular games such as Minecraft, Fortnite and Call of Duty all allowing some in-play communication. It is also possible to play board games online, such as at Board Game Arena and for the more hardcore Tabletop Simulator.

For a more relaxed interaction and one that does not demand that you broadcast your face Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that permits you to sync your streaming with friends, like a remote movie night.

How to work from home Elle Hunt

Every longtime freelancer knows the secret to effective working from home: put your shoes on. Its really effective in cueing the mindset shift from home is where the couch is to productivity ninja.

The goal is to create a distinction, even one that is mostly symbolic, between work mode and home mode, especially now that you cannot go anywhere else. Setting up a home office, if only a dedicated corner of your kitchen table, that you can arrive at and leave at the days end will help (do make sure you leave).

Your new colleagues may also take some adjusting-to. Novelist Julie Cohen shared on Twitter her top tip for working around family, care of her marriage counsellor: a literal work hat. Train everyone (and yourself) that when youre wearing The Work Hat, they should leave you alone. (And when youre wearing it, you should only work), she tweeted. It will be a talking point on all those video-conferencing calls, too.

Be aware that whatever is visible behind you on your webcam will be under close scrutiny from your colleagues, and inform their judgments of your home, taste and private life. Style accordingly.

Can you recreate the coffee-shop ambience when working at home? The secret may be in the soundtrack. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Those more used to finding their focus in the informal-formality of a cafe or library are now seeking to replicate the effect at home. Gretchen McCulloch, linguist and author of Because The Internet, tweeted that her current strategy was mellow cafe songs playlist With coffee and sitting in a different part of my apartment than usual, recommending an additional background of an eight-hour YouTube stream of Magical Tearoom ASMR Ambience. With the sound of teaspoons tinkling on saucers and hissing espresso machines over gentle indie music, you wont believe its not Starbucks.

You can even fudge together your own overly sweet frappuccino concoction. On the video platform Tik Tok, enterprising teenagers have been filming themselves making dalgona coffee to replicate cafe coffee at home. It is easy to make, if high in caffeine and wasteful of milk: mix equal parts instant coffee, boiling water and sugar about two tbsp per person and whisk. Add more sugar to taste. Once the mixture is stiff and glossy, pour over milk and ice, stir and serve. And whisk it by hand, even if you have an electric maker. It takes ages; the morning will fly by.

How to keep fit in your home Zoe Williams

There is no shortage of material online about how to stay fit at home if anything, the proliferation is the problem. Choice is deadly to motivation, so start by trying to whittle down your options.

What do you want to do each day, and how long do you want to do it for? 15 minutes is reasonable, 30 shows a bit more backbone. Its more habit-forming to do some every day than an hour twice a week.

Joe Wicks, a phenomenally popular YouTube fitness coach, shows you how to keep fit at home. Photograph: The Body Coach via Getty Images

There are whole-week programmes, such as the book Be Para Fit, or Canadian Air Force Exercises, available on YouTube, that build in your rest days. You can also follow a particular person; Joe Wicks is the obvious one, Adrienne for yoga, and theyll do a daily workout which will make your decisions for you.

If youre of a more independent bent, do a timetable more like a classic cardio/resistance workout for two days, yoga on the third day, cardio/resistance the fourth, something fun like a dance routine on the fifth, resistance on its own for the sixth, yoga on the seventh.

If you used to do regular classes, check to see if theyve gone online; a live-streamed pilates class, at a fixed time, is much more conducive to discipline than roaming freely round WikiHow, trying to find some illustrations that look a bit like your instructor. If you already have some equipment in the house resistance bands, a skipping rope, a mat, a multi-function Fitt Cube you can build your own workouts around those. I would really recommend buying a mat, which youll need for all floor work.

Find the online instructor who irritates you least: over time, itll be a love-hate pendulum, but if you find their voice grating at the start, thats never going to work. If youre feeling nostalgic, almost all the classic workouts Cindy Crawford, Mr Motivator, Rosemary Conley are on YouTube.

Derrick Evans, aka Mr Motivator. Photograph: Sam Stephenson/Alamy Stock Photo

If you find all people basically annoying, there are some brilliant illustrated resources like DAREBEE Workouts. If you find it hard to watch and move at the same time, choose one workout and repeat it: after a week, youll be doing it from memory, which is good for morale. Swap it over after a fortnight, though, as theres evidence that you build fitness faster when you do things youre inept at.

Just because theres no professional asking you whether you have any injuries does not mean you can ignore your injuries. Look up first what to avoid with an gammy knee or similar, rather than typing routines for one rubbish knee into Google.

The single most important thing is: dont wait until you feel like it wait long enough, and youll never feel like it. In the words of the prophet Joe Wicks, the bit where you feel good is at the end of the workout, not the beginning.

Read more:

George Hood, a former US Marine, broke his own world record this month. Heres how you can improve your technique

This month, George Hood a 62-year-old former US Marine broke the world planking record with a time of 8hr 15min 15sec, adding an extra 14 minutes on to the previous record. Hood had originally claimed the record in 2011 with a paltry 1hr 20min, before losing it in 2016 to Mao Weidong, a police officer from China, who broke the record with a time of 8hr 1min.

Eight hours is a long time spent doing anything, especially with your face hovering 20cm away from the floor of a gym, but the benefits of a good plank go a very long way. The plank is excellent because its all about stability, says Chris Magee, the head of yoga at Psycle London, and a former personal trainer, rugby player and martial artist. Thats key to an active, healthy lifestyle. You want to feel when youre walking around, running around or even sitting down that your spine is strong and protected.

With a good core, youd imagine, comes a cut six-pack; the sort of Brad-Pitt-in-Fight-Club abs weve all dreamed of. But thats just surface level, with the real money coming from working those deeper muscles, the ones you cant see.

To reclaim his world record, Hood spent the last 18 months training seven hours a day. I do 700 pushups a day, 2,000 situps a day in sets of 100 and 500 leg squats a day, he told CNN. For upper body and the arms, I do approximately 300 arm curls a day, adding that he uses loud rock music Rammstein are a favourite to help push through the pain, while the torn skin on his elbows is manageable once the rest of his arm has gone numb.

If youre an experienced planker, its your prerogative if you want to go in quite as hard as Hood, but Magee estimates that even beginners can improve easily if the technique is right.

Read more:

Phil is the happiest person I know, because he never gets bored

Mary Rose Young, 61

Phil and I met and married in the same year, 24 years ago. Three and a half years later, in 1999, he had an aneurysm while we were jogging. He is a musician and had been on a world tour with Iggy Pop; now he cant follow a tune all the way through because his short-term memory is affected.

Hes the happiest person I know, because he never gets bored. He goes from playing his instruments to making coffee, then doing word puzzles. Because of his lack of short-term memory, hes always starting everything afresh. So I call him Five-second Phil. He gets it. Humour is a great crutch for us.

Im a potter and my workshop adjoins our home. I have about six people working with me, which was great in the early years, when my life was thrown into chaos: there were others here who could look out for him. Sometimes I imagine he gets lonely, but he doesnt he really has no concept of it. If were stuck in traffic and Im grumpy, he doesnt realise how long weve been there. And I just look at him and think, well, if youre happy, then Im happy. What I learn from Phil is the joy of living in the moment.

Phil Butcher, 61

Im Five-second Phil! My short-term memory is totally gone. Well, that was my experience of going jogging, anyway. I love doing crosswords and Scrabble. Mary Rose and I usually have a game at lunchtime. I see her during the day, though; I visit her in her workshop. I also like being in my own workspace in the music studio. I used to be a musician. I can still play, but not professionally. I am a man of very simple pleasures.

If you have a story to tell about who you live with, fill in this form and tell us a little about your set-up.

Read more:

There are a dizzying number of apps promising to get you in shape even if you cant get to a gym. But can any of them keep our writers moving?


Price 15.49 a month.
What is it? A full-service experience from the Hollywood star Chris Hemsworth: not just workouts, but a complete meal planner with food for breakfast, lunch and dinner a daily guided meditation and a daily motivational article.
The experience I immediately regret declaring myself intermediate as the app launches into a punishing pilates workout. I am not very flexible at all, and it turns out that my baseline fitness leaves much to be desired in terms of core strength.
More frustrating is the fact that the various workouts are introduced as videos. Clearly, this is supposed to emulate a real pilates class, but when my phone tells me to lie face-down on the floor I can no longer see the screen. It is frustrating to have to repeatedly break out of the pose to check the next movement.
Worth a download? Only if you are single, enjoy cooking and are willing to hand control of your life to an app.


Price $14.99 (11.40) a month or $99.99 a year.
What is it? A cheery selection of audio workouts with curated tunes.
The experience Before I start, the app asks me my fitness level, how many times I work out a week, how many weeks a month, what days I work out on, what machines I have access to, and what equipment I have to hand. None of this stops it from absolutely destroying me with bodyweight exercises but it is the thought that counts.
The instructors are great, with the right level of enthusiasm (read: grating in any other context). I am glad to have clear verbal instructions for how to do the exercises, rather than wishing I could just read a list of workouts from my screen. Video walkthroughs, available before and after the workout, help clear up any lingering concerns about form.
Worth a download? If you want to get fit to the tune of 75 a year, this is the app to spend your money on. AH

Alex gets in the spirit. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian


Price Free; coaching from $1 a day.
What is it? A bizarre mix of a mediocre workout app and personal trainer upselling.
The experience You get what you pay for, and as a result the free version of Fitocracy is odd. The main workout app lets you set a goal, then pick workouts from a list, but the presentation of the workouts is much simpler than its competitors: just a list of exercises and reps, which you check off as you go.
The problem is that much of the app is effectively broken, with visual artefacts graphical glitches all over the place. Digging in, the cause is clear: really, the app is a gateway to a coaching business, where you can spend anything from $1 to $250 a month on a one-on-one consultation with a personal trainer.
Worth a download? If you want free, there is better; if you want a coach, head to your local gym. AH


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 17.49 a year.
What is it? A simple and direct approach to strength.
The experience A popular approach to learning to lift free weights, 5×5 involves doing five sets of five reps of heavy weights, with three different exercises, three times a week.
It demands precisely what it does and no more. You need a gym, a squat rack, a barbell and a bench. You dont need to memorise a list of different exercises, nor wonder which equipment you are going to need today, nor, really, think.
StrongLifts is the best introduction to this type of workout there is, providing basic coaching and tracking, as well as just enough motivation to get you to lift the next set. It is my personal favourite: in a year, I have gone from struggling with a 20kg bar to reliably squatting my own weight.
Worth a download? Yes, if you have access to a gym and dont know what to do when you are there. AH

Nike Training Club

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price Free; 13.49 a month for the premium version.
What is it? Slick branded workouts with a generous free offering.
The experience Nike Training Club, the workout sibling to
the more popular Nike Run Club, feels less human than its competitors. While the personal trainers are front and centre, they mostly exist as silent models demonstrating the best form for each exercise.
That may suit a certain type of self-motivated student. Less helpful, for me, is the approach to equipment. I feel as if Nike expects me to have an incredibly well-stocked home with multiple dumbbells, a skipping rope and a bench or make myself hugely unpopular at the gym by seizing six things at once. That said, most of the app is available for free a price you cant beat.
Worth a download? Yes, if free is the magic number. AH

Sweat: Kayla Itsines Fitness

Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price 14.99 a month or 88 a year.
What is it? The chance to have your workout (for the home and gym) and diet plan organised by not only one Instagram influencer, but five inspired by everything from
powerlifting and muay thai to yoga.
The experienceKayla Itsines was one of the first internet exercise influencers. She rose to fame with the Bikini Body Guides, her series of fitness ebooks (the name hasnt aged well). Itsines still offers the BBG programme, but it now includes variations for different fitness levels. This feels like an app that could stay fresh for well over a year. I like that there are modifications for various exercises, that it is easy to sync to Spotify, and that it put so much emphasis on rest and rehabilitation to enhance healing.
The meal-planning features are disappointing, though. There is no option to swap suggested recipes, but as some of the suggestions are as unimaginative as egg and salad roll, I imagine quite a few people would want to.
Worth a download? Yes for the exercise, at least.


Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Price $9.99 a month or $59.99 a year.
What is it? It is all about exercise on Sworkit, and there is a hell of a lot of it. You can choose from a variety of plans or one-off workouts, customisable by time or focused on body parts (Sworkit is quite invested in firming bums).
The experience This has one of the best interfaces for exercising of the apps I tried. It works in landscape, counts you in before the next exercise starts and has a preview window to mentally prepare you for the next move. You can alter music within the exercise window and set how long you want to exercise for, with sessions beginning at five minutes. It also has a great voiceover feature: think of the sort of thing a gym instructor might say, such as keep your toes pointing outward. The app sends out push notifications to encourage you to exercise, but the upkeep of a plan does not depend on exercising every day. So, beginners can set their own pace.
I cant work out if the instructor figures on Sworkit are AI or humans, but either way I liked them. Sworkit has tried to make its instructors diverse there are men and women in a variety of sizes. It is a small thing, but I appreciate not always having to follow someone with the figure of a goddess.
Worth a download? Yes, especially for beginners. None of Sworkits sessions require equipment, so if you ever work out at home or while travelling, it cant be beaten. CK

Fit Body with Anna Victoria

Price $16.99 a month.
What is it? The Instagram influencer Anna Victoria rose to fame with her downloadable workout plans known as the FBGs (or Fit Body Guides) and pictures of smoothie bowls. Here, she brings together her fitness and food advice in one app, offering 12-week exercise and nutrition programmes, including a customisable meal planner.
The experience The app provides a series of 12-week plans to last you 60 weeks (for home or gym, for weight loss or sculpting etc), a forum for users, a journal to log notes and a healthy-meal planner, which aims to spoon-feed the user into eating well (the nutrition section generates your recipes and grocery list for the week as well as reminding you when to drink water).

Coco tries out the apps. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

I couldnt get to grip with all of this, but when I tried it out there were some excellent features a nutrition guide that is not just about calorie-counting (although the variety of the dishes may bore food lovers), plus educational videos (such as breathing dos and donts) to help newcomers to regular exercise. The downsides? The app doesnt work in landscape mode, so checking the demo during workouts is difficult. Also, workouts often require equipment. I am not convinced the app would work for total novices (push-ups in week one for a woman seems ambitious, not to mention the amount of vicious burpees), while scanning future weeks leaves me wondering if it might get boring.
Worth a download? Unless you are a fan of Victoria and her style, I cant see it delivering enough. CK


Price 1.78 a week for training; 2.66 including nutrional information.
What is it? Touted as a digital personal trainer, this app has a cultish fanbase thanks to its detailed personalised fitness plans.
The experience You can join in with the short but intense fitness challenges, or a variety of running, bodyweight or gym workouts. Users can opt for workouts anywhere between 10 and 25 minutes long, and can select sessions based on parts of the body. So far, so normal. But it is the Coach programme that stands out. The personal plans are created by algorithms that pool the data of users with similar stats to chart your journey. Key to this is regular logging; you will record your details when you first start (height, weight, general fitness level) and log after each workout, telling the app how tough you found it.

Freeletics Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Freeletics promises its workouts will be hard, but not so hard that you give up. It is the feedback moments that allow it to alter your plan accordingly, based on the behaviour of other users who had similar experiences. As with a real coach, there are plenty of demo videos and tutorials to guide you through, plus helpful nudges to drink water and sleep well. The Coach can even detect if you are overtraining. Freeletics also has a fairly busy meetup community, providing some of the social elements of exercise that can be lost when training at home. Plus, the exercises dont require any equipment
Worth a download? Absolutely, if you have some experience of exercising it could be a little overwhelming for a total newbie. CK

30 Day Fitness Challenge

Price Free; from 1.99 a week for the premium version.
What is it? A 30-day programme with levels from beginner to pro.
The experience Month-long challenges have become a staple of modern fitness. This app capitalises on the idea that people can do anything if it is in short bursts, hence the idea of daily sessions for 30 days.
Most of the challenges are focused on a specific area there is the flat belly challenge and the slim arms challenge but nearly all involve a full-body workout. The video tutorials are clear and there are 400 workouts in the library if you feel like doing something completely different outside of the challenge. The end result should be that your overall fitness is improved.
Worth a download? Absolutely 30-day challenges may not be for everyone, but, unlike many other apps, there is plenty to do for free. CK

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

Read more:

This is the year to start taking happiness seriously. But how and where do you find the time? Here are the tips and advice you need for a pleasure-filled year

The last time I felt joy was at an event that would be many peoples vision of hell: a drunken Taylor Swift club-night singalong in the early hours of the morning a few weekends ago.

I certainly experience joy, either as peaks of euphoria or in quiet, unexpected bursts. But as I go about my everyday business sprinting to meet deadlines, standing in front of the open fridge I wouldnt say it looms large.

I am not alone. Many of us treat joy like the good china, only warranted on special occasions. Even if we know it is within our reach, we may not see it is within our control.

But this is a mistake, according to happiness experts. Nataly Kogan, the author of Happier Now, says: Happiness and emotional health are not extras, or bonuses, or nice-to-haves theyre actually at the core of what helps us live well.

Seeking joy may sound frivolous, but being happy has been shown to promote habits and behaviours that are important to our health. A 2017 study of roughly 7,000 adults found that those with positive wellbeing were more likely to be physically active and to eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Being happy has also been linked to better sleep, better weight management, lower stress levels, an improved immune system and even increased life expectancy.

Despite the myriad benefits of joy and the obvious incentive that it feels good many of us dont prioritise it. But experts point out that our resources and energy are finite; what we put off will fall by the wayside. So, as with any goal, the first step to a joyful life is to make it a priority which may mean you need to let go of other commitments and then do the work. In other words, we need to start taking joy seriously.

As the founder and chief executive of the wellbeing business Happier, Kogan helps companies to improve their workplace culture and professionals to foster joy in their lives lessons born out of her experience of career burnout and personal dissatisfaction in her late 30s. She likens herself at the time to a ship on the ocean fine in favourable conditions, but at the mercy of any storm.

Now 44 and based with her family in Boston, Massachusetts, Kogan says she has landed on practices and tools to harness happiness as a steady, sustainable presence in her daily life. The first of these is not to think of happiness as something to pursue at a later date, when your life is in order. I lived with this idea of: Ill be happy when … as I know so many people do, she says. We have to look at emotional health as a skill, not a destination. And, as with any skill, when you practise, you do better.

The gains have been established in research into baseline happiness what in psychological literature is called our hedonic set point. It varies from person to person, but the key point is that our baseline is only half determined by genetics. That means the other 50% is up to us, says Kogan. I think that is incredibly empowering.

So, what can we do to make 2020 a more joyful year?

Identify the problem

Draw a large circle, divide it into segments and label each to reflect a different area of life that you want to assess. Illustration: Adam Higton/The Guardian

Start by identifying where joy is most lacking. Sarah Waite, a London-based psychologist, suggests the wheel of life, a personal development exercise derived from the Buddhist theory of balance. Draw a large circle, divide it into eight or 10 segments and label each to reflect a different area of life that you want to assess.

There are templates online, typically along the lines of fun and recreation, physical environment, career, finances, personal growth, romance, family and friends, and health. Shade in each wedge to reflect your level of satisfaction.

The finished circle should be an overview of the areas of your life that you feel you have under control, and those that may need further attention. When it comes to deciding where to allocate resources, its not necessarily the one youve marked the lowest; its the one you really value the most, says Waite. It may be that your job is not a priority for you, so it doesnt matter if it remains only two-thirds filled.

The goal is to get perspective and clarity. The brain has evolved to be much more sensitive to negatives than positives as, historically, it has been more important for us to be attuned to hazardous situations than satisfactory ones. This negativity bias distorts our perspective, meaning it is hard to make a good decision under stress, says Kogan. People can focus on things that are not as they should be We all have our stories of why we are not happy, at work or otherwise. But small, practical steps taken to boost joy in one part of life can improve happiness across the board as momentum builds.

The big picture

Kogans first tip is to start by writing a list of what you like about your job, no matter how small. Be specific, think broadly and dont judge your list as you write it. It doesnt matter what they are, or how many there are; the idea is to shift your mindset.

Kogan suggests making it a daily habit to note three small, highly specific things that you are grateful for every morning, perhaps before you reach for your phone. Its not about pretending that nothing is wrong, its about helping your brain to get out of that negativity spiral.

Just three weeks of this consistent gratitude practice has been shown to establish new neuron connections facilitating optimism, with the effects lasting for six months. Mindfulness and self-compassion are similarly powerful, says Shamash Alidina, the author of Mindfulness for Dummies and the co-founder of the not-for-profit Museum of Happiness and more attainable than people may think.

Many equate mindfulness with clearing ones mind of thoughts entirely. This means they often give up out of frustration, says Alidina but its not about not thinking, its about being aware. Spending just a few minutes noticing your thoughts pass you by like clouds, experimenting with what Alidina calls your flexibility of attention, can equip you to stop negative spirals before they start. People associate meditation with being calm or relaxed, but its really just about not getting lost in your thoughts, he says.

What does it all mean?

Finding lasting happiness is also about what we do, particularly what we do for others. Kogan says it is important to have a sense of purpose to find what she calls the bigger why among our deadlines and meetings. Its not possible to be a happy human being if you dont feel like what youre doing is meaningful, she says.

Assessing your to-do list particularly tasks you find mundane or frustrating through the lens of Who does this help? can increase motivation, lift your mood and improve your ability to manage stress, she says. When you say: This project is going to help a lot of people my team, customers, readers, whatever your stress has context and you feel more resilient getting through it.

Helping others may seem like a circular way of boosting your happiness, but Kogan says even small gestures, such as pulling out a chair for a colleague or checking in with them about their day, releases oxytocin in the giver and the receiver. Over time, it also fosters a sense of belonging at work and can lead to office friendships one of the most common factors in job satisfaction.

The mindset shift encouraged by practising intentional kindness means it is worth doing for your own happiness, says Kogan. At 3pm every day, she receives a reminder to be kind. Sometimes that is as simple as texting someone she hasnt spoken to in a while and telling them that shes thinking of them: I cannot tell you how much that means to people.

Family fortunes

It is well known that strong relationships are important to happiness, but what those look like and how to forge them can be ambiguous. Happiness can feel very abstract, says Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project. My approach is to think about what you want, then break it up into manageable, concrete actions that you can actually take.

In terms of improving relationships, that might look like making a regular time to call or meet a friend, committing to attend a reunion or throw a party, or having a daily exchange with someone in public. Every five days or so, Rubins family email each other an update on the boring everyday stuff of their lives, freed from any pressure to entertain or an expectation to reply. We realised that, by staying in touch with the little minutiae, we would feel more connected and its absolutely working.

Making warm greetings and goodbyes habitual at home is another small but effective shift (I always think that I dont want to be less enthusiastic than my dog, says Rubin). Such low-level commitments are less daunting to start and easier to keep up and they make a real impact. We all have different definitions of happiness, Rubin says, whether it be joy, peace, satisfaction, bliss. My way of thinking about it is: today, next month, next year are there things you can do to be happier? she says. And if there are, why not do them?

Home truths

If Rubin comes across an improvement at home that she can make in less than a minute, she does it immediately. For her, outer order contributes to inner calm, so happiness can be as simple as a clean kitchen bench or a decluttered shelf. It feels trivial and yet over and over people say: When I have control of my environment, I feel like I have control generally, says Rubin. Like making your bed every morning it gives people a lift, more than really makes sense.

Often this is understood as minimalism but there are many happy, successful people who take pleasure in being surrounded by their possessions, says Rubin. It is not a moral failing to prefer abundance, and making your personal space reflect your values and interests can be very pleasing.

Ingrid Fetell Lee, the author of The Aesthetics of Joy, agrees. Weve been taught to think about our homes through the lens of other people: whats trendy, what the design books say, she says. As a result, many of us are out of touch with how our spaces measure on our own joy meters. We may view a neutral grey palette as the height of sophistication when, in fact, what brings us pleasure is a neon front door.

Control is inextricable from exercise, sleep and good money management. Illustration: Adam Higton/The Guardian

Even the presence of different shapes can have an impact, with people finding angular objects more subconsciously anxiety-inducing than round ones. Rounded objects also tend to make environments more playful, says Lee: Not only because your mind is unconsciously set at ease, but because youre less worried about bumping into sharp edges.

Play is an effective mood-booster that is often neglected in adulthood. Rubin says she marks holidays such as Halloween and St Patricks Day with themed meals, just because, while the Museum of Happinesss pop-up installations in London and Manchester later this month are testament to the transformative effects of a ballpit on otherwise sober adults.

To bring some of that spirit into your home, Lee advises trying to imagine you are visiting for the first time: Notice how it makes you feel, almost the physiological sensation in your body, as you move from room to room. What are the things that, when your eyes land on them, make you smile or feel drained?

The key is not to feel burdened by your possessions. Owning less means you are surrounding yourself with only your favourite things, says Joshua Becker, who writes the blog Becoming Minimalist. Being intentional with the things that we own and, by extension, our money means that our lives align with our values and passions: things that really matter to us. Minimalism removes distractions so that we can free up our money, time and energy on those things that bring us real joy in life, says Becker.

Early to bed

Play, gratitude and kindness may factor into a life full of joy, but so can discipline. A sense of control is more important to happiness than many people realise, says Rubin. Prosaically enough, this is inextricable from exercise, sleep and good money management. Too often, happiness is located solely in the moment, she says, when it could be achieved through giving up sugar or alcohol, or setting an alarm to go to bed on time. Sometimes, to be happier in the long run, we have to ask more of ourselves or deprive ourselves of something, says Rubin. A happy life is not one thats focused only on the present.

Embracing boredom

In the same vein, putting off a difficult or boring task can detract from your daily experience more than getting stuck into it. Waite says she rolls her eyes at the framing of self-care as baths and candles: I love those things, but if doing your tax return is really making you anxious, maybe the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to make a start. It may not be what is typically understood by joy, but sustainable, long-lasting happiness involves recognising that there are many shades on the emotional palette.

Research shows that occasionally accepting the presence of harder emotions means you experience them less intensely and for less time. In fact, the first step towards a joyful life may be letting go of your ideas of what that looks like and recognising that it is down to you.

Part of this exercise is to recognise that there isnt anything out there that is going to make you feel good 100% of the time, says Kogan. Thats actually great news, because when we let go of this particular idea of happiness we give ourselves more opportunities to be in alignment with our lives.

Read more:

Sleep better, get fit, be kinder and improve your carbon footprint with these simple fixes


Use your voice
The number one thing that people can do, says Libby Peake, senior policy adviser at the Green Alliance, is to press your representatives to hold politicians to account over their environmental promises. Also, onsider switching your pension and bank accounts to companies that dont invest in fossil fuels. If done on a collective basis, Peake says, this will send a clear message to businesses and governments that this is important to people.

Avoid anything single use
Think beyond plastic, says Peake. In a lot of instances, people are switching from single-use plastic to unnecessary single-use wooden cutlery, paper straws or aluminium cans, she says. But those materials will also have an impact on the environment.

If everybody started doing insect-friendly things, it could have a real impact on insect populations. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Let bugs live
Gardens total
5% of UK land, says Peake, so if everybody started doing insect-friendly things, it could have a real impact on insect populations. Cutting out pesticide use, growing insect-friendly plants and refraining from lawn mowing are encouraged.

Shop vintage more often than not
The clothing industry creates more emissions than aviation and shipping combined, says Peake. If you buy secondhand clothing, or at least invest in better-quality items, you will make a real impact on the climate crisis and pollution. No vintage stores or bountiful charity shops nearby? Shop online from Oxfam, Rokit, Beyond Retro and Brag, among a host of others.

Explore flight-free holiday options
By not flying anywhere, says Peake, you can drastically reduce your CO2 emissions and still have a great time. She points out that the UK has 15 stunning national parks. Research rail travel to European destinations, consider Interrailing and house-swapping schemes at destinations reachable by rail or road.

Fear not the used electric car market
If you need a car, the Green Alliance has gathered reassuring data on the used electric vehicle (EV) market; because of lower running and maintenance costs, used EVs work out cheaper over five years of ownership. If you own a high-emissions car like an SUV, even exchanging it for one with a conventional petrol engine, five rungs down the car-tax brackets, would cut your driving emissions by more than a third, while halving your road tax. But, says Green Alliance policy director Dustin Benton, the smarter thing to do is to buy a second- or thirdhand EV, and lower your carbon footprint by two thirds.

Buy refurbished or remanufactured electronics
A little like refurbishing, remanufacturing is a factory-based process where electronics are returned to as-new quality, and resold with a warranty, Peake says. Look out for remanufactured goods becoming more commonplace over the coming year, and in the meantime, buy more refurbished and reconditioned electronics. Most come with decent warranties; chances are youll get something as good as new, a lot cheaper. Every new electronic item that makes it to market, says Peake, creates vast amounts of waste. Smartphones, for example, contain 100g of minerals, but miners must dig through 30kg of rock to find it, according to a Greenpeace report. And Friends of the Earth, she says, estimates that each smartphone requires 12,760 litres of water (160 baths).

Plan your meals
Minimising food waste is a good way to reduce carbon impacts, says Myles McCarthy, director of implementation at the Carbon Trust. Buy only what you will eat and home compost your food waste. If it ends up in landfill, it can produce the greenhouse gas methane. Meal planning and shopping lists are key, says Peake, and will make your life a lot easier. Look for batch-cooking ideas online to save time and energy.

Make meat a treat
While going vegan is ideal, even reducing your meat and dairy consumption can have a big impact, McCarthy says. Beef and lamb are the biggest offenders, and most dairy products are likely to have substantially higher carbon footprints than vegetables. Analysis from the Green Alliance shows that the UK could get on track for zero carbon from land use if we ate 30% less red meat by 2030, combined with other measures. In his book We Are The Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer suggests cutting out meat and dairy until dinnertime, but any reduction is worthwhile, says Peake. Dont let feeling guilty for not going fully vegan stop you.

Adopt a jumper-first policy
Its an oldie but a goodie, says Peake: Put on a jumper before you reach for the heating thermostat. Households are much warmer now than they were in the 1970s. People used to manage in colder rooms.


Go to bed on time
Respect your circadian rhythm by going to bed and getting up at regular times, says Guy Meadows, managing partner at the Sleep School. By doing this, youre more likely to wake up at the right time in your sleep cycle, which means youre more likely to feel refreshed. Wherever your daily sleep requirements sit in the ideal range of between seven and nine hours for adults, keeping a regular sleep-wake cycle impacts everything from appetite hormones to your heart rate and your blood pressure.

Declutter your bedroom
Your bed is for sleep and sex only, says Renata Riha, consultant in sleep and respiratory medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Its not for watching television, knitting, reading for hours on end, or eating. Your bedroom should be a space that invites sleep. Declutter, she says, step by step, drawer by drawer.

Switch off from work earlier
Disengaging from work, email and your phone for at least an hour prior to bed can be helpful, says Riha, who is also co-director of Sleep Consultancy Ltd. Meanwhile, put some thought into activities that help you wind down. She suggests a hot shower an hour before bed, because when you get out, your body will cool to an optimal sleep temperature. Or, sharing your problems, if you can, with an engaged and sympathetic listener.

Dine a little earlier
Eating acts as another marker that tells your brain its still time to be awake, Meadows says. It helps to leave at least a couple of hours between eating and sleeping. Were designed, he adds, to do our eating within a 12-hour window each day and then fast for the following 12. But most of us actually spread our eating over 15 hours.

Take 10 deep breaths
If youre chronically stressed, you can get into a vicious cycle where stress ruins your sleep, and then tiredness exacerbates the stress. Taking 10 deep breaths can be a simple way to take you out of that fight-or-flight state, Meadows says. Socialising is another powerful way to relieve stress.

Become less dependent on sleep aids
If you ask a normal sleeper what they do to sleep, says Meadows, theyll say, nothing. Whereas if you ask an insomniac, theyll give you a list as long as their arm. He observes that for many, its their extreme efforts to try and control their insomnia that push their sleep further away; sleep aids, from ear plugs or lavender pillows to Night Nurse or diazepam, erode trust in your ability to nod off naturally. Meadows says you should start by identifying these mental crutches. He uses mindfulness to help clients view their fears of sleeping without aids as just noise in their heads.

Give your overactive mind a name
Learn how to lean in to the brain chatter that keeps you awake, Meadows says, by giving your mind a name: It could be the inner critic, head of drama, the Death Star. This, he says, can transform the way you relate to your own mental events.

Dim all lights an hour before bed
Light is one of the most powerful circadian synchronisers, Meadows says. Reduce the brightness on your telly, phone or iPad. Its about proximity as well. One of the problems with devices is that we hold them really close, directed straight into our eyeballs and their light-sensitive cells.

Make midday your caffeine cutoff
For optimum sleep architecture, which means getting the right amounts of light, deep and REM sleep, stopping caffeine at midday is the place to start. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, and a quarter-life of 12 hours, so even quitting at midday leaves you a quarter caffeinated beyond bedtime (unless you keep unusual hours). Many beverages and foods contain caffeine, so check the label, adds Riha. Usual suspects include chocolate, or chocolate or coffee-flavoured desserts and cereals, that bedtime mug of cocoa and some headache medications.

Take your sleep disorder seriously
If you suspect that you or your bed partner (or any other cohabitee) has a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnoea, snoring, restless legs syndrome or insomnia, make a doctors appointment, says Riha.

Bringing video evidence of a sleep disorder to a health professional is, he says, worth a thousand words and allows them to make the right diagnosis or referral.


When weve known someone for a long time, its easy to make assumptions about what theyre thinking or feeling, or what they mean. Photograph: Getty Images

Check your assumptions
When weve known someone for a long time, its easy to make assumptions about what theyre thinking or feeling, or what they mean.
Relationship coach and author Sam Owen suggests asking more questions instead, especially during arguments.

Be kind
Know what your partner likes and use that information to be kind, says Ammanda Major, head of service quality and clinical practice at Relate. Take time to speak and listen. Being kind can simply mean showing interest, even when youre not that interested in, say, someone elses office politics (you should expect the same in return).

Give someone space
Remember that people do need a little bit of separate space, says Major. No one has a right to expect instant responses. Give people time to reflect and dont demand instant answers.

Write thank you notes
Everyone likes to be appreciated, including work colleagues, says Joel Garfinkle, executive coach and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps To Take Your Career To The Next Level. Thank people for their work, whether theyre above you, below you, or at peer level, he says. As well as handwritten notes, email or voicemail thank yous will strengthen bonds between you and your colleagues, says Garfinkle.

Root out one-upmanship
Whether you are friends, colleagues or lovers, Major says, its very easy to slip into one-upmanship over who has had the worst day. The reason is usually because we feel unheard: Why do I need to keep telling you Ive had such an awful day? Because I dont think youve responded to me in a way that lets me know you understand.

Use I statements
If you moan to someone about their actions, Major says, youre probably going to create a defensive situation. Whereas if you say, I felt really sad when we had that row and I would really like us to talk more about it, nobody can argue with that: its how you feel and youre appropriately sharing it.

Level with new love interests
Be as clear as you can about what you want from a relationship, Major says. If youve struggled with previous relationships, she suggests, sometimes it can be very helpful to get some counselling, to help you reflect on whats important to you.

Be choosy
Socialising is linked to increases in happiness, and being around the good people in your life is energising, Owen says. But people who knock your self-esteem can have the opposite effect. She recommends pruning these draining relationships. Trust the visceral feelings that you get in your body that tell you if you feel good or bad in someones presence.

Give a little
Giving has been linked to increases in resilience and happiness, even if its costly, says Owen, whose latest book is Happy Relationships: 7 Simple Rules To Create Harmony And Growth. Giving can mean many things, from giving your time to an elderly neighbour, or helping your parents more, or giving something to somebody who is homeless.

Try biting your tongue
This is not to suppress expressing your feelings, but rather, learning to become more reflective than reactive. If something bothers you, Owen says, watch it over time. Do something that regulates your emotions. Go for a walk (which can help problem solve), listen to some music. This gives you time to consider how to frame the issue in more productive language.


Put times in the schedule when you can be active. Photograph: Getty Images

Monitor yourself
Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, says that being your own scientist and collecting data, through regular weighing or wearing a fitness monitor, is a proven route to success. If you dont collect data about yourself, its unlikely that youre going to notice what works for you.

Use visual prompts
If you want to start a fitness habit, its important to leave visual nudges for yourself. Even something small like putting your running trainers by the door, suggests Emma Norris, research fellow for the Human Behaviour Change Project at University College London.

Make if then plans
If Im going to work, then Ill pack some fruit in my bag. Or, If it rains on a running day, then Ill do a YouTube workout instead. Plans like this, says Norris, reduce the option for you to opt out, by programming yourself to think that this is what you would always do in that situation.

Temper your goals
As tempting as it may be to try to do everything at once, setting attainable goals is key, says Margie Lachman, professor of psychology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. It is hard to make a big change all at once. Small increments are helpful. If you get a pedometer, for example, Norris recommends upping your existing step count by 10% each week.

Give up less easily
Theres some evidence that the time taken to form a habit ranges from 18 days to 254 days, depending on the person and the behaviour, says Norris. So if it doesnt stick quickly, be persistent and use the strategies listed here to help you.

Reward yourself
When you reach those little milestones, Norris says, think creatively about what a healthy reward would be for you: seeing a friend, reading a book youve been meaning to read, or whatever works for you that isnt the obvious cake.

Try a free workout
The NHS website has a virtual fitness studio, says Norris, with a range of free workouts ranging from 10-45 minutes, across aerobics, strength training, pilates, dance and more. YouTube, she says, is chock-a-block with free programmes and videos: Joe Wickss The Body Coach is my personal go-to for 15-20 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. She recommends trying a variety.

Sneak activity into everyday life
If you are busy and live by your calendar, Lachman says, put times in the schedule when you can be active. Take extra steps rather than shortcuts; walk the stairs instead of getting the lift, park further away from the destination, take a walk during a one-on-one meeting.

Make exercise social
Accountability helps, Lachman says, so let others know you are trying to be more active. Share your accomplishments on social media. Find an activity partner or walking group.

Stand up every 30 minutes
So many of us are chained to our desks every day, says nutrition and fitness author Louise Parker. If you make getting up every 30 minutes or so a habit, not only will it keep you moving, but it can help give your brain a refresh.


A green smoothie is a great way to top up your intake of fruit and vegetables. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Separate mealtimes from screen time
If youre watching TV, scrolling through Instagram or checking your emails, youre not paying much attention to what youre eating, Parker says. The result: you are more likely to eat more, but will feel less full for it.

Make smoothies
For those who struggle to eat enough vegetables, a green smoothie that has at least two portions of veg and one of fruit is a great way to top up your intake, Parker says.

Plan your work food
Were more likely to choose unhealthy foods outside the home. Look at your schedule at the start of the day, advises Parker, and plan meals and snacks, avoiding long gaps when you might feel excessively hungry.

Eat more protein (if you want to lose weight)
The longer something takes to digest, the farther down the gut it will go and the fuller it will make you feel, says Giles Yeo, principal research associate, MRC metabolic diseases unit, Cambridge University and author of Gene Eating: The Story Of Human Appetite. Any protein whether its from meat, beans or other plant sources
takes longer to digest than fats or carbs, he says. Peanuts, almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds are good protein sources, along with soya products such as tofu and soy milk.

Stop blindly counting calories
The energy load from ingredients varies wildly according to how theyre prepared, plus we all metabolise foods differently, so counting calories isnt much use. If you eat 100 calories worth of sweetcorn and then you look into the loo the next day, its painfully obvious you have absorbed nowhere close to that, says Yeo. But if you eat tortillas made of dried and ground corn, he says, a far greater percentage of the calories become available. Cooking releases more calories in many foods, too, which is why, says Yeo, people lose weight on raw vegan diets.

Focus less on restrictions
Try and focus on what nutrition you can add to your diet, instead of cutting out or restricting food, says Aisling Pigott, NHS and private dietitian, and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. Add flavours with plenty of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and protein, she says. If your favourite meal is spaghetti bolognese, try switching to a sensible portion of brown pasta, bulking the sauce out with vegetables and mixing in different recipes (such as a lentil bolognese).

Dont skip meals
Regular meals are key to building a healthy relationship with food, says Pigott. Stabilising our eating patterns allows us to make positive food choices, whereas skipping meals, or going long periods without eating can lead to overriding our bodies hunger and fullness cues. The trouble with being so busy that we dont stop, she says, is that it can be difficult to recognise these cues, making us more likely to overeat.

Stop and enjoy every meal
Whether you are eating broccoli or biscuits, Pigott says, taking time to taste and enjoy what you are eating is as nourishing as the food you are putting in your body.

Prioritise herbs and spices over salt
Salt is not the only way to make a meal sing with flavour, and as Pigott points out, many of us are consuming too much of it. Salt intake can increase the risk of raised blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Make cooking from scratch easier
As a protective measure against the added sugars in ready meals, Pigott recommends arming yourself with quick and easy recipes. I love Jack Monroes Tin Can Cook book, which has some wonderful store cupboard staples, she says. Swapping recipe ideas with friends and family, she says, can be really motivating. Anything more than a small glass of juice (150ml) will slosh extra sugar into your diet, but will not provide health benefits, says Pigott.

If you would like your comment on this piece to be considered for Weekend magazines letters page, please email, including your name and address (not for publication).

This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.

Read more:

At a country house in West Sussex, meditation, yoga and detox come together for a weekend of mindfulness that expands your protective bubble

The taxi driver appraises me with suspicion when I tell him my destination. But youve not got a yoga mat, he says.

Having never been on a meditation retreat before, I was self-conscious of criss-crossing busy train stations with a yoga mat strapped to my back, so Id concealed it inside a Sainsburys bag for life. I point it out now to the driver, and he offers a wry smile as he takes me to the place where, for the next four days, Im to be immersed in an intensive period of me time. Ive never done this before, so have no idea what to expect.

Long-term health conditions can be interesting in all sorts of unexpected ways. You learn about your levels of resilience, and the efforts you are prepared to take to get better. Ive been struggling with low physical energy for almost a decade, my mitochondrial cells malfunctioning after successive flu viruses never quite left my body. Doctors didnt know what to recommend these cells arent easily fixed and so suggested what they suggest to anyone who presents mysteriously: eat better, sleep well. Do yoga, learn to meditate.

Retreat sessions include yoga, nostril breathing and meditation

Ive spent the last five years dipping in and out of meditation apps, YouTube, Ruby Waxs focus on mindfulness through books and interviews but it was vedic meditation (a close cousin of transcendental, which uses a silent mantra or sound repeated over and over) I kept returning to. I liked it but always let it slip. I knew that to establish a habit I would need to immerse myself, under in-person instruction.

And so here I am, near Arundel in West Sussex, at a large, rambling country house with lush gardens, on a weekend vedic retreat run by Beeja. Its strapline suggests: Meditation for Everyone and its founder, Will Williams, has been teaching vedic meditation for more than five years. After a stint in the music business, and falling ill, he recovered through meditation and began to teach what he had learned. He runs introductory courses in London. Will is a convincing communicator: bearded and smiley, dressed not in robes but in jeans, conspicuously one of us.

The Beeja Meditation retreat near Arundel

There are 15 in attendance, eight women, seven men, ranging from 24 to 70. Were a cosmopolitan bunch: theres a Saudi, a Lebanese, one from Guadalupe, another from South Korea. Two from Essex. Some, like me, have medical issues, others are struggling with anxiety, depression and such pronounced social media addiction that handing over phones upon arrival proves problematic. Im to share a dorm for four but mercifully theres just two of us this weekend.

After an introductory dinner of nut loaf, Wills co-instructor, Niamh Keane, reminds us of the house rules: up at 6.45am, in bed by 10.30pm; respect one anothers confidentiality. No sex and no solo sex, as Niamh puts it, just unbroken serenity and purity of mind. Were detoxing, so can have neither caffeine nor alcohol. No breakfast either, a fact that horrifies us all initially but becomes curiously unimportant by day two.

On a meditation retreat I find you meditate, and do precious little else. Beejas version comprises a succession of rounding exercises: 15 minutes of yoga, five minutes of alternate nostril breathing, 20 of meditation, and 10 of the flat-on-your-back yoga pose, shavasana. Were all given an individual secret mantra to repeat silently (though whos to say we dont have the same one?!). For three days.

A Beeja Meditation retreat guest tries alternate nostril breathing

At first, most of us choose to do our exercises communally, in the living room, but increasingly we drift off in pursuit of solitude. I thought Id struggle, because meditating at home is difficult, but here, with no distractions, I slide into it as if it were a hot bath. Hours pass, then hours more.

Respite comes in the evenings, after simple vegetarian food (rice and dhal, Thai soup), when Will sits, Buddha-like, with us at his feet while he shares his vedic-derived wisdom. Hes a practitioner of many years and is so convinced of his disciplines ability to heal the world that he can tend towards the over-prescriptive. He condemns most diets in favour of an ayurvedic-approved one, and proffers opinion on antidepressants, climate change, and Trump voters. He tells us that the introduction of 5G will kill off the insect world, that we should never cross our legs, and how we must avoid eating onions because the skin contains properties that promote selfishness. Much of what he says is fascinating, plenty else sails far above our heads.

Vegetarian food is served during the four-day retreat

He asks how our sessions are going and when I tell him that during one of mine my hands began to levitate and my fingers grew like intertwining tree branches, as if I were morphing into a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, he beams with pleasure and says: Youve shifted some serious energy there, fella.

The more we meditate, the more our protective bubble expands. When we come to leave, Niamh implores we take care upon re-entering the world outside, as we will be newly hypersensitive to light, noise, other people. Be gentle with yourselves, she advises.

Read more:

The problem with using time well is that it risks transforming every moment into nothing but a means to future ends

In the mid-1970s, when the American psychologist Robert Levine took a job at a university in Brazil, he knew he should expect a different pace of life. But he had no idea exactly how different. It was a dose of culture shock I wouldnt wish on a hijacker, he later wrote. On the morning of his first 10am lecture, students were still showing up at 11am; the next day, his head of department arrived for an 11am meeting at 11.45, offered him a coffee, then left again, explaining that it was her practice to schedule multiple meetings for the same time of day. The Brazilians were baffled by Levines punctuality, and more baffled by his distress at their lack of it. I heard no more frequent words from my laid-back hosts than their pleading advice: Calma, Bobby, calma. However slow he tried to go, it wasnt slow enough.

Levine, who died in June, took an infectious delight in the sheer cacophonous variety of human behaviour, and time was one of his obsessions. In 1999, measuring the pace of walking in cities around the world, he found that Dubliners were more hurried than Londoners, who in turn went faster than New Yorkers a surprising result, but one which echoes other work suggesting that economic growth might be a factor in walking speeds, since Ireland was booming at the time. Brazilians walked the slowest.

To members of the Uptighterati, like me, its almost impossible not to interpret the Brazilian attitude to time as a form of laxness, however enviable. But that judgment masks an unexamined assumption that punctuality is obviously the only meaningful temporal standard, which different cultures observe or ignore to differing degrees.

Yet in fact theres something odd about the punctuality principle, which involves first mentally conjuring an abstract timeline, then trying to make reality conform to it. The alternative often mistaken for slacking is what scholars call task orientation (Levine calls it event time), in which the rhythms of life emerge from lifes activities themselves. Its less that Brazilians are failing to abide by a timetable, than that theyre successfully abiding by something else.

Its easy to romanticise the task-oriented life. But the point here isnt that schedules and punctuality are wrong; theyre essential for countless aspects of life that most of us would describe as progress. For us schedule obsessives, though, its liberating simply to realise there might be another way of thinking about time, so as to help us see when were overinvesting in the urge to use time well.

Thats the wisdom in the old tale about the New York businessman, holidaying in Brazil, who starts lecturing a younger local man on the secret of success. Instead of whiling his life away fishing and drinking and playing music with his friends, the New Yorker says, he should expand his fishing operation, hire employees, make millions, then eventually retire so he can spend his days fishing, drinking and playing music with friends. The problem with using time well is that it risks transforming every moment into nothing but a means to future ends which turns out to be a terrible approach.

Read this

Robert Levines 1997 book A Geography Of Time explores the wildly different temporal logics of cultures around the globe.

Read more:

Now a third of Britons are sleep-deprived, work should be more flexible, says Andr Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School

In the early afternoon, I often catch myself listlessly staring into the computer screen. I have things to do, but I cant concentrate. I try writing the same sentence five times and delete it six. During one of these afternoon torpors, I came upon a word: acedia. It seemed to perfectly define my mid-afternoon weariness. I discovered this originally Greek word was widely used by medieval Christian monks to describe a sense of indolence, a mood of lethargy, a feeling of being completely unconcerned about their duties and purpose in the world. Christian mystics who lived in the Egyptian deserts during the 3rd century AD often complained about being haunted by the noon-day demon.

One monk of the time described how the noon-day demon would make the sun appear sluggish and immobile and cause monks to continually look at the window and forces him to gaze at the sun. This cruel demon sends him hatred against the place, against life itself, and against the work of his hands, and makes him think he has lost the love among his brethren and there is none to comfort him.

To escape my own noon-day demon, I continued my research. I discovered acedia spread from the Desert Fathers into the monasteries of medieval Europe, where it was seen as a sin that monks needed to overcome.

Some think that acedia faded with medieval Christian monastic life and was replaced with more recognisable terms such as boredom. However, others think acedia continued to live on. For instance, Aldous Huxley argued that acedia had only intensified with the onset of modern life. More recently, the psychoanalyst Josh Cohen identifies how a certain torpor or aimlessness he noticed in some of his clients seems to be a typical response to our culture of over-achievement and overwork.

The question about how to address this malaise has piqued the interest of sleep researchers, who have focused on our bodys circadian rhythms. They have found that during the early afternoon, peoples internal body clock tends to cycle downwards. Our internal temperature changes and we start feeling more sleepy. The downward tendency of our internal rhythm in the middle of the day is also linked with a dulling in the part of brain that is linked with reward-seeking activities. This region the left putamen tends to be more active at 10am and 7pm rather than 2pm.

The midday lethargy is made much worse by chronic lack of sleep among significant parts of the population. According to one survey, one-third of Britons say they get five to six hours sleep a night. Another UK survey found that 30% of respondents were severely sleep deprived. Not having enough sleep can make it harder to make decisions particularly in novel or high-pressure situations. It also make us worse at performing tasks particularly those involving an emotional component. A lack of sleep makes us less able to recognise emotions such as anger and happiness in others. At the same time, it also makes us more likely to feel stressed, anxious and angry.

Behaviourial scientists suggest a range of lifestyle hacks to deal with the noon-day demon. They include physical movement, meditation, listening to upbeat music and avoiding the temptation of an afternoon sugar and caffeine hit.

Others think a few life-hacks arent enough, and instead we need to change the way work is designed. Workplaces could provide more scope for flexible working to accommodate peoples natural rhythms or firms could encourage strategic napping. They might also help employees manage their boundaries between work and life.

Play Video

Why cant I sleep? My mission to understand insomnia video

Changing habits and altering some aspects of the working day might help to deal with fleeting feelings of listlessness among employees. But these interventions are unlikely to address the deeper, more grinding sense of emptiness some employees feel at work. Tackling this involves asking questions about how to make our work more meaningful. That doesnt mean pep talks from top management about how you are helping to save the world those kind of overblown motivational speeches are often completely ineffective. What might cut through is creating a sense of local meaning around your work. That can be achieved by having a sense of who benefits from what you do, being recognised for doing a good job, having an answer to why your work is important and feeling connected to your colleagues.

Feeling like our work is more meaningful is important, but it might not be enough. Theres a strong case that when we are struck with acedia or simply mid-afternoon sleepiness, we should just give in, pack up, go home and start again fresh tomorrow. Stopping work in the early afternoon might not be such a bad thing after all, there is an increasingly strong case that a shorter working day decluttered with distractions is likely to make us more productive.

Finally, day workers like me should remember their life is easy when compared to those who work at night. People who often do some of the most important jobs such as nurses and doctors have shift patterns that mean they get much less sleep and suffer more ill health than day workers. Battling the noon-day demon is nothing when compared with the midnight spectre that haunts some people.

Andr Spicer is professor of organisational behaviour at the Cass Business School at City, University of London

Read more:

There is a reason radio edits last about three minutes: because that is how songs should have been born

I used to be a huge fan of Phil Spector. Then he was convicted of murder, which rather took the shine off things. But Spector, Im afraid, remains for me the king of pop. Not Michael Jackson, who has also significantly gone down in my estimation. Spector is the king because his wall of sound production formula gave us the doo-wop gems of the Ronettes and the Crystals, and went on to influence surf-pop unbeatables the Beach Boys.

While Im keen on a dramatic seven-minute epic to close a rock album, a pop song should come in at between two and three minutes (as almost every track on Pet Sounds does). Thats why, when Madonna brought out a song that was four minutes long called 4 Minutes she was not as clever as she thought she was. Also because the radio edit was not four minutes. And also because it was crap.

The three-minute pop track is a legacy of the 78rpm of shellac and then vinyl records, a single side of which lasted between three and five minutes. Now, with no such restrictions, tracks can tend to bloviation. Most of the truly great bangers still come in at under three minutes, though. The raucous teen energy of Arctic Monkeys debut single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, at 2min 54sec, is a perfect example. However, I have come to allow circa 3min 30sec as an acceptable length. That is because of Xenomania, the production outfit that worked with Girls Aloud throughout their career. As anybody with taste knows, Girls Aloud were the best pop group in decades. Thanks to Xenomania, they pumped out hit after hit. Biology which owes much to the doo-wop sound is essentially three songs in one, all in a neat 3min 35sec.

The pleasure of shorter pop songs is the simple prioritising of quality over quantity. A techno masterpiece that has a five-minute intro of glitches and ear-ruining bass is right up my street; but a long running time for a pop song instantly signals dull filler effects or a lot of Uh, yeah! interludes.

Pop songs are mini-stories and should be the audio equivalent of a Raymond Carver book. There is a reason radio edits last about three minutes: because that is how songs should have been born. Is it a coincidence that Abbas Waterloo and the Kinks You Really Got Me are both under three minutes? It is not.

If you really want to show off, you could follow Queens example: We Will Rock You comes in at a stupendously slender 2min 2sec. It leaves you wanting more, and thats precisely what the perfect number is supposed to do. Three minutes, repeat ad infinitum.

Read more: