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This blog was originally published on Dyingwell.uk, a website owned by Clair Fisher.

In Clair’s words: “Dying Well was my retirement project. A space for me to document my personal journey, to explore the evidence around wellbeing in terminal illness and test out some of the theories.”


On twitter recently there was a conversation between Matt Haig, author of the brilliant ‘reasons to stay alive’ and some others about the positive effect of making a list of deliberate happy things. Indeed top of Matt’s own list of ways to live better is ‘appreciate happiness when it is there.’

It reminded me that in the midst of the darkness of my initial diagnosis I made a similar list. The making of the list was in itself instructive; a challenge to think what actually made me happy. What were the things that were within my control, that I could choose to do that made me feel better?

I was pleased to notice how small and achievable most of them were. It felt much more satisfying and hopeful that a ‘bucket list’. Rather than a list of things to be ticked off and marked as ‘done’, a list of small acts of kindness that I could offer to myself and repeat as often as required.

It was also a bit of a gift to those around me. “These are things”, I told them, “that you can remind me to do if I seem a bit sad”. These are the things I know will help me feel better.

Even in the midst of death and darkness there are so many happy things. So many things to be thankful for, and so many things that can bring us joy. I’ve found that choosing joy over despair is initially a discipline that becomes a habit, and eventually can settle in the core of your being to be a very real part of who you are.

So this is my list from 2 years ago.

  • Reading a real newspaper. (The luxury of the actual paper is important.)

  • Eating chips on a beach. (The more blustery & British the weather, the better!)

  • Planting seeds. (Or bulbs, a perfect hopeful act of defiance.)

  • Hanging out with some real, good friends. (My ‘low maintenance’ friends, thank you.)

  • A spa or massage. (Sadly missing from most of 2020.)

  • Crafting & making new things.

  • Tea & cake in little shops. (Even on my own with a book, I love this.)

  • Tapas. (Just the best food ever.)

  • Flower gardens. (Am creating one of my own.)

  • Bible Journaling. (Perfect combination of meditation, reflection & creativity.)

  • Playing piano with headphones on. (An immersive experience & selfish pleasure.)

  • Listening to podcasts. (I have a playlist of happy things.)

  • Fairy Lights. (Fairy lights make everything better.)

I want to add to this list in the coming months as I dig into the evidence about terminal illness and wellbeing. To try some new things and notice what I’m missing.

There could be more green space, more taking control, more giving, more gratitude. And if I listen to @MaggyPiggot, probably more dancing!

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