Anita Chaudhuri, associate editor of Psychologies magazine, has reported on so many aspects of wellness, psychology, self-development, she has a unique insight into how we can feel more calm and joy.
In this episode we discuss:
Pressing Pause Episode 82 Making calm and joy simple with Anita Chaudhuri
Welcome to Pressing Pause. I’m Gabrielle Treanor, a mindset and positive psychology coach and writer, exploring how we can create, find and feel more calm, ease and joy in our daily lives.
For this episode 82 I’m thrilled to talk with Anita Chaudhuri, associate editor of Psychologies magazine. Anita has reported on so many aspects of wellness, psychology, self-development, I knew it would be fascinating to get her insight into how we can feel more calm and joy. So, let’s crack straight on…
[00:00:00] Gabrielle: Hi, Anita. Thanks so much for joining me today.
[00:00:03] Anita: Hi, Gabrielle. Lovely to be here and thanks for asking me on.
[00:00:07] Gabrielle: Oh, it is always a joy to talk with you. So I just wondered if we could begin with you telling us a little bit about you and what you do.
[00:00:16] Anita: Oh, sure. So I’m a feature writer and photographer. I’m based in London. I have worked for many years in magazines and newspaper brands ranging from Time Out, the Guardian, Sunday Times Style, oh, and now laterly, Psychologies magazine. And, I also made a bit of a life change during lockdown, like a lot of people and I decided to apply to a part-time master’s in photography at university of the arts here in London. And, um, yeah, I started that October last year part-time as well.
[00:00:58] Gabrielle: Fabulous, so I think, yeah, I think we’re going to come onto the photography later because I’m guessing that is going to be a source of joy for you. Um, but I would love to know because you are the associate editor of Psychologies magazine and that’s how I know you, I’m thinking that, I mean, you know, you’re right at the front of getting all the information, hearing, you know, the, the cutting edge research, all about our wellbeing and how we can feel more calm and joy. And I wondered what, what is it, that maybe has stood out over the years for you from your work on Psychologies, the kind of the insights that you’ve had maybe into how we can feel more calm and joy.
[00:01:44] Anita: Whoa. That’s a big question because during the last decade I have interviewed many of the biggest names in the mind, body, spirit, psychology worlds and I have been lucky enough to interrogate them for their best tips. Um, you know, try them out in my own life to find out what really works so you’re putting me on the spot here.
I think that if I was going to pay it. One overarching principle that I’ve noticed I think simplicity is the key. There are so many books and courses, and now of course, apps out there offering to change your life and bring you calm and joy and all those good things. And I think most of them are unfortunately doomed to fail in the long term because, well, I think it’s partly because for an expert to fill a whole book or an online program, they often feel the need to create a very elaborate plan. But if you’re actually going to stick to a new habit in your real life, and you want to do it consistently over the long haul, I think what I’ve learned is you need to make it really really easy and something that you can do every day, whatever is going on in your life and also make it so simple that you can adapt it so you don’t need to spend as much time on it. And the best experts I’ve spoken to are really the ones who bring that one forward.
I suppose, the other huge thing which is backed up by a massive amount of research, but you don’t read much about it because it’s very unpopular idea, and that is that visualising and dream boarding and writing down lists of goals or wishes, dreams, whatever you call it. That on its own is doomed to fail. There’s no research, people often quote research about the benefits of that but actually it’s not so much that that doesn’t work, it’s that, if you only do that it really doesn’t work. You need to do a couple of other things as well.
[00:04:21] Gabrielle: Oh, that is so interesting. So, ooh, okay. Deciding which, which one to go for first because that’s so interesting. The simplicity, I love that. And I agree that I think we can, I think a lot of people can make it really complicated. And I also think that in a way, as sort of human beings struggling with this stuff, we feel like it needs to be complicated because if it was simple, surely we should be able to do it already. We shouldn’t need the help. And so when something is simple, how’s it really gonna work? I mean, I’ve, I find that I talk about that in, in my work, when I talk about some of the things that can help us such as gratitude practice and I’ll have people say yes, but that, that’s not really going to, that’s not really going to do it, is it, because it’s just too simple.
[00:05:11] Anita: Yes.
[00:05:12] Gabrielle: But actually you’ll be surprised. Yes. I know it sounds really simple. I know you think how can writing three things down each day or thinking through things that made me feel good, how can it really have an impact? I know it sounds simple, but give it a go and that’s the thing, I think in a way sometimes we think it needs to be complicated and it needs to be hard work or else it isn’t going to make a difference.
[00:05:36] Anita: Yes, I think, I think that’s really true. I mean, I’ll give you a real life example from myself. I have, for the most life-changing thing I have done is, and everyone at home will probably be groaning because it’s so often mentioned, but I have had a daily meditation practice for, I mean, I have unbroken daily meditation practice first thing in the morning for the past three years. And it completely changed my life. Now, how has, how have I managed to do that? When I tell people I’ve done that and they go, oh, you must have amazing willpower. You must have amazing discipline. I couldn’t possibly do that. I would love to do it, but my mornings… blah-blah-blah.
People always have a special case for why their mornings are exquisitely difficult. And, um, what I say to that is this, the only way that I have managed to stick to that routine is because every single day, I give myself permission to only meditate for 90 seconds. And to be honest, there have been days when I only have meditated for 90 seconds, but that’s actually quite rare.
I aim to do 20 minutes if I can. And I’m in a place where I can set a timer for 20 minutes, I will, I don’t always get to the 20 minutes. I don’t think that matters. What I’ve learned is that it’s the practice that is the key. And it’s the showing up to yourself that is the key, Because if you do that you build self trust and you build, um, a friendliness and an allyship towards yourself. It sounds a bit odd, but you kind of build that sensation that you can be trusted to yourself.
[00:07:32] Gabrielle: I am nodding and nodding along with you there. I completely agree that, yeah, it isn’t just about the meditation. It’s about the habit. It’s about, exactly like you say, showing up for yourself and teaching yourself that you can stick to something that you say you’re going to do that’s for yourself. That’s for your own benefit. Yeah. And so how do you, how do you see your daily meditation and you showing up for yourself as kind of feeding into a greater sense of calm or joy that you feel?
[00:08:08] Anita: Well, I guess that’s kind of two questions isn’t it? So the calm part. See, I always thought that meditation sounded really boring because I’m a noisy person and I’m an extrovert and I get very over excitable and overenthusiastic. Meditation – how boring to sit quietly, doing nothing for 20 minutes, who the hell wants to do that?
So I thought that meditation would bring me calm maybe because the medicine I need, I needed was quiet and that would create calm, but that’s not right. I could happily meditate on a bus, it makes no difference. You don’t need quiet to meditate and you don’t need, er, special surroundings to meditate.
So why does it bring calm? It brings calm because it creates a mental spaciousness and that allows room for clarity and new thoughts. Think of it like a garden. If you’re, if you’ve got a very cluttered, overgrown garden, even if it’s cluttered and overgrown with the most beautiful flowers there’s no room for anything else to get in there. It’s almost like parts of that garden won’t be watered when it rains because the other upper leaves will be cluttering the ground. And so the roots can’t get, um, water and nourishment and I think that’s exactly the same with the mind. That if you create spaciousness, then you create the scope for more nourishment and creativity and imagination to come in. And that creates calm.
[00:10:03] Gabrielle: I love that description. I think that is such a clear image that you’ve just painted for us there as the garden. And the fact that, yeah, I completely agree that you don’t need to be sitting cross legged on a cushion, in a silent room to meditate. You can be doing it surrounded by people somewhere noisy. It’s not, yeah, it isn’t, it’s what’s going on within you, isn’t it? Not your circumstances, not your environment. Yeah.
[00:10:29] Anita: Just the joy. Um, just before I forget what I was going to say about the other part, which is, so how does meditation create more joy? And again, that really, really used to puzzle me. How on earth could meditation, like how could that be joyful? It just sounds boring. So one of the biggest, what’s the word, one of the biggest benefits, joy-inducing benefits of meditation is that it connects you to your intuition and to your imagination.
And, well, I suppose imagination is the seat of intuition. So let’s just go with it connects to your imagination. And I tend to think that imagination is a very benevolent resource. If you can stay neutral and go into meditation, even if you’re having a very difficult, stressful time, if you can maintain that neutrality and that friendliness towards yourself and in your meditation practice, your imagination will give you gold. It will be quite proactive. It can often come up with suggestions and solutions to problems. Very rare for me to get nothing from a meditation. I would add though that, very rarely does the insight come quite while I am meditating.
And I think it’s worth saying that because people often think, well, I meditate and nothing happened. I’m not going to do that any more. I’ve tried meditation for a week, two weeks, a month. I didn’t get any of these incredible, amazing downloads but it doesn’t happen then. Well, I think, cause you meditate, then I’m a great one for walking, which we might come on onto, and I think the downloads happen at different points. And often for me, it’s when I’m walking or doing something else.
[00:12:34] Gabrielle: Hmm. Yeah, I think that’s, that’s, I’m really glad that you said that so valuable. Because otherwise we can sort of be setting ourselves up for disappointment where we think right, I’m going into meditation so that I can have a marvellous idea. I’ve meditated. Where’s my marvellous idea? Why hasn’t it happened?And now I’m disappointed. What’s the point. Yeah, but that’s, yeah, it’s not that that’s a lovely by-product as opposed to the reason to do it in the first place.
[00:13:00] Anita: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:13:01] Gabrielle: Yeah, so, ooh, okay. So we’ll come to walking in a moment. Cause that sounds like that is something that you find really beneficial. But I wanted to touch on your photography because doing a degree while you have a job is obviously quite a big commitment so that must be something that you obviously really wanted to go into, to commit to. So how does photography play into this whole topic of calm and joy? What was your reason for going in for it? And what do you get out of it?
[00:13:30] Anita: Um, yeah, it’s funny. I, I didn’t really do the maths about, how many hours there are in a week. I tend to be wildly optimistic when I make plans. And, I was saying to a friend, you know, just before the summer break, who’s not doing the course, oh my goodness, I can’t believe how much time this degree is taking because it’s only 21 hours a week.
And he just looked at me as if I was mad and said but that’s three days, that’s three days a week. Do you know what? I’d never actually calculated that. So yes, there is a time commitment, but I think when you love something it’s energising rather than draining. So, for the time factor, I would say that.
How does photography play into joy and why did I go into it? I think that the biggest love I have concerning photography is because you’re using your non-verbal part of the brain. And I have been using my writing brain for a long, long time every day. In fact, since I was 18. There’s something really exhilarating about being non-verbal.
There’s something wonderful about the language of symbols and metaphor, and I love colour and I love light. And so obviously those things play in. There is obviously a huge mindfulness element in photography. Again, I’ve can probably hear people groaning at home at the M word. It is, you know, in my opinion, now being applied to a ludicrous, to a ludicrous extent to any and every situation.
But I do think in photography that it is relevant because if you go out with your camera and you really, while you’re out, pay attention to all of your senses, you will get a very different image. You can do an experiment. We did, I did do a course of mindful photography a few years back, and we did do the experiment of comparing images – mindful images versus non mindful, and the results were astonishing. Um, you notice more, I think, as a photographer, it holds your vision and it holds your observational eye. And that leads to gratitude because the more you notice, the more you appreciate it.
[00:16:13] Gabrielle: Yeah. And the more you appreciate, the more joy you feel because of your surroundings and your life. That maybe, yeah, you wouldn’t have picked up on if you hadn’t been paying that attention through your camera.
[00:16:26] Anita: Yeah.
[00:16:28] Gabrielle: Yeah. I think also what’s really interesting about what you’re saying is that, you know, a degree is not, it’s not easy. Like you’re saying it’s 21 hours a week. That’s a time commitment, there’s work you’re putting in. I would imagine there are times when it can feel quite difficult. And yet there is so much joy to be found from it. And so it goes to show that joy isn’t necessarily something that is just easy and lovely and happy and pleasure and light and easy and joyful. That joy can come from something that actually takes effort and time and dedication and a honing of skills. That actually also is really fundamental to being able to create more joy.
[00:17:12] Anita: Well, I’m really glad you said that. Because, I actually am a little bit allergic to the word joy, which is ironic because joy is probably my main driver in life to a very large extent and it’s something people have often mentioned to me that I do like to bring that to every situation. But I prefer, without sounding pretentious, I prefer the French term is joie de vivre and joy of living.
And the reason I prefer that is, I mean, what my family, my parents, and so on, really the biggest gift they gave us in the way they lived their life, which, you know, involved a fair share of challenges, really difficult challenges we faced as family. Um, but the one thing that they really taught us was that you can bring it a joyfulness, you can choose to bring a joyfulness to very difficult situations. It doesn’t mean just because you’re having an awful situation, an awful health emergency, whatever, that you can’t bring treats and a joyful ceremony to that situation, you can still have afternoon tea, even if you’re, you know, really ill.
You can still, if you’ve got a hospital appointment, plan to make it bearable and bring joy to that situation by bringing a really good audio book or packet of sweets or planning a reward for after it’s over. How are you going to reward yourself from this awful ordeal? And I think those are the aspects of joy that really support us.
I think that the writing around the topic of joy has been quite maddening, to be honest, it seems to focus on marshmallows and blowing bubbles. And I don’t know, I find it really annoying because, because I only find it annoying because I don’t think it’s bringing enough light and shadow to the way all of us live our lives.
Joy is, joy is like it’s like, you know, a paint box. You can’t just, focus on the colours that you like. If you want to make a really amazing painting, you have to use, the dark and the light. And that is, you know, it’s sounding like a cliche, even as I’m speaking it, I don’t mean to be speaking in cliches, but I’m sure everyone knows what I’m getting at, that I think a lot of the self-help industry, if I have a criticism of it, is that it is veering into this area of toxic positivity, which is you must make happiness your goal, and you must banish dark thoughts, and then everything will be great. It’s not, it’s not healthy to many of us. In fact, I would argue all of us have challenges of some form or other cause that is being human.
[00:20:35] Gabrielle: Yeah. And that’s, that’s the thing that I really like about that incredibly valuable lesson that you were taught about how you can bring joy into difficult situations. That it’s not about denying the difficult situation and applying toxic positivity and saying, okay, it’s fine to be at the hospital appointment, never mind, never mind, we’ll just focus on the lovely thing. That’s not it at all. That’s not the lesson you were taught. The lesson you taught was let’s recognise the hospital appointment is really difficult and, maybe upsetting and maybe scary. And let’s also find something that we can give ourselves some comfort, give ourselves some care and some love and some joy within, and it’s, it’s holding both things. Isn’t it? It’s not just banishing one and let’s just focus on the other.
[00:21:21] Anita: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s exactly it.
[00:21:26] Gabrielle: So you mentioned walking, I’m thinking walking has something to do with you finding calm, finding joy?
[00:21:34] Anita: Yeah, I suppose, photography in a way led me to walking. I wasn’t, I mean, I was fit, but I didn’t intentionally, I didn’t go on intentional walks that often. And, I think going for a walk with my camera is the most amazing thing because I always bring back treasure. Even if I’ve just gone for a really dreary walk down the Kilburn High Road here in north London, which is not exactly, bucolic. So I would say to people, I, I think another thing people often talk about walking equals being in nature. Well, that’s not possible for everybody. So, you can walk anywhere and feel connected to community. If you take the same walk everyday.
My favourite walk is from my house to the top of Primrose Hill and I actually did a college photography project based on the sunrise on Primrose Hill during the January and February lockdown. And I was photographing the people who chose to get up and watch that sunrise during lockdown There was something very transcendent about it, but there was also something magic in the walk to the top of the hill, a lot of it is along like quite dull residential streets and you just notice things. If you make the same walk every day, you notice tiny changes and you start to notice, oh, they’ve painted their front door a new colour. Oh look, they’ve got a new car. Oh, I have never noticed that little cat before, I wonder who’s the owner of that cat. Then the cat starts follow you down the street and you think, oh, what’s your name? Then you’ve made a new friend, haven’t you?
I think it’s the antidote to sitting at home on your screen, scrolling through status updates of people you might not have seen for ten years and might never see again, but yet you’re reading all the many details of what’s changed in their life. And I think you’d be a lot better off going outside and saying what’s changing in your own neighbourhood.
[00:23:47] Gabrielle: I feel like that brings us full circle back to the simple, the simplicity of it, you know, the simple act of going for a walk in your neighbourhood, doesn’t have to be in a patch of green, but in your neighbourhood, what you can gain from that, something as simple as simply going for walk around your local streets. Yeah.
So my final question for you is what are you going to do today to give yourself a moment of calm and joy?
[00:24:13] Anita: Oh, well, actually one other thing that I do that I didn’t mention is I absolutely love cooking and, yeah, I’m cooking for myself and for a family member who’s pearly. And, yeah, I’m going to make chilli con carne and, all the dips and the doritos. Cause we have, like, we always have to have chilli con carne with all the add-ons. I think that, um, the rituals around cooking are, they’ve they’re so brilliant and I always feel better.
[00:24:50] Gabrielle: Fabulous. And your, family member gets to benefit from you doing something that you enjoy, and hopefully they’ll get enjoyment from your food as well. Everyone wins!
[00:24:59] Anita: Exactly, it’s win-win.
[00:25:01] Gabrielle: It is a win-win. Um, so where can listeners find and connect with you, Anita?
[00:25:07] Anita: Well, you, can visit my, Instagram, Twitter and website, all of which, is @AnitaChaudhuri and website is AnitaChaudhuri.com. And you can also buy Psychologies magazine, #buyamagazine, and you will find my writing along with some other brilliant writers on the topic of self-development and, psychology.
[00:25:35] Gabrielle: Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today, Anita.
[00:25:37] Anita: No, it’s been a real pleasure. Thanks Gabrielle.
I could have talked with Anita for hours, so interesting to get her perspective on this whole topic of calm and joy. I hope you enjoyed our conversation too. If you did it would mean so much to me if you shared this episode 82 and if you left a review on iTunes. Reviews make a big difference to how this podcast can be found and listened to.
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And you’ll find the show notes and links mentioned in this episode 82 at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks again for listening, until next time, lovely people.
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