Right now you’ll probably be thinking a) she’s lying, b) she’s mad c) she’s referring to Thai brides or d) she’s been set up by Chanel to sell their new fragrance “Happiness”. But hear me out on this ok? Because it is true, money has bought me happiness and really there is no excuse why it can’t do the same for you, you annnnddd you. Maybe not you though. I can’t put my finger on it, but just not you.
Anyone expecting a Buzz Feed list or a three step plan to get happiness with bundles of cash should metaphorically walk away how. Such a list does not and will never exist. If it does exist it’s a con to get you investing in gold goats in the Congo. You would not expect someone to tell you how to make millions of pounds in cash in three steps so why would you expect someone to tell you how to make millions of pounds in happiness in a couple of bullet points?
Lets take this back to the start. Que wavy, squiggly, lines and enter into a flashback…
Back in August 2014 I had just moved to Swindon. A recent graduate, I was sat on my bed knowing no one and nothing about where I was, with only a degree and assorted volunteering experience to my name. Financially I was not destitute but I also had the lovely student debt monster living with me.
Not the stuff of nightmares, just an annoying creature that never buggers off.
I was sat there and it was ruddy scary, I won’t lie. It would be for anyone. You go from being with family, then you are ripped apart to go to university/college and then torn away again to start afresh as a proper adult. What nobody ever tells you (particularly the higher education institutions) is the the second split is much harder than the first time. So much harder. When you go into university no one knows anyone else, so you’re all in the same boat. You’re put with other new people in accommodation blocks (or halls), so you’re huddled closely in said boat. And the university puts on a range of social and course related events to help you settle in, they provide the gentle wind to safely direct your boat to stop you wanting to jump off. What I quickly learnt post higher education is that after you’re received your qualification, once paper and sweaty palm shakes have been exchanged, universities really do not care. “Have you got a job?” “Yes” “Would you deem the job and wage graduate level?” “Yes” “Good. Fill in this survey and off you pop.”
Moving to Swindon to start work was hard. In the real world everybody knows each other already, they are all a range of ages and live in their own properties, so you can’t live with them (I tried that card, apparently it’s not a thing). And these people have things that take up time called children and partners? I.e. they don’t socialise in the same way. I felt like I was in a leaky boat, by myself, being pushed along to China, or maybe South Africa, there was no map or wind to guide me. I felt a bit betrayed by my university, especially when the Alumni please-give-us-all-your-money emails started coming through days after I’d begun my job. At this time a self-help email to work, tax, living alone etc. would actually have made me feel so much better when I was at my worst.
It was around mid September 2014 I realised happiness and a social life in the real world does not land on your lap without effort. With that I switched off TV, cracked open the laptop and started singing “Eye of the Tiger” while I searched for a solution online. I sounded like this.
I searched evening classes at my local college. I decided on Pottery classes, a 10-week course which would introduce me to the subject. Annoyingly it was fully booked for the Autumn term, but I handed over £90 and signed myself up for the Spring term class. It was meant to be an introduction but I ended up paying to do the Summer term as well. Pottery was a great way for me to relax after work and learn something new. I was never great at it and truth be told being back in a classroom with people that were naturally better than me always played on my mind. However it gave me something to do on a Monday evening and I met new people outside of work. It was a creative release from the day-to-day. After two terms I felt I’d reached my potential and was reach to move on. I packed up my assorted creations (including my humble bowl) and moved on.
Happiness rating – 5 / 10
The idea of going to a gym, let alone signing up to gym membership, was an alien concept thought before I moved to Swindon. Why would anyone pay to put themselves through torture? But after I had stopped my pottery I found I had a gap in my evening schedule and, lured in by the promise of company and attractive men I was persuaded by my housemate and a colleague-turned-friend to sign up. I recently wrote a post on said gym, where you’ll find more information on my experiences with various equipment and those who use it. Gym membership minus corporate discount is £12.99 a month (including fitness classes) which works out as a very good deal. A good deal but also a good investment. Since I’ve joined the gym I now feel better about myself (the extra
slice of cake isn’t so guilt ridden), I feel happier due to the extra endorphins I now have (the type I used to believe were a work of fiction) and I aim to go at least once, if not twice, a week which keeps the mind and body distracted. The only drawback is the lack of social company. A gym is not the place to make new friends. With the gym my body started to feel happier and I’ve come to learn that physical pain can result in mental gain. I’m still a member of said gym.
Happiness rating – 10/10 (physical happiness) 2/10 (social happiness)
Founder and Manager of Swindon 18-30 Professionals
My housemate Cherice and I had moved to the area for jobs post university and both struggled with our non existent social lives. We cracked around October 2014. We both ploughed our joint efforts into finding a social group for young people in Swindon. “Swindon is a pretty big place, there must be something” we both thought. We were very wrong. I struggled to find something that wasn’t for over 40’s or amateur dramatics.
(“I thought you’d like that sort of thing Alice, you were very good when you played the gangsta rat in the Pied Piper of Hamlin” “mum, a) that was a year six school panto and b) I was the leader rat, George Richards was the gangsta rate” “Oh, well he was pretty good”)
Five minutes later of searching online I got bored. 10 minutes later I was in this part of the internet.
Cherice and I did end up going to to meeting for Swindon’s JCI group (I still don’t know what it stands for or does). We went to the event in jeans and very causal tops expecting a small group of people to chat and socialise with. To our horror we walked into a large room, which was packed (and I mean packed) with suited people aged 45+ who had all come to persuade myself, Cherice and two other nervous people to join their
cult organisation. We were trapped in a surreal corporate environment listening to a power point presentation where each slide changed when the lead speak clicked his fingers. I didn’t notice it at first but when I did I couldn’t forget it. Combined with the ridiculously formal environment which made it unacceptable to laugh, his click and flick of the hand became unbearably hilarious for the two of us. I was crying at one point. 1.5 hours later we dashed out while the room ‘networked’ and roared with laugher all the way home. At the very least we said it was a bonding experience.
There was also another group called “Swindon Young Professionals”. We went to two events hosted by this body. The first was for Pizza Express, where we paid a small fortune to go to a pizza making class and the second was two months later where again we were ripped off by the organiser who made us pay £20 to enter a pub quiz created by them and have a very poor quality Indian meal. Both events gave us a harsh dose of clique society. All solicitors who worked together, people who didn’t give the slightest dam about us. The pub quiz was like the scene in Bridget Jones where she’s at the lawyers’ Christmas party. More in jokes than you can shake a stick at. On principle we refused to not give them a penny more of our time and money.
We also tried a couple of events in Oxford, but these events were too far away from Swindon for us to seriously commit to. We met people, then the next time those people weren’t there and we had to start again from scratch for one evening. “If only Swindon had something like that” said Cherice as we walked back to the train station, “I enjoyed that, but you can’t meet people in Swindon. Where we live is so boring compared to Oxford.”
This planted a seed in my head which turned out to be the best dam thing I’ve ever done. If Swindon didn’t have a decent social group for 18-30 year olds, I would make one myself. And that is what I did. Swindon 18-30 Professionals was born on 1st February 2015. To set the group up I had to pay fixed amount of around £30 (the website runs on dollar currency) which granted was a special half price offer, but still took courage on the grounds I didn’t know if anyone would join or it would work. I opted for the higher fee so I could have more than 50 members in the group. At the time mumma Bennett was doubtful I’d get that many members (I kinda was too).
I created some provisional events and waited to see what happened. To my amazement they came, at the launch event about 12 people turned up. This took me by surprise, for months I hadn’t met anyone new and yet in 5 minutes I was overwhelmed with new faces to talk to. With many different events being hosted by the myself and others in the event team the group quickly went from strength to strength.
As the group increased in size I was able to pick up the courage to ask a large bar called Baker Street in Old Town to put on special drinks offers for us. They happily obliged.
More events put on and more members increased. To give you an idea, in my post Educating Alice where I talk about good things in Swindon, the group had 34 members. That was in March. The group now has 205 and we haven’t even reached the 10 month mark. The group has an average of one new member a day, and several more will apply and not be accepted (Requirement: this group is for people aged between 18 and 30. How old are you? Response: 45.)
At the six month mark my subscription was up for renewal, this time at a much higher rate. In need of sponsorship I put on my empowered professional female hat (an actual thing I own) and typed a lengthy proposal to Baker Street with the situation and why they should invest in us. I outlined the group’s growth, projected growth and the money my members brought into their establishment. To my utter joy they accepted and a new business partner was established. Sponsorship meant my members could now join for free, another big feather to our cap.
Baker Street have supported us massively ever since. They have even helped me radically improve the promotional material we put out and about in Swindon. The images below give an idea of the evolution of our posters:
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out which poster was created with the aid of a professional designer and which one has helped to radically boost membership. All the same, being able to have a strong creative input into the design has helped give me new skills and boost my inner confidence that I am pretty awesome.
While the growth of the group is amazing, it’s the people I’ve met that have really brought about the most happiness. At every drinks night we host on the first Wednesday of the month I see a range of people. I see the well seasoned members who have been there from the start, those who tend to only come to this one event a month and those who are completely new and, understandably, nervous. All three types stood around, chatting, laughing, enjoying themselves. Sometimes I get caught off guard and feel quite emotional at what I see around me. There are no cliques here, everyone has different professional backgrounds and opinions. It is a welcoming environment, everyone is relaxed and open with each other. No matter how many events they have attended every person in that space has been in the same position when they were new to the group, coming along to meet new faces. Everyone is in the same boat. Members may not live together but they socialise in the same boat. And, with all the events myself and my now extended event team put on, there is a schedule of events that people can go to to forget about the stresses of work, even if for one night. We provide the wind to safely guide the ship.
We recently had our Christmas party where we went to Pizza Express for a three course meal and then onto the group favourite, Baker Street, for endless complimentary prosecco from the venue and 2-4-1 cocktails.
It was a great night. An old friend from university was visiting me for the weekend (the girl sat opposite me at the table). As we stood in the cold waiting for our taxi she said to me, “you’ve made a life for yourself here, they’re a great bunch of people. They all really care about you, you just don’t see it because you spend all your time making sure they’re having fun. They call you God!”
When I went to upload the album on social media the next day I contemplated what to call it. It was a Christmas party, but it wasn’t a traditional work Christmas do, nor was it so detached from my personal life that I felt happy calling it just “Swindon 18-30 Christmas Social”. I settled in the end with something much better:
“Christmas Party with Friends”
Happiness Rating – 1,000,000 / 10
So there you have it. Money CAN buy you happiness. If I hadn’t spent £90 on pottery or £12.99 on the gym I would not have learnt as much about myself as I do now. If I hadn’t spent £30 on setting up my group, well, I don’t want to even think about what my life would be like I hadn’t done that. I laugh now thinking about me sat at a kitchen table debating whether to invest the money to set up the group. If I could I’d go back in time and throw a banana at myself. I’d know it was future me trying to knock sense into my head and I’d stop faffing about.
Yes, money can’t buy you everything. I’m not telling you to invest all your saving in meaningless gifts and spending outside your range. What I am saying is that your social life should be treated as a business or a bank account. If you keep investing little and often into it you will find the interest and rewards will build up. Money should not always been seen as the enemy that will prevent you reaching your personal Nirvana. How about a new ethos to life? Something like…
Money in modesty makes for happiness.
(Alice’s big book of terrible sayings, coming not-so-soon to a discount book store near you!)
Because, at the end of the day, how can anyone argue differently when faced with an image of Alice after a couple of glasses of free wine mixed with an additional glass of complimentary prosecco.
And if that isn’t happiness, I really do not know what is.
FYI: you can find out more about the group I run here on it’s official page: http://www.meetup.com/Swindon-18-30-Professionals/ or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/swindonprofessionals/ or even on Twitter: https://twitter.com/swindon18_30s?lang=en-gb
I know, I am so social!