Wednesday, 30 September 2015

My take on happiness: Time For Reflection at The Scottish Parliament

I was delighted when Cameron Buchanan MSP invited me to deliver one of the weekly TIme For Reflection talks at the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. In the sixteen years that the Parliament has existed, I am only the fifth humanist to have been asked to do this, so it was an honour.

The guidelines for TFR are pretty strict. You can't make political points, make discriminatory comments or denigrate people of faith. And of course the script has to be submitted for approval, which isn't automatic. I had to revise one phrase in mine - let me know if you can guess which it was?

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This (I think) is pretty much what I said…

Presiding Officer, thank you for inviting me to speak today.

I hope you would agree that the aims of politics and philosophy are the same - to increase happiness and wellbeing.

Now happiness is a nebulous concept, but there are people who believe they can measure it, and when the UN compiled its latest World Happiness Report, Scotland – as part of the UK – didn't even make it into the Top Twenty.

Which rather begs the question: would Scotland be happier in a different political landscape?

You may say so: I couldn’t possibly comment.

One Scottish city however, is punching well above its weight in the happiness stakes.

Two years ago, a survey found that Edinburgh was the happiest city in the UK: two months ago, Condé Nast Traveller called it one of the friendliest cities in the world.

Something has clearly changed.

For generations, we were lead to believe that life was a vale of tears, and earthly happiness, a snare and a delusion. Happiness might be your reward in the next life, but only if you toed the line in this.

That began to change in 1776, when Thomas Jefferson - inspired by the writings of the Enlightenment philosophers Francis Hutcheson and David Hume - enshrined ‘the pursuit of happiness’ in the American Declaration of Independence. We’ve since come to regard happiness as a universal human right, but - and it pains me to say this - we Scots weren’t the first to conceive this radical idea.

Almost forty years earlier, half way across the world, in the tiny Himalayan Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, the Legal Code decreed “if the Government cannot create happiness for its people, there is no purpose for the Government to exist”. Bhutan remains one of the world’s poorest states, but for forty years it’s inspired governments everywhere to look beyond GDP as a measure of a nation’s health.

Bhutan was the first country to measure Gross National Happiness, and now we’re all doing it. Just last week, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the happiest place in the UK is Fermanagh, while Londoners remain amongst the most miserable people in the country.

Now happiness may well be desirable, but the paradox of happiness is that we only find it by searching for something else. I think the 19th century humanist philosopher Robert Ingersoll put it best: “happiness is the only good, and the way to be happy is to make others so”.

Members of the Scottish Parliament: may you find happiness, by making the people of Scotland happy.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Sarah and Kyle's Humanist Wedding at The Signet Library

Being a chaplain sometimes has real-life consequences. I'll let Sarah tell the story...

As she wrote, "I graduated from Edinburgh University in 2013. Each graduation ceremony includes a speech from one of the university chaplains and I was lucky enough to take part in a ceremony where Tim, as honorary humanist chaplain, was giving the address. I remember it was a great speech, which captivated the audience and made a real impression on those in attendance. A couple of years later I began to plan my wedding in Edinburgh, upon finding out that humanist ceremonies are legal in Scotland I knew that we had to ask Tim to be our celebrant".

Kyle and Sarah's love for each other survived  four years of separation, five thousand miles of distance and hundreds of hours of Skype calls. As they wrote, "So many people’s relationships crumble over long-distance, but ours only got stronger. While other couples had hugs and kisses, we had words, and we both became very good at expressing our feelings and emotions".

They certainly did, and they created a very moving ceremony. After it, Sarah and Kyle sent me these photos by the talented Anna Urban, and this note. "We just wanted to say thank you for the wonderful ceremony last week. Everybody loved it and has said it was the best ceremony they have ever been to. Even my very catholic relatives thought it was a beautiful and personal ceremony. Thanks again, Sarah and Kyle". 

It was a pleasure, Sarah and Kyle. All I can do is reiterate the old Irish blessing that all your guests spoke at the end of the ceremony:

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your faces
And the rain fall soft upon your feet.
And may a slow wind work
These words of love around you
An invisible cloak to mind your life.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Sarah and Russell's Humanist Wedding at The Royal Scots Club


That was the word that came to mind when this card hit my mat this morning, because I'd literally just sent a copy of Russell and Sarah's ceremony to another couple, as inspiration to create their own.

I thought their wedding ceremony was great, but I didn't realise how great until a few days later when Russell's best man Kyle and his fiancée Jen asked if I could conduct their wedding next month - and they were so fired up by what they'd seen and heard that they even did their homework before we met!

What made it so special? 

Well according to Sarah and Russell it was me keeping it running like clockwork, making everyone laugh and pulling at their heart strings, but of course that's not true, because all the funny stuff, and all the heartstring pulling material came from Russell and Sarah themselves: I just got to tell their families and friends on their behalf, and that's what makes humanist ceremonies so powerful!

So thank you, Sarah and Russell, not just for making me a part of your very special day, and not just for introducing me to Jen and Kyle either: thank you for my 100th review! 

I look forward very much to seeing you again in just a couple of weeks, and Russell - your jokes had better be funnier than Kyle's...

Monday, 24 August 2015

Alison and Michael's Humanist Wedding at Balbirnie House

You don't need to write a three volume novel to tell your story, as Alison and Michael's tale shows.

 They first met when Alison took a notion to play badminton at a club where Michael was already a member.  After a few dates in the bars and restaurants of Edinburgh,  they were soon seeing each other so regularly that Alison allowed her attendance at badminton to dwindle.  Despite their their differing views on back-seating driving and the importance of hot water bottles, their love grew and they started living together. 

I loved their promises which were almost - but not quite - identical. Alison promised that Michael would always be allowed to listen to Coldplay, and get to choose what films to watch: Michael promised to catch all of their spiders, and make Alison a hot water bottle every night!

I was delighted to read their card: it succinctly sums up all  I ever hope for, so thank you Michael and Alison, for allowing me to be a part of your perfect day!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Louise and Neil's Humanist Wedding at The Caves

Neil and Louise's relationship kicked off at a Potterrow School Disco when they were freshers at Edinburgh University, and survived not only Neil's choice of Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a first date movie, but a year's separation as they set out on their separate careers. 11 and a half years later, they and their family and friends came together at The Caves, where Louise, Neil and five of their friends entertained everyone with a very funny and touching ceremony. Three months later, they sent me these photos and this lovely note.

We just want to say a huge thank you for letting us create our own wedding; the ceremony was absolutely perfect and everyone said after how lovely and personal it was! 

All of the input you gave to allow us to pick and choose what we wanted to include in our wedding really made us realise that it was about what we wanted to say in front of our friends and family and we kept that at the forefront of our minds the entire time. It was a perfect day: thank you again! Louise and Neil xx

Not at all, Neil and Louise, thank you for saying what you did, the way you did. It was great and I felt privileged to be a part of your special day!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Eli and Kate's Humanist Wedding in their garden

Kate and Eli came up with so many great ideas for their ceremony!

First of all, it was at home, in their garden, which is a cook's paradise. All their raised beds were brimming with prime produce just waiting for the wedding to be over so they could be picked. 

They decorated the entire garden with bunting, put up a big gazebo on the patio to provide a sheltered space for sitting and eating or drinking and dressed up the tables really simply with a checkered tablecloth and some flowers in a champagne bottle.

Weddings are all about making people feel welcome. As they wrote on their blog, "Something we felt was important was that our guests, some of whom had never met each other, felt comfortable and able to chat to each other. So we asked each of them to submit a photo and a small paragraph telling us about themselves. We then turned this into a small booklet to go with the order of ceremony that everyone was given when they arrived".

Two of the most important ones couldn't be with us, Eli's little brother Arlen and his wife Diane, so Eli and Kate set up a a Google hangout so they could watch the ceremony live.

Weddings are all about presents: Kate and Eli really excelled here. Books were one of the first things that brought them together, so they chose books for all of their guests, which came custom-wrapped in ribbon, with a packet of wildflower seeds, and an ingenious bottle opener in the form of a key, so everyone got a very special keepsake of the day.

The other really original touch was that they brewed their own beers - that's right, beers, plural. Not just  a Black IPA, and a Belgique Ale, but Dandelion & Burdock or Ginger Ale for the non-drinkers. How cool was that? Even better, Kate built the bar from which they were served. And an elegant piece of craftswomanship it was too.

What else did they do? Well here are just some of the things that Eli said on the blog

For our wedding Kate and I wanted all of our guests to play an actual part in the day - after all they are our important witnesses to a life changing event. So we did a couple of little things so that our guests could really leave their mark on our day and leave us with a little souvenir or two from them.
We left little antique keys with paper labels attached to them on a table and we asked our guests to write on these paper tags and tell us their “key to a happy marriage”.  Kind of like a guest book but more personal.

We also asked each guest to leave a fingerprint on a print of a bare tree, making the leaves of the tree. This is now framed and hanging in the house as a reminder of all our family and friends who shared our day.
I could go on but I think you get the picture: it was a gloriously happy ceremony, thanks to all the love and imagination Kate and Eli brought to it. I was really touched to be given two bottles of the bridal brew for me and Mrs M. 

And to learn from Eli just where the word 'bridal' comes from in the first place… I had no idea until she told me (and I read this).
I got all these great photos and a lovely wee note the other day that said, "We're both sitting here grinning like mad things after going through all the photos and reminiscing. Now I COMPLETELY get why you do the job you do".
What can I add, other than my thanks to Eli and Kate for making me a part of their very, very special day. #EliandKateForever

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Craig and Nic's Humanist Wedding at Broxmouth Park

Looking at Craig and Nic striding out purposefully by Broxmouth Park's lovely loch, you'd never guess that this was the email Craig sent just two days before the ceremony.

Wedding team,

We have something of a problem, though not an insurmountable one.

I have had back trouble for some time now, culminating in surgery last Friday. Whilst I was assured by all and sundry that I would be fighting fit in time for the wedding, it now appears that recovery is taking a little longer than had been hoped...

So yes, on the day, Craig was sitting, rather than standing, but it didn't detract one little bit from what was a very moving and thoroughly entertaining wedding. Both bride and groom had five supporters by their side, and their friends Scott and Ron treated us to a fabulous rendition of Ed Sheeran’s 'Thinking out Loud' as we paused for a moment of quiet contemplation before the vows. 

They sent me this great card, that says (among other things), "Nic and I always wanted to have a personal, intimate wedding service, and you really did make the whole process of delivering that seem effortless".

I'm glad to see you back on your feet Craig. Thanks for the card and the kind words, and I wish you and Nic every happiness for the future!