What's your pick-me-up? A thought for caregivers and anyone else who wants a happier life

There I was in the middle of the supermarket aisle, trying to decide between a couple of things and I suddenly felt my foot tapping. In fact, my whole body seemed to want to move – my fingers wanted to click and my hips wanted to sway. What on earth was going on? I haven’t been to supermarkets all that much recently but surely they never made me feel like this before, and I didn’t think I was that joyful about being there now!

It turns out my body had started to react before my brain had fully registered the song that was playing: Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time”. It’s a very upbeat song, complete with finger-clicking and a bit of (listen here!), but so are lots of songs and they don’t normally make me feel like dancing in the middle of a frozen aisle. In fact, to quote the song itself “that hasn’t happened for the longest time”.

Being transported in time

In that moment, hearing that song, I had been transported to childhood, decorating a Christmas tree and dancing around the living room to that same song and I was filled with the joy of that moment.

Although a very happy memory, it’s one that had been dormant for a while – I couldn’t say when I’d last remembered it, it was sparked by the song. When it happens, when something triggers a happy memory like that it’s an amazing thing.

Senses and memories

And it’s not just songs – our other senses can react equally strongly to triggers – the smell of a loved one’s scent, the taste of a favourite meal, seeing a scene. While writing this I remembered recently seeing a photo of a painting that was popular in the 80s and hung in my grandparents’ house and at the time I felt a wave of the love and the safety I felt sitting on their couch, looking at that photo.

Of course there are also sounds / smells / sights / tastes that can bring back bad memories – songs I won’t name because I’d rather not have them in my head, the flavour of childhood medicines (synthetic banana), scenes from films that scared the whatsit out of me – and I can generally avoid these or quickly shake them off, usually by replacing them with something pleasant.

Using our senses to impact our emotions

Since the supermarket incident I have played the song almost every day. It’s a little 3 minute pick-me-up at my fingertips. And that’s mostly the point of this post. Rather than waiting for the serendipity of a song / smell coming to us, we can put them into our day or week. Play the uplifting songs, cook your favourite meal, having photos / pictures that bring you joy.

Some of my other pick-me-ups are the print of a bluebell wood I have in my office, drinking Lucozade when I’m feeling under the weather, making peppermint squares and ham and cheese toasties, listening to “Star Trekkin’”, wearing a favourite perfume, singing “5 little ducks went swimming one day” in my head. They all evoke memories that go way beyond the actual song / taste / smell / sight.

What are yours?

What are your pick-me-ups? What songs are guaranteed to lift your spirits? What’s your favourite food, especially comfort food? What will you listen to / eat / look at over the next few days to give you that feeling of joy? E-mail me at with the subject “The Longest Time” to let me know.

When my in-laws started to need care, I knew how to look after both them and myself – because I’d got it so wrong in the past, when my other half was signed off work with stress and my life was turned upside down too. These blog posts are mostly based on the things that helped me, the lessons I learnt the hard way and what I realise with the benefit of hindsight would have helped. I’ve collected some of the other key learning points and tips and made these available to download at

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