Does owning a dog make you healthy as well as happy?

Do you want a dog? Would it do you good?

Most people who own a dog believe their pets make them happy and also help keep them healthy. Is there any scientific evidence for that opinion? Is it just wishful thinking? Can anyone be dogmatic?

Some recent research in Sweden seems to show that dog-owners do live on average longer than the rest of the population.

How could a dog improve your health?

Although science has not yet established the reason for this, many people have suggested that there are two benefits to dog-ownership.

  1. Firstly, it gives you a strong incentive to take regular exercise, whatever (almost) the weather. Exercise is known to be an important factor in reducing weight and fat. It also helps tone up at least some of your muscles.
  2. Secondly, people say that the relationship with your dog helps you mentally. Stress and depression are major mental problems these days. They contribute to a lot of physical illnesses too.
Are these statistics conclusive, or is it a case of the tail wagging the dog?

On the other hand, the Swedish scientists do point out that the link between owning a dog and being healthy might work in the opposite direction too. A healthy person is more likely to be able to look after an animal than a sick person. Another example of the need to treat all statistics with care, as I have written in one of my books.

Do I advise you to buy a dog?

I would not want anyone to take on the responsibility of owning any pet if he or she was not capable of looking after it. That could be due to their health problems or their mental state. It would not be fair to the animal. I would also not advise anyone to acquire a pet if they did not really want to. Again, it would be unfair to the animal to bring it into a home where it was unwelcome. There are too many cases of cruelty and neglect already.

However, I do suggest that you think about keeping a dog as one way to improve your health. Only as long as it is a sensible option for you. I believe it has done me good. I have lost weight and a couple of inches at the waist, in the couple of years that I have had my border collie

A border collie waiting to be taken for a walk
A border collie waiting to be taken for a walk


How you can help with building a church in & for the community

Why am I supporting a building project?

I know the church is more than a building, but try running almost any sort of business or charity without one. This is a particularly good project. It aims to benefit as many people as possible and to respond to the needs of the 21st Century.

St Paul’s Penketh, Warrington, need about #100,000 to complete a million-pound project. The details are in the item below from the Warrington Guardian.

What if you don’t go to church?

Never mind. The new building will benefit the whole community, providing facilities not available elsewhere.

What if you don’t live in Penketh?

Neither do I, but it’ll benefit people from a wide area.

Please give generously if you can. If you can’t give generously, just give! Here.

What if you’ve no money?

You can help even if you can’t afford to give. Yes you can! Vote for it on the Aviva website – they are inviting the public to choose which projects they are going to support with their charitable giving. What a great idea!

Building Project needs 100,000 POUNDS to open its doors

People in Penketh have been wondering what’s going on in the new building on the site of St Paul’s Church on Warrington Road, Penketh, that was demolished two years ago. The new building will be the St Paul’s Community Church Base. Nothing seems to have been happening since the completion of the work some months ago. Churchwarden, Margaret Bennett explains, “The main building work was completed in June, but there have been items that needed putting right before we could accept the handover and there is still a lot to be done inside.”

Church member, Kieran Layfield, who has been coordinating the project, gave the details. “We still need to put in heating, toilets and other fixtures. We also want to install modern audio-visual equipment to make it suitable for the 21st Century. Some things will be done by our own members, others by contractors.”

The main interior part of the building looks very empty
The main interior part of the building looks very empty

Another question is what have churchgoers been doing since the old church was knocked down. Team Vicar, Sarah Peppiatt, answers, “We have been meeting in the Oaks Centre, in Stocks Lane, but we are looking forward to getting the new building. It will be more flexible, with larger and smaller rooms, and better acoustics and other facilities. We hope people will come to a lot of the events we’ll put on, but we will also make rooms available for groups to use for their own activities.”

The Oaks Centre Manager, Karen Howard, agreed, adding, “We have managed to keep most of our usual activities going for the last couple of years as well as holding church services. When the new building is open we’ll be able to do more at the Oaks and the facilities at the new building will be more suitable for some community activities. It’ll be a win-win all round.”

The outside of the building is complete but the ground around it needs some work
The outside of the building is complete but the ground around it needs some work

The church treasurer, Denis Bamber, summed up the financial position. “This project will cost nearly a million pounds. We have raised over eight hundred thousand already, nearly all from our own members, but we still need over a hundred thousand pounds to finish it properly. Anyone with any money should contact me on 01925 725099 or go to our website” Kieran Layfield added, “If every person in Penketh gave just ten pounds, it would be ‘mission accomplished: job done’ in no time.”

Churchwarden Margaret Bennett completes a routine inspection.
Churchwarden Margaret Bennett completes a routine inspection.

For more information, go to



Are you looking forward to Halloween?

A lot of Christians are not too keen on Halloween.

Why not have fun at Halloween, or any other time? Are we Christians just being killjoys? Or overreacting to something harmless? At this time of year we need an excuse to party, surely. For some, dressing up is part of the fun. Do we just need to lighten up? Oh, no! Forget that. It’s a celebration of darkness, really.

How dark is Halloween?

The origins of Halloween lie in pre-Christian religions and therefore it is a remnant of Paganism. Do you want to invoke the old gods or any supernatural forces? For some that is to take it all far too seriously. For them, it is just dressing up and having fun. Do we have to be so serious about everything? It’s like saying everyone who eats an Easter egg is pledging himself or herself to Christ.

The answer is that God will not impose himself on anyone who does not want him. You have to make a positive decision. The Devil is not so fastidious. Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile.

At Halloween, the Red Dragon, now a symbol of Wales, was once a symbol of spiritual power – but whose?
Is Halloween part of the Occult?

I have written about the Occult previously and will not repeat it all here. I will however warn you. Are you one of the many people who think Halloween is a good time to experiment with ouija boards? Or other ways of contacting the dead? (Or whatever they might contact). I have known people whose lives have been badly damaged as a result of finding the supernatural a lot more real than they ever imagined. They don’t all admit it. It’s a bit like experimenting with drugs. You might think you are in control, until you find that you are not. 

Don’t be intolerant at Halloween.

If Christians can overreact to Halloween, they are not the only ones. Some people get very hostile towards anyone who won’t join in. “Trick or treat” ceases to be fun when it turns into a protection racket. I have known people suffer damage and intimidation because they would not give anything. People who behave intolerantly are taking a step towards evil, whether the Devil exists or not. I have heard of people dressed as clowns deliberately frightening people, especially children. If that’s their idea of Halloween, or of fun, they can keep it.

Whichever side you are on, don’t spoil the fun but don’t score an own goal!

As my next book will contain an element of the supernatural, you may like to read my thoughts on the supernatural in crime fiction in my last blog.




Am I happy in spite of or because of my faith?

Shouldn’t Christians always be happy?

I have written a lot about how to be happy. Here is a link to a  summary article. It shows that most of the factors identified by scientists researching the subject coincide with the advice in the Bible. They also found that religious people do tend to be happier than the average. Here is a link to my first blog in the series. On the other hand, you can probably think of some Christians who do not always seem to be happy, but does that disprove everything I have written on the subject?

Is anyone always happy?

Christians are human beings. (Yes, really!) We experience ups and downs in life, like everyone else. In our health, or wealth, our relationships. It would be absurd to suggest we should never react to circumstances in a way similar to other people. We should, and usually do, lift ourselves up, or get lifted up, somewhat more quickly than most people.

I’m happy inside!

Some of us don’t always show our feelings a lot. I often look serious when I am thinking and that’s quite often. It depends what I’m thinking about, but I do think about serious subjects quite a bit. I’m not miserable, but I don’t go around grinning all the time. Being happy is not the same as being phoney.

Happy and sad masks. Where is the reality?

Is it always right to be happy?

St Paul tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. It would be insensitive, and unloving, to go around seemingly oblivious to other people’s misfortunes. We should try to help them overcome their problems and/or to look on the bright side, but not in a superficial way. Jesus wept on hearing of the death of his friend Lazarus and seeing how sad Lazarus’s sisters were. He also wept over Jerusalem when he foretold its destruction. We should not be immune to feeling for other people, even those we don’t actually know. It’s called compassion. It does not keep us from experiencing joy at all the good things around us. They are as real as the bad things.

Sometimes it’s very hard to be happy.

Christians often suffer persecution, especially in countries where another religion or philosophy is dominant. It also happens here, if you speak up on an issue where Christian teaching differs from the general belief, or where actually practicing honesty or charity makes you unpopular.  They are not the only ones. Any minority can be a target or anyone who is different. It amazes me how well many Christians, among others, cope when on the receiving end. That things sometimes get them down should not surprise anyone.

Do you expect to be always happy?

Some Christians have expectations that are not supported by the Bible or by evidence.  They may have heard the “prosperity gospel” which says if you have faith things will always go your way. They can be most unhappy when reality strikes.

To be happy is to overcome doubt with faith
To have faith it is necessary to experience doubt.

Some Christians find it hard to accept that we are a minority. They think everyone should believe. They get depressed at the state of the country and at the indifference to the message.  I hope and believe things are going to change, but there will be many disappointments on the way. Once you have got a realistic view, you should be able to move on out of that kind of depression. Christians have almost always been a minority.

Can you be unable to be happy?

For some people, depression is a medical condition. It takes time and skill to cure it. Christians can become ill, just like anyone else. We get colds, strain our backs and contract diseases. We can also suffer mental illness. I know that God can and does heal all kinds of diseases. He always has – but not 100%. Jesus performed many miracles of healing, but disease did not disappear from the World or from the Middle East while he was around. Having faith does not mean departing from reality.

If Christians are not always happy, isn’t this a U-turn?

NO! None of the above contradicts the assertion that following the teachings of the Bible leads to happiness. And it spreads.


Is there any place for religion in crime fiction?

Why is religion mentioned in my books?

As religion or spirituality plays a part in many people’s lives, I have included it in Accounting for Murder, Double Entry. A lot of people say that it’s OK to bring in religion as long as you’re not too preachy. Do you think the book was or not? The characters discuss religion and have different views. I hope you will identify with one or another of them.

If this preacher is ramming religion down your throat it could get up your nose.
If this preacher is ramming religion down your throat it could get up your nose.
What about the sequel?

The supernatural will figure in Accounting for Murder, Old Money, which will be published later this year. There is a ghost in the story. Or is there? That is one of the things the characters don’t agree on. The questions of good and evil and of morality, are also discussed. There is a priest in the story, who expresses views, which are not be what everyone expects, or agrees with.

Is religion relevant in a detective novel?

When you are writing about crime, you cannot avoid some moral judgments. In this case, other moral questions also arise which would raise issues even for a group of atheists. However, for many people, religion is the basis of their morality. Of course, where people think a ghost may be involved, their views on the supernatural are bound to be relevant too.

Faith and doubt may need to exist side by side.
Faith and doubt may need to exist side by side.
What is the theme of the book?

In both books, the main story is a whodunnit. Family and other relationships come into it, as do the characters’ views on several topics, but they are secondary to the issue of solving the mystery. If anything I write makes you think about religion, morality or anything else, I will not be sorry, but above all, I hope you enjoy the read.

The ten elements of happiness according to scientific research

How’s your happiness level?

I have written several times about the findings of recent research on happiness.

Now I am listing all the ten elements. You might not be able to implement all these suggestions, but see how many you can. I hope it will increase your happiness.

A. Accumulation of wealth does not make you happier beyond a certain level.

B. Be yourself. Don’t be a square peg in a round hole.

C. Count your blessings. Think about the plusses.

D. Do good. Happiness grows as you give it away.

E. Enjoy life. Consciously absorb the good things around you.

F. Forgive people who hurt you.

G. Give thanks to people who help you.

H. Health – take reasonable care of it, without becoming obsessive.

I. Invest in relationships – don’t be a recluse.

JK. Just Know how to deal with catastrophes, whether through religion, philosophy or something more down to earth.

Is your happiness real or just a mask?
Is your happiness real or just a mask?
What about me?

I think I do follow a lot of these guidelines and I do enjoy life most of the time. I’m working on some of the points that I have neglected.

What about you?

Go on! Give them a try. Some of them, at least.

Would you be happier if you invested more in relationships?

Are relationships are an important element in our happiness?

I have written about many factors that people have identified as contributing to happiness. One such factor is the quality of our relationships. This is one on which experts disagree. I will explain why later. But first things first.

What do I mean by ‘relationships’?

Nowadays, we often use this word when we mean ‘sexual relationships’. Other possibilities are work, business and family and friendships. Whilst it is important to look after business and other aspects of our lives, family relationships are the ones the experts think matter most in this context. But don’t neglect the other ones. I was temped to write ‘invest in people’. However, I am aware of an oganisation of that name which gives accreditation to businesses for good personnel policies and practices. I don’t want to confuse you.

What do I mean by ‘invest’?

You can invest money. You can also invest time and effort. Where relationships are concerned, time and effort are what we most need to invest, although money may come into it. It is about priorities. We can get so obsessed with other things that families and friends get … well, not forgotten, but you know what I mean. When you are old, you are unlikely to say ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office’. You could find you have got out of touch with everyone you used to know.

Controversial? Who thinks relationships aren’t factors in happiness?

It seems some of us are natural introverts, recluses even. Such people find relationships are hard work. I mean, harder than they are for everyone else. Following this advice, for them could be stressful. Some people are happier to be left alone. Is that in their best interests? Unfortunately, they often want to be alone only some of the time. Other times they do want company. If you are one, don’t leave it too late to invest in people, or you will become a total recluse. You may have to make an effort.

Do you want to be a hermit or develop relationships?
Do you want to be a hermit or develop relationships?
What do I think?

Personally, I think it is important to know yourself. Be yourself. I said that somewhere else. See The First Step to Happiness: Don’t be a Basil Fawlty!

Just be aware of the issue and be yourself, but make it a conscious decision.

If you are looking for happiness: thank people who have helped you.

Another step towards happiness: thank people

I have written about many factors that have been found to contribute to happiness. See for example What do you do when you have a catastrophe?

Another way to happiness that I have recently read about is giving thanks. For Christians this usually means thanking God. Not a bad idea. But I am talking about thanking people.

Isn’t it just good manners?

I am not talking about saying ‘thankyou’ every day, whenever someone does something helpful. Of course, I hope you do. What I am talking about is making an effort to thank people who have helped you in the past.

  • A teacher
  • a coach
  • a mentor
  • Someone who gave you confidence
  • Someone who gave you useful advice

Do you remember them? Are you in touch? Could you write to them, letting them know how helpful they have been? It may be worth a little effort.

It is better to thank people in writing
It is better to thank people in writing
Do I thank people in this way?

This is something I have never thought about until recently. I have read that remembering to thank people in this way can add to your happiness as well as theirs. How does that work? I don’t know but I think I might try it. What have I got to lose? What about you?

Are you happily churchgoing? Or are you going to the wrong Church?

Do you have problems with churchgoing?

I have written How to Cope with the Church and I have tried to address the question of whether being a Christian necessarily means going to church

Here is another aspect of the issue of churchgoing.

Many people do not realise that their choice of church can be really important. It is all too easy to assume they are all more or less the same. If you are not happy in the one you have been going to, you cannot see how you would benefit by simply going to a different one, whether of the same denomination or not.

Does your preacher's style help your churchgoing?
Does your preacher’s style help your churchgoing?
What’s different about another church?

If you are aware that churches differ, you might be under the impression it is all about doctrine. That is the exact set of beliefs each church follows. Surely that was the reason for all the different denominations? Did they not break away from each other due to disagreement on certain things? Yes, and No!

Often small differences got blown up out of proportion. Sometimes the issue was not so much belief about God or the Bible, but about organisation. Some were more democratic than others, but that has largely changed, although the details of governance are different from one denomination to another. Usually, these points are of more concern to the clergy than to the man or woman in the pew.

As to differences of belief, you are likely to find as wide a variety of views within most churches as between them, on all but the basic essentials.

What matters to you for your churchgoing?

Have I contradicted myself? Did I say the choice of church was important, only to go on to say it is not? What I mean is that the difference between two churches of the same denomination can be as great as between denominations. What is more important for most of is not the finer points of doctrine, it is more down to earth. Literally.  Do be prepared to look at churches belonging to different denominations, unless you have a strong reason for keeping to the same one.

The things you need to ask yourself when choosing a church are not what its official view is on interpreting a particular verse of the Bible, think rather about the following points.

  • What kind of music do they use?
  • How formal are the services?
  • Is the preaching interesting and relevant?
  • Are there other opportunities to learn about the Bible or the faith?
  • What arrangements are there for children and teenagers?
  • How pleasant is the overall experience?
  • What activities are there, apart from Sunday worship?
  • How do they engage with the community?

If you look, you will be surprised how varied churches are. You need not be a square peg in a round hole. Seek and ye shall find!

What do you do when you have a catastrophe?

Would a catastrophe destroy your happiness forever?

I have written several blogs about happiness. Such as How much happiness can money buy.  Some people want to know if anything I have said would be any use in the face of a catastrophe. I am not thinking of the everyday sort of thing that makes some people overreact (especially journalists in a quiet month) such as:

  • A festival being cancelled
  • A wet bank holiday
  • An increase in VAT
  • Losing the car keys

I mean the big stuff like the Grenfell fire, the Manchester bomb, floods in Africa. At a personal level too, a serious accident or illness, or the loss of someone you love, can be very hard to deal with. Such things make most of my previous suggestions seem trite. Remember?

  • ‘Be yourself’
  • ‘Count your blessings’
  • ‘Do good to someone’
  • ‘Enjoy the good things around you’

Does this make these things wrong? Part of the problem is that almost anything you say to someone at a time like that is going to sound trite. It is unlikely that it will be original. An expression becomes a cliche through being used a lot. It is used a lot because so many people find it helpful.

However useless so much advice may be, it can not be right for anyone to just give in and be bitter for the rest of his or her life.

How have I coped with catastrophes?

I have so far been  relatively fortunate and am in no position to advise others from my own experience. Fortunately, I don’t have to. I can draw on the experience of lots of people. There is no simple answer that works every time. Different people find different ways of coping.

Are you just putting on a brave mask in response to a catastrophe?
Are you just putting on a brave mask in response to a catastrophe?
Does religion help deal with a catastrophe?

Research does show that for many religion is a help. Prayer, meditation, or the love that comes from other members of your church, mosque, synagogue or whatever. But let us be honest. It is not always so. Some people give up their faith when bad things happen, blaming God. Similarly, some people are glad of their friends in times of trouble, but others turn against their friends.

For those for whom no religion seems to be the answer, the ones who cope best with catastrophe are often the ones with some sort of philosophy to fall back on. This may be an organised philosophy or just a way of looking at life. A simple maxim to call on. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ or ‘things are never as bad as they look’, for instance. It is good to have one ready in case you need it.

How one man coped with a real catastrophe

I have been reading the letters and diaries of my father-in-law, including those written when he was a prisoner of war after being wounded at Monte Cassino. His resilience and optimism, his ability to make light of his troubles, his sympathy for those worse off than himself (!) make me feel ashamed. What kept him going? I have not found any mentio of prayer of faith, although I need to study his writings a bit more, but I think it was the hope that our side would win in the end. When I have finished studying these documents, I intend to turn them into a book. There is a story that needs to be told.

What about you?

To all the factors making for happiness, add something you can call upon in the event of a catastrophe. Most of us have to face one sometime.