Everyone needs a bit of nurturing right now.
What better way to deliver it than a book that is the literary equivalent of a steaming hot chocolate on a chilly day?
And who better to write it than Matt Haig, the bestselling author and mental health advocate?
His latest offering, The Comfort Book, is a non-fiction compilation of all the things Haig himself finds comforting.
He describes it as a ‘book as messy as life’ but it’s the ideal read for dipping into whenever you need a pick-me-up or change of perspective.
‘The Comfort Book’s the most self-indulgent book I’ve ever written or ever will, and I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to write this if it was my first one,’ says Haig (pictured below). ‘It’s also unabashedly sentimental and accessible.
‘I didn’t want it to feel like a book but more like a meditation or mantra. My editor actually said this book’s a bit repetitive but that’s deliberate because when you really need to hear something, you need to hear it repeated to you,’ notes Haig, 46, whose hit memoir, Reasons To Stay Alive, in which he detailed his struggles with anxiety, agoraphobia and depression, was published in 2015.
He’s since written children’s stories, as well as fiction and non-fiction for adults, selling more than two million books in the UK, but remains daunted by publication day.
‘It’s weird because even though I preach all the time about self-acceptance and not worrying what people think, the reason I do that is because they’re words I need to hear myself,’ says Haig, who began writing The Comfort Book last spring. He’d just sent off the final draft of his novel The Midnight Library, and had ‘this energy to write something else’.
‘I didn’t have a story idea but thought it might be the right time to write down the key gems that have helped me over the years,’ he says. ‘It also coincided with the first lockdown when everyone, including myself, was super stressed about what was coming. It felt so ominous and foreboding, I wanted to write something that felt like the opposite of the feeling, so every aspect of the book is designed to be comforting.’
The Comfort Book includes playlists and reading lists, poems, meditations, mantras, thoughts and anecdotes — all the things Haig refers to as his ‘life rafts — the thoughts that have kept me afloat’. They even include the spreads to try when you need a lift.
‘I love a playlist — I love a list full stop,’ says Haig, who lives with his wife, Andrea, and their two children in Brighton. ‘I mean, God help me if reviewers take it seriously but yeah, I do have recipes for hummus — my ultimate comfort food — and peanut butter on toast. They’re just little reminders of the simple things in life.’
Although the book was prompted by the pandemic, Haig hopes its timeless themes continue to reverberate when lockdowns are a distant memory.
‘As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised hard times are easier to cope with if you realise how everything’s connected,’ he says. ‘I know it’s a cliché to say time changes everything but that can be hard to believe when the voices in your heard are saying the opposite and you’ve got into a situation you don’t know how to get out of.
‘We need to talk about practical solutions. We need to talk about the health service more, the parity between mental and physical health, how therapy shouldn’t just be some celebrity or luxury privilege but a right for anyone to access, as we do with dentists and doctors.
‘Yes, there are famous people happily talking about their mental health problems, but that doesn’t mean everybody is in that same position. It depends on who you are and where you are, and there needs to be a lot of nuance within the debate.’
Simple steps: Matt’s comfort tips
Potter in the kitchen
‘I find cooking is something I can really focus my mind on when I’m feeling stressed, and it can be so calming when you’re not up against the clock.’
‘It’s important to have some sort of rhythm to the day. So get up at a certain time. Go for a walk. Stretch. Get some sunlight, if possible. Go to bed before midnight. Just allow your mind to absorb the day, and let all those fears and frustrations float through.’
Experience one beautiful thing a day
‘It’s not about doing something wonderful, it’s about doing something that has the potential to be wonderful. However small. However trivial. Just give yourself one simple reminder that the world is full of wonders.’
Chat with friends and family
‘I don’t think that social media quite fills that space of having a verbal conversation, especially after this year when we’ve all been so distanced from everyone.’
Remind yourself no feeling is final
‘It really is such a simple line — but it’s very useful to remember when you feel you are absolutely stuck in a moment.’
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig (Canongate) is out now
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