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Health: Being happy is a way of life, just find what works for you

© Shutterstock / shadow_girlhappy

In today’s challenging times, there’s plenty to think about, from energy bills to the cost of Christmas.

But one thing we should take time out to consider is our happiness – and we shouldn’t feel bad about it.

David Conrad is a consultant in public health and co-author of a new book, The How Of Happy, which helps us make small changes in our quest to be happier people.

And he says it’s OK to think about your happiness.

“Even when times are hard and it can seem like a frivolous thing, actually it’s important,” said Conrad. “Take time for yourself and think about your wellbeing as it can have a big impact on your quality of life and your physical health. People shouldn’t feel it’s a selfish endeavour.”

Conrad and comedy writer Ariane Sherine have joined forces on the book, which looks at key research into the things that do and do not make people happy – and how to weave the findings into everyday life.

They spoke to celebrities including Still Game star Sanjeev Kohli, comedian Rosie Holt and broadcaster Jeremy Vine about what makes them blissfully content.

“It’s unrealistic to think we should be striving for a life of 24/7 bliss,” said Conrad. “None of us are going to be happy all the time. And being happy does involve putting a bit of work in.

“But our happiness has a big impact on our lives, so we should try to look at little things we can do here and there to try and be happier.”

Conrad has the key: 50 studies that show you what to do to find happiness in relationships, friendships, finances, and career.

“Over the last few decades there’s been a growing realisation that good mental wellbeing is focused on diagnosable mental illness, but there’s another tier which is also really important in terms of good overall health,” he said.

Studies in the book look at things like whether real friends or virtual friends make us happier (the outcome is real friends), whether sunny holidays make us happier (they do) and if we stop comparing ourselves to others, that can make us happier too.

“Some studies highlighted that having less of a focus on ‘what can I do that’s going to make me feel nice?’ but actually sharing with other people, like small acts of kindness, can have positive effects, too,” said Conrad. “It’s not necessarily a selfish endeavour to want to be more happy because it’s about how we relate to other people and the benefits we get from doing things for other people as well as ourselves.”

Happiness can be found in different ways, and places.

“We looked at one study that dug into types of humour and how they have an influence on how happy we are. It found there was a distinction between people who adopted a positive style of humour against people who had a negative style of humour.

“People who had affirming humour of themselves always correlated with being happier. Whereas people with a more self-depricating or laughing at others’ expense type of humour didn’t see that same positive relationship with happiness,” said Conrad.

However, one thing is clear – there’s no magic wand that will wave us all to total happiness.“Sadly there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution,” Conrad said. “It can be tempting to think ‘What’s the one thing I should do to be happy?’

“Although there are some patterns that come through, we know these aren’t hard and fast rules that mean if you aren’t in that category there’s no chance of being happy.

“It’s about finding the things that influence your individual happiness. There are things that will work for some people but they won’t work for others. Being happy is about finding the things that resonate for you.

“There’s often a burning question about whether fantasising about a happier future – which lots of us do – is that actually a thing to be doing or should you just live in the moment and not worry about it?

“We looked at a study that investigated that question and found that it depends on the individual.

“For some people it might be setting them up for future disappointment but for others it could give a sense of purpose and that could have a big influence on their level of happiness in the moment.”

You’d think Conrad had it sussed and should be the happiest man on the planet – but he confessed he’s still working on it himself.

“I used to joke about writing this book on happiness and I’ll be a lot happier when its finished!” he said. “But really I’m just like everyone else. I have good days and bad days.

“We’re not saying in this book we’re the happiness gurus, that we have got it all figured out. I have learned a lot myself in terms of my way of life and my mental wellbeing.

“And hopefully readers can learn something about themselves too.”

The How Of Happy, published by Little Brown, is out now