How to be happy

Happiness is…

...a personal thing, and achieving it is not always easy. We discover how to be even happier and what really makes us smile…

While it’s true some of us are simply born with more ‘happy’ genes, there are things we can all do to lift our overall mood, permanently. ‘Happiness is a skill you can learn,’ says Annie Ashdown, lifestyle expert at selfconfidencecentre.com.

Forget the endorphin-rushing fix of a shopping spree or holiday – which has no lasting effect – and focus on little, everyday changes to your daily thinking to feel real change in your happiness levels.

It’s the small fry changes not the big hitters that will have you glowing from the inside and, crucially, have a permanent effect. Building self-esteem is the key to satisfaction, ‘One of the richest things you can have is a good relationship with yourself,’ says Annie.

So adapt these things into your living routine and start to feel happier, now.

Things to do to feel happier everyday

Commit a random act

Despite no hard evidence to suggest more money equals more happiness (US studies found earning more only brings a life you think is better), we all have trouble dismissing the idea that a bigger salary would make us smile. The key is what you do with the money you do have. ‘If money brings happiness at all, it does so in the form of doing something worthwhile with it, ’ says Psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson. Self-confidence expert Annie Ashdown agrees, suggesting a random gesture. ‘I know someone who once left a £5 note in a coffee shop for someone to find. It’s a lovely thing to do,’ she says. ‘ However small, do anything you can to get out of yourself and your ego.’

Get involved

‘Happy people tend to have a sense of purpose in life and a set of goals they’re trying to achieve,’ says Psychologist Dr Glenn Wilson. ‘When we feel we’re doing something useful and meaningful, we feel more positive. For some people that might be building a career or doing voluntary work. Get involved in projects that have continuity, connect with your values in some way and give yourself a real sense of satisfaction.’

Don’t panic about perfect

Believing you’re not good enough stops you taking risks that could improve your life, says Annie. ‘Perfectionism stops a lot of people feeling they can find happiness. They don’t take risks like travelling or meeting new people because they worry, “If I don’t get it right, if I’m not perfect…” Annie believes it’s this internal dialogue that makes people unsure of themselves. ‘It’s ok to say, “I’m alright,” adds Glenn. ‘Say, “I’m good enough. I’m happy with me,” then go for it.’

Ask yourself

‘Is it really that important? Will it matter in 10 years time?’ Ask yourself these two questions when you find yourself worrying about something that you can’t change, Glenn says. ‘If there is something you can do to avert your worries, try to do that immediately. If you can’t resolve your worries, try to keep a sense of proportion. If the answer to those two questions is no, there’s no point fretting.’ Learning not to punish ourselves with worries ‘has a big positive impact on our happiness,’ says Glenn.

Work on the friendships that matter

A small number of intimate relationships counts for more than the virtual number. ‘You might have 500 friends on Facebook but you’ll probably only get two or three sending a personal message when, for example, you’ve lost your job,’ says Annie. Pay attention to the meaningful relationships, ‘Work on being nice to your friends. You’ll make yourself happier in the process,’ says Glenn.

Earn love

Don’t expect friends and family to develop your happiness for you. ‘Love has to be earned,’ says Glenn. ‘Be consistent, reliable and have integrity,’ adds Annie. ‘That’s the most powerful thing you can do. If you say to someone you’ll call them later, then do it – that really can build the foundations for a good relationship.’

Get out

Spending more time outdoors can lift your mood – it’s science. ‘There’s a lot of value in what’s known as “green exercise” – walks in the countryside, playing golf, doing something active and immersing ourselves among grass, trees, water and sunshine,’ says Glenn. ‘We all know how lack of sunlight can affect our mood, but a lack of exercise and exposure to the outdoors might also be to blame – so get outside and do something active.’

Find joy in simple

‘Without sounding corny, it’s the simple things in life that can make us happy and it’s the simple things we often overlook,’ concludes Annie. ‘Find joy in the everyday – a beautiful park, a smile from a stranger. Look at the basics; what have you got? Be happy and content with what you have. Find happiness within yourself and the rest follows.’

What makes the experts happy?

‘Tucking in to a slice of mature Comté cheese with a crusty piece of baguette. It’s often the simplest pleasures in life that make me the happiest.’
Chef Rachel Khoo

‘Children’s literature makes me happy. I’m always re-reading the classics.’
Gretchen Rubin, author, The Happiness Project (£9.99, Harper Paperbacks)

‘Walking in the country and being aware of the birds and flowers; cuddling my daughter; stroking my cats;  appreciating the small things.’
Psychologist Corinne Sweet (corinnesweet.com)

‘Happiness, for me, is an absence of worry about everyday things while being surrounded by people I am close to. I’m also inspired by the world around me. I love colour and light.’
Niamh Shields, blogger  at eatlikeagirl.com

‘I love to be among happy people. So if someone is miserable around me, I try to make that person happy. It’s a little selfish, I know, but that’s how it is.’
Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar

‘Happiness is being serene inside, trusting your own judgements and opinions, having self-belief and inner confidence.’
Annie Ashdown, selfconfidencecentre.com

‘Enjoying plentiful, delicious food – so I’m lucky to have a job that surrounds me in the things that make me happy every day,’
Henry Herbert, Fabulous Baker Brothers

‘Spending time with my family and friends is really important to me. I also love listening to good music, it really lifts my mood. I’d play it in the office more, but Henry doesn’t like it.’
Tom Herbert, Fabulous Baker Brothers

The happiest places in Britain

Who’s the happiest of them all? We reveal the places housing the most contented people in Britain...

Do you live in one of the happiest places in Britain? You do if your home is in the Outer Hebrides, Orkney or Shetland. These small islands off the coast of Scotland have the most satisfied inhabitants in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics. Nearly 83 per cent of people there rate their happiness between seven and 10.

And it seems country dwellers are more contented than ‘townies,’ putting plenty of space and beautiful natural surroundings high up on the happiness agenda because the top five happy locations are all rural areas. Here they are:

1 Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland

The Outer Hebrides
The white sandy beaches are like a tropical paradise – only much closer to home. The small communities mean everyone knows each other; on the island of Vatersay even the postman, Michael Campbell, is something of a local celebrity who plays in his own band.

The islands of Orkney
Home to only 20 people per square kilometre; think quiet roads free from stressful traffic. The people of Orkney have a real sense of history and the popular Orkney Heritage Society aims to preserve the beauty, history and character of the islands.

The Shetland Islands
These are famed for their open spaces and beautiful scenery. Islander Olivia Uney says, ‘Walking along the seashore near my home on a wild and blustery day, with the sea crashing at the foot of the cliffs below, and breathing in the fresh air is guaranteed to make me feel truly alive and blissfully happy.’

2 Rutland

In the smallest county in England, 80.8 per cent of people rated their happiness as over seven out of 10. Roger Begy, leader of Rutland County Council, says, ‘We live in a fantastic area with high-quality education, low crime rates and minimal road congestion and pollution, as well as some of the best countryside right on our doorstep.’

3 Anglesey

It’s one of the least-populated places in the UK, but isn’t without its famous residents –the seclusion and privacy of the island made it perfect for newlyweds Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton to avoid the paparazzi (and anyone else seeking a quiet way of life).

4 Wiltshire

Wiltshire, south west England, is home to Stonehenge, the Cherhill White Horse and lots of happy people (77.1 per cent, to be precise, who rate their happiness between seven and 10). As well as the county’s tranquility and rolling downs, the people of Wiltshire put their happiness down to their neighbours. What a friendly bunch.

5 West Berkshire

Could the fact three quarters of the land is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that 77 per cent of people rated their happiness above seven? It’s also home to Wellington College, where happiness and wellbeing is actually taught in class. The school held the UK’s first happiness learning weekend, where attendees were taught how to have a more fulfilled life and that even the most pessimistic brain can be retrained to be positive.