LIFESTYLE
18/08/2014 14:46 BST | Updated 18/08/2014 14:59 BST

How Easy Is It To Find Happiness Like Hector? Here Are Four Quick Ways... 'Guaranteed!'

In this week's feel-good film, 'Hector and the Search for Happiness',Simon Pegg as Hector is a psychiatrist who realises he's fooling his patients, his girlfriend and himself, and must go on a journey of self-discovery before he can properly say he knows what happiness entails.

But what is happiness, and how easy is it to find it in this era of swift satisfaction or bust, with the daily toil, competition with our peers, estrangement from our neighbours, and the pressure to put a meal on the table and a selfie on the iPhone while we're about it?

simon pegg

Simon Pegg is Hector. He knows he's not happy, but he's not sure why not...

Mark Wilkinson, a guru for Action for Happiness, assures me it is possible, whatever our circumstances, to feel that bit better. According to Mark, it's all about perceptions and tools, we might not be able to change the often depressing world events around us, but we can control, to some extent, how we feel.

I'm a journalist. I'm cynical by trade and inclination, but I'm also curious, so I agree to sign up to his four-point plan - for one week. Action for Happiness's programme has ten points in total, but we agree not to push it. So, here we go. For seven whole days, I have to...

1. Write down 3 things every day that have made me feel happy and thankful.

2. Perform 30 minutes of physical exercise a day.

3. Respond constructively to other people, their ideas, plans and achievements.

4. Look for ways to perform acts of kindness for others.

On days 1 and 2, my list looks a bit token. "My trip to work went without a hitch." Big deal. "I finally posted an article that I was dreading writing." Well, that's my job. However, gradually these titbits made way for other, deeper stuff. "My friend was unhappy and I succeeded in making her smile" gives me food for thought about what keeps people connected, how it depends on honesty and trust, and how fortunate I am to have friends for bad times as well as good.

simonpegg

In the film, Hector must examine how he relates to other people

You'd think 'Doing kind things for others' would be a given, but it's a toughie, when the tube only has a finite number of seats, and the rain's pouring over the queue at the bus stop. However, I find myself looking for opportunities to give someone a hand, and a surprised smile of gratitude is (almost) more reward than knowing I can tick this particular box on my week's grid.

'Responding constructively to others' provides the most interesting data. According to Mark, it isn't how we react to our friends' BAD news that matters so much, after all, they're pretty down anyway. It's what we have to say when our intimates present us with GOOD news that determines the strength of our friendships - are we pleased for them? Do we voice our pride and support and shout loudly enough over that little voice inside us asking why we didn't have a better day ourselves, or if they'll remember to ask about us? This is a really tough one, but, once noticed, never forgotten and, goodness me, it makes a difference if you can resist the urge to say "Never mind that, I... " and say instead "That's gerr-eat."

So, here I am, one week later, one grid fully completed, and I have to say my mood is strangely elevated. I feel calm and replete, not worrying about the big stuff, delighting more in the little stuff. It goes without saying that the temperament of one person living in the privileged environs of a democratic country without drought, famine or war might not add up to a pile of beans in the scheme of things, but perhaps this kind of regime serves, if nothing else, as a useful and timely reminder to put our perceived problems in perspective. My friends and colleagues will be the first to say I'm not a fan of any kind of official happiness.org - corporate joy is one of the banes of my life - but just maybe there's something in it. After all, if going to a gym tones up your limbs, why wouldn't a mental workout be capable of doing the same?

By the way, number 2 on that list? I'm not going to lie. 30 minutes of physical exercise a day. It didn't happen. Even if it turns out that everybody can be a little bit happier, as I have to grudgingly admit after my week-long experiment, what can I say about this particular omission? In the words of Tony Curtis, nobody's perfect.

Click here for more tips for happy living from Action For Happiness. 'Hector and the Search for Happiness' is in cinemas now.

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