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Happiness: Top Tips...

28/05/2014 12:24 BST | Updated 27/07/2014 10:59 BST

Happiness: Top Tips

I am a student of the relatively new school of 'positive psychology'.

Long story...butchered to the bare bones...traditional strands of psychology grew out of negativity and depression. 'Psychology' was a remedy for people who needed a leg-up in life.

'Positive Psychology' pitches in at the other end of the spectrum. It's the study of happiness and well-being. I've been seeking out happy people (yes, really!) and studying why they're so happy, upbeat and full of life.

If we plotted your 'well-being' (ie, your emotions) during the week, you'd have a natural high point and a natural low point. Your high is when you've got bags of enthusiasm, a twinkle in your eye and a grin on your face. Life feels good. You are flourishing.

The other end of the spectrum is the low level you. Exhausted, lethargic, downbeat, grumbly...lots of sighing and tutting. People can get stuck in 'moan mode'. I call them 'mood hoovers' because they're expert at sucking all the happiness out of you. They're not horrible people, it's just that their thermostat is set to 'negative'. (I once read a definition of a mood hoover that summed it up brilliantly with, 'this person lights up the room...when they leave!)

My research shows that far too many people are spending far too much of their time in the lower end of the spectrum. 'Britishness' is all rather pessimistic and gloomy. We like to have a whinge and a moan, especially about the weather but anything will do. And the truth is that it's very easy for this mediocrity to become your default setting. I'm not talking about depression; rather that most people are a million miles away from feeling as great as they could.

My research has focused on people at the other end of the spectrum - the happy people! I call them '2%ers' (in the simple recognition that they are in the minority). They don't bounce around like Tigger (that'd just be annoying) but they are characterised by a vivacity, positivity, optimism and what I can best describe as an 'aliveness'.

My basic point is that life's a short and precious gift. It's too valuable for you to spend it in the mood hoover zone. Being a 2%er will benefit you and your family (and your work colleagues too actually). And, once you feel great, your behaviours and outcomes will also be upwardly mobile. So, I guess the next question is what on earth do you have to do to become a 2%er?

Brace yourself for a dose of the bleedin' obvious!

1 Choose to be positive.

Yes, it's that bloomin' simple. The 2%ers consciously and deliberately choose to have a positive approach to life. They go about their daily rounds with a glass-half-full approach to life. Choosing to be positive isn't always easy or obvious, but once you've mastered it, it has genuinely life-giving powers to you and those around you. I'm not talking about a ridiculous happy-clappy-rose-tinted-Pollyanna approach ('Ooooh, another round of redundancies at work...how super!'), more a positive and realistic approach to life. Throw yourself into it. Choose to be your full technicolour self rather than the pale imitation.

2 Understand your impact

The second point from my research is about influence and impact. In many ways this is the biggest point for parents and one that is often forgotten along the way. There are a million things triggering how you feel every day. What you need to understand is that YOU are a trigger! The way you walk into the room. What you say and how you say it as you get home from work or when you pick the kids up from school. You cannot NOT have an impact!

3 Take Personal Responsibility

Simple so far? I think so. As is the third point, 'personal responsibility'. Briefly, the transition from 'mood hoover' to '2%er' doesn't happen by accident. It requires effort. In fact, in my case, it required a considerable degree of personal change and the bottom line is that nobody's going to do it for you. You don't just wake up one day magically transformed into a positive, effervescent, enthusiastic member of the human race. How many people do you know who are moaning and groaning about their lot but when you examine their life, they're moaning about the same stuff they moaned about 5 years ago? And nothing's changed! The 2%er will point the finger back at themselves and ask 'what can I do differently to get a better result?'

And can I finish with one very interesting but controversial point that screams out from my research. Everything we've learned about happiness is a con. Happiness is portrayed as a pot of gold at the end of the emotional rainbow. It's an end game; something we have to work for or pursue. At school we're told that if we work hard we'll get great grades and then we'll be happy. Or we'll be happy when we find our perfect partner. Or that happiness will arrive when we get a new job or hit our sales target.

But what if we're wrong? What if happiness isn't at the far end of the rainbow? What if it's at our end? And what if it's the key to everything else in your life?

What if it's the happiest kids that get the best grades? What if being happy now means you're more likely to attract your perfect partner or that dream job? And what if it's the happiest and most upbeat sales person that gets the most sales?

So my final piece of advice is to be happy. NOW! Not so happy that you scare people...just up a notch or two so that you enthuse your family, friends and work colleagues. I can't think of anything more important that you'll ever do.