MIDWAY : Positive thinking

Misery: it’s everywhere these days. We are all popping happy pills like Smarties, checking ourselves into clinics and stocking up on happiness books. But for every report telling us it is all down to our ever-longer working hours, additive-laden food and endless commutes, there is a growing body of scientific research suggesting that happiness is, quite literally, a state of mind.

“You have to decide to be happy,” says Paul Jenner, author of Teach Yourself Happiness. “Most people think happiness is something that arrives by itself, like rain. But it isn’t. Barring seriously depressed people, most westerners have plenty to be happy about, but they choose to focus on things they haven’t got. It really is that simple.” Scientific research is starting to back this idea up. Rather than happiness being something we earn through circumstances, it seems we can work at it in the same way we work our bodies at the gym, reaching beyond our “genetic set point”, the predisposition to happiness (or unhappiness) we were born with.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, there is converging evidence that some people are born happier than others, but that all of us can learn from their habits to raise our own happiness levels.

How do we do this? By adopting certain exercises — or “happiness strategies”— that Lyubomirsky, in her tests, found very effective in perking people up.

“People born with a high set point will do these ‘happiness strategies’ automatically, and we all know people like that — they naturally look on the bright side and are good at maintaining relationships — but if it doesn’t come naturally, we have to work at it, in the same way someone who is genetically determined to be overweight has to watch their diet and exercise.” This issue of “working at it” is crucial to Lyubomirsky’s approach.

The first thing to do is step off the “hedonic treadmill”: that constant hunger for new acquisitions and experiences, which is seductive but which leaves people ultimately dissatisfied and hankering for more. “The hedonic treadmill is one of the major

barriers to happiness,” says Lyubomirsky.