women

Is This Really A Fast Track to Happiness?

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Exercise more

Perhaps exercise will help. Studies have demonstrated that regular physical activity helps boost endorphins and improve happiness. So I sign up for a class at Good Vibes in Convent Garden, which offers “glow yoga” sessions in a studio fitted with infra-red panels for warmth and UV lighting promising to alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

The studio is one of those perfect pockets of peace you sometimes find in a big busting city. I’ve had a hectic day, but overhead, the gentle lights bestow their radiance; we stretch, balance, breathe and make beautiful shapes under their warming glow. If someone chucked me a duvet and a sandwich, I could be here for days. I feel rejuvenated, calmer, more focused. And yes, happier, too.

HAPPINESS LEVEL: on the up.

Find my “flow”

Yoga isn’t just about exercise, though. It’s about being “in the moment”, which, it turns out, is another well-trodden route to happy town. Psychologists have discovered that, rather than flit between emails, phone calls, fridge foraging, and gas bills, one of the best ways to feel happier is to foster total engagement by finding your “flow”. This is done by completing a task – whether that’s baking, surfing or knitting – that is so absorbing you lose all sense of time.

I know. I’ll make marmalade. I’ve got 4kg of oranges here, a sharp knife, a trusty chopping board and a lovely big copper pan you see in French antique shops. Plus Chopin on the Ipad. Ready. Set. Flow.

Lovely, this is. Chopping oranges. Look, ten minutes gone and I’m humming along. Only half an hour?Three kilos to go. Hmm. Bloody orange’s. Turn of Chopin and put on AC/DC’s Highway to Hell to razz things up. Chop faster. Not sure if I’m flowing. Might be swearing at oranges.

At last! Oranges are bubbling away. I just have to sterilise the jars, swab down kitchen (marmalade on everything, including dog), then catch up on the other things I ought to have done this morning. Flow is fine, I discover, but not if you’re working with the boiling point of sugar.

HAPPINESS LEVEL: quite annoyed.

Perform a random act of kindness

As the saying goes, “If you want to feel good, do good”. Research has proved that volunteering boosts happiness, partly by making you feel more connected with others. (The catch is that it only makes you happier if you’re genuinely doing it to help others, rather than simply to make yourself feel better, which, as we all know, is merely selfish  and will come to no good.)

In the spirit of random generosity, I decide to bake a cake for someone. The postman. I knock up a sponge, smiling and humming all the while, before offering it to Tony the Postie, who seems thrilled. I give another slide to Barry across the road, who has had a stroke, but seems very pleased.

Encouraged, the next day, I make a lemon drizzle tray bake for my father-in-law, who is 82 and genuinely chuffed, and may even have a tear in his eyes. Flowers, I discover, work just as well – anyone would smile if you offered them. I buy a bunch and spread a little happiness by offering them to passing strangers. Interestingly, everyone loves it, no one thinks I am a twit and the world gets one degree warmer.

Later, since it is raining, I pull over at the bus stop and, and in another random act of kindness, offer the elderly people gathered there a lift. Two climb in (quite slowly). Thanks to me, Rani gets to her doctor’s appointment in time and Emilio is pleased to be out the rain and home in time for Flog It! It feels like we’ve had a proper adventure – we three passengers on the love train of live.

HAPPINESS LEVEL: Never better. Cake is the language of goodwill.

Am I happier?

My week is drawing to a close and I’m in magnificently good spirits. If Cameron were to measure me for his Wellbeing Index, I’d probably score quite highly – a 9.5 with half a point deducted for swearing at the marmalade.

There are other ways to generate happiness, of course. Self-help books are full of them: you could set yourself weekly goals, penalise negative thinking with £1 in a jar every time your petals droop, envisage your “best-self” in years to come and perhaps doodle a picture of her in a notebook to keep by the bed. But a week living happily has taught me that you don’t really need outside interference at all. It sounds like a fridge magnet, but true contentment really does come from within. If most of us stopped for more than a moment and asked how happy we are, what would the answer be? A shrug? But really focus and I bet you’ll discover that things are pretty rosy. Quite good, on the whole. In fact, apart from times of genuine ill fortune, most of us, most of the time, are bordering one…happy! It’s just that we don’t really know it. We live out our days in a mid-level funk, sweating about the past, fretting about the future and never really counting our many blessings, which may range from a loving relationship to a chocolate brownie and a coffee the way we like it. So, how about this for an idea? You could stop reading happiness books and take yourself out for a bracing walk up a hill, simply to look out and glory at the view.

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