Philippa Thomas Online

Occasional thoughts about life, books and news.

How to be Happy

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This isn’t original but it’s new to me, and they’re words worth spreading. Here are the late psychiatrist Anthony Clare’s Seven Steps to Happiness. I’m taking them to heart as I transition from the US to London, to a different desk, different home, and different assignments. I’m still following what fascinates me in the media, politics & society. I’m still reading novels & streaming tweets. And one of my passions will definitely be… to continue to blog!

So, here are seven tips from a thoughtful man about a life worth living… as recounted by author Gyles Brandreth at the end of my latest read, his biography of Prince Philip.

“Number one: cultivate a passion. It is important in my model of happiness to have something that you enjoy doing. The challenge for a school is to find every child some kind of passion — something that will see them through the troughs. That’s why I’m in favour of the broadest curriculum you can get.

“Number two, be a leaf on a tree. You have to be both an individual — to have a sense that you are unique and you matter — and you need to be connected to a bigger organism — a family, a community, a hospital, a company. You need to be part of something bigger than yourself. A leaf off a tree has the advantage that it floats about a bit, but it’s disconnected and it dies.

“The people who are best protected against certain physical diseases — cancer, heart disease, for example — in addition to doing all the other things they should do, seem to be much more likely to be part of a community, socially involved. If you ask them to enumerate the people that they feel close to and would connect and communicate with, those with the most seem the happiest and those with least, the unhappiest.

“Of course, there may be a circular argument here. If you are a rather complicated person, people may avoid you. If, on the other hand, you are a centre of good feeling, people will come to you. I see the tragedy here in this room where some people sit in that chair and say they don’t have many friends and they’re quite isolated and unhappy, and the truth is they are so introspective they’ve become difficult to make friends with. Put them in a social group and they tend to talk about themselves. It puts other people off.

“So that’s my third rule: avoid introspection.

“Number four, don’t resist change. Change is important. People who are fearful of change are rarely happy. I don’t mean catastrophic change, but enough to keep your life stimulated. People are wary of change, particularly when things are going reasonably well, because they don’t want to rock the boat, but a little rocking can be good for you. It’s the salt in the soup. Uniformity is a tremendous threat to happiness, as are too much predictability, control and order. You need variety, flexibility, the unexpected, because they’ll challenge you.

“Five, live for the moment. Look at the things that you want to do and you keep postponing. Postpone less of what you want to do, or what you think is worthwhile. Don’t be hide-bound by the day-to-day demands. Spend less time working on the family finances and more time working out what makes you happy. If going to the cinema is a pleasure, then do it. If going to the opera is a pain, then don’t do it.

“Six, audit your happiness. How much of each day are you spending doing something that doesn’t make you happy? Check it out and if more than half of what you’re doing makes you unhappy, then change it. Go on. Don’t come in here and complain. People do, you know. They come and sit in that chair and tell me nothing is right. They say they don’t like their family, they don’t like their work, they don’t like anything. I say, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’

And, finally, if you want to be happy, Be Happy. Act it, play the part, put on a happy face. Start thinking differently. If you are feeling negative, say, ‘I am going to be positive,’ and that, in itself, can trigger a change in how you feel.”

The professor slaps his hands on his desk and laughs. “That’s it.”

“And it works?”

“Well, it’s something for the fridge door. Try it and see”.

Author: philippathomas

I've been a BBC newswoman for 28 years: reporting from around the world. Currently to be seen anchoring BBC World News TV. Main interests - politics, diplomacy, tech, media, arts and all things American. I began this personal blog as a 2011 Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard. You can also find me talking daily news on Twitter at @PhilippaBBC, and sharing anything from travel photos to my year in books on Instagram at @philippanews. Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “How to be Happy

  1. I absolutely loved reading this, Philippa! I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how I spend my time and how that time spent affects my mood. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about happiness. =)

    • Hi Holly – lovely to hear from you via the blog – Anthony Clare’s thoughts struck a real chord with me as well. PS I hope to be involved with LAM UK very soon! all best wishes, P

  2. Pingback: High fives « Philippa Thomas Online

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