Why this blog?

Because wherever you are, you can have more happiness and for more of the time than you ever imagined. 'Do more of what you like, and less of what you don't!' (c) Richard Walker, 2009. And because happiness is often misunderstood. "Do you live to work, or do you work to live?" I reckon happy people do both at the same time. Make the decision now to tenaciously seek out what feels good – and find ways of doing more of it - rather than settle for “not bad.” There's a big difference. And when it comes to making changes, that's what I specialise in at abetterlife-uk.com and http://hertscollegeofhypnosisandnlp.co.uk

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Ten Best Happiness Books

My last article gave the ten tips - now we answer, which are the best books on Happiness? Why? What’s their angle? As it's Christmas, I have listed my top ten recommended books on the topic. 
The truth is, there are many claims to the best route to happiness, originating from a wide variety of perspectives, ranging from physics to mysticism, including cosmology, biology, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, religion, and ancient spirituality. I have spent some ten years researching the topic from these different angles. In fact, as a result, I proposed a framework which pulls all the ideas together on one single framework, which I call the Physics of Happiness - but more on that another time. 
There are other books of course; some I have left out because I didn’t think that they will inspire you enough. One or two are so determined to be scientific that, frankly, they are boring. Others with profound implications for happiness I omitted only because their focus was not directly on happiness.  Here’s the list: .
1. Dalai Lama & Cutler, H.  (1998).  The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living.  Coronet.  I’m putting this first because it is authoritative on more senses than one, is interesting and inspiring to read, and has practical advice. Ok, it does draw on Buddhist principles, but bear in mind that Howard Cutler, who composed the text from his time spent with the Dalai Lama, is a psychologist. This tempers it to a level for a wide audience. 265 pages (no index). 
2. Layard, R.  (2005).  Happiness: Lessons From a New Science.  The Penguin Press.  The complete opposite of  my first choice. If you like your happiness to be rational and functional, and justified by an economist, this is for you. Although that reads like a put-off, this is a great source of information and directly addressess the bottom line question “why does happiness matter?” His ideas will resonate with many people; indeed, Layard has been advising government on policy, too. For the record, I don’t agree with his main conclusion. 297 pages including good reference list and footnotes. 
3. Gilbert, D.  (2006).  Stumbling On Happiness.  London: Harper PerennialThe main theme is that your brain is kidding you, and sets out to prove with known psychology. Lots of astonishing “experiments” with perception for you to experience for yourself. The implications for happiness are we are pretty hopeless at predicting. I put this second because it will open your eyes. What will make us happy. Very well written solid work, frequently amusing, and often astonishing. 277 pages including good index. 
4. McMahon, D. M.  (2006).  The Pursuit of Happiness: A History From the Greeks to the Present.  London: Penguin Allen Lane.  This is my personal favourite, because it is the only book which sets out to show that happiness has a history, which means it changes. Its origins are fascinating, going back to ancient Greek mythology, through the Romans (I daren’t tell you what their symbol for happiness was), Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Enlightment and modern times. Happiness as we know it is not static in terms of what we understand by it and what makes us happy. It is also an immensely informative and very well written. At 544 pages including superb endnotes and index, this is for the connoisseur, not the Xmas tree. 
5. Shimoff, M.  (2008).  Happy For No Reason.  Simon & Shuster.  Based on a study of 100 happy people, this is combination of real-life cases and exercises. It is not tied down by the straightjacket of conformist psychological principles, or any particular spirituality or religion. It is more humanist, and maybe a little new-agey , but that does not detract from it. It is quite uplifting, and good for anyone to read who has an open mind. 308 pages. 
6. Ricard, M.  (2006).  Happiness:  A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.  Atlantic Books.  Ricard is a one-time highly respected scientist, but a Buddhist monk for some two decades. He has been described as the “happiest man alive” which arose from scientific studies he took part in on the effect that meditating has on developing the brain. He certainly is qualified to teach happiness. Whilst underpinned by a Buddhist perspective, the book is not a Buddhist work, and provides practical advice and exercises. 281 pages including endnotes.
7. Myers, D. G.  (1993).  The Pursuit of Happiness. Avon.  Written by a social psychologist, it is surprisingly quite wide-ranging in the topics covered, even covering religion sympathetically.  Many thought-provoking ideas in this well-written solid work. 331 pages including 130 pages of endnotes, index and bibliography.  
8. Seligman, M. E. P.  (2003).  Authentic Happiness: Using The New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment.  London: Nicholas Brealey.  Seligman’s big idea is about the power of positive emotions. These are to be cultivated by drawing on our “strengths” which is the core of what he believes will bring happiness. Whilst no spiritual dimension is included, he does say that having an interest in serving something “bigger than ourselves” is a good thing. Whilst it probably won’t inspire you, there is some good stuff in this well-presented and authoritative book. His views will probably suit the book-buying audience quite well. 319 pages including endnotes. 
 9. Watts, A.  (1968).  The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East. Rider.  (Original work published 1940).  This is an oldie but still a goodie for those interested in how ancient principles from eastern culture can fit alongside modern psychological ideas to explain the nature of happiness. I think it is a good and interesting read, and takes a different angle from the others in this list. 219 pages including biography and index. 
10. Haidt, J.  (2006).  The Happiness Hypothesis.  Arrow Books.  My tenth choice was difficult in that it was a toss-up between this and Mikail Csikszentmihalyi’s (1992) seminal work on the concept of being in the “flow”(Flow: The Classic Work on How to Achieve Happiness. Rider.) Both are important and good reads. I chose Haidt because it is more wide-ranging on the whole topic of the human condition, and it is witty with it. 297 pages including good list of references and index. 
Happy reading!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ten Tips to True Happiness

What is the definitive word on Happiness? Good question. I have spent years investigating this very topic, even making it the subject of my PhD dissertation. You can explore the nature of happiness from many perspectives, whether through history, from psychology, religion, spiritual and esoteric thought, and from some strange new ideas from science.
What answer can be given to the direct question, “So what is happiness?” – without giving you 360 pages to read! If there were one single answer, it would be that about half of us are just born that way – on the “sunny side” of the road, whilst the rest of us struggle to catch up. However, sometimes things go wrong even for the best of us, and all is not lost even for the other half.  Here are my ten most prominent findings.
  1. About half of us are naturally far happier 
  2. The rest of us have to work at it, and most won't even begin
  3. Happiness means different things to different people, and it is not one-size fits all; what makes one person happy may seriously annoy another, or may even by regarded as inappropriate in some cultures
  4. The things that make a given individual happy depends on innate features of personality present even at birth
  5. The nature and sustainability of individual happiness depends on your degree of emotional growth; how much of your personal “stuff” you have faced and truly let go of
  6. The last few points suggest that there is a natural path to follow for each of us that would deliver more enduring happiness
  7. The most effective involves being fully yourself and learning to follow your heart and intuition – wherever it leads you, event though this may have challenging consequences
  8. It is worthwhile getting some guidance to avoid relying on learning everything the hard way, making elementary mistakes. But in any case, push on!
  9. Happiness starts with a conscious choice to make it a guiding principle, and will involve effort and commitment
  10. Nevertheless, happiness really does matter, but it is not the point of life; it does propel us loosely in the direction of growth and evolution, which is the point of life. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

An everyday story of madness?

I was speaking to chap today at a networking meeting. He had been a business coach in the past, now an IT consultant, and he was talking to me about leadership. He saw many instances where someone had been thrust forward to run a company, or where it had evolved to a size where there was now a whole team of people, where previously there had been just the owner and a couple of close people. 
But the business was now failing, because of the owner’s lack of natural affinity to lead. “You can explain what is required, and teach the skills – but it would not happen.” Leadership, he said, could not be taught. 
Some of these were potentially really good businesses, which really frustrated him. So much so, that in a couple of cases he was motivated to help by offering to buy them and run them.  
Here’s the interesting thing: the owners made a great fuss about the price; making huge valuations way beyond his offer which, admittedly by his account, was very reasonable. They would say things like “I have built this up over twenty years! I could never let it go for that! 
Yet, let’s just recall, these businesses were failing – they were making very little profit or were even losing money.  The owners were really suffering. It’s not too difficult to imagine this either, is it? I know a few local businesses just like this myself.

What is it saying? Is part of this describing how easily we can sometimes hold onto things, to resist change - even where it is the solution - because of our investment in the past?  We are capable of holding onto to all kinds of things that are not good for us, in other aspects of life too, wouldn't you say? These businesses owners were not “stupid” people, either. Food for thought?


Just as the past is only yesterday’s dinner, so tomorrow does not exist yet either. As the sign which hung in the old White Heart Pub on Redbourn Road read, “Free drinks tomorrow.” Tomorrow is always tomorrow – it is never here. And the past no longer exists; it is gone. There is only now.

Loving your life, enjoyment, natural enthusiasm and motivation, can only be found in the present moment. Yes, we can have an end objective in mind, but the real challenge is to enjoy the days along the way. It may take change, and time. But these days are all we ever really experience, and all that we can ever fully treasure.