A new biography has just been released, charting the life of Prof Anthony Clare, best known perhaps for chairing the popular Radio 4 programme ‘In the Psychiatrist’s Chair’. However, he also offered his Seven Steps for Happiness, a guide to finding and maintaining that most elusive of emotions. I thought they were wonderful and, I’m going to read them regularly as we head towards shorter, darker days and, sometimes, spirits dip. Enjoy!
“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.”