The Real Secret is a different kind of self help. We debunk the empty promises of so many books and DVDs and bring you a simple, sensible approach to real life fulfillment. We don't believe you can achieve happiness, or anything else, by simply wishing for, thinking about or visualising it. Our book - and this blog - takes only the best of what really works and turns it into a positive, practical 12-step programme that will enable you to take control of your life and raise your happiness levels.

* Learn Happiness Habits from Positive Psychology * Tame your Fear with Cutting Edge Neuroscience * Control your Time and Money like an Entrepreneur * Build Better Relationships through one Tested Technique

The Real Secret is simple, sensible, scientifically supported self help
by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


How To Tell if your Marriage will last

Huston, a pioneer in the psychology of relationships, launched the Processes of Adaptation in Intimate Relationships (the "PAIR Project") in 1981. He followed 168 couples from their wedding day through 13 years of marriage looking at why so many marriages end in divorce. Past research suggested that newlyweds begin their life together in romantic bliss, and can then be brought down by their inability to navigate the issues that inevitably crop up during the marriage. Much of this previous research suggested that the best predictors of divorce are interactive difficulties, such as frequent expressions of antagonism, lack of respect for each other's ideas and similar interpersonal issues. But most of this research was done on couples who had been married a number of years, with many of them already well on their way to divorce. It came as no surprise, then, that researchers thought their hostility toward one another predicted the further demise of the relationship.

Huston's study was unique in that it looked at couples much earlier, before they got married and during the initial years of marriage, thus providing the first complete picture of the earliest stages of a marriage. Its four main findings were quite surprising.

First, contrary to popular belief, Huston found that many newlyweds are far from blissfully in love. Second, couples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because such intensity is too hard to maintain. Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less "Hollywood romance" usually have more promising futures. Accordingly, and this is the third major finding, spouses in lasting but lacklustre marriages are not prone to divorce, as one might suspect; their marriages are less fulfilling to begin with, so there is no erosion of a Western-style romantic ideal. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is the loss of love and affection, not the emergence of interpersonal issues, that sends couples journeying toward divorce.

By the end of Huston's study in 1994, the couples fell into four distinct groups. They were either married and happy; married and unhappy; divorced early, within seven years; or divorced later, after seven years--and each group showed a distinct pattern.

Those who remained happily married were very "in love" and affectionate as newlyweds. They showed less ambivalence, expressed negative feelings less often and viewed their mate more positively than other couples. Most importantly, these feelings remained stable over time. By contrast, although many couples who divorced later were very affectionate as newlyweds, they gradually became less loving, more negative, and more critical of their spouse.

Indeed, Huston found that how well spouses got along as newlyweds affected their future, but the major distinguishing factor between those who divorced and those who remained married was the amount of change in the relationship over its first two years.

"The first two years are key--that's when the risk of divorce is particularly high," he says. "And the changes that take place during this time tell us a lot about where the marriage is headed."

What surprised Huston most was the nature of the changes that led to divorce: The experiences of the 56 participating couples who divorced showed that loss of initial levels of love and affection, rather than conflict, was the most salient predictor of unhappiness and divorce. This loss sends the relationship into a downward spiral, leading to increased bickering and fighting, and to the collapse of the marriage.

"This ought to change the way we think about the early roots of what goes wrong in marriage," Huston said. "The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict, but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings. That's a very important take-home lesson."

In other words, there is more to a successful relationship than simply managing conflict - loss of intimacy appears to be the greatest predictor of a doomed marriage. When people first fall in love they also seem to fall out of reality - ignoring each other's - and the relationship's shortcomings. But after they tie the knot, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, unhappiness and divorce.

TAKE THE MARRIAGE QUIZ - taken from the Pair projects website here

Choose the answer that best describes your level of agreement with each of the following statements:

Part 1: Our Relationship As Newlyweds
1. As newlyweds, we were constantly touching, kissing, pledging our love or doing sweet things for one another.
Strongly disagree (1pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
2. As newlyweds, how often did you express criticism, anger, annoyance, impatience or dissatisfaction to one another?
Often (1 pt.) Sometimes (2 pts.) Rarely (3 pts.) Almost never (4 pts.)
3. As newlyweds, my partner and I felt we belonged together; we were extremely close and deeply in love.
Disagree (1 pt.) Mildly agree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
4. As a newlywed, I think one or both of us were confused about our feelings toward each other, or worried that we were not right for each other.
Strongly agree (1 pt.) Agree (2 pts.) Disagree (3 pts.) Strongly disagree (4 pts.)

Part 2: Our Relationship By Our Second Anniversary
1. By our second anniversary, we were dlsappointed that we touched, kissed, pledged our love or did sweet things for one another less often than we had as newlyweds.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
2. By our second anniversary, we expressed criticism, anger, annoyance, impatience or dissatisfaction a lot more than we had as newlyweds.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
3. By our second anniversary, we fell much less belonging and closeness with one another than we had before.
Disagree (1 pt.) Mildly agree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
4. By our second anniversary, I fell much more confused or worried about the relationship than I did as a newlywed.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)

Scoring: Add up the points that correspond to your answers in Part 1. If you scored between 4 and 8, place yourself in Group "A." If you scored between 9 and 16, place yourself in Group "B."
Now add up the points that correspond to your answers in Part 2. If you scored between 4 and 8, place yourself in Group "C." If you scored between 9 and 16, place yourself in Group "D."

Your Results: Find the type of marriage first by considering your score in Part 1 (either A or B) in combination with your score in Part 2 (either C or D): If you scored A + C, read "Mixed Blessings"; If you scored A + D, read "Disengaging Duo"; If you scored B + C, read "A Fine Romance"; If you scored B + D, read "Disaffected Lovers."

Disaffected Lovers
The contrast between the giddiness you felt as newlyweds and how you felt later may cause disenchantment. While you and your spouse are still affectionate and in love, there are clouds behind the silver lining. You may bicker and disagree, which, combined with a loss of affection and love in your relationship, could give rise to the first serious doubts about your future together.

Food for Thought: Your relationship may be at risk for eventual divorce. But the pattern of decline early on does not have to continue. Ask yourself: Did we set ourselves up for disappointment with an overly romantic view of marriage? Did we assume it would require little effort to sustain? Did we take each other for granted? Did our disappointment lead to frustration and anger? Will continued bickering erode the love we have left?

A Fine Romance
You have a highly affectionate, loving and harmonious marriage. It may have lost a touch of its initial glow as the mundane realities of marriage have demanded more of your time. But you feel a certain sense of security in the marriage: The relationship's gifts you unwrapped as newlyweds continue to delight.

Food for Thought: You have the makings of a happy, stable marriage. The cohesive partnership you have maintained bodes well for its future. You will not always be happy--all marriages go through rough periods. But your ability to sustain a healthy marriage over the critical first two years suggests that you and your partner operate together like a thermostat in a home--when it's chilly, you identify the source of the draft and eliminate it, and when it's hot, you find ways to circulate cool air.

Mixed Blessings
Your marriage is less enchanting and filled with more conflict and ambivalence than Western society's romantic ideal, but it has changed little over its first two years, losing only a modicum of "good feeling." It seems to coast along, showing few signs that it will deteriorate further or become deeply distressed.

Food for Thought: This relationship may not be the romance you envisioned, but it just might serve you well. Many people in such relationships are content, finding their marriage a reassuringly stable foundation that allows them to devote their attention to career, children or other pursuits. Other people in these relationships are slightly dissatisfied, but stay married because the rewards outweigh the drawbacks. A few people may eventually leave such marriages in search of a "fine romance."

Disengaging Duo
You and your mate are not overly affectionate and frequently express displeasure with one another. In contrast to those in a marriage of "mixed blessings," the love you once felt diminished soon after the wedding, and you became more ambivalent about the relationship. You may already have a sense that your relationship is on shaky ground.

Food for Thought: Your relationship may be in immediate trouble. You may have married hoping that problems in the relationship would go away after the wedding, but they didn't. Ask yourself: Did I see our problems coming while we were dating? Did I think they would dissolve with marriage? What kinds of changes would I need to see in my partner in order to be happy? How likely are they to occur? How bad would things have to get before the marriage would no longer be worthwhile?

There is a great deal more research on the predictors of a good marriage and much of it from Huston and his team.

For one effective way of improving almost any relationship, check The Real Secret Step 8, "Richer Relationships". It is available in paperback and kindle format on and , most other online booksellers and can be ordered through bookshops.

Posted by Annabel


Asking For Help - it's easier than you think!

Researchers frequently ask people for help. We asked people for help when we were researching the Happiness Habits Experiment (Report due to be published shortly). Doing any kind of scientific research means asking people to carry out activities or have things done to them mentally or physically, then to answer questions or surveys about the experience - usually for little or no reward other than the interest of being involved.

We had a greater response to our request for people to sign up to the Happiness Habits Experiment than we expected. Some people we knew, but most whom we didn't, visited our website from our requests on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and signed up for our research project. In general, people are very co-operative about these sorts of requests for help - often unexpectedly so.

I recently had two separate operations on my feet, which meant I couldn't walk or drive for two months each time. I found it difficult to ask for help from my friends over these periods, but they seemed extraordinarily happy to take my children to school, walk my dog, run errands for me and take me to the hospital. Why did I think it would be otherwise?

Asking for help makes us look weak, which we don't enjoy even when that weakness is nothing to be ashamed of; we don't like imposing on others (even though we would not find it an imposition if they asked us to help them in the same way); and it also exposes us to possible rejection - we feel unreasonably relieved when people say yes.

Some new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology concludes that we grossly underestimate just how willing others are to help us out.

Francis Flynn and Vanessa Lake of Columbia University ran a series of studies to test people's estimation of how likely others were to help them out. They got participants to ask other people to fill in questionnaires, to borrow cell phones and to escort them to the gym. Across these studies they found that people underestimated how likely others were to help them by as much as 100% - an extraordinarily high figure.

Part of the reason for this underestimation is what psychologists call our "egocentric bias": we find it difficult to understand what others are thinking and feeling because we are stuck inside our own heads. But Flynn and Lake claim that there's more to it than that. It's also due to the fact that we underestimate just how much social pressure there is on other people to say yes. In effect, when we ask someone to help us, it's much more awkward and embarrassing for them to refuse than we might assume.

Now I'm begining to feel bad about all those friends who helped me out for what seemed two very long periods of disability. Were they really just too embarrassed to say no and resented all their kind support? But then again, there was no social pressure on the people we had no connection with who signed up to the Happiness Habits Experiment...

Flynn and Lake carried out two more studies to support this belief in the social pressure of agreeing to help by asking participants to put themselves in either the role of someone asking for help, or someone being asked for help. They found that when people were seeking help, they regularly played down the social costs of saying no. But when they were the potential helper they realised how difficult it was to say no.

So the moral of this research is that it's ok to ask for help - people are more likely to respond positively than you probably think they will, especially if you're not asking for too much from them. Most people are happy to help out - and, as we've said before, acts of kindness often provide the giver with as much happiness as the recipient.

But be aware that people may not feel able say no eaily, even when they don't much want to do what you ask. So be careful how much help you ask for, and make it easy for the people you've asked to say no if you don't want to put them under pressure.

We thought we'd put the first part of the asking for help research to the test - that is, that people are more likely to give help when asked than we think. So we have set up a page on our website asking people to help spread the word about The Real Secret and the effectiveness of our Happiness Habits. Please see if you feel happy to help us here, and if so, do let us know what you'll do by sending us the form at the bottom of the webpage.

Thank you for helping!

Posted by Lucy



What does the Royal Wedding remind you of ? It reminds me of Larkin.

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

It reminds me that sometimes we do things we really oughtn’t to do - like get married to someone we don’t really love. When Prince Charles and Lady Diana married they really shouldn’t have - and I think they both knew that at the time. How could they not have? We all did.  We all knew that something was very wrong when he made that remark, "...whatever love  is".
We knew it, and he knew it, and Diana knew it too... they must have, because anyone in love knows exactly what love is and you don’t need to be verbally articulate to express it - it’ll be written all over your face. But they went ahead and got married anyway. A mistake they both made for other reasons and for other people - it wasn’t their own mistake. It was a "so called" marriage.

If you have to make a mistake, let it be your own - do not make someone else’s mistake. Lets hope William and Kate are making their own mistakes.  I’m on William's side. I’m a little worried about Kate.
So why do we do things we ougthn’t to do - why do we just go ahead anyway? Sometimes, we just don't know when to throw in the towel and to admit that we have made a mistake.
Sometimes we do know we have made a mistake but we just don’t know how to walk away.

So to hear it said
He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?

But instead of doing what we know we ought to do, instead of seeing things as they really are, instead of cutting our losses and walking out, we continue to devote our time, energy, and money to doomed relationships, digging a deeper hole rather than trying to climb our way out of it.

Why?  Well we probably worry about all the time and effort we have already invested. We worry far too much about what we'll lose if we just walk out, and not nearly enough about the costs of not walking out - more wasted time and effort, and more missed opportunities.

And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,

So what should we do? Research by Daniel Molden and Chin Ming Hui, suggest we focus more on what we have to gain, rather than what we have to lose. Psychologists call this adopting a promotion focus. When Molden and Hui asked participants to think about their goals in terms of potential gains, they became more comfortable with accepting the losses they had to incur along the way. When they adopted a prevention focus, on the other hand, and thought about their goals in terms of what they could lose if they didn't succeed, they were much more sensitive to what they call "sunk costs".

So this is the trick - if you make a deliberate effort to refocus yourself prior to making your decision, reflecting on what you have to gain by cutting your losses now, you'll find it much easier to make the right choice. Apparently.

D. Molden & C. Hui (2010) Promoting de-escalation of commitment: A regulatory focus

Poetry of Departure
Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.
And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
Its specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said
He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,
Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo'c'sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren't so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.

Philip Larkin

Posted by Annabel


So What Are Your Values?

Personal values are deeply held beliefs or attitudes which are our convictions, our standards and our ethics all rolled into one. Our values tell us and others who we are and what we believe to be important, so that when we say of someone, “He's a family man”, “She's power hungry” or “They’re courageous”, we’re reflecting what we believe to be among a person’s most powerful priorities.

Knowing our personal values is important because these values assert a profound influence on the course of our lives. Without them we would be lost.They give meaning to our lives, as well as direction. If we know what drives us, it becomes easier to follow a clear set of guidelines for our choices and actions. We’ll be less likely to be confused, to take the easy way out or to chase after short-term gains at the expense of our long-term goals.

Knowing what our core values are makes it easier to identify people, places, and experiences that support our way of living. Knowing what our values are makes it easier to live with integrity. Integrity, in this case, means completeness - being a whole person. Being true to yourself.  

When too much is being asked of you; when you seem to be on the wrong track; when life seems too crowded, too busy and there’s not enough time to sort through it all, knowing what your values are is like having a sat nav to direct you through the chaos to where you want to be. Values guide you - it's that simple.

So what are your values?

What are the six most important things in your life that you cannot reasonably live without, which matter more to you than all the other important things?

Or ask yourself what is the one thing that you consider the most important in your life – so important, in fact, that you wouldn't be able to live without it (or the quest for it); the one value against which all decisions, actions and even thoughts, must be measured.

It could be love. It could be fame, fortune, freedom. It could be fun. It might be your family or it may be your vocation. Your essential value is like the headline of an article – it’s shorthand for the sum of your parts. It defines you – without limiting you. Anytime the ground beneath your feet seems shaky, you can turn to it and say, “This is me. This one thing is what my life is about.”

If you can't answer these two questions with any certainty, try the opening exercise in A Simpler Life to redefine the values you currently hold most dear.

From The Lifestyle Lowdown - A Simpler Life


Mothers' Day and the Thank You Letter

For all that Mothers' Day, or Mothering Sunday, has become commercialised, it offers most of us a great opportunity to reflect gratefully on the contribution our mothers have made to our lives and happiness, and to thank them for it.

Sizzla (above) turned his thanks into a song, but a card, gift or gesture will carry the same weight for those of us less artistically gifted - both for the recipient of our thanks and, indeed, for ourselves.

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
G.K. Chesterton, writer (1874-1936)

Counting your blessings, or consciously feeling appreciation, thankfulness or wonder, has been shown to raise levels of happiness in a wide range of psychological research projects.

"The Thank You Letter" is a Happiness Habit taken from research in Positive Psychology, like “Three Good Things which is part of our Happiness Habits Experiment. "The Thank You Letter"  is another of Professor Martin Seligman’s “ happiness interventions” that demonstrably raised happiness levels in volunteers who took part in the project and produced the highest levels of subsequent positive emotion for a month afterwards. (If you do this once every month, you can look forward to seriously improved levels of joy and contentment.)
“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”
Voltaire (1694-1778)

Mother's Day is a great incentive to try this one out. The task is to write a letter to someone you know - in this case your mum - thanking them for their contribution to making your life happier.

That’s it. Simple? But effective!

You might decide you want to tell or show the person some or all of the things you have written about them, but that is not part of this Habit as we present it in Step 12 of The Real Secret. It may not be possible to give a Thank You Letter to someone who is no longer part of your life, or has passed away. In general, though, we suggest that before you do so, you think carefully about the timing and context in order not to embarrass or overwhelm the recipient, or even appear too gushing or insincere yourself.

On Mothers' Day, though, timing and context works perfectly if it is possible to give or send your Thank You Letter to your mum. It should bring happiness to her and, in a virtuous circle, her happiness will return still more pleasure to you. In fact by doing this you will also be carrying out our Happiness Habit No 4, Spreading Happiness.

Two Happiness Habits for the price of one. Happy Mothers' Day!

posted by Lucy

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