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



For those of you who have stumbled across this blog thinking that you’ll get some insight into The Law of Attraction as understood by Rhonda Byrne in her book The Secret - please look away now. I have no wish to offend although I’m happy to do so in this case.

The Secret by Rhonda Bryne is filled with pseudo-scientific nonsense; there is no secret. The book was presumably written to make money but it ended up being a sinister hoax that millions fell for.

For those who haven’t been taken in by this pernicious hoax, my intention here is not to waste your time in discussing The Secret or Rhonda Byrne any further (although you may be interested in why so many people fell for and are still falling for the deceit that underpins that book - in which case please see my earlier post which looks at the Social Psychology behind such acceptance, which you can read here. It’ll make you feel good about yourself  so worth a read if only for that).

This post is about The real laws of attraction - the laws of attraction that underpin our most important relationships. How do we make friends? How do we find a lover? How do we decide whether that lover/friend has the makings of a partner for life? How come some of us are more successful than others at finding and making friends/lovers/partners? What do they know that you don’t? Please let's not believe there is some kind of secret to this. Millions do it very successfully.

What I want to do here is examine what we actually do when we are successful at finding friends/lovers/partners. So, if lasting relationships are what you are looking for then this is for you. It’s based on good honest research conducted with ordinary people, just like you and me: no deceit, no pretence - just straightforward, open-to-criticism research.

There are four Laws of Attraction identified by research - but before we get onto them I need to cover a little background first. If you are desperate you can always skip to the laws - but just to warn you that if you do so it’ll only reinforce one of the points I make later about neediness, so best stay with me for the moment. It’s good practice.

Background to Research on Relationships
Happiness is the new buzz. There are books and blogs and new research projects springing up everywhere you look. In the research world - at least in that tiny portion of it devoted to the understanding of happiness - the talk is all about how to define happiness so that we can all be sure we are talking about the same thing; because then we can measure it and test for it and look at how it develops or doesn’t develop and so on and so on. Very exciting. If you like that kind of thing.

Unfortunately researchers are still far from an agreed definition of happiness and some even snigger at the quest. I don’t snigger - I want to know everything I can about the state of happiness, if only because I don’t much like the state of being unhappy. For those who are taking anti-depressive medication the question is even more important.

But there is one aspect in the research on happiness about which all are agreed - the stronger our relationships the happier we will be. The quality of our close relationships are understood to be key - influencing our physical as well as our mental well-being. So If you want to be a little happier then you need to foster good relationships. However, finding friends/lovers/partners with whom we can begin to be happy/happier is easier said than done. Luckily there are a few rules that could help  - lets call them The Laws of Attraction.

The Four Laws of Attraction

Proximity - the single most important factor that determines who we will come to know, befriend, and possibly love is proximity. Accidental proximity is called propinquity, literally "the coincidence of being near."

The two most famous studies documenting the relationship between proximity and attraction were conducted in college dormitories. Because most students who live in dormitories have not known each other previously, a dormitory provides a good setting to study how close relationships develop. In one study the dormitories were built in a U-shape around a central court covered with grass. The exterior sides of the building faced the street; the central section faced the inner courtyard.

Two factors appeared to exercise the greatest influence on personal relationships: the location of the apartments and the distances between them. The most important factor in determining who would be emotionally close to whom was the distance between their apartments. The closer people lived to each other, the more likely they were to become friends. Next door neighbours were far more likely to become friends with each other than with people who lived in adjacent buildings.

In fact, it was difficult to find close friendship between people who lived more than five apartments away from each other. In more than two thirds of the cases, close friendships were between next door neighbours.

In addition, the location of some of the apartments created more opportunities for their residents. Those residents who lived near the staircase or mailboxes met more of their fellow residents and met them more often. The frequent encounters increased the chances that these well located people would talk to others and get to know them, form friendships and increase their own popularity.

On the other hand, people who lived in apartments that faced the street had no next door neighbours. As a result these residents made half the number of friends made by those who lived facing the inner court.

Further studies demonstrated that as the geographic distance separating potential couples decreases, the probability of their marrying each other increases. In one of these studies, 431 couples who applied for marriage licences were interviewed. It turned out that 54% of the couples were separated by a distance of 16 blocks or fewer when they first went out together, and 37% were separated by a distance of five blocks or fewer. The number of marriages decreased as the distance increased between the couples’ places of residence.

What we see with the law of proximity is of course the familiarity effect or the mere exposure effect; this is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.  In studies of interpersonal attraction, the more often a person is seen by someone, the more pleasing and likeable that person appears to be. 

Seeing a lot of someone gives you the chance to get to know them a little more and to build a relationship. Just think of your postman - after a while you feel as if you’ve known him for years even though you never really had more than a few words to exchange at each meeting, so that when you bump into him at the local pub you feel comfortable enough to start a conversation and get to know him a little better. You find out he’s happily married. 

So what can we conclude from this? A fair amount really. It means that if you want to make more friends then it really does matter where you position yourself in relation to other people. So you might want to move where you live if your current abode is isolating you from your neighbours. Forget "detached"; you want crowded. And choose the flat by the stairs/lifts/postboxes. And you need to be seen often - so moving from one part of town to another is perhaps not so wise; best to stay in one area and get your face known. Go to the same pub. Take coffee in the same coffee shop. Buy your food from local shops. Make sure you get to know  your neighbours - that means knocking on their door and asking to borrow some sugar. Hang about and become familiar. Your next best friend/lover/soul mate is probably just living down the corridor or across the road from you. So no need to travel the world looking for your ideal mate - they aren’t there, they’re right here under your nose.

Similarity -  is also a very powerful factor in accounting for friendships. In the studies mentioned above, room mates selected as being similar were much more likely to end up being friends. Another piece of research showed the same thing in paper-and-pencil fashion. Here subjects were given a description of another person and asked how much they thought they would like the person described on the paper. The more closely the "other person" resembled the subject, the more the subject expected to like the other person.

As a general rule the same factors that apply to the law of proximity affect the law of similarity - that is, we tend to gravitate to the familiar. We are more often attracted to people who are similar to us in intelligence, background, beliefs, looks and social class.

Difference is exciting but it can also be a little scary. Finding someone who shares similar experiences and understandings to you, on the other hand, can be exciting in a different way because it is self-affirming; you like the person even more because they are a bit like you! How good is that? 

Personally I go for maximum difference - I want someone bigger, older, brighter, wealthier and kinder than I consider myself to be. But the truth of research is that in actual fact opposites don’t really attract. Happy relationships are typically built on what people have in common and not on their differences.

So what should we take from this? That when looking for a friend/lover/partner it’s best to stick to people who you estimate will share similar attributes. There is absolutely no point wasting your time on developing a relationship with someone whose outlook on life is fundamentally at odds with your own. You’re only asking for trouble ahead. Don’t even think about changing them. It’s been tried and it doesn’t work - people aren’t play-dough.

Now the chances are that you will be able to make that judgement quite soon after bumping into that person in the corridor. You can tell a lot about another person from the way they look apparently - which is the third law of attraction.

Physical Appearance - this is going to be awkward, but someone has to let you know, so it might just as well be me: you are fairly average looking. You know how you dream about living ever after with a Pamela Anderson/James Dean lookalike? Well it’s not going to happen. Sorry about that. Best to know.

It’s not personal; it’s just a fact that, as a rule, we tend to fair best with partners who are no more or no less attractive than we are. There are, of course, the odd exceptions - much older, ugly man marries beautiful starlet. Yes, exactly. You noticed the stress on odd.

Physical appearance is a huge attractant and there are some rules you should know about.

Men don’t actually want stick thin, model type figures - they don’t like overweight either. They like comfortable, apparently. That’s good. Neither are men attracted to women who are on a constant diet - makes them suspicious. Suspicious in case one day you stop the diet and go from a size 8 to 18 overnight. So get rid of the diet and celebrate your comfortable figure - it’s more attractive than you think.

Women like men to be taller than they are and if they do have to be overweight then let them make it up with personality and wit. Remember Robbie Coltrane from the TV series Cracker? Like him - otherwise overweight is frowned upon by women. Oh, and women want men to be solvent (the more the better) and have good employment prospects - so quite picky I’d say. The stereotypical view of men being attracted to looks and women to money is confirmed then.

When it comes to choosing a long term partner, men as well as women look for someone who is intelligent (but not too obviously so, so get rid of those studious looking spectacles and put away that book on Neitzsche); dependable is a big attractant (so always do what you say you will do - get rid of the unpredictable behaviour you aren’t a pop star); healthy (especially important if children are planned); kind and loving (to them, obviously). And finally, no-one but no-one likes people who are "needy". You know who you are. It's so unattractive.That’s about it really. 

In conclusion, it seems that women are less taken by physical attractiveness if everything else is in place, and men are quite capable of seeing beyond outward appearances - up to a point, you are still average looking remember. So when out strolling the corridors/streets/local precincts, best to keep your eyes off the seriously good-looking neighbours and concentrate rather on the plainer features. Looking for a same sex partner? The same rules apply. Sorry. Just when you thought things might be different.

Reciprocity -  is liking someone who likes you. Reciprocity was manipulated in a study where subjects "accidentally overheard" another subject, actually a confederate of the researcher, expressing liking or disliking of the subject. Then the subject was asked to fill out a questionnaire that expressed liking or disliking for the confederate. The questionnaire mirrored the overheard comments. A confederate who had made positive comments about the subject was liked; one who made bad comments was disliked. A third group heard the confederate start by making bad comments and end by making good comments. These subjects, who thought they had "won him over" gave the confederate the highest ratings of all.
It seems that we give back what we get, so if you want to make a friend quickly and easily then pretend you like them enormously. In return they will just love you to bits. Alternatively, behave as if the person likes you (even if you have no idea at all what they really think) and soon they will. Works a treat. How shallow are we - really.

But there is more to reciprocity. If we spend time with people who we know like us and in return we like them, then we bolster one another’s self-esteem. We gain and give personal validation and that is protective. And it makes us happier.

And finally, there is the Ben Franklin Effect. My all time favourite. This states that people like you more if they have done a favour for you than if you have done a favour for them.

“He that has once done you a kindness, will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged”

So don’t go bending backwards to do others favours. Ask for favours of them. And that's the real secret to making friends. Just like your mother always told you - go ask next door if we can borrow a cup of sugar.

So all in all it’s quite simple really. If you want to find friends/lovers/partners for life then you only need to hang about your street corner. What kids have always known. If you want a better class of friend/lover/partner then go hang out on their street corners. If you really want to meet rich older men fly first-class and ask for their help. Trust me. I have it on good authority.

If you want cutting edge advice on how to get rid of junk friends and more on how to make and keep friends and be a good friend then you’ll need our section on "Social Work" in The Real Secret - available in paperback and kindle on and

Posted by Annabel


Ways to beat stress-related insomnia

We all know we need sleep; when we don't get enough sleep we have unpleasant mental, physical and emotional symptoms to the point that we will seek medical help to cure both the insomnia and its results. Sleep keeps us healthy, mentally sharp and able to cope with stress more effectively, among other things. Unfortunately, the more stressed we are, the less sleep we often get, which can cause a vicious downward cycle.  

Some of the reasons that stress and sleep deprivation go together include:

Many people take their work home with them, either physically or metaphorically. With today’s demanding workloads it’s often difficult to come home from a day of problem-solving and issue-managing and simply stop thinking about them. Parents at home with children, people who work from home and students can all experience this as well, even if they are not physically changing environments when work ends. If you find yourself still trouble-shooting at the end of the day, and the thoughts won’t seem to leave your mind, this can make sleep become much more difficult. It can also wake you in the middle of the night, as you transition between sleep stages.

Over Activity
A hectic, busy life can not only keep your thoughts racing, but also rob you of time you can actually spend sleeping. If you find yourself pushing your bedtime back further and further to get things done, or getting up earlier and earlier in the name of productivity, you may feel tired a lot of the time but not realise the toll lack of sleep is taking. Less than six hours sleep on a reegular basis can damage your physical and mental health.

This stress hormone cortisol, released when you are in "Flight or Flight" mode, enables you to respond quickly to crisis situations, but needs to be "switched off" to enable relaxation and sleep. Chronic stress can lead to excessive levels of cortisol, and this can disrupt healthy sleep patterns through physical discomfort such as indigestion, stomach and muscle pain, as well as...

Like overthinking, anxiety can make sleep difficult and wake you up at night. Anxiety keeps your mind busy imagining threatening scenarios and worrying about how you could deal with them. You may become preoccupied with finding solutions, or simply repeating the same pattern of anxious thoughts over and over again. That racing of your mind can rob you of sleep by keeping your cortisol levels high, making sleep harder to achieve.
Caffeine and Alcohol
People under stress tend to consume significant amounts of caffeine to get a boost that gets them going in the morning, helps them make it through the day. Caffeine can actually exacerbate stress levels and significantly affect the amount and quality of sleep you get. Stressed people often try to relax with alcohol in the evening, not realising that it can inhibit sleep, increase anxiety and exacerbate the physical symptoms of excess cortisol.

Try these techniques if you are permanently stressed and/or find yourself regularly short on sleep:

Use this exercise as a transition time between work and home - concentrating on the physical aspects will divert you from work-related thoughts and change your mental tempo. You can also do it lying in bed to help you go to sleep and if you wake in the night.

Breathe in a long, slow breath, right down into your diaphragm (you should be able to feel your belly, not your chest, going in and out) until your lungs are expanded fully (but stop before you feel you're going to burst). Breathe out slowly until your lungs are completely empty (but not so you're gasping). Breathe in and out five times like this, in your head counting up to five as you breathe in and back down from five to one as you breathe out. Keep the in and out breaths regular and flowing; don't hold the breath at any point. After five deep breaths, breathe more gently and normally and find your natural rhythm as you breathe in and out. If you can make the out breath longer, that's good.

"When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still…. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath."
Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century)

By changing your breathing, you are changing your physical response to a situation. The message your body is giving your brain is: “I am breathing in a calm, relaxed manner therefore I am in control.” As your brain registers this message, it assumes any danger has passed and deactivates the Fight or Flight response, reducing the flow of cortisol and thus your feelings of anxiety.

Physical relaxation
We hold stress in our bodies, often on a long term basis, so conscious physical and mental relaxation is beneficial to reducing your stress levels and very conducive to sleep. Once you've learned the technique it can be done at almost any time, but making a habit of doing this before you go to sleep ensures a much more restful night.

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, scientist, doctor, educator, mother (1926-2004)

Lying in bed, on the floor, or sitting comfortably, close your eyes and settle your breath as in Breathe. Now take your consciousness down to your feet and imagine them surrounded by a warm golden glow – like in the Redibrek ad, if you're old enough to remember it. Say to yourself internally, “My toes and feet are warm and relaxed; soft and heavy”. As you do so, try to release all tension from the muscles in your feet (sometimes it can help to tense, then release them).

Continue this process up your legs, abdomen, back, shoulders, arms and hands, neck, over your head and down your face until you have relaxed every muscle and visualised a golden glow enfolding your entire body. Feel each limb in turn loosen and soften like those of a rag doll. The more you practise, the better you will get at relaxing each muscle group, right down to detailed parts of your face. Check how much tension you release by relaxing your mouth and jaw, for instance.

This is a great technique to send you back to sleep when you wake up in the night, and if you do it just before nodding off, chances are you won't actually get to finish the exercise. Concentrating on the repetitive instructions to your body, and your conscious efforts to relax, divert your thoughts from anxieties and give your mind a chance to switch off.

“Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast…”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth

If you feel it would help to have an audio of this relaxation exercise, which we call "The Golden Glow", you can listen or download it FREE as an MP3 file from our website.

You will find more ways to de-stress, cope with anxiety and take control of your life in The Real Secret

 Posted by Lucy


Personality Wise

Personally speaking I have never been that interested in my personality profile; but that’s probably because I’m an O-95, C- 60, E-89, A-83, N-22. Just typical really.

O stands for openess
C for conscientiousness
E for extroversion
A for agreeableness
N for neuroticim

Apparently I’m a laid back kind of personality who likes a lot of stimulation at the same time. Yes, I couldn’t figure that out either; but then I’m low on neuroticism so it doesn’t bother me. I could be a little more conscientious apparently - and a little bit more neurotic might help me take things like personality tests a little more seriously. But that’s just the way I am.

Psychologists stress that personality traits are ‘dimensional’ and we can be positioned at any point on each trait. If we assume there are 10 distinct points on each of the five traits then we would have the chance of one of 100,000 possible personalities. Room for manoeuvre! And so I repeated the test again - answering truthfully but in a slightly different way. I appear to have a few ‘possible’ personalities. I see that as a problem of the test.

I then re-did the test and tried to lie - to give what I thought was the correct answer. I came out with a personality profile I’d be ashamed to admit to. They always say that there is no right or wrong answer to these questions but I’m not so sure.

These are but two of many problems which have bedevilled research in this field.

Even when I was trying my best to be honest - and we already have a problem there because very often we aren’t able to be honest about our own behaviour - many of the questions were not specific enough. For example, even when the question is simple "Do you make friends easily?" What is meant by "easily". What does "friend" mean - companionship? Pleasant interaction without emotional involvement? Friendly acquantance with my neighbours and the postman ?

Depending on how I interpret both the question itself (what does ‘friend’ mean?) and my evaluation of the truthful response ( what does ‘easily’ mean?) I could say yes or no. I may think that I don’t make friends easily but compared to others I may be deceived in thinking this. So what are we testing here - my actual ability to make friends easily or my belief that I don’t make friends easily despite evidence to the contrary as reported by others and the sheer numbers of people called friends on my Facebook page? Some people, I note with astonishment, have hundreds and hundreds of Facebook friends. How can they manage this? Are these really friends or just Facebook friends? And the problem gets even more complicated - what if its agreed that I do make friends easily - do I even want these friends? What if I make friends easily but then lose them just as quickly? What does this say about me?

In short, the questions on personality tests have to be unambiguously specific - and you have to be scrupulously honest in answering them - as far as you can be.

I think the comedian Paar Jack put it best when talking about his personality profile;

"I'm complicated, sentimental, lovable, honest, loyal, decent, generous, likable, and lonely. My personality is not split; it's shredded."

If you want to take a personality test here is the link - take with a good dose of critical awareness.

You might also be interested in finding out whether you, or someone you know, is "ordinary eccentric" or has a defined personality disorder.

Posted by Annabel

The Real Secret has advice on how to make friends and maintain friendships, and improve relationships. The 12 step programme may help you become more open, more agreeable and less neurotic. It is available in paperback and kindle format on and


Living with Anxiety and Panic Disorder

Panic Attacks are very sudden episodes of intense anxiety in the absence of real danger, and they often occur out of the blue with no obvious immediate trigger. Panic attacks have very strong physical sensations such as heart palpitations, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, hot sweats and a feeling of imminent danger.

Where do panic attacks come from? Deep in the the Limbic part of the brain lie two almond shaped pieces of tissue called the amygdala (the latin for almond seed). These are understood to be largely responsible for our experiences of fear and anxiety. The amygdala processes information received from our senses and decides whether we are in imminent danger; if it decides that we are in danger it alerts us to the potential threat. This effect is remarkably swift - it’s there to save our lives, after all - and takes effect well before the frontal cortex can analyse the situation in a more considered manner. It's very rare for our lives to be so threatened and in the normal course of events the amygdala is not often called on to save our lives in this way. However, in some cases the amygdala is overactive and appears to detect danger when none is present. Panic disorder is thus a malfunction of a system designed to keep us safe from threats.

Experiencing a panic attack is extremely frightening and many who experience a panic attack for the first time often believe that they are having a heart attack. When this happens more panic sets in because they mistake these very strong physical symptoms as potentially life threatening. This then sets off a vicious circle as these misinterpretations lead to more anxiety, leading to heightened physical sensations. Because panic attack symptoms can resemble life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack, it’s important to seek an accurate diagnosis the first time you experience the symptoms listed above. The advice on how to cope with panic attacks given below is applicable only once your doctor has confirmed your diagnosis.

How are Panic Attacks treated?
For many years, anxiety related disorders such as panic attacks were treated with tranquillizers such as Valium. During the 1970’s Valium was the most widely prescribed drug in the US reaching a peak of 2.3 billion tablets dispensed in one year alone; then it was called ‘mother’s little helper’. Today a new class of anti-depressant (SSRIs, of which Prozac is one) is very often prescribed. This is despite robust evidence that a psychological therapy such as cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is  more effective for anxiety related disorders. But CBT is expensive and the waiting list for treatment can be many months. GP’s are often under pressure to prescribe anti-depressants when they would prefer to prescribe a non-drug treatment were it more readily available.

What you can do to help yourself without resorting to drugs
There are a number of tips for dealing with panic attacks, some of which I will list below, but perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind when experiencing a panic attack is that the symptoms commonly last approximately forty minutes and it is very unusual for them to last longer than an hour. Knowing that the attack will end soon and that it is not life threatening will do most to reduce the panic and thus lessen the physical sensations. It’s also worth knowing that very many people suffer from panic attacks, so you are not alone.

Many experienced sufferers treat panic attacks with some of the following methods and techniques. The next time you have an attack try them and see what effect they have on you.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing - breathe slowly through the nose using the diaphragm and abdomen. Focus on exhaling very slowly. This will correct or prevent an imbalance of oxygen to carbon dioxide in the blood stream.
  • Stay Focused in the present - rather than allow yourself to imagine the worst case scenario (“I’m going to die!”), remind yourself that the attack will soon pass and is not life threatening. Do not think about the future at all but stay focused on your breathing.
  • Acceptance and acknowledgement - many people say that accepting and acknowledging their susceptibility to panic attacks helps them not only deal with the symptoms when they happen but also allows them to see the attacks as a part of who they are. This is especially important for those of us who have tried but failed to eliminate the attacks altogether from our lives.
  • Floating with the symptoms - allow time to pass and “float with the symptoms” rather than trying to fight them. This is another very successful technique for dealing with the unpleasant sensations as they happen.
  • Smiling helps - I find, and I consider myself an ‘expert’ having lived with panic attacks for many years, that if I smile as I go through the attack this helps -  perhaps because it’s hard to smile and panic at the same time.
  • Coping statements —  repeat “coping statements” as part of an internal monologue to help you keep focused on the present and to remind yourself that you’re going to be OK. Here are some suggestions;” No one has ever died from a panic attack.” “I will let my body do its thing. This will pass.” “I can be anxious and still deal with this situation.” “This does not feel good, but I can deal with it”.

For many people a panic attack may occur less than a couple of times in their life, whilst for others panic attacks happen quite frequently. If you experience attacks very frequently then you will have a condition known as a panic disorder. Cognitive behaviour therapy is extremely successful at helping with panic disorder and should always be tried before resorting to drugs.

Talking with other sufferers can be hugely helpful. I remember once in the staff tea room of a busy hospital I asked an assembly of colleagues, not all of whom I knew at all well, if anyone else - apart from me - ever suffered from panic attacks. The response was incredible. I was not alone and many of those who ‘admitted’ to having the odd attack came up to me later to thank me for being brave enough to talk about my attacks and making them feel less alone in their own affliction. Of course, it may not be appropriate where you work, but worth asking friends if only to make them as well as you feel a bit less anxious.

If you are a sufferer and have any advice to add to the list above then please leave a comment.

There are more exercises in The Real Secret which will help you take control of anxiety and panic, and are a useful start if you are waiting for therapy to start. You can get the book in either paperback or Kindle format from or

Posted by Annabel



We had just released the results of our own Happiness Habits Experiment - which we thought a success - when we came across Ireland’s First Failed Happiness Project. We think you’ll like it as much as we do - it will certainly bring a smile to your face!


 What's This About? 

 Ger O’Brien feels that because Ireland is in a state of recession it really needs an 'On Line Happiness Project'. She is inviting you from the World Wide Web to join in the 'happy' journey?

Ger is currently undertaking an Irish happiness project as part of her master's programme / MA in Art and Design, Social Practice and the Creative Environment at Limerick School of Art and Design, Ireland. 

We wish her well and hope that she gets a lot of attention! 

To find out more about the project go to her website here


Happiness Habits - Conclusions & Recommendations

Following our Findings from the Happiness Habits Experiment, here are our conclusions and recommendations for how they could be implemented on a national basis to raise personal and national levels of happiness and well-being.


Happiness Habits work
The Happiness Habits Experiment provides supporting evidence to the existing body of research demonstrating that happiness levels can be raised in many individuals by simple physical and psycho-physiological interventions.

Focus and repetition of positive habits are key to maintaining a sense of increased well-being. Just as physical exercise and healthy eating habits must be performed regularly to sustain physical fitness, so mental and emotional fitness requires regular and continual maintenance.

The simpler interventions, in particular (such as “Smile” and “Three Good Things”) can become embedded as habits after three weeks of regular practice. Other, more complex activities, such as “Breathe”, “Spreading Happiness” and “Fun To-Do Lists”, take longer to become habits for more people. However, once these activities have become habits, participants in a programme of Happiness Habits will continue to carry them out automatically, freeing them to move onto acquiring new and different habits.

Comments from participants in The Happiness Habits Experiment support research that such interventions are “most successful when participants know about, endorse, and commit to the intervention”

“I was more aware of it as I was consciously thinking about it”

“I am in a constant battle with happiness anyway, a bit of focus is good.”

“The experiment made me more conscious about doing things that would raise my 'happiness levels’.”

Structure, motivation and prompts required
Despite being aware that Happiness Habits raised their happiness levels, participants found it hard to remember, or to be motivated, to do many of them regularly. External structures within which to develop a range of Happiness Habits including explicit instructions on ways to remember, and/or mechanisms to deliver reminders could be an important development in raising happiness levels. Development of web- and phone-based technologies could play a useful part – especially for young people.

A national programme to promote individuals’ ability to raise their own happiness levels could be developed which would impact positively on mental and emotional resilience, physical health, family life, education and the economy. In line with evidence-based practice in education, medicine, psychology and psychiatry, this could be delivered with immediate impact through the education system and NHS GP surgeries.


Happiness Habits should start early
Twice as many adolescents have emotional or behavioural problems today as in the 1970s. Children and young people could be taught simple activities to raise and maintain positivity and happiness levels in school and colleges – even if they do not go so far as to institute Happiness Lessons, as Headmaster Anthony Seldon has done at Wellington College.

All six of the Happiness Habits in this experiment (and many others) could easily be included across the curriculum in schemes of learning and lesson plans (just as different learning styles and “Every Child Matters” are systematically addressed at these levels), where they would support focus and achievement, foster co-operation and positive behaviour as well as instilling healthy mental and emotional habits in students.

Improved Access to Psychological Therapies
Whilst the main focus of our national health system has been on providing care for those who suffer from physical ill health, we are beginning to realise that we also now need to promote positive mental health, not least of all because there is evidence that how happy or optimistic people are can be decisive in determining how fast they recover from heart disease and other serious physical conditions.

Unfortunately, the help currently available is patchy and takes too long to access. In a recent survey of British family doctors, only 15% said they could usually get the standard psychological therapy recommended for those of their patients who need it by the government's own National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). The increasing numbers of people asking for help from their doctors and presenting with mild depression and/or low level anxiety is of particular concern. These are people who could be helped with a limited intervention that does not require the time and resources needed for more serious mental health conditions and who would not benefit in the long term from prescription anti-depressants.

News that prescription drugs for antidepressants have risen 43% since 2006 to an incredible 23 million prescriptions a year, should concern us all. The British Journal of Medicine concludes that the rise in antidepressant prescribing for the period 1993-2005 is mainly explained by small changes in the proportion of patients receiving long term treatment (and this is also very likely for the most recent data to 2010) and is therefore not the result of new ‘recession’ cases as recently reported throughout the media. Despite these caveats, these figures nevertheless reflect the large numbers of people being prescribed anti-depressants as well as highlighting the numbers for whom depression has now become a chronic condition.

The NICE guidelines for adults experiencing depression state that, in the first instance, patients should be offered self help and psychological therapies. Antidepressants are not recommended as first line therapy for mild to moderate depression. However, GPs frequently prescribe antidepressants even when they believe that a different treatment, such as a talking therapy, would be more appropriate - because they feel they have no alternative.
This does not even account for those who do not ask for help because they feel the stigma of failure, or the stigma attached to the words “mental health”. For the stigma of mental health to operate we don’t even have to add the word “problem”.

What needs to happen now
A nationally available, low level self help intervention based on Happiness Habits, could be delivered from GP surgeries and provide immediate support for people of all ages suffering from ‘life’, as well as those with mild depression and/or anxiety. Such a programme could also substantially reduce mental health problems in young people and other marginalised groups, reduce the prescription of antidepressants, reduce pressure on GPs and therapists and prevent people waiting for psychological treatments from getting worse.

Recognition by government, schools, workplaces and community organisations of the debilitating effects of low level depression and/or anxiety and the high numbers of people affected is a crucial first step. Your colleague, a neighbour or young person; the postman, your dentist or teacher; and particularly someone who is without a job – these are all people who are quite likely to be suffering in silence when they should be able to access appropriate help without embarrassment. We all rush to our GPs when we get an infection and we expect to be treated appropriately. But how appropriate is drug therapy for mild depression and low level anxiety? These are conditions that need time and help to overcome - not a prescription that will end in addiction.

We need to help ourselves.
We need help to help ourselves.

All our results are available to view by clicking through to The Happiness Habits Report 

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