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.

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


Happiness Habits - The Real Secret to Beating Depression

The Happiness Habits Experiment, which we carried out this year, was unfunded, therefore smallscale and short term, but nonetheless produced some very positive results.

We asked participants to carry out between one and six simple, sensible and scientifically supported positive activities for three weeks; then to give us feedback on whether these had affected their happiness levels and whether they felt the repetition had embedded the activities as habits.

In our Report we told you that:

"Overall, carrying out daily Happiness Habits raised happiness levels for almost two thirds (62%) of respondents, with "Three Good Things" the most effective (65%), followed by "Smile" (58%) and "Fun To-Do Lists" (50%)....

"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."

Participants said:

"You just can't feel too bad when you are smiling even if things seen awful, it changes you, I felt lighter."
"It is a great feeling to know that level of happiness can be changed for the better just knowing the keys."

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Duke University Medical Center have reported on a much further-reaching research project and have come to a similar conclusion: that practicing positive activities may serve as an effective, low-cost treatment for people suffering from depression.

In “Delivering Happiness: Translating Positive Psychology Intervention Research for Treating Major and Minor Depressive Disorders”the team of UCR and Duke psychology, neuroscience and psychopharmacology researchers have proposed a new approach for treating depression – Positive Activity Interventions (PAI).

PAIs are intentional activities, such as performing acts of kindness (our "Spreading Happiness"), practicing optimism (eg, our "Yes I Can"), and counting one’s blessings (Happiness Habit: "Three Good Things") which have been taken from decades of research into how happy and unhappy people differ. They could be the way forward to helping depressed people who don't want or don't respond to anti-depressant drugs, who are not able or willing to find therapy, are waiting for therapy, or fall below the threshold at which either of these is prescribed. It represents a much less costly intervention, could save the time of doctors and therapists, and may be a quicker and more effective way of improving mood and raising happiness levels. Added to which, this kind of self help comes without the stigma attached to "mental health problems" and has no side effects.

Between 8% and 12% of the UK population experience depression in any one year and it affects one in five older people (The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report, 2001). About 8% of the US population (about 16 million adults) – suffer from either major or chronic depression. About 70% of reported cases either do not receive the recommended level of treatment or do not get treated at all, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that depression affects more than 100 million people.

The research team – Kristin Layous and Joseph Chancellor, graduate students at UC Riverside; Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology and director of the Positive Psychology Laboratory at UC Riverside; and Lihong Wang, MD, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, of Duke University – conducted a rigorous review of previous studies of PAIs, including randomised, controlled interventions with thousands of normal men and women as well as functional MRI scans in people with depressive symptoms.

Sonja Lyubomirski said, “Over the last several decades, social psychology studies of flourishing individuals who are happy, optimistic and grateful have produced a lot of new information about the benefits of positive activity interventions on mood and well-being."

And P. Murali Doraiswamy commented that “Very few psychiatrists collaborate with social scientists and no one in my field ever reads the journals where most happiness studies have been published. It was eye-opening for me as a psychopharmacologist to read this literature.”

Although the paper found that positive activity interventions are effective in teaching individuals ways to increase their positive thinking, positive affect and positive behaviours, only two studies specifically tested these activities in individuals with mild depression and in one of these, lasting improvements were found for six months. Effective PAIs used in the study included writing letters of gratitude, counting one’s blessings, practicing optimism, performing acts of kindness, meditating on positive feelings toward others, and using one’s signature strengths, all of which feature in the Steps of The Real Secret.

The researchers’ review of brain imaging studies also led them to theorise that PAIs may act to boost the dampened reward/pleasure circuit mechanisms of depressives and reverse apathy – a key benefit that does not usually arise from treatment with medication alone.

A major benefit of positive activities is that they are simple to practice and inexpensive to deliver.

“If we’re serious about tackling a problem as large as depression, we should be as concerned about the scalability of our solutions as much as their potency,” JosephChancellor said.

To quote from the conclusions of our own Happiness Habits Report: "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."

If you, or anyone you know, suffers from mild to moderate depression and/or anxiety, this research suggests it would be worthwhile to try the Steps and Habits of The Real Secret to alleviate symptoms, either with, or instead of, anti-depressant medication, while awaiting or after completing a course of therapy. The Real Secret is available in paperback or kindle format on and

Posted by Lucy

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