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


More Happiness Less Crime

Since the outbreak of riots and looting in London and other cities in the UK, politicians and commentators have blamed the lack of morals in the younger generation, single-parent (specifically single-mother) families, lack of fathers and “black” culture (from a right wing perspective); and government cuts, closure of youth services, inequality and poor moral leadership from the top (bankers, MPs, the police and press) from the left.

I favour the latter group, but maybe many of these have had a part to play; maybe some represent aspects of an underlying malaise that affects British youth – a malaise called unhappiness.

Bill McCarthy, a UC-Davis sociology professor, and Teresa Casey, a postdoctoral researcher at UC-Davis, have recently presented their new study at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. "Get Happy! Positive Emotion, Depression, and Juvenile Crime” suggests that, in addition to their other benefits, programmes and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness could deter nonviolent crime and drug use.

The authors used data from nearly 15,000 seventh- to ninth-grade students in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest, most comprehensive survey of adolescents ever undertaken, over two years (1995 and 1996). They found that about 29% of the young people surveyed reported having committed at least one criminal offence, and 18% said that they had used at least one illegal drug. The researchers then correlated these reports with self-assessments of emotional well-being. They claim theirs is the first study to investigate the association of happiness with juvenile crime. Unlike positive psychologists, sociologists have spent little time studying the consequences of happiness – or lack of it.

McCarthy and Casey’s research found that happier adolescents were less likely to report involvement in crime or drug use. Adolescents with minor, or nonclinical, depression had significantly higher odds of engaging in such activities. They argue that positive emotions also have a role: "We hypothesize that the benefits of happiness— from strong bonds with others, a positive self-image, and the development of socially valued cognitive and behavioral skills— reinforce a decision-making approach that is informed by positive emotions.”

The study also found that changes in emotions over time matter. Adolescents whose happiness levels decreased or depression levels increased over a one-year period were more likely to be involved in crime and to use drugs. The odds of drug use were notably lower for youth who reported that they were more often happy than depressed, and were substantially higher for those who indicated that they were more depressed than happy.

But what needs do young people need to have met in order to have a reasonable level of wellbeing? Back to the positive psychologists: Ed Diener from the University of Illinois has taken a new look at an old theory – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, first published in 1954. Maslow claimed that humans need their physiological needs (food, shelter etc) to be met first, followed by safety; only then can social needs for love, belonging and self-esteem be met; with “self-actualisation” the pinnacle of his famous pyramid.

Diener, also a senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, helped design the Gallup World Poll, a landmark survey on well-being with 60,865 participants from 123 countries, conducted from 2005 to 2010. His results agreed with Maslow’s view that there are human needs that apply regardless of culture, but not with his ordering of these needs. "Instead of working from the bottom up, to be happy we need all of them at once - and the needs that are most linked with everyday satisfaction are interpersonal ones, such as love and respect. Our troubles, conversely, relate most to lack of esteem, lack of freedom, and lack of nourishment. It’s only in retrospect, when we look back on the quality of our lives thus far, that basic needs become significant indicators for well-being.”

Ed Diener believes that public policymakers should take serious note. Since each of Maslow's needs correlates with certain components of happiness, he says "all the needs are important all the time. Our leaders need to think about them from the outset, otherwise they will have no reason to address social and community needs until food and shelter are available to all."

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman, who says the study might be a breakthrough, adds: "Governments should take these measures seriously and hold themselves accountable for public policy changes for the well-being of their citizens.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of the charities The Place To Be and Kids Company, has written eloquently about how the social needs of some young people in the UK are simply not being met:

“An absence of morality can easily be found in the rioters and looters. How, we ask, could they attack their own community with such disregard? But the young people would reply "easily", because they feel they don't actually belong to the community. Community, they would say, has nothing to offer them. Instead, for years they have experienced themselves cut adrift from civil society's legitimate structures… It's not one occasional attack on dignity, it's a repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped.”

Happiness is important; the happiness of young people is crucial – not only to each individual and their growth into a mature, balanced and productive adult, but for the society in which they live alongside all of us. One of the implications Ed Diener draws from his findings is simply this: “The findings indicate that improving individual life must include improving societies.” In his Take Home Message, he says “We also found that societal need fulfillment— particularly of basic needs— has effects independent of an individual’s personal need fulfillment, so that it is beneficial to live in a society with others who have their needs fulfilled. Improving one’s own life is not enough; society-wide improvement is also required.”

Posted by Lucy

The 12 step programme of The Real Secret could raise happiness and lower depressive tendencies in a young person you know. It is available in paperback and kindle format on and as well as other online booksellers; and can be ordered in any bookshop.


The Top Ten Mistakes We Make When trying To Change Our Behaviour

Is behaviour difficult to change? How come some of us find it easy and others very difficult? A group of researchers at Stanford University have looked at this question and come up with the top ten mistakes we make when trying to change our behaviour.

1. Relying on Willpower.
Willpower doesn't exist - it's just another excuse we all use to explain why change is so hard. There is no evidence for willpower. No special gene. It's all been a cover-up.You need to forget about willpower. Pretend it doesn't exist. Forget the pretend (sorry - still coming to terms with the loss).

2. Attempting Big Leaps instead of small steps
One small step at a time. You're after small successes remember not giant leaps for mankind - you haven't landed on the moon.

3. Ignoring How Your Environment Affects You
If you want to change your life then you need to change the context. You'll have to read The Real Secret if you want to know how - I'm not giving all our secrets away!

4.Trying to Stop Old Behaviours instead of Creating New Ones
Forget all that advice about avoiding old behaviours. Takes too much time and effort. Concentrate instead on the new behaviour. Stop avoiding the old and start doing the new.

5. Stop Waiting for Motivation
I've told you this before - here - I'm not telling you again

6. Underestimating The Power of Triggers
Behaviour is always, always triggered. Feel thirsty? Hungry? Enraged? Sleepy? Upset? Work out what it is that triggers the behaviour you want to change, then think before you act.

7. Believing that Information Leads to Action
Well it just doesn't - we aren't that rational. You'll need to read The Book.

8. Focusing on Abstract Goals rather than Concrete Behaviours
Abstract : get fit
Concrete : walk for 15 minutes a day
See The Book for more help setting and achieving goals.

9. Wanting to change a Behaviour FOREVER
Wrong! You need to concentrate on a fixed period - remember small steps?

10. Assuming that Behaviour Change is Difficult
Behaviour change is not difficult - when you know how. Read The Book

So there you have it - the top ten mistakes we all make when trying to change our behaviour. Personally I can think of a few more but these ten are apparently the ones we all make.

Posted by Annabel


Love Is The Drug - or a Form of Madness

A friend of mine is in love. She’s in love with a man who loves her, but who also has a wife and children. When she sees him, she’s in seventh heaven; when she can’t see him, especially for any length of time, it feels like a kind of hell. In between the two she thinks of him obsessively and longs for texts, emails or phone calls that relieve the pain. She says they make each other happy, but with the situation as it is she wishes desperately she wasn’t in love with him. The only solution she can see would be for her to fall in love with someone else (more available, perhaps); despite the suffering, she won't be taking our advice on how to end a relationship.

Another friend of mine is not in love. She has had a number of relationships in recent years, the latest of which she ended a few months ago. She has suffered from depression before and feels she is slipping into depression again. She thinks that in the past she might have unconsciously used the emotional high of falling in love to repeatedly ward off depression. Despite this insight, and that she knows he didn’t and couldn’t make her happy, my friend is tempted to reconnect with her ex to get another hit.

Both these women are intelligent and self aware, but both find it hard to overcome the intense feelings that “being in love” produces; both talk in terms of “addiction”, “obsession”, “highs”, “withdrawal symptoms”… the language of drug abuse and madness. The neuroscience of love suggests this is completely appropriate.

Research suggests that there are three forms of love for a partner (or potential partner): lust, romantic love and attachment. The three different categories involve different brain systems: lust (craving sexual gratification) is driven by androgens and estrogens such as testosterone; romantic love (attraction), which is characterised by euphoria, mood swings, focused attention, obsessive thinking and intense craving for the loved one, is driven by high levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, and low serotonin levels; while attachment (peaceful, long term relationship) is driven by the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin.

Andreas Bartels and Semir Zeki of University College, London, originally located the areas of the brain activated by romantic love by looking at brain scans of students who said they were madly in love and analysing their patterns of brain activity. It appeared that a relatively small area of the human brain is active in romantic love, compared with that involved in ordinary friendship; and the brain areas active in love are different from the areas activated in other emotional states, such as fear and anger. Parts of the brain involved in being “in love” include the one responsible for gut feelings and those which generate the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine. So the brains of people in love don’t look like those of people experiencing strong emotions, but rather like those of people snorting coke.

Jim Pfaus, a psychologist at Concordia University, in Montreal, says the aftermath of lustful sex is similar to the state induced by taking opiates. A mix of chemical changes occurs, including increases in the levels of serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids (the body's natural equivalent of heroin). Love, it seems, uses the neural mechanisms that are activated during the process of addiction. We are literally addicted to love.

The description of being “madly in love” isn’t far off the truth either. Some researchers suggest this mental state might share neurochemical characteristics with the manic phase of manic depression. Dr Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, and author of the book Why We Love, suggests that the obsessive thought patterns and actual behavioural patterns of those in love — such as attempting to evoke reciprocal responses in one's loved one — resemble obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Dr Fisher says that love is not so much an emotion as a drive; a motivation system and part of the brain’s reward system. It is a need which compels us to seek a specific mating partner and links the drive to all kinds of distinct emotions according to how well or badly the relationship is going. The emotions are powerful whether positive or negative: one study shows that when a female prairie vole mates, there is a 50% increase in the “feel good” hormone, dopamine, in the reward centre of her brain; another that 40% of people who had been dumped in the past eight weeks experienced clinical depression, and 12% severe depression.

Lust, romantic love and attachment are connected, not just in body and mind but in brain circuitry. Dr Fisher tells people not to have sex with people they don’t want to fall in love with, because often that is the result. The testosterone of lust can activate the neurotransmitters of love, while an orgasm can raise the attachment hormones which promote long term affection and monogamy. She believes romantic love is a stronger craving than sex, but that when oxytocin and vasopressin kick in (around 18 months later), they may interfere with the dopamine and norepinephrine pathways, so making the passionate “in love” feelings start to fade.

It is also around this time, especially if the attachment hormones haven’t established themselves, that reality can kick in and lovers start to be released from their addiction. People realise that the objects of their adoration are not god-like, that their relationship may be causing them more pain than pleasure, or that they are simply bored. Relationships often fall apart after about two years, sometimes because one member starts (perhaps unconsciously) to crave the high of a new addiction.

This is a pattern my second friend recognised in herself, but it seems we all embed patterns of attraction and relationship early, starting with our very first love. Interestingly, both my friends’ relationships are/were with early boyfriends they have reconnected with some twenty years later.

Very few experiences in our lives are as intense and overwhelming as our first love, which most often takes place in our teenage years. Although it may evaporate fast, teenage first love is more intense than love in adulthood because of our high energy levels and flooding hormones. The memories we retain are deep and strong – and in women particularly, the “in love” state causes increased activity in brain regions associated with memory recall. Websites like Friends Reunited were publicly blamed for breaking up marriages as people rekindled the thrill of first love after contacting old lovers.

So, if the state of “being in love” is neurologically similar to taking drugs and mental illness, could we treat it as we do addiction or OCD? Researchers think there is a short and finite period between lust turning to romantic love when we could consciously choose not to fall, but we would have to be very self aware and very strong and use strategies akin to cognitive behavioural therapy. Anti-depressants which raise serotonin levels might alleviate the pain of break up, or reduce the desire for or ability to fall in love.

In general, though, the best defence against the madness and/or addiction of love is to maintain your personal levels of emotional wellbeing. Having high levels of self-esteem and resilience makes you more likely to attract a similarly well-balanced and positive partner with whom you can form a mutually supportive and enduring relationship, and less likely to become obssessed with or adicted to someone who causes you pain. (See our post on The Laws of Attraction.)

The twelve steps of The Real Secret can help you, or a young person making early relationships, to become grounded in a positive outlook and self-confidence, and has advice on how to achieve Richer Relationships. It is available in paperback and kindle on and .

Posted by Lucy


What type of happiness do you want?

When we think and talk about happiness what exactly do we mean? The presentation above by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman draws an interesting distinction: there may be two very different types of happiness. 

The first is being happy in your life. It is happiness that we experience immediately and in the moment.
The second is being happy about your life. It is the happiness that exists in memory when we talk about the past and the big picture.
We can enjoy nine-tenths of something blissfully in the moment, yet a lousy ending can bias us and ruin the memory forever.
We often plan holidays around the memories they will later give us ("Mexico!"), rather than doing something we'd enjoy far more in the moment ("catching up on sleep and spending more time with friends.") 
Kahenman suggests we ask ourselves ahead of time what kind of happiness we are seeking.
If you want the rich memories of happiness we should deliberately select for that: go on that exotic holiday, definitely have children and strive to make as much money as possible. These are all things shown to make us happy about our lives.
If you want to be happy in the moment don't travel to fancy places, keep it simple. Don't have children because moment for moment they will dramatically reduce your happiness with crying, complaining, chores and worry. And certainly don't toil to earn more than 30K a year because beyond that, experiential happiness flat lines.
It's a question we all face: Is living in the moment, as encouraged by every Hollywood movie, the right way to live or is it the path of impulsive hedonism?
Is living to create great memories the goal of the mature individual or does it make us a miserable weaver of a fiction that never was?

I leave the answer to you.

But there is advice about being happier in both senses in The Real Secret, which is available in paperback and kindle format on and .

Posted by Annabel


How to end a relationship

Our intimate relationships are said by most of us to be the most important aspect of our lives. For many people, getting the relationship with their partner right is The Real Secret to a happy life. We've talked about how to tell if your relationship will last the distance, but if you have decided that yours can no longer be sustained, the way you choose to finish it can make all the difference between a rancorous and an amicable separation.

If you are the one initiating the break up (three-quarters of divorces are initiated by women), the way you tell your partner will have a big effect on the way they react,behave towards you and deal with the situation.

The Shock Factor
First, it's important to assess realistically whether they will have seen this coming. If you're not happy, it's reasonable to assume your partner is also dissatisfied with the relationship, but will the fact that you want to separate or divorce come as a shock? The more surprised they are, the longer it takes someone to accept the end of a relationship.

Psychological Advantage
If you are the person who wants to leave the relationship, recognise that you are probably in a stronger position psychologically, and in your social circle. You may have discussed your decision with close friends or family and got their support, whilst your partner, as the left person, will feel rejected and wounded - possibly made a fool of. The harder you make your "leave-taking" statement, the worse their wound will be; the worse the wound, the more likely they are to behave in "wounded-animal" ways. This is why you need to think carefully about how to tell them.

When, Where and How to Tell
Break the news during the daytime; morning is best. Choose a time when the two of you will have some uninterrupted time. Turn off the phones and make sure the children are elsewhere and secure. Consider breaking the news in a public place with some privacy -- an uncrowded beach, street or restaurant - if the setting will encourage your partner to respond in a more restrained and rational fashion.  Do it when neither of you have been drinking. Be confident. Walk firmly. Be physically as much at eye-level as possible. Speak calmly. Try to make your statement neutral and non accusative, but decisive. Talk about your own position and feelings, not their shortcomings as a partner. 

Be Prepared
It would be easiest if your partner just accepted your statement and went away to consider the ramifications, returning with a calm, accepting response - but the reality is you should be prepared for a long discussion, or a series of discussions; for attempts to get you to change your mind, for anger (more anger the greater the shock) and accusations. You should expect all sorts of guilt to be laid on you (bad wife or husband, bad father or mother, unfaithful, cruel, selfish, etc.), and for verbal abuse.

Prepare to respond calmly. Do not defend yourself. Know what you will say.

However unfair or hurtful the other person's response may be, try to avoid responding in the same way. Say any kind things you honestly can to bolster their self esteem; their anger is a mask for deep hurt and probably fear. If you have tried empathic listening before, now is a good time to use it (if not, read Step Eight of The Real Secret in advance). Allow your partner to talk and yourself to listen without interrupting. It could help you to summarise the other person's position at regular intervals, but that doesn't mean you should listen to abuse. If it becomes too unpleasant, say you'd like to talk again when you're both calmer; leave or hang up. Remember to take slow, deep breaths during  difficult conversations to help you relax.

If you fear a physical response, have somewhere that you can stay, temporarily, organised in advance. You may have to just leave, and perhaps not let your partner know where you are until they have come to terms with your separation.

What To Expect
You can expect a rejected partner to make promises to change. This is a fear response which, even if made with good intention, they may not be able to carry out. Do not expect alcoholism or drug abuse to change, despite promises. Evidence shows that once you say you are going to leave, your partner's problems with alcohol or drug abuse will become even worse. Sometimes they become temporarily better, but without therapy or other interventions  they usually become worse fairly soon.     

If you have children, reassure your partner that they are still their parents and this will always be important to you. Talk right away about telling the children together, calmly. This is important for the children.

Don't Debate

It's highly unlikely that you will come to an agreement about the history of your relationship, but it's important to acknowledge that both of you have contributed to the present situation. Repeat your belief that you don't believe it can be repaired and separation or divorce is the only alternative you can see. Refuse to debate who is to blame for the past; insist only on talking about how to move into a future that is better for both of you, and, if children are involved, your whole family.

The Real Secret has instructions for Negotiating, Empathic Listening, Breathing, and other tools for managing anxiety and stress through difficult times such as relationship breakup. It will also support you with rebuilding a new life after a separation. The Real Secret is available in paperback or kindle on and

Posted by Lucy

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