We all want to be happy – it’s one of those life goals that everyone can get behind, but the road to it often seems endless, and strewn with potholes of disappointment. According to Andy Cope, best-selling author and practising ‘Dr of Happiness’ now that 21st century man has health and comparative wealth, happiness has become the must-have emotional accessory.
‘The truth is that most people are a million miles away feeling as great as they could,’ says Cope. Take a look at the World Happiness Report and you can see that neither the US or the UK made it into the top ten happiest countries. ‘The current state of play is that happiness has been pushed aside and replaced by anger, frustration and stress,’ he adds, not sounding that happy, if we’re honest. So what does he suggest we do to raise our own levels of self-contentment?
1. Know What Happiness Is
Psychologist Dr Andy Cope has spent the last 15 years studying the ‘happies’ – the two per cent of people with a mental strategy that enables them to be positive and happy through thick and thin.
‘I flipped psychology on its head and did the UK’s first ever study of people who are flourishing, the positive few, the happiness outliers – the handful of people in your life who have energy, passion, zest and a smile on their face. It’s useful to know that happiness is an emotion that ranges from ‘quiet contentment’ all the way through to ‘exuberant punching the air elation’,’ he says.
‘The starting point is to understand that there’s only one place that your happiness can ever come from, and that’s your thinking. True happiness is therefore less about your external circumstances and more about learning how to rethink your thinking.’
2. Make Others Smile
The growing success of volunteering groups such as GoodGym – where people perform tasks to help others in their community – is an example of how society is resorting one of Cope’s suggestions for attaining happiness.
‘Do random acts of kindness. A short-cut to feeling happy is to do a good deed for someone else. This can be as simple as letting someone out in the traffic or buying flowers for your mum. It’s one of the simplest ways to feel happier as you spread some goodwill.’ Cope practices what he preaches too – launching an annual Happiness Festival, a not-for-profit event that raises funds to feed families in poverty.
‘There’s only one place that your happiness can ever come from and that’s you’
3. Find Real Friends
‘Spend less time gathering electronic friends and more time with real flesh and blood ones,’ says Cope. ‘Modernity has brought social media – we’ve never been so connected, yet so lonely.’ He blames social media for inflating some more negative conditions like envy, above happiness.
‘Humans are wired to compare. It’s almost impossible to stop. You’ve got followers. And you are a follower, peering into the lives of celebs. People who have more than you, whiter smiles, bigger biceps… the bastards have even got a yacht. But if you take yourself less seriously and start comparing yourself with yourself, you’ve got a better chance of glimpsing true happiness. The only comparison needs to be this: Am I a better person than I was yesterday? If you can answer ‘yes’ to that, regularly, you’re moving in the right direction,’ he says.
4. Be More Mindful
‘Society has evolved a whole lot faster than the human brain. The world has got busier, quicker, more full-on and our brains are overwhelmed,’ says Cope. ‘In recent history your average human would meet 150 people, max, in their entire life. You lived in a small community. There was a pecking order. You knew where you stood.’
Without the aid of time travel Dr Happy suggests we slow things down for ourselves and become more mindful of the things that made our ancestors contented. ‘Notice the beautiful ordinary, the small things that other people rush past. Appreciate that happiness is in the moment so notice sunrises, raindrops, smiles, flowers, smiling children, clouds, dew, kindness…’
‘The only comparison needs to be this: am I a better person than I was yesterday?’
5. Find Your Inner Female
‘Females have received an emotional upgrade that guys struggle to match. They have an ability to empathise and ‘tune in’ to relationships. In terms of happiness, it means women feel higher highs and lower lows than men.’
Cope suggests we take a leaf out of the women’s book and understand that our emotions are contagious. ‘Be your best, positive self and those around you will have almost no choice but to feel good in your presence. Instead of asking your partner or kids “how was your day?” try a subtle change to “tell me about the highlight of your day?” Small change, big impact.’
6. Break The Habit
So what pisses off the Doctor of Happiness, if anything, and how does he change his mood when he feels he needs to? ‘A good morning routine of exercise, porridge and black coffee means I can face up to whatever the day throws at me. I don’t have many bad moments because I gave up grumbling about six years ago,’ he says. ‘I realised that 95% of what I moaned about was a habit. A lazy habit. I was just joining in with the general hubbub of tutting. I’ve learned to be at peace with the moment.’
Whilst Cope may have found the secret to smiling 24/ 7 he’s in the minority. Last year, in England alone, there were 70 million prescriptions written for antidepressants.
‘On those numbers, it’s easy to argue there’s an epidemic of unhappiness. I’m not advocating unbridled happiness and positivity. Jazz handing your way into the office on a wet Monday morning with a hearty “don’t those weekends drag” is village idiot category. If you overdo it, people will think you’re a weirdo. The trick is to get the right amount of positivity so it leaks into those around you, in which case they’ll think you’re amazing.’
WHAT NEXT? Get a deeper insight into Dr Andy Cope’s formula for a happier life.
Dr Andy Cope is a happiness expert and bestselling author of The Little Book of Being Brilliant available now on Amazon. Find out more about Andy at his website