March 8, 2010 / 7:46 AM / 8 years ago

A guide to happiness, no matter how bad things are

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Being happy is just like being fit, with a new guidebook saying you need to hone the skills needed to attain this coveted emotion, a little every day, and remain upbeat even during the darkest times.

“Roadtesting Happiness: How to be Happier (No Matter What),” by Australian journalist and author Sophie Scott and published this month, is a self-help book with a difference.

Instead of prescribing a formula, Scott “unpacks what happiness is” and experiences for herself all the tips, tricks and scientific methods supposed to guarantee happiness, drafting a tried-and-tested list and encouraging readers to come up with their own.

“Being happy is something you need to focus on, it doesn’t come as a matter of course,” Scott, 42, told Reuters by telephone from her home in Sydney.

“You always need to make an effort, even if you reach the point of saying, yes, I am happy, you still need to keep focusing and working on the things that made you happy.”

Scott said the book, her second, was born out of her interest in the human psyche -- she’s the national medical reporter on the Australian Broadcast Corporation -- as well as how difficult she found it to cope after her mother died of cancer two years ago.

“It was very cathartic,” she said. “I was always interested in psychology, but a lot of happiness books don’t address the fact that you can be happy if your life isn’t going according to plan. The key is managing expectations.”

She admits that trying to put a scientific spin on such a personal and intangible emotion was quite hard, but says that her interviews with various people, and her own experience, showed her that there is no, one-size-fits-all happiness “cure.”

“In the book, I focused on what were the things most likely to make people happy, the ones with the most academic or scientific research, but not everything works for everyone. You have to find what works for you,” she said.

“For example, I don’t use meditation very often, because I don’t get as much as other people out of it, but for me, exercise is a fantastic mood lifter that really clears the cobwebs.”

And before you start thinking that being happy, like leading a healthy lifestyle, is yet another task you have to do and then feel guilty when you don’t do it, Scott said the road to a positive outlook begins with very easy, small steps.

“Women in particular today feel overloaded: they’ve got to be thin, got to have a career, got to have a perfect relationship and the last thing you need is to be thinking you’ve got to be blissfully happy all the time,” she said.

“But it is important to improve your quality of life. Stop rushing around, filling each moment of the day with things to do, and sit down and think about your life, and how you’re feeling.”

“The things I got out of this were not things that take a lot of effort: feeling more grateful for the things I’ve got; modifying my reaction to situations and people. It’s about changing minor habits, more tinkering around the edges instead of overhauling your life,” she said.

Scott’s top 3 tips for being happy? Read on:

- Focus on being grateful for the people around you and the good things in your life/

- Use your strength to help others through volunteerism, altruism -- all research shows that this is crucial to attain a sense of fulfillment.

- Listen to your thoughts how they affect your feelings. Stop any negative thoughts before they take over. This is especially true for women, who tend to have a “running commentary” in their heads and who are more prone to unhappiness and depression.

Editing by Sugita Katyal

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