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This book is the accompaniment to the BBC television series Making Slough Happy, which I didn’t watch, where in May 2005 a group of 6 happiness experts embarked on a 3 month project to make the residents of Slough happier. Slough was chosen because it has a diverse population (various ages, cultural backgrounds, etc.) and among the lowest unemployment rate in the country, which minimized the one huge factor that affects happiness and cannot be easily sorted out in a few months. The author, Liz Hoggard is a freelance writer and broadcaster rather than an expert on happiness, but this does have the advantage of her making the book extremely easy to understand with no psychological jargon.
The 6 happiness experts as are follows:
Richard Stevens – a psychologist who is chair of the social psychology course for the Open University and apparently “one of the most experienced and knowledgeable psychologists in the UK” with a special interest in what makes people happy.
Brett Kahr – a psychotherapist who describes himself as “the traditional old-school nineteenth-century Freudian of the project” and has written several award-winning books on psychoanalysis.
Richard Reeves – the “happiness evangelist” of the project with a background in philosophy, public policy and economics. He works as a journalist and is the author of Happy Mondays: Putting the Pleasure Back into Work.
Jessica Pryce-Jones – who has degrees in classics and psychology and aims to “inspire motivation within businesses and organizations by building on individuals’ strengths”.
Philippa Chapman – whose aim is to get people to maximize their talents and believes that “people tend not to value themselves ad their uniqueness enough”.
Andrew Mawson, OBE – a ‘social entrepreneur’ who “applies business principles and ideas to social questions”. He is “a specialist in discovering, fostering and galvanizing the passions of individuals and communities”.
The book then opens with a Happiness Manifesto that it invites you to try for 2 months. It is, in brief: 1. Get physical 2. Count your blessings 3. Take time to talk 4. Plant something 5. Cut your TV viewing by half 6. Smile 7. Phone a friend 8. Have a good laugh 9. Give yourself a treat 10. Spread some kindness
Part 1 explains the theory behind happiness, starting with the acknowledgement that “finding a precise definition of happiness remains one of the greatest philosophical challenges, and has taxed great thinkers from Aristotle and Plato to the Dalai Lama”. The word ‘happy’ doesn’t even have an exact equivalent in some languages. For the purposes of this book though, it is described as ‘inner peace’ and ‘freedom from want and distress’ and the focus is on associated emotions – love, joy, bliss, etc. It then delves into 20 facts about happiness, including the fact that our circumstances (money, environment, etc.) only affect 10% of our overall happiness; so winning the lottery will only make you 10% happier, at the most (in theory).
It goes on to explain factors that affect happiness, such as genetics and upbringing, and the science behind it (which is tricky since, as I encountered in a book called Stumbling On Happiness, science cannot currently explain happiness sufficiently). It includes a happiness questionnaire that you can fill in (and I did!) to discover how happy you are. This was a bit irrelevant, as most of us have a vague idea of how happy we are and the results don’t tell you anything except the Slough average. Although easy to follow, it’s also a little fiddly as you have to add up different answers and add seemingly-random numbers to them. This section ends with 12 Steps To Happiness, some of which are blatantly obvious, such as “do a job that you like”.
Part 2 contains the main body of text and focuses on separate ‘Practicalities’ and how they can improve your happiness levels. These practicalities tackle friendship, money, work, love, sex, family, children, diet, health, exercise, pets, holidays, community, smiling, laughter, spiritual happiness and ageing. There is a great deal of advice in this section, although some of it is very obvious, and it’s punctuated with comments from some of the Slough volunteers. I would have liked more input from the Slough volunteers, including more detailed, individual case studies and more comments. The comments used are all anonymous, whereas I would have preferred some identification along the lines of age and situation and using a name (even a fake one) would make it seem more personal and less unreal.
Whilst the advice given is good, it is just a starting point – there is relatively little information on how to implement the advice. However, I did find some of it useful and extremely motivating, which influenced me to get in touch with a friend I haven’t heard from in a while and helped persuade me to accept my best friend’s offer of a holiday in Spain, where she is currently living. Most of the advice is just commonsense, but I did find the facts interesting, although some of them are very trivial – should I care that Merseyside is home to 3200 millionaires?
If you have a specific problem that is affecting your happiness, you will probably need to do further reading and research to sort it out, even if it’s not serious enough to merit professional help. How To Be Happy is very general, which has its advantages as it applies to everyone and tackles areas you might not have considered, but doesn’t help much with the implementation of its advice and certainly isn’t detailed. It does end with ‘What Next?’ which gives advice on getting further help, such as counselling, and provides a list of ‘useful addresses’ but this is woefully insufficient. I would have liked there to have been a list of recommended self-help books dealing with various issues, website addresses, etc. Again, this boils down to the problem that How To Be Happy is good with general advice but doesn’t equip you to overcome more difficult situations, therefore making some of the advice hard to implement.
I am applying some of the principles to my life, but I am also planning to do a lot more further reading! Whilst How To Be Happy would make a great addition to a family book collection, I’m glad that I borrowed a copy from the library (particularly as no one else in my household would read it). The £14.99 RRP (hardback edition) is too expensive in my opinion, but Amazon has it for £9.74, which would be worth it if you know that other people within your family or circle of friends will read it. I’d strongly advise you to borrow it first though.
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Good review, i like this kind of thing and i recently read (and listened to) Paul Mckenna's 'Change your life in 7 days" I can reconmend that wholehartedly, doesn't change your life exactly but certaily gives you a different outlook, must do a review actaully. - Louise