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The 7 Secrets of Happiness: A Reluctant Optimist's Journey
     

The 7 Secrets of Happiness: A Reluctant Optimist's Journey

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by Gyles Brandreth
 

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Lovable British comedian Gyles Brandreth’s look at the pursuit of happiness and why it matters—refreshingly free of wishy-washy, feel-good mumbo-jumbo and full of straightforward, down-to-earth guidance
On June 17, 2013, Gyles Brandreth delivered the Baggs Memorial Lecture at the University of Birmingham—an annual conference on the theme of

Overview

Lovable British comedian Gyles Brandreth’s look at the pursuit of happiness and why it matters—refreshingly free of wishy-washy, feel-good mumbo-jumbo and full of straightforward, down-to-earth guidance
On June 17, 2013, Gyles Brandreth delivered the Baggs Memorial Lecture at the University of Birmingham—an annual conference on the theme of happiness and how it can be achieved. His speech was met with thunderous applause and a widespread demand to know more about the secrets of being happy, so he set about writing this poignant book of truths, sprinkled with British wit and humor throughout.
With extensive research backing him, Brandreth travels the world over and meets numerous luminary figures, asking the questions: What is happiness? Who gets to be happy? For the queen of Denmark, it is finding happiness in routine; for Sheikh Raschid al Maktoum, it is the certainty of being confident in yourself when others doubt you; for Rod Stewart, it is taking pleasure in the simple things.
Through fascinating anecdotes by the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and renowned psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Clare, Brandreth explains why you need to know the seven secrets of happiness and why you need them now.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Gyles Brandreth has access to the secrets of the human heart.” —The Times (London)

“How the Queen, Rod Stewart and Andrew Marr’s brave fightback can teach you to be happy.” —Daily Mail

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781480467033
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Publication date:
12/24/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
80
Sales rank:
394,948
File size:
261 KB

Read an Excerpt

The 7 Secrets of Happiness

A Reluctant Optimist's Journey


By Gyles Brandreth

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2013 Gyles Brandreth
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-6703-3



CHAPTER 1

What makes you happy?

According to the dictionary sitting on my desk, 'Happiness is a fortunate state expressing, or characterised by, content, well-being or pleasure.'

According to Charles M Schulz, the creator of Snoopy and the Peanuts cartoon strip: 'Happiness is a warm puppy.'

According to Denis Thatcher, husband of Britain's first woman prime minister, happiness was 'an English summer's evening, an open bottle of champagne and the lady in a reasonably contented frame of mind'.

According to Anthony Clare—I recorded him saying this: I am listening to his light, lilting, Irish voice as I write—happiness is 'mid-morning in Umbria, sitting in the Italian sunshine, and laid out on the table there's wine and cheese and tomatoes with oil dribbled over them, and with a few friends I'm talking about something like this—happiness—and, so long as the wine's drinkable and the cheese smells like cheese, frankly I don't care, I'm happy. The people are key. Having people around you who make you feel good and think you're good is important.'

In my head, and on tape, I have the voices of old friends. Hearing them makes me happy. And the sheep that graze at the bottom of my garden—they make me happy, too.

Each to his own.

What makes you happy?

There have been many surveys. I have conducted my own, talking to hundreds of people in different countries around the world. I simply asked the people I met, 'What makes you happy?' I tabulated their replies and these, from my observation, are the top ten triggers of happiness in our time:

1. Laughter


People like to laugh. Laughter brings joy. Laughter makes you happy.

Funny people, who may not be happy themselves, make others happy. I was a friend of the comic actor, Kenneth Williams, who could tell a funny story better than anyone and brought happiness to millions in Round the Home, Beyond our Ken and the Carry On films. Kenneth knew how to make people laugh, and loved to make people laugh, but he had not discovered the 7 Secrets of Happiness. Towards the end of his life, he had painted himself into an isolated corner, professionally and personally. Through his intemperate and petulant behaviour, he drove many of his friends away. He knew what he was doing, but somehow he could not stop himself. In the end, he died of a drug overdose, aged only sixty-two.

Kenneth was blessed with the gift of provoking laughter and laughter is contagious. Happily, in a crowd, laughter is more infectious than a cough, a sneeze or a yawn. And laughter is good for you. Laughter relieves physical tension—literally. Laughter can relax your muscles for up to forty-five minutes.

Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's naturally generated feel-good chemicals, opiate-like substances produced by the brain and pituitary gland that can both boost your mood and relieve pain—at least for a time. Famously, a conversation with Oscar Wilde could cure a toothache.

Laughter also improves the function of your blood cells and increases your blood flow. It helps protect your heart and, because it decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells, it improves your resistance to disease.

It seems that Readers' Digest got it right: laughter really is the best medicine.

2. Friends


Kenneth Williams introduced me to some of my favourite lines of poetry. They come from the Anglo-French writer and historian Hilaire Belloc's Dedicatory Ode:

From quiet homes and first beginning
Out to the undiscovered ends
There's nothing worth the wear of winning
But laughter and the love of friends.


Kenneth was a better friend to me than I was to him. It was thanks to him, for example, that I first appeared on Countdown and Just a Minute. I feel bad that, towards the end of his life, when he was looking for company, I wasn't there. (I didn't like his constant smoking; I didn't like him when he drank too much; I found him too demanding. Those are my excuses.)

According to evidence from around the world, collated for the World Happiness Database, under the direction of Ruut Veenhoven, emeritus professor of social conditions for human happiness at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, you tend to be happier if you have close friendships, though your happiness does not increase with the number of friends you have.

The research from Rotterdam, and elsewhere, suggests that it is the quality and not the quantity of your friendships that counts.

I can vouch for that. Not long ago I was in Paris and went to visit Shakespeare & Co, the celebrated second-hand bookshop on the Left Bank. Browsing the shelves, I was quite excited to find a book of mine for sale there. It was one of my recently published Victorian murder mysteries. I picked it off the shelf and opened it and on the title page I read: 'To my dear friend Gordon, with admiration and much love, Gyles.' I had only given the bastard the book five days before! I bought it there and then, added a word to my inscription, 'with RENEWED admiration' and sent it back to him.

Yes, friends can make you happy, but choose them with care.

3. Music


There is amazing stuff going on now with imaging scanners, looking at centres of the brain that light up when people are feeling good, when they're listening to Mahler or Mozart or Madness—or to whatever (literally) turns them on. In the laboratory, with functional resonance imaging, we can actually measure that tingle up the spine.

According to research published in 2013 by the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, areas of the reward centre of the brain—the part known as the nucleus accumbens—become active when people hear a piece of music that they like—and the more they like it, the more active the nucleus accumbens becomes. It is the same part of the brain that responds when we have sex or eat a favourite food.

The Canadian research also reveals that the nucleus accumbens doesn't work alone: it interacts with the auditory cortex, the area of the brain that stores information about the sounds and music we have been exposed to through our lives. The more a given piece of music rewards us—the happier it makes us feel—the greater the cross-talk between these regions of the brain. According to Dr Robert Zatorre, co-director of the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, 'This is interesting because music consists of a series of sounds that, when considered alone, have no inherent value, but when arranged together through patterns over time can act as a reward.'

We can like a new piece of music simply because we like it, and it can make us particularly happy because in our brain it triggers a recollection of past sensations of happiness.

Music can make us happy and when we are happy we sometimes express our happiness musically—whistling while we work or singing in the shower. And the happiest singers, apparently, sing in choirs. They are the healthiest, too. According to a 2013 research study from the University of Gothenburg, singing in a choir is as good for your heart-rate as a programme of breathing exercises in yoga.

4. Dancing


A number of biological systems are bound up with our feelings. I don't want to get bogged down in the science of it all (I was bottom of the class in chemistry, physics and biology at school), but I have to mention the role of the 'endogenous opioids' here. These are more opiate-like substances that we produce naturally inside us, and sometimes activities that we engage in can stimulate them. Cycling is one example. Stealing an illicit kiss is another. Dancing is a third.

We can get 'high' on dancing—and the music we are listening to as we dance (see above) can make us happy, too. Dancing on your own can make you happy. Depending on your dancing partner, dancing with someone can make you happier still.

For a brief while, I took ballroom dancing classes with my wife. I loved it, but our teacher gave up on us because, as the weeks went by, my skills did not improve. My enthusiasm didn't wane, but my performance did not alter. I simply loved the dancing for what it was: a playful hour with my wife—with supper at the local Indian restaurant afterwards.

I have been approached to appear on Strictly Come Dancing a couple of times, but I have said 'Thanks, but no thanks' because I know I have no natural sense of rhythm and, while the exercise would be good for my body, I feel the humiliation of early ejection from the competition would not be good for my spirit.

My friend Ann Widdecombe loved taking part in Strictly Come Dancing because it suited her personality (she is no dancer, but she has star quality—she's an extraordinary cross between Danny de Vito and Margaret Rutherford) and she really found it fun. Carpe diem is her maxim: she knows how to seize the day and live in the moment and when you are on the dance floor the rest of the (troublesome and troubling) world disappears. For my friend Russell Grant, entertainer and astrologer, taking part in Strictly Come Dancing changed his life. Through unhappiness, he had ballooned to twenty-seven stone in weight. He is now sixteen stone and happier than I have known him in thirty years. He found 'bliss' (his word) on the dance floor.

5. Sex


As Ann Widdecombe will tell you, you don't need sex to be happy. That said, almost everyone I talked to for my survey included sex as one of the top ten things that made them happy. 'Love' and 'falling in love', and variations on 'marriage', 'my fiancé' and 'my partner' featured in the top thirty, but not in the top ten.

Sex, of course, is good for you—and marginally more so if you are a man rather than a woman. A recent study shows that men who have sex more than twice a week have a lower risk of getting a heart attack than men who have sex less than once a month. Sex improves your cardiovascular health and promotes longevity. An orgasm releases a hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone—which enhances immunity, repairs tissue and keeps the skin healthy. Men who have at least two orgasms a week live longer than men who have sex just once every few weeks. What's more, regular sex increases the level of the immune-boosting antibody immunoglobulin A, which in turn makes your body better equipped to resist ailments like the common cold. After sex you sleep better and wake up slimmer. Half an hour of love-making burns off an average of eighty calories.

Notoriously, to avoid sex people are said to murmur to their partner, 'Not now, darling, I've got a headache'. Intriguingly, it turns out that sex itself can be a cure for a headache. Sex, it seems, is a natural painkiller. When you are about to have an orgasm, the level of the hormone oxytocin in your body increases five-fold. This is an endorphin that actively reduces aches and pains.

So sex is good for you and, though not essential to happiness (sex does not feature in the 7 Secrets), if you are having sex on a regular basis it should contribute to your happiness.

The quality and quantity of the sex you are getting makes a difference, no doubt, but, remarkably, how happy your sex life makes you feel is directly related to your perception of the sex lives of those around you. If you think that you are having a better sex life than the couple next door, you're happy.

According to the man behind the research in this field—Tim Wadsworth, associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder—people reported steadily higher levels of happiness the more frequently they had sex, but those who believed they were having less sex than their peers were less happy than those who thought they were having the same amount or more.

All the research shows that sex within a sustained and loving relationship is what's best for health and happiness. A one-night stand can get the endogenous opiods going and produce a temporary high, but it won't bring lasting joy and may have you waking up pondering the power of Shakespeare's great line: 'The expense of spirit in a waste of shame is lust in action.'

For some, sex brings happiness. For others, it does quite the reverse. When I was much younger (and rather prettier) I worked with, and was propositioned by, one of my favourite comedians, the great Frankie Howerd. I later discovered that Frank (as he liked to be called) made a habit of exposing himself to married men. Max Bygraves, Bob Monkhouse, Griff Rhys-Jones, and scores more—with each of us, Frank went through exactly the same trouser-dropping routine. It never led anywhere, except to remorse on his part and a plea that we would not 'tell on him' to his long-suffering partner, Dennis.

Who was it who said, 'On life's long and rocky road I have found the penis to be a most unreliable compass'? It wasn't Frankie Howerd. It was either Jean-Paul Sartre or John Prescott.

6. Sunshine and birdsong


I was a little surprised to find birdsong featuring so high on the list of what makes people happy, but perhaps I should not have been.

Birdsong heralds the break of day and the arrival of spring. Migratory male birds reach their nesting grounds a week or two before the females arrive: they establish their territory and, in the early morning, with the coming of the dawn, they sing, both to assert their territorial rights and to attract the females of their species as they fly by. We mortals like the idea of a new day. It gives us hope. As Victor Hugo put it in Les Miserables: 'Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.'

Spring itself, daffodils in bloom, bluebell woods and new-born lambs also feature in the list of the fifty things that make us happy. Spring is the season of rebirth, renewal and hope— and we like that. Optimism is important to us.

In Britain, inevitably, 'the weather' features prominently in any survey of what makes people unhappy. By contrast, we love the sunshine because it brings us warmth and light and a simple sense of well-being and that all's right with the world. Man has worshipped sun gods for longer than any other deity.

When I went to visit Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town he took me into the garden at the back of his house to smell the flowers and watch the sun setting on Table Mountain. We had been talking about the nature of heaven.

'I wonder whether they have rum and coke in heaven?' he pondered. 'Maybe it's too mundane a pleasure, but I hope so—as a sundowner. Except, of course, the sun never goes down there.' He began to hoot with laughter. 'Oh, man, this Heaven is going to take some getting used to.'

We talked about Nelson Mandela, too. Famously, on 9 May, 1994, on the town hall balcony in Cape Town, Archbishop Tutu ushered in the new South Africa and presented his country's first freely elected president to a rapturous crowd: 'This is the day of liberation. This is the day of celebration. We of many cultures, languages and races are become one nation. We are the Rainbow People of God … I ask you: welcome our brand-new State President, out of the box, Nelson Mandela!'

'The sunshine shone that day,' chuckled Archbishop Tutu. He added, more seriously: 'Sunshine was very important to Nelson in prison, you know, very important.'

After I had visited the cell on Robben Island where Mandela had been imprisoned for so many years, I bought his autobiography and found this passage: 'I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lay defeat and death.'

7. Children


I think children are on the list in much the same way as birdsong and sunshine are. They represent hope. Show most people a photograph of a baby and they will smile. It is the natural response.

Children make us happy because (in the abstract, anyway) they are innocent and carefree and full of new life—as we once were. We are hopeful for them (and protective of them) and nostalgic for our younger selves (nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and mostly a positive one).

When I was with Desmond Tutu, archbishop, Nobel laureate, and one of the most celebrated and admired people of our time, I asked him, 'What has been the high point of your life on earth?'

He replied without hesitation: 'The most gorgeous moment would be when I became a father for the first time, on 14th April, 1956, when our only son, our Trevor, was born. I was so proud and so happy. It made me feel a little like God.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The 7 Secrets of Happiness by Gyles Brandreth. Copyright © 2013 Gyles Brandreth. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Gyles Brandreth is a British writer, broadcaster, and former member of Parliament and government whip, best known these days as a reporter on BBC1’s The One Show. A veteran of British stage and TV, his previous works include six Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde as his detective, two volumes of diaries, and two royal biographies. He currently resides in the United Kingdom.
Gyles Brandreth is a British writer, broadcaster, and former member of Parliament and government whip, best known these days as a reporter on BBC1’s The One Show. A veteran of British stage and TV, his previous works include six Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde as his detective, two volumes of diaries, and two royal biographies. He currently resides in the United Kingdom.

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The 7 Secrets of Happiness: A Reluctant Optimist's Journey 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Wildflowers More than 1 year ago
Thomas Baggs, born in 1889, was a Birmingham University alumnus who went on to become a teacher, journalist and war correspondent for the Daily Mail. Later on he pursued a successful career in advertising and publicity for the American automobile industry. When he died in 1973, he bequeathed a substantial sum to the university for an annual lecture on “Happiness.” The first lecture was delivered in 1976 by Yehudi Menuhin, the virtuoso violinist. Gyles Brandreth became the thirty-seventh person on 17 June 2013 to deliver the Baggs Memorial Lecture at the University of Birmingham. There was an audience of more than a thousand listening to him speak on “Happiness – What it is and how it may be achieved by individuals as well as nations.” Gyles Brandreth spoke for more than an hour, and the response was extraordinary, and not what he was used to. His lecture was termed – fabulous, brilliant, wonderful, transformational, thought-provoking, inspiring, excellent, entertaining, etc. When he left the hall, people asked him for a copy of the lecture, and the “Secrets.” He had neither to give them. When people tweet and retweet garbled versions, he realized he had to write a book. And the result is The 7 Secrets of Happiness! In the book, the author takes you through What Makes You Happy?, The History of Happiness, What is Happiness?, The Wellsprings of Happiness, No Vapid Optimism, Finding the Man With the Answers, Who Gets to be Happy and Why, Why Happiness is Important, and finally, The 7 Secrets of Hapiness. According to Gyles Brandreth, to be happy you must – Cultivate a Passion, Be a Leaf on a Tree, Break the Mirror, Don’t Resist Change, Audit Your Happiness, Live in the Moment, and finally, if you want to be happy – Be Happy! The secrets of happiness are available to all. Remembering them is simple but mastering them is hard. It is a truly inspiring book, one not to be missed.