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Dare to be happy

Have you enjoyed your daily quota of happiness? An average woman is estimated to laugh 15 times a day, to smile 62 times a day, and to burst into song maybe once or twice a day. Yet many factors such as love and money will decide just how happy a woman will or won't be in her life.

Yet there are practical and not-too-difficult ways in which you can increase your ration of happiness, according to award-winning clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d'Felice, who writes regularly for magazines like Psychologies, Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire.

She also gives online relationship advice on dating websites such as Match.com and DatingDirect.com. And at one point she was the resident psychologist on Big Brother: On the Couch appearing alongside Davina McCall.

And now her new book, Dare To Be You, combines the psychological approaches of cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and positive psychology, to create an eight-week self-help programme for women who want to create more authentic and fulfilling lives for themselves.



formula

And it includes ways in which we can make ourselves happier with our lot each day, and not be so envious of what others have.

Dr d'Felice is a fan of Professor Martin Seligman, a psychologist who defined happiness as "subjective wellbeing" and went on to develop a formula to describe the various components which we need to create it.

According to Prof Seligman (author of the bestseller Learned Optimism), the degree of happiness we can experience ("H") is determined by our biological predisposition to be happy, called the "set point" ("S"), combined with the conditions of our lives ("C"), and the voluntary activities we choose to be involved in ("V"). So his formula for happiness, therefore, is H = S + C + V.

We're very fortunate if our biological set point for happiness is at a level where it takes very little to make us smile and laugh. And we're on the way up the happiness scale if the conditions of our lives, such as work, finances, housing and holidays, are more than up to our needs and make our lives feel rewarding.

Yet, according to Dr d'Felice, we all have the power to make ourselves happier than we currently are, even if things aren't what we want them to be.

So if you were born more on the miserable side of cheerfulness than on the optimistic side, or if the conditions of your present life (no love, little money and no holidays planned) are combining to make you feel that life is punishing you rather than giving you your dues, then you can still come out on top with a smile on your face.

Because, according to Dr d'Felice, happiness is close at hand. She writes about the ways in which we can improve our emotional wellbeing and states: "The conditions of our life will never be perfect. We can improve our sense of wellbeing, however, by accepting the realities of our life 'conditions'. This does not mean that we cannot strive to improve our lot, but we do not have to be angry, disappointed or upset with ourselves if we do not have everything that we think we should."



Conditions

And she goes on: "Additionally, by accepting that our biological set point for happiness can sometimes feel a bit of a struggle, we can understand and forgive ourselves if we don't feel happy all the time."

And there are simple, practical steps a woman can take which will drastically improve her happiness level, such as living close to work or in a quiet neighbourhood.

Dr d'Felice suggests: "Research has shown that there are a number of external conditions that make a difference to our levels of happiness. One of these is commuting. Commuting erodes our happiness quotient because it markedly contributes to stress levels. People who commute long distances arrive at work with higher levels of stress hormones than people who live close to work. Reduce your commute as much as possible, even if it means living in smaller accommodation."

And she continues: "Research shows that we can never completely adapt to new or chronic noise pollution. Loud noises trigger one of our earliest fear responses (the other is the fear of falling) and we never fully relax if we are surrounded by intermittent or persistently intrusive noise. Noisy neighbours are one of the most emotive causes of domestic upset in communities for very good reasons; many of us simply cannot adapt to them."

Instead, relationships with friends and family which make you feel supported, will immeasurably improve your happiness.

"The most important of all the external conditions that can improve our happiness quotient is that of having relationships. Fulfilling, reciprocal, loving and gentle relationships can do more to uplift our experience of happiness that all other conditions put together.

"A conflictual relationship with a lover leaves us feeling betrayed and abandoned. A relationship with parents or children, not based on compassionate and unconditional positive regard, creates misunderstanding and misery. We never fully adapt to hostile relationships. They invidiously contaminate our wellbeing even if we are not in physical contact with the source of our distress, as they squat inside our minds as unresolved, repetitious ruminations."

Dare To Be You, Eight Steps to Transforming Your Life, by Dr Cecilia d'Felice, published by Orion Books, price €16.05


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