Secrets of true happiness revealed

By Kirsten MacFarlane

In the search to feel even better Kirsten MacFarlane does a session of laughter yoga and has other ways for beating the winter blues.

The idea you have to work at happiness is enough to make you downright grumpy.

Chomping your way through a box of chocolates or splurging your pay packet on an expensive designer coat only brings fleeting happiness. To permanently leverage your happiness barometer into the smiley face zone, you must think like a chef.

As American psychologist Professor Ed Diener, from the BBC's The Happiness Formula says, "there's no one key to happiness but a set of ingredients".

If you want your happiness cake to rise, follow these three rules: Form a close network of family and friends, seek job satisfaction and search for life's true meaning.

And money doesn't buy happiness. You're better off getting your kicks the cheap way by laughing.

Psychologist Dr Rachel Morrison from Auckland University of Technology says there's plenty of scientific evidence to show laughter is good for you.

"Having a laugh releases endorphins which helps relieve stress."

You can even laugh and exercise at the same time. Dr Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga (see sidebar), says sustained hearty laughter has a "wide range of beneficial effects on our mental and physical health".

A good laugh, he says on his website, helps strengthen facial muscles, reduces blood pressure and even boosts levels of immune cells that attack cancer.

"Laughter yoga approaches laughter as a body exercise so it's easy to laugh even if you're depressed or in a bad mood."

The first ingredient of the "happiness recipe", is a close circle of friends and family; the wider and deeper the better. You could start by forming a laughter club. As Morrison says: "The evidence for laughter clubs working is quite striking."

If the idea of laughter in unison isn't appealing, wriggling your booty can be just as fun.

"It's my happy place," says Salsa enthusiast Amellia Kapa, who is also broadening her circle of friends with Spanish lessons.

The second ingredient is work and it shouldn't all be hard slog.

Dr Rachel Morrison's latest study of informal relationships in the workplace reveals women at work need some light relief.

"Women get a lot of benefit from having some fun with work colleagues. Having someone to laugh with at work helps relieve stress - and helps to reduce absenteeism and staff turnover."

The third vital ingredient is having meaning in life, a belief in something bigger than yourself. The Buddhists have it nailed: There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.

Here are some ways to get you started on the happy path.

Declare yourself email bankrupt
Feeling suffocated by your inbox? Struggling to get on top of your mountain of email? Wipe the slate clean, shut down the computer and go email bankrupt. And throw the Blackberry into a drawer. It's a joyous feeling starting out with an empty inbox.

Dancing queen
Gather old friends, haul out the vintage record collection or rev up SingStar for a disco bash in the confines of your own living room. You can warble and wriggle to your heart's content, with no shame.

Reinvent your school days
It's never too late to rekindle your sporting past and possibly humiliate yourself on the netball court. Fans say it's a good way to keep fit and these days, they let menfolk play.

Read a miserable book
It's called misery lit and it's the latest genre to infest the bestseller charts. The fans are lapping up these tales of woe, and feeling so much better about their own lives. Get started with Please, Daddy, No, which details Author Stuart Howarth's childhood from hell.

And if all else fails, go shopping
So retail therapy doesn't lead to lasting happiness but the sales are starting and the feeling - albeit fleeting - of bagging a bargain really does make us feel good. Baby steps.

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