Gill South: Find your inner sunshine

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Inspired after a TV programme, Gill South gives herself some lessons in happy.

Happiness is a skill that can be cultivated. Photo / Thinkstock
Happiness is a skill that can be cultivated. Photo / Thinkstock

I've always been a glass half full kind of gal though life can test my Pollyanna-ish upbeat attitude at times. But Sky's Living Channel's new programme 8 Weeks to Happiness, which started last week, has made me question, am I really happy?

The premise of the programme is that happiness is not just a fleeting emotion or inborn quality, but a skill that can be cultivated. It is run by an expert team in Aussie comprising positive psychology expert Dr Anthony Grant, mindfulness coach Dr Russ Harris and food and exercise guru Anna-Louise Bouvier, the woman who created "physiocise".

The programme brings together eight self-confessed unhappy people in the trendy Sydney suburb of Marrickville. They include shy, gay guy, Cade, Stephen, father of four and a workaholic and Liz, whose marriage has recently broken up.

The eight in the group are put through a series of uncomfortable tests, the first which I give a bash at home. We all write our own eulogy. This positive psychology exercise is meant to show you what you think is missing in your life - what would you like to have achieved, how would you like to be perceived? Mine is a bit self-critical, and with a "could do better" ring about it.

"She always wanted more," is my main gist.

The borderline depressed people in the group struggle with it, especially young Ben who has big dreams but is rather hampered by everyday life. He's not good with money, bless him.

The next happiness test is getting each of the group to do random acts of kindness, the idea being this will stop you thinking about yourself and your troubles. There's a touching bit where Liz, still grieving after losing her mother nine years ago, gives a bunch of flowers to a lovely motherly woman.

I drop off some pumpkin soup to a friend with a cold.

Food, sleep and exercise consultant Anna-Louise, who reminds me of a younger, bossier Alison Holst, takes Cade grocery shopping and he admits to a truly appalling diet of chocolate bars, chocolate drinks and pizza. Makes me feel so healthy and virtuous. She gets him out walking his dog - exercise generates endorphins and all that. All the group sleep badly and are sedentary, so let that be a lesson. Feel smug about my gym.

Lastly, mindfulness coach Dr Russ Harris gets together four of the group, pairs them off and asks them to tell each other about a sad moment in their lives. "Anger-issues Tony" as I like to call him has found out his dog has cancer and is grief-stricken.

Russ tells the group to embrace these moments of grief, not be ashamed of them. As one who enjoys a good sob every now and again, I agree. Crying always gives me a hell of an appetite and a zest for life.

The most interesting fact for me to come out of the programme is that your feelings of happiness are explained 50 per cent by genetics, 10 per cent by life circumstances, and 40 per cent is on the choices we make.

Although the expert team see that 40 per cent as somewhere they can make a difference, I'm highly struck by the 50 per cent genetics bit. As one who lives with two Eeyores, it all becomes clear.

Next week:

I'm going along to an evening with Nigel Latta where I learn about how to teach my teen to drive, with the ultimate aim of everyone staying alive.

- NZ Herald

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