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10 Ways to a Happier Life - Part One

The so-called Season of Goodwill is one of the most stressful & depressing. Our resident psychotherapist Dr Robert Owen shares 5 of his Top 10 Tips for a year-round happier life

Image CC Donna Cymek


As a counselling psychotherapist, I avoided looking into the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology for many years, confusing it with positive thinking, affirmations, Pollyanna-like wishful thinking etc. A few years ago my mind opened sufficiently to discover that this approach to psychology was a totally new paradigm in examining the human psyche.


For virtually all of its history, psychotherapy has dwelt on what is dysfunctional in an individual’s psyche. The Positive Psychology movement has spawned a vast quantity of peer-reviewed research that identifies which characteristics of an individual lead to happiness and fulfilment. The aim of the research is to encourage psychotherapists to integrate these findings into their practice, which means working with individual clients to discover their strengths and virtues and build on them, rather than dwelling on the aspects of the individual which result in unhelpful thoughts, feelings and behaviours - although these also have to be addressed. A great deal of the Positive Psychology literature has been useful in supporting my own pursuit of happiness. Here’s the first part of what I’ve found:



Positive Psychology research suggests that people who have meaning in their life, such as religious and spiritual beliefs, tend to be happier and live longer. This was a problem for me, as I’m an atheist and never really understood what others meant by spirituality. Ironically, revisiting existential philosophy helped me to find meaning in my life. A key tenet of the philosophy states that life has no meaning - which is depressing, isn’t it? Then the penny dropped; I had to create my own meaning for my life, which I have done by and large: My life seems worthwhile and is happier when I support others.



Descartes did a good job of separating the mind and the body, an idea that held sway for a few hundred years. Nowadays, few medical scientists would suggest there is no connection between the mind and the body; on the contrary, medical scientific research indicates that there is a connection between regular exercise and lifting your mood - it creates endorphins in the brain, which lifts one’s mood. Psychotherapists witness improvements with depressed clients who have taken up exercise and the best news is you don’t have to overdo it; daily brisk walking can be of benefit!



One of the most depressing things about growing older is there are fewer opportunities to have new experiences. Trying out or learning new things may require some effort but it’s not only is a source of enduring happiness, there’s strong evidence that it’s another factor which promotes longevity.



It’s fairly intuitive to suggest having a good relationship with family and friends is good for your mental health, but longitudinal studies - studies conducted over a long period of time - into longevity (over 80 years in one case) confirms this. Research (including my doctoral thesis) and my own experience have shown that people who are lonely or isolated have a greater propensity to show symptoms of depression or anxiety.



On a seasonal note, Positive Psychology research findings suggest that altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain, thus increasing happiness. Charitable donations are one such possibility, as is being generous with loved ones; not necessarily with money or gifts but also with your time and attention. Research even suggests that giving creates more happiness that receiving – for most people anyway!


I hope this helps contribute to a happy Christmas/holiday season for you and your loved ones. More next time :)

Robert Owen

About the Writer

Dr Robert Owen has over 20 years' experience as a psychotherapist and group facilitator and is a quality assessor for a national counselling training organisation. He works from home in Strawberry Hill as a one to one therapist and couples counsellor and also co-facilitates personal development groups (a type of therapy group) at the Twickenham Therapy and Counselling Centre.


Until recently he taught the theories of groups, transactional analysis, emotional literacy and positive psychology to MA students at Brunel University. Husband, father and grandfather, he is passionate about yoga, mindfulness and healthy living & ageing. His short story, Bristol Bomber Boy - From  Bedminster to Bomber Command, is based upon his father’s experiences as an RAF pilot during World War II and available here in Kindle format. Robert's website is here.


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