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Happy hunting ... how to be happy

With the recession, the weather and the riots, our world has rarely seemed more gloomy. Today the Belfast Telegraph aims to lighten the mood by finding out what really makes us smile...

By Adrian Rutherford

What really makes us happy? It's an age-old question and one that has never seemed more appropriate than in the doom and gloom of today's society.

With violence on the streets, financial markets on the brink of collapse and the onset of winter fast approaching, our world has become an ever more grim place.

Never before have we needed to cling to the notion of happiness more.

But what is happiness, and how do we become happy people?

Ian Lynch from The Happiness Project - whose special course on how to be happy has featured on the BBC - thinks he knows the answer.

He is an expert on the matter, and he believes it comes down to personal choice.

"Your definition of happiness will affect your whole life, and so if you really want to have a great life, then give this definition your very best thinking," he said.

"However, a good place to begin is to make a list of the 10 most important things in your life that make you happy and do not cost a penny; for example the smile of a baby, the sun setting over the ocean or cuddling up with your loved one."

So just how happy are we?

According to the most recent analysis, not as happy as we could be.

The Prosperity Index, an annual survey of 110 countries based on the wealth and happiness of their citizens, ranks the UK 13th.

Indeed, the UK has slipped a place in the last year, with a loss in public confidence since the banking crisis and gloom over rising unemployment undermining its 'happy' status.

But while many people link happiness to personal wealth and money, analysis shows this is not actually the case.

Despite our increased wealth, many surveys have shown that happiness levels in western countries are no higher than they were half a century ago.

Mr Lynch said people need to move away from the notion that money brings happiness.

"There is absolutely no evidence that there is a correlation between having more money equalling greater happiness," he added.

Indeed, Mr Lynch believes that the notion of wealth needs to be redefined because the era of economic growth is over.

"Real wealth in life comes from appreciating what we have, seeing the beauty of life, letting go of wounds and hurts, making a contribution to society and having fun," he added.

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