Yes, You Can Learn How to Be Happy; Depressed? Positive Psychology May Help You Look on Life's Bright Side

Article excerpt

Byline: DAN PARKINSON

IF being grumpy is your normal state of mind, you may be tempted to scoff at the claim.

But experts in a new field of psychology say we can overcome natural negativity - by teaching ourselves to be happy.

By following key rules and using mind games, say scientists, everyone can eventually lead a fulfilling and contented life.

The theory is currently being put to the test in Britain in a unique experiment in which volunteers with varying levels of depression are taking part in a series of experiments.

It is hoped the study, the biggest of its kind ever undertaken, will help psychologists to learn more about depression and how it can be combated.

Positive psychology - also known as the science of happiness - was developed by Martin Seligman, of the University of Pennsylvania, and focuses on how people flourish rather than on how they become depressed.

Researchers found that inherited character traits and childhood experiences accounted for just 50 per cent of someone's happiness potential. The rest was controlled by the individual.

They discovered that those who class themselves as 'very happy' are no more sociable, beautiful or successful than the average person.

Where they differed was in having found out what makes them happy and including more of it in their lives. One key to happiness is to cultivate 'flow' activities - hobbies or activities in which we become so immersed that time is forgotten.

Another is to surround ourselves with close friends or loved ones.

Married couples were found to live longer and enjoy good physical health, but single people can achieve the same by cultivating a 'para-family' of friends, ex-lovers and colleagues.

Psychologists say relationships need to be intimate and include a great deal of self-disclosure to result in higher levels of happiness.

Mr Seligman also found it was crucial to undertake meaningful activities, such as community work or political campaigning. …