Six simple ways to be happy

Updated about Feb 23, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Do you want to be happy? Of course you do, but according to new research, resting and relaxation are no way to go about it.

You're better off going to the theatre or exercising; even a visit to the library beats lounging around on the sofa.

Such were the findings of a joint study by the University of Sussex and the London School of Economics (misery costs the economy a great deal - hence the interest), which has come up with a list of 33 activities that make us happy.

New research shows that relaxing and resting aren't the best ways to be happy - it's better to be active instead

One thing's for certain, texting and social media come at the bottom of the list, only increasing our happiness by a puny 0.45 per cent, while intimacy and love-making increase it by a whopping 14.2 per cent, and top the list.

But happiness doesn't have to come from other people. It can come from within - and connecting with the world around you, as these writers have discovered . . .

A few years ago I went through a period of such severe depression that life didn't seem worth living. It was like permanent winter, so bleak and cold that the sun would never shine.

Then I saw snowdrops pushing through the freezing, iron-hard ground. I looked at them every day until I felt that if they could come back to life, then so could I.

Those green shoots gave me hope in a way that nothing else had.

As spring came, I started to put in more and more plants, until the garden was ablaze with colour. Life was growing through my hands; gentle, peaceful, but, above all, optimistic. If I gave love, it was returned, a hundredfold.

I could spend hours lost in gardening. The form of depressive illness I have is biological. It has affected generations of my family and follows no rhyme, reason nor circumstance. I can be depressed when the sun is shining or I am surrounded by a group of loving friends.

Of course, fresh air and exercise help to alleviate depression, but for me gardening is more than that. It represents endurance as well as hope.

At the end of the first garden I made stood a tree, huge and magnificent. It withstood freezing temperatures and gale-force winds. It bent but never broke. The leaves dropped until it looked no more than a stark skeleton, but it always, always came back to life. And so I learned that we may be battled and bruised, but hope is a living thing.
Grinny Dougary ways I've always loved singing, but singing hasn't always loved me. I would open my mouth with an Aretha Franklin song in my head, fully expecting my voice to follow suit - only to be betrayed by a tremulous travesty.

Still, doggedly, devotedly, I continued to attempt to sing whenever possible. On car journeys, when my now twentysomething sons were small, they would make a great play (hands over their ears, shrieking 'No, Mum, stop!') of being tortured as I sang along to the radio.

Fortunately, I have had fellow carousers in my life - some of whom could really sing.
The highlight of weekends with one couple was when the wife (who had sung with a band in New York) would lift up her guitar and beckon me into another room, where we would sing James Taylor and Beatles songs for hours.

Back then, I would no more have considered joining a choir than taking up bell-ringing. And when I did eventually become a member of my first choir 15 years ago, it was long before Gareth Malone was a household name.

But from the moment I experienced my voice as something singular but also unified, in harmony with the other singers, I was hooked. It was like falling in love.

And everyone in the choir had the same slightly dazed smiles and bright eyes - singing made them feel happy, too.

Although it is singing itself that makes me happy, it is also the communality of a choir. There is something magical about breathing together; a mass of voices singing quietly together is powerful and thrillingly mysterious, almost spiritual.

And there's the unexpected camaraderie from the activities we do as a choir, raising money for good causes and taking our singing sometimes to places where people are forgotten and sad.

I am now a member of six choirs and, if I can, sing every day of the week. I will never sound like Aretha, but I stand on a stage in front of several hundred people and know that some, if not all, of each song will sound not bad at all.

Amy Liptrot found sea swimming helpful while she was recovering from an alcohol addiciton

Amy Liptrot says a few years ago, after I got out of rehab for treatment of alcohol addiction, I returned from London to the Orkney islands, where I grew up.

I was newly sober, unemployed and fragile. Back home, I joined an eccentric group of mostly women, the Orkney Polar Bear Club, who, each Saturday morning year-round, swim in the sea at different spots on the island coastline. We decide our location the night before, using analysis of the wind direction and height of tide. We swim at beaches, in rockpools, down rusty ladders from piers and out around shipwrecks.

The water is always bracingly cold - from 13c at the height of summer, to an icy 3c - and I wear just a swimsuit (albeit with neoprene boots and gloves, and usually a woolly hat). I don't stay in for long, but it's enough.

With seaweed and the Atlantic on my skin, up close to anemones and limpets, I am alive. I always feel more awake when I get out, my skin and my brain tingling, with the fresh perspective you get from being at duck level.

I also swam alone during the two winters I spent on the tiny island of Papay, the most north-westerly of the Orkneys. Sometimes I swam naked and felt like the selkies of Scottish folklore: magical beings who live as seals in the sea, then shed their skins to become human on land.

In a way I was performing my version of the cold water baths historically used in the treatment of alcoholics. I was adjusting to a sober life and finding new ways to enjoy myself.

Now, the wild swims function for me in several of the same ways as alcohol used to.
First, they provide a buzz: the 'cold water high'. Second, they're an effective method of stress relief. The cold ocean blasts away anxiety.

My focus is simply on not drowning, and when I clamber back on to the beach, I feel almost reborn and my worries are smaller.

I also use the swims to celebrate the changing seasons. On the spring solstice, I will, with luck, have been sober for five years and I plan to celebrate, with joy and gratitude, in cold water.