Gyles, first of all, how do you define happiness? What is happiness?
My idea of happiness is a sense of well-being; maybe of the rightness
of being, that all is well with you and your world, the essential rightness of being would be my definition of what is real happiness that sense of evenness, that all is well with you and those around you.
What really got me going on this was discovering that – and all the studies seem to agree on this – that happy people will live seven and one-half to 10 years longer than unhappy people. It seems extraordinary. Seven and one-half to 10 years more life than unhappy people! So I thought to myself, ‘well, if I can discover the seven secrets, I won’t just enhance people’s lives, I will extend
Sounds good. And what prompted you to begin researching happiness and to write this book?
About 15 years ago, I’d been a Member of Parliament, I’d been in the government in Britain and there was a general election, and the people didn’t vote for me. And that coincided with my best friend from school, he died on me, you know, in his mid-40s. So I’d been rejected by the people, and then my friend died, and then my brother
died, and then my sister
died, and I thought ‘this is, what’s going on here?’ I ought to be happy.
So, because I am an intelligent being, but things are going wrong. I ought to take this seriously. So I ended up with a very interesting Irish psychiatrist and I began by asking him about my parents. I suppose when you go to a psychiatrist that’s the first thing they want to talk to you about, your parents. I asked him why this was: that my parents used to talk about the Second World War as the happiest time of their lives. My mom during the Second World War she was in London, England, and bombs were falling!
But she talked about it as being the happiest time of her life. My dad during the Second World War, he was risking his life in the army; millions were. And yet he talked about it as the happiest time of his life.
And this psychiatrist said to me ‘well it’s not that strange you know: your mother, you know when the bombs were falling and she was in London at that time, but there was a sense of common purpose, a sense of unity. People felt that they were on the same side and that makes people happy. And your dad and the other soldiers, the sailors, the airmen fighting in the Second World War, yes they were risking their lives but they were also being tested. And all research shows that being tested
is a key element to becoming happy.’
So once this psychiatrist and others and reading people like Freud and Jung and talking to wise people from (Archbishop) Desmond Tutu upwards and downwards, I began to unravel the secrets of happiness.
How do these things rank in their order of importance? Which would you say is the most important and which would you says is the least important happiness trigger?
Actually I believe that one of the secrets is to be a leaf on a tree.
And that means belonging to an object, belonging to a tree that’s bigger than yourself. You know, every individual in the world is unique, just as every leaf is unique, but a leaf that isn’t attached to a tree, well it floats about a bit in the air, it feels free, that’s kind of nice, but it floats quite quickly to the ground and it dies. You need to be a leaf of a tree, part of an organism that is growing and larger than yourself. It can be a family, it can be a group of friends, it can be a golf club, it can be a school, a hospital, a place of work, it can be a radio station. You need to be a leaf on a tree. So of all those triggers, other people are absolutely key. People who are inward looking find it much more difficult to be happy than people who are outward looking.
Is it possible to pick out and to follow just one of the rules for happiness in your book and still achieve happiness?
No. I’m afraid you’ve got to follow all seven or it doesn’t work. This is not pick and mix. What’s interesting about this is that these seven rules, which by now are well tested and they work straight, gay, old, young, single, married, divorced, separated, wherever you are – one of the most important things you need to be happy is to be able to cultivate a passion
. To have an enthusiasm, to have an interest that keeps you going, that sustains you. Those are just two of the secrets, five to go, seven years longer life guaranteed.
I don’t think there’s any other book that is promising you that and if it doesn’t work you can just sue me.
(Laughs) All right, well we will keep that in mind. That is Gyles Brandreth. He is an author. He has has written the book The Seven Secrets of Happiness.