Christine Webber

I was at a meeting in London the other day and found myself sitting next to a woman of around my age.

I’d never met her before but liked her instantly and we chatted till we were called to order. Later, she whispered: “Don’t tell on me, will you? I’m going to slip away half an hour early because my husband just texted suggesting we have dinner together in Soho”.

It turned out they’d been married for decades but clearly still loved and liked each other hugely and had never run out of things to chat about. 

I felt surprisingly emotional about all this, and confess I felt a pang of regret at the thought that my own lovely husband is no longer around to arrange a spontaneous night out.

I’m sure many of you who are widowed yourselves understand that feeling.   

Anyway, I wished her a wonderful evening and said I hoped she would really enjoy the experience, and value it.

I could see she knew what I was thinking – without me having to spell out the uncomfortable truth – which was that one day, those dinner dates will come to an end because of the illness or death of one of them.  

It was evident that she was excited about the hours ahead, and the joy in her face as she talked about her spouse remained with me the whole evening.

This really got me thinking about life’s pleasures and how vital it is for our long-term mental health to enjoy them as they happen.  

Children are good at living in the moment.

The other day, I was with a four-year-old I’m particularly fond of. We went to the park because she wanted to show me how she’d learned to swing on her own on the “big girl” swings.

She was beaming her broadest smile and obviously having a wonderful time as she swung higher and higher. Then suddenly she shouted: “This is the very best day of my life”.

It was a splendid moment, and I was thrilled to witness how she’s a person with real zest for living, and the ability to feel utter contentment while it’s happening.  

Alas, not everyone has that talent.   

When I was working as a therapist, I often saw patients who were going through turmoil and sadness. Sometimes, they would say to me that they now recognised they’d been happy before all the turbulence began but hadn’t realised it at the time. 

I wanted to weep for them. It’s such a waste isn’t it, to be happy yet not appreciate the fact till circumstances change for the worse?

My belief though is that we’re not born equal in our ability to be happy. Some of us come into this world with a ready-made sense of joy and tend by nature to be optimistic and quick to smile and laugh.

Others don’t. 

I find this quite tragic but I’m sure it’s true. However, such folk can definitely improve their default position. It’s tough, I know, and I really sympathise with them because often they have to struggle with low mood hovering in the background.

However, the good news is that I’ve seen lots of men and women who fall into this category work on their happiness and manage to increase it. 

Over the years that I’ve been doing this column, I’ve often talked about the power of writing down important words and thoughts.

Certainly, this is my technique if I have to remember something. I write it, and often I write it down again and again, until it’s lodged in my memory. I’ve also mentioned about writing your way through grief.

But now I am going to urge you to write down stuff that generates happiness, and to set yourself a target of noticing and recording at least five moments per day that have made you smile and glad to be alive. 

If you’re not a particularly happy person, this might seem like an over-ambitious task, but what I would say is this; it’s a very, very rare day indeed where you can’t find something good to say about it. 

Someone’s smile might lift your mood.  The sun might come out when you were expecting rain.

A television programme might make you laugh, and suddenly the day seems brighter. Our lives are full of such occurrences, but far too often we don’t notice them, and if we don’t notice, we don’t bank that happiness in our brain.  

So, why not keep a happiness diary? I know this might seem a lot of effort, but the fact is that once you train yourself to notice and enjoy good moments as they happen, you will get to the point where you do it automatically and no longer need to write them down.  

Twenty-three years ago, I wrote a book called “Get the Happiness Habit”.

Sadly, far too many men and women have an unhappiness habit.

It’s worth trying to change that.