This week I went to the annual ‘Happiness Lecture’ which took place in the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall.
The Great Hall itself is enough to make even the grumpiest person feel a sense of wonder – it holds around 2000 people and is littered with portraits of important people and huge lanterns which dangle from the high ceiling like something from Harry Potter.
The lecture this year was given by Gyles Brandreth. As I grumpily said to my wife on the way there: “Come on. Let’s go and listen to a rich man lecture us on how to be happy.” He is a former European 'Monopoly' champion after all.
To be fair on Brandreth, he didn’t skirt around the topic and said he would give us his seven secrets of happiness by the end of the hour long lecture.
“Money in itself is not a road to happiness,” he said. Who would even think otherwise?
I suppose you don’t get to be one of the most in-demand speakers by not being topical and funny. And Brandreth was both of these things. But could he deliver when it came to helping us to be happier? It’s good to be entertaining, but was the man actually going to be any help!?
He started by telling us that the pursuit of happiness is a relatively modern notion.
“In the past happiness was to be for the next world. Life was a vale of tears and happiness was not for this world but for the next world.”
That was as deep as he got. Perhaps the superficiality in his tone was a blessing in disguise? Some truths are simple after all. He blamed America for the apparent change in attitude of people towards happiness in this life and then concluded that happiness itself is not a transient feeling so much as a lasting ‘rightness of being’.
Of course when you are as successful as Brandreth, with an ongoing commission on the BBC, you are probably going to experience a certain ‘rightness of being’. You really are going to feel as if God and the universe are affirming you for your hard work. Perhaps the successful always feel this ‘rightness of being’. And in the end you can get to lecture grumpy cynics like me on what happiness really is.
Then he told us what he believed were the seven secrets of happiness. Although he could be lying of course (in order to keep up with the Joneses in the ‘happiness competition’).
- Cultivate a passion.
- Be a leaf on a tree (attached to some greater organism).
- Avoid introspection. "Introspection is death," says Brandreth, "No-one is interested in you!"
- Be open to change
- Audit your happiness. Do something about it.
- Live in the moment.
- If you want to be happy - act happy.
“And does it work?” asked Brandreth, momentarily looking introspective, “I’m not sure.”
I wasn't quite sure either. And I’m not even sure if he said anything remotely useful. Because it was the Great Hall itself which really stopped me from feeling so grumpy that night.