“Tell me what you want, what you really, really want?” said the life coach, channelling The Spice Girls.

I took several deep breaths. I pondered some of the options: health; wealth; contented family; work/life balance; to look amazing in a bikini…

Yes to all of the above. But to what end? Why do I want those things? Ultimately, I believe that achieving them will make me happy.

So what I really, really want, is to be happy.

Don’t worry, I’m already pretty happy. I have my ups and downs, but generally, I’m in a good place emotionally.

I could be happier though, couldn’t you? I don’t know a living soul who wouldn’t say yes to a little more happiness. Isn’t that why we’re all here?

Aristotle: Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim of human existence.

According to research, happy people are more altruistic, productive, likeable, creative, healthy and resilient. They are friendlier, more likeable and therefore make better friends and citizens [Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project].

Who wouldn’t want to be one of those people?

I’ve compiled a list of criteria here which we can all work on to turn up the happy. As this blog is all about my personal experiences, far from preaching to you, this is about how well – and badly – I follow the experts’ advice.

Eat well

This is the biggy for me.

Healthy food makes a happier me. And I’m quite a good cook who enjoys rustling up a healthy, balanced meal for the family.

Most weekdays I’m focused on eating the right food. Salads fit well into my work day routine and a fresh, home cooked meal in the evening works for the whole family.

But then the weekend beckons me with its deliciously naughty restaurants and takeaways, the occasional party or lunch with the girls.  All the saintly behaviour disappears, replaced by a few extra pounds.

Sweet, salty and fatty foods are like a drug to me – too tempting to resist, too easy to justify (‘sod it, I’ll be good tomorrow’), and the guilty come down is just not worth the high.

In fact, I’m writing this after a massive Sunday roast lunch – lamb, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cabbage, beans, gravy and all the trimmings, finished off with a completely unnecessary cheesecake for my second stomach (the first being too full for dessert).

And I’m not happy. I’m distinctly grumpy.

What’s next on this foodie’s journey? I anticipate more decadent consumption, as we have two holidays coming up, and no one wants to be the dull one on holiday. Plus, this is my mantra:

How to be happy - 5 keys to happiness. Eat well by all means, but life is short, so eat the cake

I’m too stubborn to go on a diet written and planned out by an expert – I want to be able to fix this myself. I’ve done it before, and re-reading this previous post about my relationship with food, gives me hope that I can get back to this healthier state of mind. I lost 9 pounds while researching that article.

Sleep well

On a happier note, if you want advice on sleep, I’ve got this.

I feel I could write a book about sleep. I’ve left no stone unturned in my research on how to get a better night’s kip. So please read my previous articles about improving your environment, the importance of a good mattress, having a schedule, and how to deal with a snoring partner.

Bed is my favourite place to be, so I really do practice what I preach when it comes to sleep.

How to be happy - 5 keys to happiness, including the importance of a really good night's sleep - and I have all the advice.

Sleep is fundamental to our survival. It’s said that we can survive longer without food than without sleep. Longer, less interrupted sleep results in increased productivity and happiness.

Exercise

You don’t need me lecturing you about the benefits of exercise.The latest NHS advice is that just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day is enough to improve your health.

Oh yeah, I’m full of good advice when it comes to exercise. I just can’t stick with anything. I’m never going to be one of those people who is happy while doing the exercise.

My friends are all training for triathlons, tough mudder, river races and other such horrors. I honestly can’t think of anything worse.

How to be happy - 5 keys to happiness.

I did join a gym and have some great advice about how to choose a gym membership that works for you. But I have to now admit that I’ve cancelled my membership. I’ve moved on, sorry.

It’s not you, it’s me.

I’m now going to local exercise classes. I’ve done Pilates a couple of times and last week did an old fashioned aerobics class.

Sure, I’m happy enough after I’ve completed a class, if only because I survived it and don’t have to do anything else for the rest of the day. I still wonder what an endorphin high feels like. I tried HIIT once, it nearly killed me. The chocolate bar and large latte I had on the way home gave me a good buzz though.

What does make me happy is being outside in nature. Having a dog means that I have to get outside at least twice a day, regardless of the weather. When it’s pouring with rain, this can feel like a huge chore.

Then I watch Coco’s little wiggle, shaded from the elements by the trees in our local wood, and I feel totally at peace.

My advice, get a dog.

How to be happy - 5 keys to happiness. My advice, get a dog

Find me somebody to hug

A good squeeze is not only good for the soul, but mental health experts consider hugging to be beneficial to those suffering from depression and anxiety. It reduces stress by releasing oxytocin, and helps us bond with whoever/whatever we’re hugging.

Hugging is good for the hugger and the huggee.

As discussed in this TED Talk, the key to a living to a ripe old age, could be your social life. Susan Pinker studied a community in Sardinia, where there are 10 times as many centenarians as there are in North America. It’s the only place on earth where men live as long as women.

It wasn’t their Mediterranean diet, outdoor lifestyle or their optimism that gave this community such longevity. It was their close personal relationships and the quality and quantity of their face to face interactions.

Burgeoning social media means that we spend less time physically interacting with people than ever before. Social isolation is the public health risk of our time. In this Sardinian community, people are never alone. The key to a long life, is physically being with other people.

Coco gives me access to cuddles 24 hours a day, although that might limit my productivity. Go hug your best friend, your kids, your partner.

How to be happy - 5 keys to happiness. Number 4 Find me somebody to hug.

And if you really can’t think of anyone you want to hug, you can now book a session with a professional cuddler. Seriously, Google it – there are several in the UK.

It might make you live longer!

Choose your friends carefully

A slight caveat to what I’ve written above: choose to spend time with the right people.

Someone once told me that there are two types of people: Drains and Radiators.

We all know people who answer the compulsory ‘how are you?’ greeting with a list of ailments and irritations. Drains can always find the cloud hidden in the silver lining; and can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They will drain your energy, and leave you feeling low.

I’m not suggesting that we should stay away from people who are genuinely suffering, of course you must support your friends. But do they have real cause for concern, and do they want your support. Or have they just got used to complaining?

Radiators on the other hand give you energy. They might not be consistently happy, but together there’s a positive chemistry. You provide support for each other, and leave each meeting feeling good.

I used to have a much larger circle of friends, but over time I realised how many of them were drains. The people I choose to spend time with now, genuinely give me energy.

And they’re all excellent huggers.

Clearly, I’m no maven (I‘m working on it). I know the theory of everything I’ve written here is sound, but the practice takes, well, practise. I’ve got the cuddles and sleep sown up. Most of the other elements come and go – as ever I lack consistency.

Being someone who takes self help booked intravenously, I have LOADS more of these keys to happiness. This list is just part one. I’m already working on part two. Watch this space.

Please share your tips with me. What makes you happy, or what changes have you made to increase your happiness score?

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: I use affiliate links if there’s something to buy, which provides about enough commission for a packet of crisps once a year.]

I have loads of sound advice to help you increase your happiness. Whether I practice what I preach is another matter. Here is how to be happy, part one.