Book Review: How To Be Happier by Paul Jenner

Another great library find, How To Be Happier by Paul Jenner was one of those rare self-help books that made me laugh out loud.

Disclaimer: I am not currently suffering from depression. I am not ungrateful for my lot in life. I have many things that so many other people do not. Nevertheless, I think there is a pervading sense of dissatisfaction that is sweeping its way through our culture.

It is strange, in the Western world where we have ridiculously large amounts of everything, that people seem consistently less happy. I listen to a podcast call The Productivity Book Group (you should check it out if you’re into that kind of thing) which introduced me to Shawn Acher’s amazing TED talk on happiness. So my mind got to thinking and this was the book it found.

How To Be Happier

It could, in theory have a subtitle in keeping with the current trend, of get naked more often and touch each other. The author is keen to stress that this is probably best done with a consenting partner, but that is the one thing I seem to remember most about it.

On a serious note, this book was useful whilst being lighthearted, informative without being preachy. Each chapter had practical sections and exercises to implement and review. I naturally lean towards cynical and pessimistic, so for me it was a pleasant surprise to at least come out in the middle. Normally, whenever there is a personality-based multiple choice quiz, I come out looking like a sociopath or suicidal. Moderately happy was therefore something of an academic success, and shows how far I’ve come in the past few years.

The hardest part of the book is the bit that always sounds the most simple. In order to be happy, we must, at some level, choose to be happy. For anyone familiar with Tony Robbins and NLP, this will ring a bell. Of course, when you are chronically depressed or very, very unhappy, the concept of choosing to be happy doesn’t seem like one you can necessarily bring yourself to do. How To Be Happier gives you some small baby steps to work through to help you build up to the choice. This is something I have seen reflected countless times in my friends and family (and myself). The logic of knowing what to do is nothing like the ability to actually do it.

The book works through other key topics, such as the impact of food and exercise on our mental state (without any extreme diets or workout routines being forced on the reader), meditation and mindfulness. There was also a chapter which seemed fairly innocuous but I suspect is actually a key foundation: be yourself and learn to accept this. Today’s world, with blogs and twitter and the book of face, seems to funnel us into only showing the best of ourselves. The parts we think other people will want, or envy. In the worst case scenario, when we don’t feel we have these things, we over-embellish or outright make them up. We post pictures of ourselves from angles that make us look good but our best friends wouldn’t recognise. We talk about amazing nights out when really we’ve been sitting in front of the TV chomping through a family size bag of M&M’s to make ourselves feel better, washing it down with a bottle of wine. No wonder being ourselves is becoming harder and harder. And with that disconnect comes continued unhappiness.

So, eat well, exercise, think positive thoughts and learn to accept yourself for the unique individual you are, so-called flaws and all.

Then get naked and touch someone some more…

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