We all want to be happy, but what is happiness? And what makes us happy?

How happy are you? Give yourself a mark out of ten, where ten means blissfully happy in every way, and zero means totally miserable all the time.

Most people exist somewhere between 5-8, not totally happy but not miserable enough to do anything about it. Why? The problem is, many of us have adopted beliefs that make it hard to be happy.

What chance have you got if you believe you have to earn happiness or that it’s selfish or irresponsible to seek it?

Can happiness be learned or taught?

Some believe that some people are just born ‘the happy type’, but recent studies suggest that this is not entirely true. It seems that happiness can be taught.

We know, for example, that happy people tend to be hopeful about the future. They assume things will work out alright and don’t indulge in blame and self-pity if things go wrong. They don’t rely on money and ‘stuff’ to make them happy, but they know how to get the most out of it. They have a wide circle of friends and don’t take themselves too seriously. They’re able to laugh at life – and themselves.

All of the above traits can be learned, although there are opposing views on how we should go about it. Some believe that you can set happiness as a goal, just as you would work on your next career move, and work towards it. The argument goes something like this:

‘If you were totally in control of your life, healthy, free from worry, prosperous, had good family relationships and lots of friends, an enjoyable and fulfilling career, rewarding hobbies, social activities and fun, and were loved and respected by others, would you be happy? The obvious answer is yes. And since all these can be set as goals, planned and worked for systematically, it follows that happiness, too, can be tackled in this way.’

Try it. You’ll find it works – to some extent, depending on where you’re starting from, but you’ll find that you eventually hit an invisible barrier. Why?

  1. People who set impossible goals become frustrated by the gap between their aspirations and their attainments. Keep your sense of direction (aimlessness is a serious threat to contentment), but don’t be obsessed by it. Research has repeatedly shown that happiness is unrelated to wealth (once you have enough to feed, clothe and house yourself, each extra £, $ or € makes little difference), intelligence, educational attainment or age.
  2. Happiness can only exist in the here and now. It’s a fallacy to think that happiness will arrive when some future event takes place. ‘When…. then I’ll be happy,’ simply doesn’t work. Fill in the gap any way you like – ‘when I achieve all my goals,’ ‘when I make a million,’ ‘when I meet the man or woman of my dreams,’ and so on. Unless you already have the foundations of happiness in place, they are unlikely to make much difference.
  3. Goals anticipate and look to the future, but happiness can only exist in the here and now. Entertainer David Baddiel put it like this: ‘My idea of perfect happiness is not having to believe that happiness resides elsewhere.’

You will never be happy if your happiness depends on your achievements. Have a sense of purpose and goals to aim for, and enjoy the process. If you succeed – great! If you don’t, at least you’ve had fun trying.

To return to the question, ‘Can happiness be taught as a skill?’ – Yes it can. Happiness is a combination of attitude and emotion, and the key to changing attitudes and emotions is the I-T-I-A Formula (see below).

Happiness is an inner state.

You can’t buy happiness, nor sell, drink, drive or wear it. You can’t see, hear, smell, taste or touch it. You can’t go on holiday to it, or give it or receive it as a gift. In other words, it cannot be determined by factors external to yourself. Some live in poverty, yet are happy. Others (including many famous and successful people) are worth millions, but are not.

Applying the I-T-I-A Formula to happiness

I-T-I-A stands for Intention, Thinking, Imagination and Action.


Are you willing to be happy?  This may seem a trite question, but it’s not. Some would have to give up certain things if they became happy, such as sympathy from others and attention.

You are responsible for your happiness. How can it be any other way? If your happiness depended on the feelings, actions and words of others, how could you ever be truly happy, since you cannot control any of these things?


  • What absolutely must happen in order for me to feel happy?
  • What would I prefer to happen for me to feel happy?
  • What would be nice, but not absolutely essential?

Your answers define your rules for happiness. Over zealous rules can destroy your chances of being happy.

  • Realise that happiness is not an absence of problems. Life is a school. Every event, every obstacle has something to teach you so look for the lesson. See problems as challenges that can be turned into opportunities and learning experiences.
  • Let go of the need to be right. Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy? It’s hard to be both.
  • Look on the bright side. Focus on  pleasant, happy things and count your blessings.
  • Happiness demands complete self-acceptance. If you’re not happy, this is the place to start. No amount of accomplishments and possessions can make up for a lack of self-acceptance.
  • Understand that happiness does not equal fun. Happy people certainly have fun, but happiness and fun are not the same. Fun activities help us temporarily forget our problems – but they do not bring permanent happiness, because the effect fades once the fun ends. Fun is what you feel during the activity; happiness is an on-going state of being experienced before and after. If you rely on fun to bring happiness, you’ll have an empty feeling once the party is over because you’re not addressing the real issues that bring the genuine thing.
  • Embrace change. Change is a natural and inevitable part of life. There’s a saying attributed to Helen Keller:

‘When the door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one which has been opened for us.’


Imagine yourself surrounded with happiness, feeling happy, enjoying life, cheerful and contented no matter what is going on around you. Your unconscious will take this as an instruction to create happy feelings for you. Try it – it works!


  • Mix with happy people. Happiness rubs off. So does unhappiness. It’s hard to be happy when surrounded by unhappy people, so mix with people who know how to enjoy themselves. Life is meant to be fun! Comedian Victor Borge described laughter as, ‘The shortest distance between two people.
  • Laugh loud and laugh often. The ability to laugh is a good indicator of mental health. It also alters your body chemistry – endorphins (the ‘happy hormones’) are released into the bloodstream bringing a feeling of well-being. When you’re happy, your body is relaxed, your facial expression changes and you laugh often. It also works in reverse. If you laugh often, it makes you feel better.
  • Smile often. Every time you pass a mirror or see yourself in a shop window, smile. Also, practise the ‘inner smile’ – the more you smile inwardly to yourself, the more you will experience a feeling of happiness. If nothing else, other people will wonder what you’re up to.
  • Do unto others… The happiest people enjoy helping others. Give – not just material things, but yourself. Make time to listen. Be cheerful (even if you’re having a bad day). Not only will you feel better, you’ll find others return your kindness.
  • Be here now.Living in the ‘here and now’ is one of the biggest steps you can take to happiness and peace of mind. How can you be happy if you continually wallow in the past, agonise over old mistakes, wishing you could relive parts of your life, and blaming yourself for wasted opportunities? Stop beating yourself up. Now is the only moment over which you have any control, so make the most of it. If your mind wanders to what might happen tomorrow, bring it back. And finally, remember the last line of ‘Gone With The Wind’ – ‘Tomorrow is another day.’

©David Lawrence Preston, 28.4.2016

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How to Books, 2004





Let go of envy

Let go of envy.  Envy does untold harm to physical and mental well-being.

When you envy what someone else has (or appears to have), you establish poverty thinking patterns in your consciousness. You divert your attention away from factors under your control (your thoughts, words and actions) to those beyond your control (what others do, say and have). And what do thoughts such as these attract? More envy, more scarcity!

So what if someone has more than you? They are no better or worse; they have just made different choices. You cannot know the struggles they have gone through to acquire that ‘stuff’, nor debts they owe, nor the weight of responsibility it brings.

Instead, take pleasure in others’ prosperity and wish them well, thus adding to your own feelings of contentment.

©David Lawrence Preston, 7.2.2017

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How to Books, 2007

Is it unspiritual to be poor?

Some religious people and theologians believe that it is unspiritual to be poor. They argue that poor people are unaware of the spiritual principles by which our wants and needs are satisfied. Wealth, they say, is a cosmic ‘thank you’ for our contribution to the world. If we have plenty, it’s because we give plenty. If not, it’s because we don’t give enough.

What nonsense! Do cosmic ‘thank you’s’ only come in material form? Does every wealthy person offer above average service to humanity?

What about those who inherit wealth, hoard it, or make their money by trading arms, child pornography, tobacco products, illegal drugs or people trafficking and so on? What about those whose businesses or investments pollute the oceans or destroy the rain forests? And isn’t this insulting to the millions who work hard to provide for themselves and their families without ever becoming rich, many of whom are far more spiritually attuned than the mega-rich?

Spirituality and wealth are not related. You can be poor and unspiritual or rich and unspiritual; you can be rich and spiritual or poor and spiritual. What matters is the consciousness with which you approach life.

However, spirituality and prosperity are related. Spiritually aware people manifest what they need, use it wisely, share it with others and feel good about what they do. That should be your aim too. Enjoy what life has to offer, but don’t get so caught up in worldly matters that you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Do you have to be poor to be spiritual?

Most of the great spiritual teachers (including Yeshua of Nazareth, Prophet Mohamed and the Buddha) had few possessions. Some gave up great wealth to spread their teachings.

So do you have to live in poverty to be spiritual? Not at all. There is nothing inherently spiritual about living on the bread line. Even the Buddha, who turned his back on inherited wealth to live as a humble monk, taught that it is not necessary to deprive ourselves. It is selfishness and greed – not material sufficiency or comfort – that clash with spiritual values.


©David Lawrence Preston, 7.2.2017

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How to Books, 2007

Everything material is impermanent

Every material thing you have will one day cease to exist in its present form. Even your body will return to the dust from which it was made.

The consequence is clear: if you chase after possessions, hoard them and rely on them for security, you make yourself a slave to things that inexorably deteriorate. They are not a stable basis on which to build your happiness.

People who are highly acquisitive are often too busy or stressed to enjoy life. Think of the effort and expenditure to which some go to ensure that they are up to date with the latest fashion trends so they can win the admiration of others similarly inclined – and yet in a very short time, the items on which they relied for their feelings of pleasure lose their appeal.

Wouldn’t it be better to attend to something that brings lasting benefit – the qualities of consciousness that bring lasting security, happiness, love and peace of mind?

©David Lawrence Preston, 2.2.2017

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How to Books, 2007


The Joy of Simplicity

‘There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment and it’s because you’re thinking or focussing on what you don’t have.’

Anthony de Mello

There’s a paradox in matters of prosperity and spirituality. We live in an abundant universe and yet most of the great spiritual teachers were exponents of the simple life, shunning wealth and status. Do we have to deprive ourselves to get in touch with our spirituality?

Absolutely not! But there is a balance to be achieved between seeking material possessions and pursuing spiritual goals. Modern life appears complex and busy, but our needs are really very simple.

Socrates, a leading proponent of the simple life, loved going to the market in Athens. When asked about this, he replied, ‘I love to go and see all the things I’m happy without.’

Once we have a steady supply of the essentials, a little for pleasure and some put aside for a rainy day, extra money and belongings make very little difference to our happiness.

When we live simply we discover, like Socrates, that there are pleasures that do not depend on possessions and countless things we’re content to live without.

‘It’s the preoccupation with possessions more than any other things that keeps us from living freely and nobly.’

Professor Bertrand Russell


©David Lawrence Preston, 2.2.2017

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How to Books, 2007


Get into the Light

There is a Power that will light your way to health, happiness, peace and success, if you will but turn toward that light.’

Paramahansa Yogananda

Light is often used as a metaphor for the  sacred, and this is more than an abstract idea. In many ways Universal/Creative Intelligence is like the sun, constantly emitting energy and keeping us alive. It flows through us.

We can light up ourselves and the world around us by making a simple choice. As the Indian Master, Sai Baba, says, ‘The rays of the sun fall equally on all who are directed in their way. If someone is behind an obstacle, or in a room, he will receive only part of the light. Cultivating the higher spiritual yearnings is like coming out from the confinement of a room into the sun’s rays.’

Just as a place cannot be light and dark at the same time, when we are switched on, painful emotions such as doubt, hatred, anger and blame fade into the background allowing love, courage, confidence and forgiveness etc. to take their place.

Many people are leaving the traditional religions in droves because they cannot relate to dogma and ritual that bear little relation to living well and creating a better world. As you have discovered, spirituality is not concerned with theologies. It is about life and how to get the most out of it. Look inside, remove the mental blockages and let life flow through you. Then use it to build the kind of world you want – one filled with peace, happiness, health and prosperity for all.


©David Lawrence Preston, 21.1.2017

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How to Books, 2007

Death – the last taboo?

Death is the last taboo – nothing concentrates the mind quite so much. We cannot have lasting peace of mind until we have come to terms with it. Who has not at some time wondered what, if anything, happens after death?

The truth is, we can never be sure. But our attitude to death impacts on our attitude to life. If we believe that death is final, why bother with matters of the spirit? Why not just get what we want and let someone else deal with the consequences?

If we believe that life goes on beyond the grave and we have to answer for our actions either to a Higher Power who can consign us to a heaven or hell or by coming back into human form and making amends, that puts an entirely different slant on the matter!

Death is an inevitable aspect of life

A woman whose young son had died was inconsolable. She visited all the doctors in the area to find out how the child’s life could be restored. Finally she sought the help of the Buddha. She asked him to help bring her son back to life and ease the terrible pain in her heart.

The Buddha told her that he would revive her son if she could bring him a mustard seed from a household in which no-one had ever died. The woman set out to find such a household. She visited one house after another, yet at every door received the same reply – at various times, members of the household had passed away.

She returned to the Buddha in a more realistic frame of mind. She had learned that death is an inevitable fact of life. We are all going to die one day. What matters, like so many things, is not what happens, but our attitude towards it.

Life and death are partners

We tend to see life as good and death as a bad thing, but this is untrue. Life and death co-exist. Death happens all the time while life continues.

Birth is the process by which a fragment of universal consciousness takes form as an individual being, but it is not the beginning. Neither is conception. We start out as ideas in the quantum energy field even before we become particles and long before we are born into the world. Hence birth is part of the transition from invisible substance into visible form.

Death is the transition back to the energy field. The Life Force leaves the body and is reabsorbed, mental activity ceases and the body disintegrates and returns to dust. Hence life and death are not opposites but partners in the great scheme of things.

‘Birth and death are of equal significance. They should concern you no more than going to sleep every night and waking up every morning. As you go to sleep, you die. As you wake up, you are born.’



 ©David Lawrence Preston, 19.1.2017

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How to Books, 2007



Faith is not just for the religious

Faith is trust in an idea even when there’s no logical proof. It is often believed to be misguided because it does not depend on sensory evidence.

However, faith has accomplished wonders and continues to do so. Without it, no-one would ever take a risk or try anything original. To have faith that we can do something, even if there is no physical proof, empowers us to do it.

Faith is not just for esoteric types; Max Planck was one of many scientists who understand the value of faith. ‘Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind,’ he wrote, ‘realises that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with.’

Faith lies at the heart not only of science but also of spirituality. With faith, we allow ourselves to be guided by our intuition, do our best to lay down positive ‘causes’ each moment, and trust that the right effects will follow according to Universal Law.

‘There is no such thing as lack of faith. We all have plenty of faith, it’s just that we have faith in the wrong things. We have faith in what can’t be done rather than what can be done. We have faith in lack rather than abundance, but there is no lack of faith.’

 Eric Butterworth

©David Lawrence Preston, 19.1.2017

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How to Books, 2007


Give up approval-seeking behaviour

It’s perfectly natural to want to be liked and accepted, but it becomes a problem if you constantly edit yourself to win others’ approval.

Approval-seeking behaviour has some short-term benefits (e.g. it can help avoid arguments), but has long-term consequences. You are unlikely to feel good about yourself if you continually pander to others.

Concern yourself less with other people’s opinions. Others don’t necessarily see things your way or know what’s best for you. Make your own decisions and honour your own values. Others’ expectations are not your concern. You didn’t create them, and you don’t own them. If they don’t like what you do, that’s their problem, not yours.

You are unique. Strangely, many of us are obsessed with trying to acceptable to our fellow human beings find acceptable. Value your uniqueness! When you live your own truth, the sense of freedom is invigorating.

You may feel uncomfortable when you first put this into practice. The cause of your discomfort is your emotional programming. So persevere. Before long the uncomfortable feelings fade away.


©David Lawrence Preston, 18.1.2017

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How to Books, 2010




Is it wrong to love yourself?  Some people think so. They think of people who love themselves as being rather unpleasant,  selfish and conceited.

But loving yourself is not the same as being in love with yourself. This is usually a form of bravado indulged in by individuals who think too little of themselves and desperately try to hide it.

To love yourself, you don’t have to do everything perfectly. You don’t have to prove anything. You don’t even have to do your best.

Self-love benefits others too, for only when you have love for yourself can you share it with others. Disliking oneself is no way to spread love and help others to feel better about themselves.


Self-acceptance is closely related to self-love. Self-acceptance means acknowledging what you are and respecting all aspects of yourself.

It does not mean giving up on yourself. If there’s something you want to change that is worth changing, change it. Do it lovingly.

As your capacity for self-love grows, other changes occur too. You become more tolerant, calm, compassionate and peaceful. Others feel better in your presence (animals are also very quick to pick up on this.) You instill calmness and confidence in others.

©David Lawrence Preston 18.1.2017

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How to Books, 2010