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We should all think about our own wellbeing
Our new Chief Officer, Dr Jonathan Ingram, talks about that most elusive of traits, happiness, and about our work at South Lakeland Mind.

Let me tell you how I learnt to be happy.

It was at a lecture at university. I was a student, it was the 1980s, it was actually my girlfriend’s subject. The professor, Michael Argyle, talked about ‘synchrony’ (among other things). That’s people marching Peter Kay-style, or doing Mexican waves, maybe singing together in a choir. Being part of something bigger.

I tried it out recently with a group of Red Cross volunteers in Penrith. It had to be the comedy marching. There were laughs and smiles all round, and that’s what always happens. Why? It’s because we’re deeply social, we humans. We want to get along with each other, and what’s more we need to so we stay well.

Out of research on happiness came the whole field of ‘positive psychology’, and more serious amounts of time and energy devoted to working out what makes us tick.

I remember David Cameron talking about happiness early on in the Coalition’s time in office. He got a bit of stick at the time, because of the link with keeping us all working longer. Perhaps that was the motivation – who knows? – but working really does tend to keep us well, as long as the conditions of work are right.

The New Economics Foundation (who look beyond the money stuff) came up with the Five Ways to Wellbeing. Let me share them.

First, Connect. Maybe just grab a coffee with someone, carve out some space in your day. It really will help keep you happy. Next, Be Active. The best way I’ve heard it put is that not doing anything at all is a bit like taking depressants. Not good.

Then Take Notice. Savour that first tea of the day, that cheeky custard cream, those swallows wheeling in the sky. And Learn. However old you are, keep at it. A crossword, a few words of Welsh for your holidays, the odd Sudoku. Those Red Cross volunteers had such a laugh learning names with the ‘name game’. People always do.

Last, Give. From a kind word to so much more. I know the Five Ways appear overly simplistic (and they are), but there’s something in them, isn’t there?

Now why have I been talking all this happiness? Simply put, one of the reasons South Lakeland Mind exists is to promote better mental health and a greater sense of wellbeing for local people. We need resilience just to get by, and so much more to flourish. And it applies to us all.

Of course, it goes far beyond this. One in four of us will experience more serious mental illness and emotional distress in our lives. That’s a huge number of people, and Mind is here for them too, as well as those around them. They may be any of us, and at different times in our lives.

We all need to know we can get help, and know we can ask for it. And this needs to be as commonplace for us as it would be for any other sort of illness. No prejudice.

With so many people affected, and NHS services so stretched already, South Lakeland Mind is needed more than ever. We help with counselling, befriending, drop-ins and straight-talking information.

Call us on 01539 740591 about anything you need to know. And call if you think you might be able to help by volunteering too. It (almost) goes without saying that we have to raise funds to keep functioning. Sadly it does need saying. So please do call if you can help on that one as well. I’ve learnt (a bit) about how to be happy. Living happily is rarely so easy.