Happiness is difficult to hang on to and difficult to define. But for Lesley Broadhead, helping people shake off negativity has become her career. Deborah Johnson finds out what being happy really means

LESLEY Broadhead is sitting at her computer, struggling for inspiration with her latest piece of work. But not a hint of frustration is evident as she makes light of the situation.

"You know when you're having one of those days when your creative thoughts don't come easily?" she laughs. "I'll come back to it later."

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It's typical of Lesley's optimistic, enthusiastic personality; her refusal to let trivial issues affect her mood is almost contagious. Considering she is one of the UK's few so-called happiness experts', I suppose they are important qualities to possess.

"It's true that we get what we focus on, whether we want it or not," she says. "If you think about how bad you are feeling, and how awful things are, then that is how you will continue to feel. You can have thought negatively for years and years.

"I see the mind being like a jungle that can get all overgrown, and sometimes you need to cut some of that growth down to make a pathway through it.

That is what being happy is really about - it's a human need that we are all striving for in every aspect of life."

So what is happiness? I would say I am a reasonably positive person, but think I would probably feel a lot happier if I was to win the National Lottery.

Lesley disputes this. Happiness, she says, is not necessarily dependent on lifestyle. It is more about how content a person is within themselves.

"There is no correlation between money and happiness.

Someone might say to me they wanted to win the lottery so they could buy a Lamborghini. I ask why they want a Lamborghini - they will reply because they want to feel good about themselves and feel respected. It's then obvious that it's the feelings of respect and involvement that would make the person happy, not the money or a flash car."

Lesley, who has a psychology degree from Leeds University and has also worked as a counsellor and with troubled families during her 20-year career, decided while she was a student that focusing on problems was not an adequate solution.

"When I was doing my degree, all we focused on was mental health, depression, what makes people depressed - all things that are seen from a negative point of view, from the angle of the problem.

"There are always so many quizzes in magazines, about How stressed are you?' and the way that language is used is really, really important. In that situation you go searching to see how stressed you are, you look for things that are wrong, and you end up focusing on that.

"I passionately believe this is so wrong. The more we think about stress, and the more stress management courses we go on, the more emphasis there is placed on negativity. It's certainly not making things any easier and won't make problems go away.

"If you start reversing the negativity to ask How happy are you?' and start looking at the happiness aspect instead of the negatives, then straight away the mindset starts to change. It's about managing your thoughts in such a way that we concentrate on the positives."

The phenomenon of positive psychology has been inspired by the work of Martin S e l i g m a n , an American psyc h o l o g i s t and author, who wrote about the importance of breaking free from negativity.

Lesley is a fervent supporter of his theories and became one of the first happiness experts' in the UK when she introduced them into her therapy business, Inner Potential, in Norton, on Teesside, two years ago.

Now, through a series of techniques, including one-to-one therapy, weekly classes, hypnotherapy and neurolinguistic programming (NLP), Lesley encourages people to turn their focus away from negativity.

"It was a bit of a eureka moment for me when I read his work," she says. "He rightly said that all we have ever done is focus on depression, and that by doing that, it only serves to make things worse.

"I remember as soon as I left university and started working in Leeds with a family organisation that deals with issues like child protection and domestic abuse, I was working with people on a one-to-one basis and found these methods really worked.

"People could tell me what they didn't want - but what was it that they actually wanted? That's a lot harder to answer, but it's the only way to get to the root of the problems and pave a way out of the other side. I've come across so many people who've been through the whole revolving door syndrome,' passing from one psychologist to the next. They have become very, very good at telling their story, but still are no wiser as to how to deal with their negative feelings. Tackling it from a positive point of view is so much better - and it really does work."

Lesley is certainly confident her methods are effective, but she admits to encountering sceptics. "The whole idea of happiness is often seen as being a bit glib, but it's not about being delirious all the time. It's very difficult to give it a definition, but it doesn't mean being in a state of euphoria all the time. The vast majority of people who come to my classes now realise that and want to know more.

"Of course we all feel a bit down sometimes, but being happy is about feeling okay regardless of what is going on outside, feeling peace and contentment about the situations we experience. And a happy person is much better equipped to deal with the difficulties we come across.

"Happy people are more productive at work, are better communicators, better workers, stay longer in their jobs, are better managers, have better relationships and live longer," she says. "So you could say there are a fair few reasons why it's better to live a happy life."

* For more information on Inner Potential contact 01642-308706 or log onto www.innerpotential.co.uk

LESLEY'S TEN TOP TIPS

1. Have an attitude of gratitude - this is the most powerful emotion for bringing good things into your life and for helping you maintain your happiness levels.

2. Make the happiness decision. Choose to be happy now. It is not dependent on external factors such as a better income or a better relationship, or even winning the lottery - happiness is something we choose.

3. Stay in the now - most of our worries are about the past or the future.

4. Focus on what you want. You get what you focus on whether you want it or not so focus only on what you want, not what you don't want.

5. Having goals and dreams to move towards is a step towards happiness and more. The mind needs meaningful goals to strive for.

6. Love yourself first. It is not selfish, and you do yourself no favours by putting other people and their happiness before your own.

7. Act "as if" - maybe you feel really bad at the moment, but by pretending you are happy, the feelings will eventually become real. The mind cannot tell the difference between something which is real and something which is creatively imagined.

8. Forgiveness - let go of any anger or hate you have for another person.

9. Share your happiness - the amount of happiness there is in the world is not fixed.

10. Stop wanting happiness and start having happiness. The mind likes what is familiar so it will keep you in a state of wanting. Let go of that and happiness will follow.