Now it is claimed that happiness
could be more important than smoking in determining
Dr Derek Cox, Director of Public
Health at Dumfries and Galloway NHS, suspects
that for decades health professionals have been
missing a big trick in improving the health
of the nation.
"We've spent years saying that
giving up smoking could be the single most important
thing that we could do for the health of the
"And yet there is mounting
evidence that happiness might be at least as
powerful a predictor, if not a more powerful
predictor than some of the other lifestyle factors
that we talk about in terms of cigarette smoking,
diet, physical activity and those kind of things."
Like everyone else, for years he tried to prevent
ill-health by anti-smoking and healthy lifestyle
But there was little change.
People were dying at roughly the same rates.
So he started looking into
the health benefits of happiness.
"It's not just that if you're
physically well you're likely to be happy but
actually the opposite way round," said Dr Cox.
"If you are happy you are likely
in the future to have less in the way of physical
illness than those who are unhappy".
Dr Cox now has an ambition
to make Dumfries and Galloway happier and healthier.
"I'd love to make the people
of Dumfries and Galloway the happiest and healthiest
people in Scotland," he said.
He argues people are happier
if they are given more control at work, live
in a safe neighbourhood and participate in community
The science of happiness is
increasingly suggesting a link between happiness
Andrew Steptoe, the British
Heart Foundation Professor of Psychology at
University College London, has found that happier
people also have greater protection against
things like heart disease and stroke.
"We know that stress which
has bad effects on biology, leads to those bad
changes as far as health is concerned," said
"What we think is happening
is that happiness has the opposite effect and
has a protective effect on these same biological
One of the ways in which Dr
Cox has tried to increase happiness is by the
use of a new kind of therapy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
(CBT) has been called a common sense approach
Instead of a therapist lying
you down on a couch and asking you what your
relationship with your father or mother was
like, a CBT therapist aims to help you to avoid
dwelling on negative thoughts and to find ways
to overcome them.
Because Dr Cox cannot afford
the thousands of CBT therapists he would need
in his area, he has started training local volunteers
to do the counselling for him.
So far he claims that it has
worked quite well: time with an amateur CBT
therapist has had positive effects on the patients.
It is a vision which inspires
Labour peer and happiness evangelist Richard
Layard. He is lobbying government to employ
another 10,000 therapists.
"We're talking about £1500
for a course of CBT. That can change somebody's
Professor Paul Salovskis, clinical
psychologist at King's College London, is determined
to get the government to put more money into
"It's a scandal actually that
people cannot receive treatments which we know
to be effective and indeed the health service
knows to be effective.
"Potentially it's got colossal
implications. We could see a future where people
did not suffer from severe anxiety and depression.
"I don't think that's putting
it too strongly. I also think that in terms
of everyday worries we are in a position to
give people the tools to deal with those that
would then allow them to go forward and achieve
the things which they want to achieve."