Skating to transformation

Children’s TV presenter and Dancing On Ice star Laura Hamilton reveals how her health, fitness and career have been transformed by the recent skating show, and how her mother’s illness has been her inspiration.

Children’s TV presenter and Dancing On Ice star Laura Hamilton reveals how her health, fitness and career have been transformed by the recent skating show, and how her mother’s illness has been her inspiration.

By Gabrielle Fagan

Many of us are seeking happiness but in these stressful times it can seem very elusive.

In fact, in the last 50 years, according to research, despite considerable advances in standards of living and income, there’s been no appreciable improvement in people’s life satisfaction and happiness in the UK.

A group of eminent British thinkers from the worlds of education, economics and politics - backed by the Dalai Lama - yesterday launched a mass campaign, Action for Happiness, to halt the nation’s psychological decline.

It is calling on people to look at ways to improve their wellbeing and said a “radical cultural change” was needed to halt rising levels of unhappiness.

Also this month, the Office of National Statistics is for the first time to include questions on wellbeing in the Integrated Household Survey.

Prime Minister David Cameron has described the task of gauging people’s wellbeing as “one of the central political issues of our time.”

This focus on happiness is not just timely but essential, says Dr Mark Atkinson, author of new book, True Happiness, which identifies strategies to achieve inner and lasting wellbeing.

“Happiness is one of the master keys in creating a healthy body and mind and yet many of us look for happiness in the wrong place,” he says.

“We assume that success, status, money, achievements, people, possessions or power will bring us happiness. Of course, those factors can and do influence for better or worse the way we feel, but this kind of ‘normal’ happiness comes and goes depending on what is happening in our lives and does not deliver lasting happiness and wellbeing.”

He speaks from experience - five years after qualifying as a medical doctor in the late Nineties and with an already successful career - he reached a crisis point.

“Like so many people, and patients that I see, I was then living two different lives - outside I appeared calm and confident but inside I was in a painful place. I had a lot of sadness inside me and felt depressed and emotionally overwhelmed.”

A turning point came when he experienced what some people would describe as a breakdown but which he terms “a breakthrough.”

“I realised I had to tackle my unexpressed emotions and my addictions to food and to compulsive working, which I was using as distractions so I could avoid the reality of my life and my feelings,” he says.

His own experience inspired him to create a strategy for achieving what he calls “true happiness, which is less about what happens to us and more about living with greater awareness and acceptance of reality, realising our potential, improving the quality of our relationships and sharing our gifts and talents with the world.”

Although it might seem a tall order, he breaks it down into manageable, simple steps that are as small as “taking a few minutes at the beginning of a day to imagine yourself going through it with a high level of happiness” to more fundamental measures such as improving health by exercise and relaxation, as well as identifying any harmful addictions.

It’s also important, he believes, to learn how to accept and love yourself and crucially to develop skills to be able to enjoy life no matter what its challenges.

“It does take effort and a willingness and humility to accept that we may need to make changes and maybe accept, in some cases, that we need to grow up,” he says.

“For instance, if we have an emotionally immature ego we’ll often seek instant gratification, and constantly blame others for the way we feel, and struggle with relationships. But we can, with awareness and courage, evolve emotionally and become more balanced and control that immaturity that is within us all.”

The rewards of striving for true happiness, he points out, are enormous and allow us to “love and live life fully, and have a sense of wellbeing, peace and vitality that doesn’t dissipate in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.”

And he stresses: “Happy people have more fulfilling lives, experience a deeper sense of connection to others and to nature and they consistently perform at higher levels than those who aren’t happy.

“Happiness provides us with the fuel to thrive and flourish as human beings. Society, business, families and our planet need happy people.”