Are you happy? How do you think you will feel a month or two from now?

Predicting whether we will be happy or not in the future is something that the vast majority of us would like to understand better. After all, if we could make changes today that we knew would make us happier tomorrow, we would act.

For a lot of people, achieving happiness is about getting rid of the negative parts of life: if only we could be free from stress, boredom, illness, loneliness or financial hardship, then we’d be more content and more satisfied with our lot.

But what if there was more to it than that? Is happiness just the absence of problems, or is it something more? “We don’t know if people are happy because they got rid of all the negative factors in their life or whether they need to do something more positive and active to build happiness,” says Peter Kinderman, professor of psychology at the University of Liverpool in the UK.

That’s why Kinderman is collaborating with BBC Tomorrow’s World to explore these issues, in an online experiment called the Secrets of Happiness. He’s specifically interested in whether our ‘style of thinking’ can predict future mental wellbeing – and you can help inform the research by completing a survey about yourself below.

Kinderman’s research focuses on how we react to difficult events and the effect on our mental health. The survey asks a series of questions about your experiences and feelings in the present, and again in six weeks’ time. Kinderman hopes the experiment will test his hypothesis: how we make sense of the world now affects how we will feel in the future. The hope is to gain insights that will help people adjust their thinking style and have a better chance at happiness.

Kinderman, who is also a consultant psychologist in the UK National Health Service, believes that dwelling on problems and pessimism are threats to our mental health. If the data he collects has predictive power, then red flags could be raised for someone who has a negative way of interpreting events – particular for those at risk of mental illness.

Better understanding

The good news is that as with other health problems, there are treatments available to change our thinking styles. Evidence-based methods like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help us develop more helpful ways of responding to circumstances and to decrease rumination, or overthinking.

“I think the secret of happiness is to understand our complex web of emotions, both the positive and negative, and for each of us to come up with a road map to address the factors that cause negativity and to enhance the factors that lead to happiness,” he says.

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