O'd to happiness

10th September 2004 at 01:00
"You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of," said Albert Camus. He obviously didn't know about Google.

Anyone prepared to settle doooown to a plod through an enlightening string of Os can find out everything there is to know about happiness and how to achieve it.

But before embarking on the long search, remind yourself that the net is already making many people very happy. They are the quacks, unqualified counsellors, purveyors of snake oil and an assortment of con merchants who will promise you anything in exchange for your credit card details. The less happy you are, the more you'll be tempted to believe their concoction of psychobabble, hokum and half truths. So if you really are depressed you don't want to be bothering with the net when you can bother your GP instead. The net is for those of us who in reality are as happy as we deserve to be but have the temerity to want to be even happier.

Your chances of achieving this seem to depend on where you live. The World Database of Happiness (www2.eur.nl fswresearchhappiness) correlates serious academic research into the subject. It offers impressive statistics which indicate that the Swiss are the happiest nation on the planet.

Latvians take the wooden spoon, which can't do much to cheer them up.

A few too many wrinkles, I'm happy to report, are no barrier to happiness.

Visit www.age-net.co.uk or the plethora of other sites dedicated to the joys of being geriatric to discover that footloose and fancy-free Saga louts are claiming that these are the happiest days of their lives. It isn't so surprising when you learn that they have pound;46bn of disposable income burning holes in the back pockets of the designer jeans that they ought not to be wearing at their age.

Other surveys suggest that, to be happy, you need to get a partner, get fit, get a pet and - above all else - get a job that you love doing. At www.city-and-guilds.co.uk you'll find the results of a study into happiness in the workplace which shows that out of 20 professions surveyed, the clear winners are carers and florists, with teachers trailing dismally in 14th place. Incidentally, estate agents came last which should at least make the rest of us feel a little happier.

If you're a teacher and it's making you miserable, you could pop along to www.jobsite.co.uk, a one-stop shop for anyone planning a new career. If you like teaching but find it hard to cope, try www.teacherstress.co.uk. If school managers can't help with your problem - or, indeed, if they are the problem - visit www.teacherline.org.uk for some general advice or phone them for a personal chat on the 24-hour helpline (08000 562 561).

Sometimes, all you might need are a few sympathetic colleagues willing to offer advice. You'll find them at www.tes.co.ukstaffroom. You don't have to worry about confidentiality. Before entering, you adopt a nom de plume - at least, I assume that Chunky Chick, Giraffe and Angry Jedi don't appear on any school timetables. This anonymity makes it that bit easier to say how you really feel.

Another sure-fire way of cheering yourself up is to accentuate the positive. At www.authentichappiness.org, your answers to 240 carefully chosen questions are processed online. You are then given an instant assessment, not of your weaknesses, but of your particular strengths - creativity, leadership qualities, problemsolving skills and suchlike. The test doesn't assess your capacity for self-delusion which, I suspect, is why I did so well. If you enjoy this particular form of navel gazing, you can spend many happy hours at Personality Tests on WWW (www.2h.com personality-tests.html), The Self Discovery Workshop (www.iqtest.com) and, of particular interest to those of us who spend too long online, The Sad Bastard Test (www.galactic-guide.com articles 2U25.html).

All this exhaustive self-analysis may well convince you that you're not quite as happy as you should be. In which case, employ Google as your life coach. Simply key in the therapy that you think will have you glowing with inner contentment - for example, yoga, Neuro Linguistic Programming, Tai Chi, or, my favourite, Valpollicello. The great thing about the net is that it enables you to try out dozens of therapies without having to tell anyone, queue up to enrol in an evening class or shell out any of your hard-earned. More important, your attempts at self-improvement will always remain a little secret shared by you and your PC.

It's this uniquely private relationship between the computer and its user which makes the net such an invaluable resource for young people. It enables them to find answers to the questions they're too embarrassed or too scared to ask. Teachers should make a point of giving pupils some of the URLs they can check out when they're cuddled up with their own PCs.

They should certainly know about Esther Ranzen's wwwchildline.org.uk and www.bullying.co.uk. If they bookmark Advice HQ (www.advicehq.co.ukTeens.htm), they will have links to sites which cover the whole range of teenage angst from acne at www.stopspots.org.uk. to racism at www.britkid.org.uk.

It's also worth reminding children that things can only get better. All they have to do is wait until they are wrinkly, learn flower arranging and move to Switzerland.

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