Secret of how to relax and be happy

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"ASK YOURSELF whether you are happy," said the 19th century philosopher JS Mill, "and you cease to be so." But now psychologists have found what they say is the key to happiness.

Professor Michael Argyletold the British Psychological Society social psychology conference that his research had showed that people who enjoyed dancing achieved the highest levels of happiness.

In a sample of 270 adults, researchers looked at the positive emotions induced by four different leisure pursuits - sport/exercise, music, churchgoing and watching television soap operas as well as family activities and work.

"Leisure is very important for people's happiness as it is something they have control over," said Professor Argyle. "Other things we associate with happiness such as marriage or income or the weather we can't change."

The results found exercise, and particularly dancing, scored highest on the scale of happiness - defined by Professor Argyle as "experiencing frequent positive states" as well as general satisfaction with life.

"Watching soaps was positive but very feebly so," said Professor Argyle. "In comparison, sport was totally different and much more attractive. Dancing was particularly so because it not only combines exercise but also sociability and music. And sociability is also one of the biggest factors for happiness as was music. At the bottom of the scale was watching television which was very low key because people were barely awake."

His research also found wide differences in the levels of happiness reported by people of different nationalities. More than 50 per cent of Danes say they are satisfied with their life, compared with 10 per cent of French and Italian people, and about 30 per cent of Britons.