Over the past decade or so, money and getting ahead have been our two aims in life. But having spent all our time trying to get rich in order to gain security and power, suddenly the goalposts change. Sorry, Richard Branson et al. It's not wealth we're after; it's happiness.
And just to push the point home to those poor losers who have wasted their lives sacrificing family life and friendship in the relentless pursuit of lucre, it turns out that happiness can be enjoyed just as easily by someone living in a cardboard box by the Thames as by someone who manages to scrape into that fascinating but fundamentally revolting table of wealth, The Sunday Times Rich List, published today. Hence, our little antidote.
The problem is that happiness is not as easy to come by as money. Happiness is an elusive state of being. One thing is certain, though: money certainly doesn't bring happiness. Or at least not necessarily. A survey once showed that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, was actually the happiest, with the US lagging far, far behind. It might even be that hard times, because they make us pull together, make us more happy than good times - all very confusing for the happiness-hunter.
A Mass Observation Study in 1952, an age of dreadful austerity after the war, showed we were, as a nation, far happier than we are now. With only three radio services to choose from as entertainment, and only a few holiday destinations - Blackpool, Scarborough or Brighton - the whole country felt more of a community than in these days of multiple television channels and holiday destinations.
There's endless research to show what makes us happy: a good sex life, a happy marriage, a network of loyal friends, a tight-knit family, a good laugh. We're also told that to be happy we have to have a sense of achievement in some area of our lives - it could be something quite minor, like a collection of photograph albums, or even cleaning the house, nurturing something, gardening, doing good, meditating, exercising, having a low expectation of what happiness actually is, a pet, believing in God...
But there is a danger that the pursuit of these goals can become exactly like the pursuit of money. There is no one thing that can make us happy, no magic formula. It all depends on the colour of the spectacles through which we view our particular situation. It's true that some people seem to be born with the happiness gene. For most of us, life is spent struggling to find serenity and contentment. It is only after a long search that we discover that, as Shakespeare said, "Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie Which we ascribe to heaven". Unfortunately, he's right.
The Happy List experts were: Ann Widdecombe; Community Service Volunteers; Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford; Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society; Mark Hedges of 'Country Life'; and Dame Elisabeth Hoodless
Are these the 50 happiest people in Britain? The people who know them say they are
Love her or loathe her, this is one fulfilled woman. Married at last to the love of her life, she has horses, a title, and, one day perhaps, a whole country of her own.
'Oh my God!' - pop star fiancé Preston and a career as a tabloid 'It' girl. The nobody who won 'Celebrity Big Brother' lives her dream.
3. Pam & Dave French
Fostered more than 600 children and still in touch with a quarter of them. Bombarded with cards on Mother's and Father's Days.
4. Joe Cole
As bouncy as the ball he kicks for Chelsea and the England squad. If we win the World Cup, his will be the smile we remember.
5. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Chef and cookbook author, has idyllic rural lifestyle, who succeeds by doing exactly what he wants.
6. Anna Ford
About to retire from news reading and head off to enticing new pastures. Once, satisfyingly, threw wine over Jonathan Aitken.
7. Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff
England all-rounder, father of two, national hero, and owner of a cheeky grin that symbolised the reclaiming of the Ashes.
8. Charlotte Church
Turned childhood stardom into adult success. Having a ball now she's a pop star rather than a classical diva. Still in touch with Cardiff roots.
9. Timothy Spall
Just played a hangman, but nine years after beating leukaemia the family man is far from sombre. Now a national treasure.
10. Sister Ellen Flynn
A lesson to us all. Director of The Passage, London's largest voluntary day centre for the homeless, and has been working for more than 30 years to alleviate poverty.
11. Carol Smillie
Much sent-up, but you can't take away that smile. Married to a restaurateur, has three children and a satisfyingly varied career.
12. Colonel John Blashford-Snell
First explorer to descend the Blue Nile. Established Operation Raleigh for young people.
13. Pat Lea
Lost half her weight in a year. Now a healthy 11 stone, the 51-year-old Jarrow grandmother runs a walking group and fitness classes.
14. Robin and Lucienne Day
Textile and furniture designers who started shaping the way we live in the 1940s. Still married, still working together, their work is more popular than ever.
15. James Blunt
Sings as if he's about to burst into tears, but the ex-soldier is said to be deliriously content after a year in which he suddenly became a very big star indeed, here and in America.
16. Meera Syal
Comedienne, writer and actress. Had a number one with Gareth Gates and the Kumars cast. Married to co-star Sanjeev Bhaskar, has a daughter, expecting again.
17. Bryn Terfel
Welsh bass-baritone enjoys huge acclaim. Runs own festival in North Wales. Genuine pleasure-giver.
18. Pete Waterman
More than 200 hit songs in 25 years. Used his money to pursue his railway preservation dreams.
19. Billie Piper
Former teen pop star with a failed marriage to DJ Chris Evans. Now at 23 an acclaimed actress and the first assistant in history of 'Doctor Who' to be bigger than the Time Lord.
20. Terry Sanderson
Journalist, author, counsellor extraordinaire. Wrote 'How to be a Happy Homosexual' and 'A to Z of Gay Sex'.
21. Dame Maggie Smith
Theatrical dame, still has world at her feet at 71. The twinkliest eyes in the country.
22. Amir Khan
Boxer, 19, charity ambassador, Olympic silver medallist, role model for young British Muslims. Backed by a devoted family, avoids Rooneyesque antics.
23. Marina Warner
Novelist, mythographer, cultural historian and single mother. Great supporter of National Council for One Parent Families.
24. Sarah Brown
Now a mother of two, with the prospect of husband Gordon leading the country. Shame about the neighbours.
25. Claire Rayner
Agony aunt, social campaigner, humanist, patron of more than 60 social and charitable organisations, OBE, happily married, three children, still smiling.
26. Lesley Garrett
Glamorous soprano, 'Strictly Come Dancing' star and, entirely incidentally, 51 years old. Busy family life, skiing and horse riding.
27. Richard Reed
Founded successful Innocent smoothies company with two friends, aged 26. Holds meetings on beanbags.
28. Emily Maitlis
As presenter of 'Newsnight' has developed special chemistry with audience. Supporter of the United Jewish Israel appeal. Speaks French, Italian, Spanish and Mandarin.
29. Torquil Norman
Champion of Roundhouse Trust, working to reopen theatre with facilities for young people. Millionaire who uses his cash for children.
30. Benson Obeten
Former Nigerian Air Force pilot para-lysed from the waist down when his plane crashed in flames. Campaigns for disabled people.
31. Lucy Porter
If the stand-up with a wicked glint in her eye is not fantastically happy after taking Edinburgh by storm again, why is she touring the country with a show called 'Happiness'?
32. Dianne Thompson
High-flying head of Camelot. Admired by staff, still makes her own tea. Bullied as a child, now involved with Childline.
33. Leslie Hackwell
After multiple heart attacks, he was resuscitated 32 times in 20 minutes. The engineer now treasures every day.
34. Simon Lester
Gamekeeper at Holkham Park. Living his dream. "I work outside in the beautiful English countryside. What more could I ask for?"
35. Sian Lloyd
Weather presenter for ITV, sports a bright smile on the gloomiest of days. Married Lembit Opik MP.
36. Ian Wright
Striker turned TV face, has been smiling broadly ever since his first goal. Has five children, including three footballers, and is patron of the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust.
37. Jill Tyrrell
Severely injured in the 7 July bombings, she found walking difficult so is happy at being able to run in the marathon today, and will be ecstatic to cross the finishing line.
38. Keira Knightley
One of Hollywood's brightest stars at 21. The Oscar nominee doesn't even have to work hard, putting her meteoric rise down to luck.
39. Humphrey Lyttelton
Britain's favourite Old Etonian, musician, and, at 85, still the funniest (and filthiest) man on radio.
40. Andrew Marr
Irrepressible television presenter and journalist (left). Guinea pig devotee, happy family man, and a smile almost as wide as his ears.
41. Beverley Knight
One of Britain's best soul sisters, R&B singer/performer, three-time Mobo award winner - and she's only in her 30s.
42. Graham Linehan
Scriptwriter (notably 'Father Ted'), a film and television Jack of all trades, columnist, laundry list of awards. A real laughter-giver.
43. Rolf Harris
Musician, painter, composer, didgeridoo player and so enthusiastic he seems, even at 76, like a puppy waiting for walkies.
44. Kate Humble
Former model, safari driver and crocodile farm hand, the qualified scuba diver is the ever-smiling enthusiast beside Bill Oddie on BBC's 'Springwatch'.
45. Gill Adams
Doctor specialising in paediatrics and sight-saving operations, has taught local surgeons in India, China, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
46. Leslie Phillips
Well hello! The actor who almost made leering respectable. To hear his chuckle is to hear fun.
47. Dominic Nelder
After 7 July bombings, the teacher spent two months travelling the Tube in a pinstripe suit and bowler, getting people to smile. He collected more than 16,000 hellos, winks or smiles.
48. Ainsley Harriott
Comedian-cum-chef, perfect blend of laughs and legumes. When he's not stirring things up in the kitchen, he helps to fight world hunger.
49. Sir Peter Hall
Theatre impresario who ran the RSC and founded the National. Young wife and family, as driven and busy at 76 as he was at 30.
50. Safia Minney
Her company, People Tree, pioneered organic, free trade fashion, sells to a Hollywood clientele including Sienna Miller, and pays workers 70 per cent over the odds. She's happy - and making a difference.Reuse content