True happiness comes when you can not only choose what to do, but also enjoy doing it so much that you become totally absorbed in it. It doesn't just come down to luck

According to Ken Dodd, it is the greatest gift that we possess. Believe Benson & Hedges and it is a cigar called Hamlet. Any way you look at it, happiness is not easily acquired.

Ask most people what would make them happy and they will tell you something that is unlikely to happen. Winning the lottery, for instance, owning a Ferrari or dating George Clooney - and that was just a straw poll around my breakfast table.

The truth is, happiness should not be about ifs, buts and maybes. It ought to be about the things we can control and influence, rather than just reliance on the whims of Lady Luck. And who said you can't be happy unless you have loads of material possessions? As a small child I spent many a happy hour perched on a cold front step with an old wooden spinning top and a bit of string watching the posh kids ride by on their bikes.

But was I miserable? Okay, moving on.

People ask if you are happy with your lot as if having a lot is the way to true happiness. But ask any of the rich and famous to name a time when they were really happy and it will almost certainly be when they were on the cusp of being successful - when it was all still a dream rather than a reality.

You see, true happiness is about the journey and not the destination. Happiness comes when you can not only choose what to do, but also enjoy doing it so much that you become totally absorbed in it.

As Lawrence of Arabia once said: 'Happiness is a by-product of absorption'. And then added rather confusingly: 'You really sink in this sand, don't you?' In other words, if you are absorbed enough in some worthwhile or enjoyable activity, happiness is the spin-off.

The fact is, like sunshine and darkness, happiness and unhappiness co-exist in our lives. If it were never dark, we would not appreciate the sunshine resting on our face. And if it were never light, we would not appreciate the moonlight dancing on the sand. Though, on the upside, we would have the perfect excuse for keeping a loved one in the dark.

So here is what to do about being happy and unhappy. Enjoy the one and accept the other. Because that is nature's way of saying that none of us are really in control of things. And remember, to find true happiness there must be a purpose and a pleasure in everything you do.

It is only when you start working like you do not need the money that you can ever be truly content in the moment. And if that doesn't work, here is one final thought. 'Nil carborundum illegitimi'. That's right, don't let the bastards grind you down. n

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on The Psychology of Persuasion and the author of Life's A Game So Fix The Odds