Daily Express

How to be 10 times happier

The secret is learning to let go of the things that are holding you back, says therapist, mental health expert and author OWEN O’KANE


THERE’S no doubt 2020 has been a difficult and challengin­g year, and it may feel there is precious little to smile about. But therapist Owen O’Kane believes we have the power to increase our levels of happiness on a daily basis, no matter what our circumstan­ces are.

“I genuinely believe that most people can be happier than they are,” he says.

“Happiness is not necessaril­y about having more money or more success – if people can get unlocked from some of the restrictio­ns they put on themselves they can become happier human beings.”

A qualified psychother­apist, Owen grew up during the Troubles in Belfast in the 1990s.

“It was quite traumatic really, growing up in Belfast during the Troubles and coming out as gay when that wasn’t the done thing,” he says.

Owen moved to London and worked as a nurse in palliative care.After a decade he retrained as a therapist, before becoming a clinical lead in the NHS and going on to publish his best-selling book Ten To Zen.

Now he is on a mission to help people be happy.

“I want to help people become unstuck and realise that they have more control over their own happiness than they think,” he says.


Many people see worry as a good thing, telling themselves if they worry it will prevent something bad happening or give them more control. But what tends to happen is people feel less in control and become overwhelme­d.

It’s important to spot that pattern early. If you find yourself worried, write down your worries in speech bubbles.

Perhaps it’s money, the future or Covid-19.Then for each one ask yourself, is there anything you can do about this today that will make a difference?

If not, let it go.Then rather than dealing with 10 or 15 worries at a time, you will have far fewer.


A lot of the time when people come to me for therapy, they want to place blame for everything that goes on in their life: it’s because of my upbringing, it’s because of my partner etc.

But while those things are important factors, at some point all of us have to take responsibi­lity for our part in what has happened in our lives.

Sometimes people repeat the same patterns over and over again.They choose relationsh­ips that are destructiv­e or friendship­s that are not fulfilling. Or they place themselves in situations that on some level they know aren’t good for them.

It’s the most empowering thing in the world when people realise that their lives aren’t in the hands of their past or their future, it’s a real moment of freedom.


The past can help us understand where we’ve got to and why we get stuck. But sometimes I watch people get fixated or hooked on the past, going over the same material again and again.

Part of my job is to help people understand the impact it has on their lives and see if they’re willing to let go, restart and move forward.

I once ran a group therapy session for people who had severe depression. On one side of the room there was a window with a really nice view, while on the other there was a dark grey wall.

I said that the window was a representa­tion of a happier and more hopeful future, while the wall represente­d the past.

I asked the group which direction they faced when they were struggling and they all turned to face the grey wall.

So my question then was:Where do you think your energy and focus needs to be? And they all turned to face the window.

If we stay fixated on the past, we’ve got our back to the direction in which we need to travel.


Because of social media and online platforms, we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others.We set up beliefs that other people are happier than we are and there’s a great danger in that because often we don’t really know what we’re comparing our lives to. Rather than comparing, I encourage people to think about what matters to them and what they can celebrate. I watch people’s eyes light up as they begin to reconnect with their own world instead of comparing their lives. The same is true in the current lockdown. People may look on social media and feel disappoint­ed that they haven’t used this time at home creatively enough. However, making this sort of comparison reinforces negative beliefs about not being good enough.


The more you learn to be present in your world as it is today, not how you want it to be, the happier you become.

If you start each day telling yourself: I want life to be like this today, you will end up feeling conflicted and disappoint­ed.

But if you let go of that idea, then all the inner tension calms down, because you’re not in a battlegrou­nd between what is and what could be.

When you think about the future, it’s not about over-planning or building things up too much, but looking to the future with hope.You’ll realise that whatever difficulti­es there are at the moment, it’s just a moment in time and like all moments in time it will be over and suddenly you’ll be in a new place.

We all think magic and happiness are to be found in the bigger things, like money, fame, success, but I think more often than not, happiness is found in the ordinary.

To order a copy of Ten Times Happier: How To Let Go Of What’s HoldingYou Back, by Owen O’Kane (£12.99, HQ) call the Express Bookshop on 01872 562 310 or visit expressboo­kshop.co.uk

‘The more you learn to be present in your world as it is today, the happier you become’

 ?? Picture: GETTY ?? ‘When people realise their lives aren’t in the hands of their past, it’s liberating’
HIGH HOPES: Everyone can learn to be happier, even during challengin­g circumstan­ces
Picture: GETTY ‘When people realise their lives aren’t in the hands of their past, it’s liberating’ HIGH HOPES: Everyone can learn to be happier, even during challengin­g circumstan­ces

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