Bristol University’s happiness course and 7 things they found that help keep it up

Bristol University’s happiness course and 7 things they found that help keep it up

At a recent Habitmakers meet-up we discussed Bristol University’s course the Science of Happiness, and what we can learn about elevating our feeling of wellbeing and then keeping it up.

Habits and happiness being my bias, I took away two things away.

Firstly, Professor Bruce Hood*, who runs the 10-week course and was involved in an important study following up students after two years, says a lot of self-help gets it wrong.

To feel good, turn your gaze from your self to those around you. Regular activities with others: groups, choirs, clubs… all get us interacting and that makes us feel good.

Secondly, two years after attending a course that typically increases a measure of happiness by 10 to 15% in those joining it, it’s the 51% who turn some of what they learn into habits that maintain the benefits.


But the backdrop to what seems such an awesome initiative – a happiness course – is bleak.

In a 2018 study of 37,500 students (Pereira et al., 2018), one in five report a mental health diagnosis and a full 88% report feelings of anxiety. The same year, a study at 14 UK universities found that most of 12,730 students surveyed reported feeling anxious and depressed (Union Futures Project, 2018).

I guess you can imagine that comparable studies during and after the COVID pandemic which followed did not lead to an improvement in wellbeing.

At Habitmakers, we didn’t set out to have the focus on happiness we have today.

Neither did we intend that transcending a limited (selfish) concept of self and turning our gaze outwards would be so central.

What we found was that creating habits means overcoming our inner resistance to keeping them. And that this resistance itself resides in a very limited and constrained idea of personal identity. Our personal self.

Einstein called it an “optical illusion of consciousness” in which we’re separate, alone, frail and opposed to others. In later life, Abraham Maslow added the pinnacle step of self-transcendence, taking the slot in his pyramid of human needs previously given to self-actualisation.

Put simply, habits are best done together. And happiness is supported by togetherness. It is the self that craves and is averse, as the buddhists put it. And that craving and aversion that keeps us bound to the wheel of suffering.

So that’s why today, as as rather wonderful step towards habitmaking, we teach Efffortless Habits®.

It was the most striking aspect of the evaluations of our recent Best Year Ever 24 course. Not the millions of start-up finance raised by one participant, not the new job managing 100 people of another, or the PhD funding approved for another.

But the feelings of wellness, happiness, being relaxed and having time despite doing more – and being generous with that newly won time.

7 things that increase happiness

So the seven things the students did during the course and then made habits of to stay happy?

    1. Less self-care. More “share your joy and connect with others”

    1. Gratitude (writing letters/listing three things)

    1. meditating and/or keeping a journal

    1. Sleep hygiene

    1. Exercise

    1. Regular activities… choir, groups, connecting

    1. Getting out in nature

And if you’re curious about Bristol University and Professor Hood, he has a book out! Brand new. With a more complete list as well. It’s called The Science of Happiness.

Why happiness promotes habitmaking and vice versa

Habitmakers is a journey in keeping habits that bring the life we want closer. We offer courses and a membership

Happiness is front and centre-stage because our approach recognises three elements: Intention, Resistance and Support.

When we work directly with the second pillar, resistance, we learn to let go – a mindfulness practice that is a direct path to joy and peace.

Why working together on habits is best done shoulds-free

Why working together on habits is best done shoulds-free

Should you keep your habits and call your accountability buddy on time?

Yes! Do it.

Just don’t do it because you should.

While I’m all for keeping habits impeccably and calling each other on time, I encourage potential buddies and Habitmakers to observe a ”no shoulds zone”.

I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to keep their habits.

Not to themselves and not to each other.

As a buddy, or buddy group facilitator, I’m shoulds-free

That’s not because I think it’s a good idea to be sloppy, or that standards don’t count, they do.

It’s because of two other things.

Stop press: I’ve just opened enrolment for Best Year Ever ’24. Click here to see if it’s a habits-setting, life-affirming adventure for you. 

  1. I want keeping habits to be fun and happiness to be a daily now, not later, thing
  2.  It’s simply more effective to enjoy keeping the habits you keep, than suffer for them

Pushing a partner, or for that matter someone you’re coaching or mentoring, is like sliding on a persian rug along a parque floor.

You can feel like you’re gliding for a while, but then you encounter a small mountain of carpet piled up like a concertina in front of you.

Habits are best kept shoulds-free

Habits are best kept shoulds-free

Pushing, pressure, shoulds and obligations don’t work because they create resistance. So what kind of accountability is left?

Push and the world pushes back

When I started a switch from playing music in bars as a young man to being a journalist, I’ll admit I was pushy about it.

I pushed myself. I pushed interviewees. I though I knew how things should be done. My way.

And, no suprise, the world pushed back. I observed myself, like a car crash in slow motion, trying to exert my will over the very people who were trying to give me a break. Kind, interested record producers and talented senior BBC radio producers simply held up their hands and walked away.

It ain’t bad as long as we learn the lesson. So later, when I was experimenting with buddying and was also now leading a team of journalists, I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes I’d made.

I had heard buddy support described as a third force. The impetus that tipped the balance to something getting done.

But what were these three forces?

The three forces

I researched the law of three, an idea from the mid 20th century and the mystic Gurdjieff.

In a simple interpretation, first force is the active. It could be your idea to start a habit.

The second is the denying force, for exmaple an inner voice saying “meh, why bother”.

It’s the result of these two together that explains why things stay as they are.

Why you may go out for a run, but a mile later you’re walking.

Why you’d like to be a few kilos lighter, and you’re not.

The third or facilitating force, can be a buddy. It’s this that moves things forward, by getting behind our good intention and tipping the balance.

But a buddy process can’t actually do that, if it’s pushy. That’s just more of the first force.

Isaac Newton tells us what to expect in that case in his second law of motion.

The intention will be met by an equal and opposite resisting force.

Our solution to this conundrum at Habitmakers is to work on each of the forces individually.

First we share the benefits of having a clear, authentic intention, strengthening the active force.

Then we’ll share a beautiful and life-affirming practice to let go of the denying force, so keeping habits can become effortless.

Finally, there’s support. The third force. The Habitmakers community and all its combined good will, ideas and friendship.

Come to it in a spirit of generosity and mutuality and much good willl flow – including gazillions of kept habits and meaningful change and growth.

Like so many things, it turns out the support to keep a habit is something you only have when you give it away.

Not by shoulding the change you want, but by being it.


❖❖❖ MAGIC HABIT ❖❖❖ I was meditating, but often late at night. How to get it done early so I would enjoy its benefits for more of the day? The solution: no tea or coffee until I’d meditated (if you’re not a caffeine fanatic, swap it out for your favourite part of breakfast). If I really need flexibility, I can meditate at lunchtime, or later, but then I wait with tea and coffee (that never happens! ha ha).


Enrolment for Best Year Ever 24 is open now. Visit this sign-up page to learn more

Tim Wright is the founder of Habitmakers® and author of Habits Are Us – How intentional friendship is the key to the life you want, day after day after day. If you’re struggling to find a buddy, visit Habitmakers also helps organisations create buddy systems for more engaged hybrid working. Scroll down slightly for a free download.

An accountability buddy to support you to keep your habits at 100% – but how?

An accountability buddy to support you to keep your habits at 100% – but how?

It’s so simple to set up a buddy system. It makes a huge difference in follow-through on important habits and goals. Organisations from Apple to the US Military use them.

Yet, relatively few use a buddy process to get habits established.

Why is that? And how do you do it anyway?

In this article

1. A case: From wannabe to sought-after West End producer

2. Two reasons people don’t seek support

    • Think that knowing and doing are the same thing
    • Underestimating the intertia of the status quo

3. Five steps to a buddy system of your own


IN THREE DECADES of using and facilitating buddy systems, I’ve learned there are two reasons that prevent people enrolling support.

Here they are, along with a five-step guide to creating a buddy process with a friend as a way to keep your habits on-track. 

But first, a little story about the life-changing difference it can make.

From wannabe to sought-after West End producer

My wife, Mia, tells about the very first time she was first presented with the idea of agreeing with a buddy to stick to a habit each day. It was a Sunday.

“I think I could commit to that until Tuesday,” she said hesitantly. Then she started back-tracking.

That was 30 years ago and she’s learned to love the process.

To this day, Mia sets up habits when she wants to get something done and she then enrols daily support from a buddy.

Mia ascribes to the process some of the signature achievements of her life.

It was through a daily task and a phone call each morning that she took the step from being a media production wannabe with only unpaid internships behind her, to landing the full-time job that launched her career in television (she spoke to two people about work each day).

It was how later she made the shift from employed senior producer for a scandinavian satellite broadcaster, to top freelance operating out of London’s West End production studios for clients like Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Disney.

Two reasons people don’t seek support

Many of us have learned from books like Atomic Habits by James Clear that it is of enormous value to take our knowledge and turn it into wisdom by acting upon it daily.

So why don’t more people do it?

1. Thinking that knowing and doing are the same thing

Well, for one thing, many people think that knowing and doing is the same thing. The idea that it’s two different and separate processes is still a little underground.

Partly that’s the fault of authors, publishers and infuencers.

As a business model, selling how-to information  works.

It feels nice to post some good advice and then sign off with, “now you know what to do, good luck!”

Should they add the epithet “…though you probably will never take action on what I’ve just taught you”?

Meh, who wants to leave their audience on a downer!

Yet, that’s very often the brutal reality.

As I often tell new Habitmakers, when Strava (maker of fitness watches) published a data crunch on 70 million athletes’ training habits after new year, they revealed that 19 January was “quitters day”, the day when on average a new year’s resolution is set aside.

People get excited, they buy the book – even the training watch, but they fail to acknowledge and then invest in the separate process of keeping it up over time.

A friend of mine built up a small fortune selling gift cards offering a parachute jump, a dance lesson or other ‘experience’ to the recipient. It had to be used within 12 months. The business thrived because of the very high percentage who never jumped, hopped or danced. He had already been paid in advance. Suddenly, he got to pocket pure income with no planes to fuel, or dance instructors to hire.

But things are changing. A habits movement has developed.

2. Underestimating the inertia of the status quo

Obstacle No 2 is that people don’t realise how to overcome the inertia of the status quo is.

If something you want to happen isn’t happening, there’s a reason for that. To misquote Isaac Newton: “For every good intention there is an equal and opposite amount of resistance to getting that done”. It’s roughly speaking the second law of thermodynamics.

Using a “third force” is the idea from the 20th century mystic, Gurdjieff, of there being three forces.

1. An intention to do something new,

2. Exactly the counterbalancing amount of inertia or resistance (keeping things in equilibrium),

3. A need to find a third force. Something that will tip the balance so it actually does get done.

That’s where a buddy and some accountability comes in. It’s the third force that makes the difference in keeping habits.

Five steps to a buddy system of your own

Right, so how can you set up a buddy process for yourself today.

Step 1. Find someone like-minded who wants to step things up in their life in some respect. They may be sleeping late, or going to bed too late. They may want to get in shape, or tidy up at home, or be a better son, daughter, mother, brother etc.

Step 2. Explain that there’s a thing called ‘having a buddy’ which consists of calling each other daily.

Step 3. Agree with each other to keep a daily habit and come rain or shine ask each other ‘did you do it’.

Step 4. Make your habit do-able daily even on your worst day. It’s harder to restart a broken habit than it is to start one in the first place, so aim for no breaks. You can always exceed your daily five to ten minutes habit.

If you feel resistance to the habit you’re choosing try this. Underpromise. Make your habit for just three or four minutes. This works because most people won’t rebel against doing something for 240 seconds – it’s so short. Yet, neurologist Dr Faye Begeti, cites research showing that the resistance there is to the task peaks after a minute or so. Keep at it and you’re likely to get past it and find a feeling of “oh, I might as well keep going now I’ve started.”

Step 5. Call each other daily, on time, and listen without judgement, advice or too much earnestness. Have fun, in other words.

By addressing these two obstacles and then employing these five steps you have in your hands the essentials to make that transition from knowledge to wisdom, from youtube to the gym, from the inspiring book to the transforming life.

Tim Wright is the founder of Habitmakers® and author of Habits Are Us – How intentional friendship is the key to the life you want, day after day after day. If you’re struggling to find a buddy, visit or register for this newsletter below to also be informed of Habitmakers’ regular meet-ups. We share a thought for the day and end with buddy matching for the fortnight to come. Habitmakers also helps organisations create buddy systems for more engaged hybrid working. Scroll down slightly for a free download.