Jayne Dowle: All it takes is a smile (and £80,000) to make a happier world

COULD you make people happy for £80,000 a year? The Movement For Happiness, an organisation which aims to increase the sum of human contentment in the world, is seeking a director. The basic qualifications are organisational ability, and imagination. Being a mother, I've got both.

It is a curiously modern phenomenon. The Movement was dreamt up by Lord Layard, a founder director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, otherwise known as the Government's "happiness czar", Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College and Geoff Mulgan, former head of policy at 10 Downing Street. Their aim is to shift our aspirations beyond material wealth towards more "rewarding forms of social engagement".

So we're not talking lightweight. And there is a serious message behind their seemingly mad idea; there is more to life than money. Lord Layard cites research which suggests that once individuals start earning more than 60,000 a year, their happiness does not increase in line with their wealth.

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In fact, the stress and responsibilities of top-flight jobs have the opposite effect, and contribute to unhappiness. When you're old and retired, what will you remember most? Closing that deal, or missing your child's first steps? That said, the Movement is committed to offering up to 80,000 for the right candidate. It is said that money can't buy you happiness, but it could go a long way towards persuading someone to make it happen.

Whoever gets the job, I'd like to give them some advice. The first thing we should all do more of is smile. I know it sounds inane, but a smile really can make a difference, if only because most people just can't help smiling back. The other morning, a harassed-looking mum I didn't recognise was dragging her two kids, plus toddler in a pushchair, to school in the rain. Because toddlers have yet to learn the meaning of the word "cynical", he gave me a big beaming smile and said "hello". I smiled back. His mum smiled. Even the moaning kids smiled. It won't transform our lives, but I'm sure it made us all feel a bit better.

So smile at your neighbour. Smile at the man sweeping up rubbish in the streets, because you can bet that he is having an even worse day than you.

And make a mental note to try hard in shops. Americans may not be perfect, but they certainly know how to make customers feel welcome. A smile, a "good morning, can I help you?" costs nothing. Judging by the scowls behind the tills in certain supermarkets, you wouldn't think it. Buying loo roll and cat-food is tedious enough, without having to put up with a face that would turn your milk sour.

The problem with us Brits is that we take miserable service for

granted. In fact, we take a lot of things for granted and moan about the weather instead. Complaining is the national default mechanism. The more we have, the more we want, but as Lord Layard and his chums have identified, you won't find inner peace by buying a new car every year.

If only we stopped sometimes, and realised how lucky most of us already are, we would all feel a lot happier. If you are fortunate enough to be in good health, you should put that right at the top of your personal happiness calculator. No-one realises just how debilitating and destructive being ill or having an accident can be until it happens to them, or to a friend or family member.

I've known personally the trauma of miscarriage and serious illness, when my husband developed a brain tumour at the age of 37. I've seen friends of my age die suddenly and leave devastated families and tiny children behind.

So I live for the moment, and since I've learned to do this, I've appreciated what I've got.

I'm sure that when this director of happiness is appointed, they will spend more time than is good for them in meetings, coming up with clever policy ideas to eradicate Third World poverty and rid the planet of evil money-screwing bankers. But happiness can come from within.

If I was in charge, I'd start with the little things. I'd make it my mission to advocate random acts of kindness. A quick text to a friend who is feeling down, a bunch of 50p daffodils to say thank you, doesn't cost the earth, but like a pebble dropped in a pond, the ripples can have a huge impact. It might not earn me 80,000 a year, but the

rewards are immeasurable