New Year, New Beginnings. The one gift most of us would crave this New Year is genuine happiness.

I was reading some books I received for Christmas, one of which claims to draw lessons about life from people who have faced death.

It's called ‘Life Lessons’ and is written by Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler. Those interested in healthy living and healthy grief will be familiar with both names.

There is plenty of practical advice in it. People with near-death experiences stop looking for happiness "out there".

They take responsibility for their happiness and realise it’s a state of mind over which they have some control.

Personal happiness is not determined by our social status in life, or a hefty bank account – it comes from living each day with integrity and grace.

If you want to be happy, don't give your happiness away. No one can steal your happiness unless you give them the power to do so. It’s in your own hands.

You give power away when you become overly concerned with other people's opinions. Remember, this is your life.

Don't be dependent on others’ opinions of you. Form your own opinions about yourself.

Another more subtle part of the same argument is that we are more likely to be happy when we stop controlling others.

We don't have the power to make another person happy. They have to take responsibility for their own happiness. You should be your real self, and so should they.

Don’t give in to feelings of victimisation, thinking that everything bad happens to you.

Life has loss, recovery, sunshine and rain built into it. Life is not stacked against us.

Many of us block out happiness because we decide to think of ourselves as victims. We like to be victims.

It justifies the chip on the shoulder we love to tell everyone about.

For example, note the multitudes of ‘victims’ who phone into radio programmes telling the world how "devastated" they are over the simplest of things.

There is an immature hypersensitivity which leads to a culture of victimisation.

Fear is an emotion that can be used positively or negatively.

The authors write: "A young client who had cancer for 6 of his 9 years had accepted the reality of his death and was discharged from hospital.

“His biggest dream was to cycle around the block. He asked his father to take down the bicycle which had been in the garage unused for three years, and off he rode ... Life will be over sooner than we think. If we have bikes to ride, now is the time.”

New Year is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our attitudes. How easy is it for me to feel hurt?

Do I secretly enjoy it when the world appears to be against me? Do I boss and bully others, and how does that make me feel?

Having answered those questions honestly, decide now to take control of your life and do something about your attitudes.

Don’t procrastinate. Start today. Think positively, have dreams, and overcome fear. Stop trying to control others.

Some think a good relationship will bring lasting happiness. Problems will arise if you believe a romantic relationship will fix you and your life. It can't.

We are responsible for determining our own happiness. Instant completeness does not come from others.

If you are an unhappy single person, you'll most likely be an unhappy partner.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing people to take advantage of us. It’s about letting the hurt go, because holding onto a grudge forces us to live in unhappiness.

We have to acknowledge that other people are human beings and make mistakes the same as we do ourselves.

It means realising that we too need forgiveness for the mistakes we made. It means acknowledging that we are angry and then letting go of it.

Guilt stifles happiness. Elizabeth Kubler Ross tells a helpful story.

"Ellen was filled with guilt and shame for having become a mother at 15. Her family put her child up for adoption.

“At the age of 55, Ellen was in poor health and decided she wanted to forgive herself for what happened before.

“Even though it was too late to find her daughter, she wrote her a letter telling her that she was a wanted child, and if there is such a thing as an afterlife, she would watch over her.”

Her letter was found after her death; her story was reported on a local radio station, and the daughter came forward. It was a powerful lesson for her daughter.

We discover our true identities by finding out what we want and don't want. We have to acknowledge we have strong characteristics and work on them positively.

We also have to be brave enough to admit there is a darker side to our character.

There may be a part of you that acts like a victim, a bully, a martyr or indeed, all three.

Much of your unhappiness will be because you cultivate your unhappiness.

There’s a back-to-work, Monday morning feeling, around this week, so let me wish you a positive, peaceful, fulfilling New Year.

There’s something magical about another new year. The writer Charles Lamb once said that a new year is everyone’s birthday.

Maybe that’s why the older I get, the more excited I become as another year begins.

I don’t have resolutions, but I’m determined to live more freely this coming year. That’s my spiritual focus for now.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become too fenced in by endless routines. This new year, trust yourself that you know how to live.

Be more aware of the good things you have – and enjoy them. If you can’t make a brand-new start, then plan for a new ending. The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

I often think that the gifts I take for granted are what someone else is praying to have. The difference between a good day and a bad day is down to my attitude.

There was a piece of doggerel from my childhood which went something like this: “The more we give, the more we get; the more we laugh, the less we fret; the more we share, the more we have to spare; the more we love, the more we’ll find, that life is good and friends are kind.”

Living more freely has to be planned though, otherwise, it will become just another broken resolution.

I need to live and not just exist; to plan and not just dream; believe and not just hope; I need to do more than encourage, I need to inspire.

Only those who risk going too far know how far they can go.

To reflect on life is good, but this is not enough; to see is better, and to understand is better still.

To learn from what you understand is the beginning of wisdom. But to act is all that matters.

Mother Teresa put it well: “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”