Shirley Conran, author
Sometimes you only recognise happiness in recollection: seeing my married home for the first time, by moonlight. A spur-of-the-moment picnic in the park. Stroking my child’s freshly washed hair (child is now 56 years old).
What always makes me happy is waking up to sunshine and making people laugh.
Jonathan Dimbleby, broadcaster
* The day the housemartins arrive.
* Lighting a log fire.
* Stormy weather when my wind turbine is whirring.
* Collecting the hens eggs.
* Tooth fairies.
* Winning a point against my tennis coach.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, neuroscientist
* Being in bed in the evening or first thing in the morning and hearing the rain outside. I like snuggling under the duvet as the rain drums gently on the windowpane.
* The scent of orange blossom you get in Mediterranean countries. It’s such a heady smell. I love the Med – the food, the warmth, the easy living, the lifestyle – and this conjures it up instantly. Smells are always very evocative, and when the blossom is out, it heralds a freshness, a time of great promise before the full-on heat of the summer.
* The sound of a champagne cork. It’s my favourite drink, and the default aperitif when one goes out – I’m not complaining! In the olden days, you would be offered a sherry or a gin and tonic. There’s something heady about the champagne ritual, from the pop of the cork to the feel of the flute in your hand, the condensation that forms in the glass, seeing the bubbles rise… If they open a bottle of champagne over my grave, I’ll resurrect.
* Getting a good result in the lab. As a scientist, so many thing conspire against you. The world has a knack of contaminating your experiments – a spillage, something breaks… – so to get a result that complies with your hypothesis is such a thrill, one of the most exciting things. Suddently the overdraft doesn’t matter.
Richard Madeley, broadcaster
* Getting up. If I lie awake in bed for too long in the morning, negative thoughts accumulate – so it’s up and into the shower. The blues vanish. Basic hydrotherapy, I suppose.
* A bike ride around the Hampstead Heath Extension, where we live. Ersatz countryside in the suburbs.
* A Spam sandwich made with crusty white bread and lettuce. Naff, but always cheering.
* The two-mile hike over the cliff path to the beautiful fishing village of Polperro, near our Cornish home. The seascape is an ever-changing canvas; tremendously uplifting.
* Anything by Charles Dickens. Such a confident writer. He wrote A Christmas Carol in one draft. His only changes were deletions; didn’t add a word or a comma. Amazing.
Prof Robert Winston, IVF pioneer
* Listening to the ‘Adagio’ from Schubert’s String Quartet in C Major, performed by the Emerson Quartet and Rostropovich. Such fragile violin-playing, which is simultaneously so robust. This is music for floating to, for not speaking, for utter tranquility, and for sex. Time itself stands still, seemingly suspended, as the cello marks out its punctuation.
* Skiing off the Parsenn in the Alps, in bright sunshine, with not a soul in sight. From the icy-cold top of the Weissfluhjoch to the warmer remote village of Kublis is a leisurely 10 miles, and a descent of more than 2,000 metres. As there is no risk of collision, I make the descent with Bach on my earphones.
* Flying over sparsely populated parts of East Africa in a light aircraft, with the excited anticipation of seeing extraordinary wildlife when one finally lands on a deserted grass airstrip.
* Playing with model steam trains chuffing along in the garden with Isaac, my three year old grandson, a little scientist who jumps up and down with sheer joy when there is a sudden major derailment and the water spurts everywhere.
* Standing in front of Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding in the National Gallery. I love its rich, glowing colours and the attention to detail: the little dog, the clogs, the chandelier. There is mystery, too: the curious, imponderable Putin-like expression on Giovanni’s face and his raised hand, fingers extended, the almost avoiding glance of his betrothed. And the enigmatic figure in the mirror – who is watching what?
Lady Antonia Fraser, historian
* Going for a swim – indoors at Body Works West in London; at Chewton Glen hotel in the country, where the pool is in a glass cathedral; or in the sea, any time, any place.
* Chatting to my cat. Placido has a lot to tell me of a complaining cattish nature: contrary to what I’ve always thought, he tells me I’m lucky not to be a cat. In short, I’m lucky to be human.
* Counting my grandchildren by their birthdays from the start of the year.
* Counting my grandchildren again (I have 19). This time, doing their birthdays backwards from the end of the year. This is guaranteed to send me to sleep – and is better than any pill.
* Going to a concert at the Wigmore Hall. Maybe the wonderful Florian Boesch will be singing Schubert. Maybe the equally wonderful Paul Lewis will be playing Schubert. Maybe the most wonderful Mitsuko Uchida will be playing anything.
Wendy Cope, poet
* My breakfast. I always wake up hungry and I always enjoy breakfast: porridge and juice (cranberry and orange mixed). Then I move to an armchair with a very big mug of good coffee and have a look at one of the newspapers.
* Watching the garden grow. After breakfast I go out and see how the plants are getting on, especially the roses. We have a tiny courtyard garden, which gives me great pleasure and not too much work.
* Walking by the riverside in Ely. We moved here just over a year ago, to a house not far from the river. I love going down there and looking at the boats, the birds and the people. You don’t have to walk far before you’re in open country with views of the Fens. I’ve always felt drawn to flat landscapes and I am very happy to be living in one.
* Champagne. The sight of it at a party always gladdens my heart. If I could afford to drink it all the time, I might not enjoy it so much.
* Listening to the music of J.S. Bach. Much of it makes me want to dance.
Jeremy Vine, broadcaster
* The opening guitar chords of ‘God Save The Queen’ by the Sex Pistols.
* When you find something before you know you’ve lost it.
* The street cleaner in Chiswick who dances as he sweeps.
* My daughters being kind to each other.
* Fish and chips in Sidmouth, then walking along the seafront being lashed by rain.
Fay Weldon, novelist
* REM’s ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’, a song that helped me through hard emotional times in the late 1980s. Whenever I hear it, I remember just how unhappy I am not today, and rejoice.
* Watching my sons tending their small children and realising I didn’t do too badly after all: we survived, we multiplied.
* The small orderliness of domestic things: a tidy cutlery drawer, towels colour-coded and stacked according to size, fresh sheets, plumped pillows, scrubbed table. Of these trivia is contentment made.
* Writing ‘The End’ when a long piece of work is at last finished, and I click ‘send’.
* Lunching with friends in restaurants, the sheer exhilaration of exchanging ideas, discussing possibilities. Fish and chips will do, but posh and healthy is best. Save up, live for ever.
Gyles Brandreth, novelist and raconteur
What makes me happy – instantly? A Bendicks bitter mint (it’s the sugar rush); a bitter lemon at the end of the working day (I don’t drink alcohol: it’s the ritual that does it); English honey on lightly burnt hot-buttered toast (comfort food); winning a round on Just A Minute (it’s the adrenalin rush); a surprise kiss on the nose from my granddaughter (it reaches the parts other kisses cannot reach); the moment in the theatre when the lights go down (I feel safe in the dark); the last 20 minutes of any Shakespeare play (he never fails); an unexpected shaft of sunshine on my back as I walk down the street; but most of all, writing out a list of everything I have got to do. Once it’s all there, on the notepad, in black and white, I am back in control, no longer overwhelmed, and suddenly, briefly, completely happy.
* A version of this article first appeared in 2012