By Alastair Jamieson
A simple "five-a-day" programme of social and personal tasks can promote mental wellbeing as well as physical fitness according to the research, compiled with the help of more than 400 scientists.
The Mental Capital and Wellbeing report, published by Foresight, part of the Government Office for Science, says people should try to connect with others, to be active, to take notice of their surroundings, to keep learning and to give to their neighbours and communities.
Foresight believes a small increase in levels of wellbeing can produce a large decrease in mental health problems, treatment of which costs up to £77billion a year in England alone.
The report's advice to "take notice" includes suggestions such as "catch sight of the beautiful" and "savour the moment, whether walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends". Examples of learning include mending a bike or trying to play a musical instrument.
It suggests an easy five-a-day approach, citing the success of the nutritional campaign to persuade Britons to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Although the report may not become government policy, ministers are likely to heed its findings as Foresight is headed by the Government's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington.
He said: "This report gives us new insights, based on cutting-edge science, into the challenges ahead and how they might be addressed. It contains a range of proposals for society and Government to consider.
"There is good work being done but progress can be made and taxpayers' money saved if government departments work together more effectively to tackle these issues."
The project investigated ways of improving the nation's "mental capital", which Professor Beddington likened to a bank account of the mind. "We need to ask what actions can add to that bank account, and what activities can erode that capital," he said.
Among the other issues it highlights is a strong link between mental illness and debt. Half of people in Britain who are in debt have a mental disorder, compared with just 16 per cent of the general population.
The report advocates more flexible working, days after Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, announced a review of government plans to extend such arrangements.
Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at the University of Lancaster, a coordinator of the report, said: "People who choose to work flexibly are more job-satisfied, healthier and more productive."
Foresight says work-related absenteeism accounts for between 10million to 14m days lost, costing business around £750m per annum.
Presenteeism – where the individual is at work but not productive – could cost the UK around £900m per year.
Five steps to happiness
Developing relationships with family, friends, colleagues and neighbours will enrich your life and bring you support
Sports, hobbies such as gardening or dancing, or just a daily stroll will make you feel good and maintain mobility and fitness
Noting the beauty of everyday moments as well as the unusual and reflecting on them helps you to appreciate what matters to you
Fixing a bike, learning an instrument, cooking – the challenge and satisfaction brings fun and confidence
Helping friends and strangers links your happiness to a wider community and is very rewarding