The rain was stoating off the Glasgow streets as if a celestial imp was gleefully hosing the city's pavements. It was dark, cold, and the wind made even considering opening an umbrella futile. The jumble of buildings that make up Strathclyde University looked less than welcoming in the November evening darkness. All sensible folk should really have been at home. Yet inside the lecture theatre at the John Anderson building there was barely an empty place in the 450-seat auditorium.

Why were they all there? Well, happiness is the short answer, but perhaps I should explain.

Over 200 years ago in Glasgow - let's just think about that; there are many countries that are not even 200 years old. Anyway, the 19th century had barely begun when a couple of dozen good citizens of Glasgow met in a pub, as you do, and felt more should be done to improve the arts and sciences in Glasgow, particularly by setting up a scientific library. You have to remember young people, that not all scientific knowledge then was but a few taps away on a keyboard with the help of Mr Google.

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Not dallying, they met again the following week and established the Glasgow Philosophical Society. The idea was a simple one. They would meet every week in the winter and have scientists and academics talk about their latest discoveries, thus spreading ideas, inventions and new ways of tackling problems to a wider audience. What is just astonishing is that the society, which now has the grander title The Royal Philosophical Society of Glasgow, still does that, and meets every fortnight over the winter.

Truly there are things going on in Glasgow of which many of us are simply unaware.

The society did indeed build its own library and even had their own premises in Bath Street which lasted until 1961 when rising costs forced them to sell the premises and disperse the library. But the meetings still take place which is where Strathclyde University now comes in.

So with such a lengthy history you can imagine how eminent some of the society's forefathers were. Lord Kelvin the mathematician who set out the laws of thermodynamics was a president. Thomas Graham, the chemist who did pioneering work on the use of gases, was a vice-president. Honorary members included Professor Faraday, Dr Joule, Professor Pavlov and Professor Einstein whose names are still used by scientists today.

Science though does not have such a dominant position in Glasgow as it once did, and the talks at the Philosophical Society, while still featuring scientific developments, also encompass the social sciences, moral philosophy and the arts.

Which takes us back to Strathclyde University where over 400 members braved the weather to hear one-time Allan Glen's boy Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, former cancer specialist and Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, convener of the Calman Commission on devolution, and now Chancellor of Glasgow University, talk about happiness. Now sitting in a room listening to someone give a 45 minute lecture is a dying art form, but it is well worth visiting now and again as it engages the brain, exposes you to new ideas, and is far more inspiring than being slumped in front of the telly.

Ken Calman's premise was that happiness is not just handed to you and it is by having a purpose and meaning in life that happiness occurs. As he put it: "Happy people have their mind fixed on some object other than their own happiness." Love, helping others, also came into the equation, but also equality of opportunity mattered as well.

He quoted Scots-born billionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie who argued that it was not a bad thing to make money - it was just a bad thing to keep it. In fact the lecture swept across much of literature as he also quoted Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran who wrote: "In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

Perhaps for some Scots his most controversial point was when he argued: "I don't think alcohol makes you happy at all."

Afterwards, there was time for Sir Kenneth to answer audience questions, and then there was a glass of wine on offer for the crowd to mingle and muse over the topic before braving the Glasgow weather again. There can be few more civilised evenings in the Glasgow calendar than this, and it does not even cost anything to attend. Regular attendees are encouraged to join the society which costs only £35 a year. Speakers are not paid, but if they are from out of town they are put up in the rather splendid Western Club.

Sir Kenneth's talk was a very personal take on happiness, rather than the more analytical fare that is usually heard at the society. Neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott will be giving a lecture in February on the science of laughter which will delve more into the brain activity associated with laughter and happiness.

Recent speakers have included Richard Dawkins, the Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, and Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the astrophysicist who discovered pulsars. Politicians are rarely invited in case they simply spout party politics, but former Tory MP Jonathan Aitken did speak on his experiences of being in prison.

Dr Felicity Grainger, secretary of the society, confessed: "As you can see, there are a few grey beards amongst the audience. There are quite a few retired people, academics and so on, who are members. But we also encourage students to come along when the subject touches on what they are studying. It really is open to all."

Everyone listened raptly to Sir Kenneth. The questions were often thoughtful and to the point, with any ramblers professionally brought to whatever point they were making. Everyone there seemed, well, happy. So perhaps Sir Kenneth should add forgetting about bad weather and stimulate your thought processes by going to a public lecture, as one other way of adding to your happiness.