Every day we receive fresh advice on how to be happy, generally offered by celebrities on the wane.
Currently in book shops, you can find Happy: Finding Joy In Every Day And Letting Go of Perfect by Fearne Cotton, recommended by Craig David ‘for anyone who’s looking to find true consistent happiness’.
A writer called Marc Reklau has published no fewer than 13 books telling us how to be happy. Among them are How To Become A People Magnet and Love Yourself FIRST! On his website, he describes these books as ‘international bestsellers’, though this may just be his publisher’s way of keeping him happy.
Celebrities used to write children’s books, largely because they require very few words and can be fleshed out with illustrations.
Nowadays, they offer us advice on how to be happy. Most of their tips revolve around the narcissistic idea that, whoever you are — Kim Jong-un or Gordon Ramsay or Liz Truss — the secret of happiness is to love yourself more.
Craig Brown recommends a spot of fishing to find the path to true happiness (Stock Image)
Craig Brown said: ‘fishing and working are both ways of thinking of a world beyond ourselves, a world beyond the reach of the self-help gurus’
The late Tina Turner started her book Happiness Becomes You by saying: ‘Thank you for being you, exactly as you are.’
The Duchess of Sussex has never been short of advice in this area. She once revealed that the phrase ‘You need to know that you’re enough’ is ‘a mantra that has now engrained itself so deeply within me that not a day goes by without hearing it chime in my head’.
‘Never forget that you have a fundamental right to love and be loved, to be successful and to be happy,’ advised the former TV personality Noel Edmonds in his loopy book Positively Happy: Cosmic Ways To Change Your Life. He then told his readers to ‘memorise this: Hang on, I am a special person. I am allowed to be happy in what I do.’
In her manual Thrive: The Third Metric To Defining Success And Creating A Life Of Well-Being, Wisdom And Wonder, Arianna Huffington, the brassy founder of the Huffington Post, told her readers: ‘Forgive yourself for any judgments that you are holding against yourself.’
I can imagine another famous self-help guru, Russell Brand, reciting these words over and over again as he sits contemplating his future.
British psychologists reported that anglers are happier than the rest of the population, and are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety (Stock Image)
In my experience, one of the surest paths to unhappiness is to read books that tell you how to be happy.
Living by the sea, I sometimes look out of my bedroom window at anglers sitting alone in their little black tents in the wind and the rain. They’re often there the whole night.
I wonder what brings them there. Are they a) deeply happy or b) deeply unhappy? Psychologists from three British universities think they have discovered the answer.
Having quizzed 1,700 men, they have found out that anglers are significantly happier than the rest of us, and less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. The more they fish, the better they feel.
‘Exposure to blue spaces can lead to improved mental health and wellbeing. One meaningful way to do this is through recreational angling,’ the psychologists conclude.
On the very same day as the report was published, the irrepressible Gyles Brandreth — one of the few people I know who is able to cheer up any room he enters — offered his own advice on how to be happy.
He said that his old headmaster, Mr Stokes, then aged 82, told him: ‘Busy people are happy people.’ Those five words have, he says, informed his entire life.
The 86-year-old David Hockney is another great advertisement for keeping busy. He is more prolific than ever, painting canvases full of hope and joy.
In a tremendous series of TV interviews with Melvyn Bragg, he espouses the discipline of rising early and starting work immediately. ‘When you are older, you realise that everything else is just nothing compared to painting and drawing.’
Can these two different approaches to happiness — fishing and working — both be true? One involves doing virtually nothing other than sitting still and holding a rod, while the other involves doing as much as you possibly can.
Oddly enough, I think they may be two perfectly true approaches to the same goal.
The happiness gurus tell us to think more about ourselves, and about how marvellous we must surely be. But fishing and working are both ways of thinking of a world beyond ourselves, a world beyond the reach of the self-help gurus.