Skip to main content


The two keys to happiness

“Thinking of a world beyond ourselves.” Getty

Celebrities “on the wane” love to give advice about how to be happy, says Craig Brown in the Daily Mail. In her 2020 book Happiness Becomes You, Tina Turner wrote: “Thank you for being you, exactly as you are.” The former TV personality Noel Edmonds tells readers of Positively Happy to memorise the phrase: “I am a special person. I am allowed to be happy in what I do.” And in Thrive, Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington tells readers to “forgive yourself for any judgments that you are holding against yourself”. But I have to say, in my experience “one of the surest paths to unhappiness is to read books that tell you how to be happy”.

Instead, psychologists might have the answer: a recent study of 1,700 men found that those who went fishing were “significantly happier than the rest of us”, and less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Another trick is hard work. “Busy people are happy people,” is what Gyles Brandreth’s old headmaster told him, and those five words have “informed his entire life”. David Hockney, 86, and Melvyn Bragg, 83, are two more great examples of keeping busy – and content – into old age. Can both approaches be true? Fishing involves “doing virtually nothing”; working is about “doing as much as you possibly can”. But fishing and working are both ways of “thinking of a world beyond ourselves” – and beyond the reach of self-help gurus.