Television review

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The Independent Culture
There's a sort of netherworld of the soul - not clinical depression, but a blue, torpid dissatisfaction - which many people accept as their lot in life. Perhaps wanting to be happy is getting above one's station; perhaps all that can be asked is health and a home. Last night's chirpily interesting QED (BBC1), "How to be Happy", wheeled on a phalanx of psychologists and computer-toting neurobiologists as three volunteer guinea-pigs, locked in varying patterns of sadness or disaffection, took the QED "Course in Happiness" and reported from the front line in psychic engineering.

Our pastoral expert, Oxford psychologist Robert Holden, was a fresh- faced, happy-clappy type ("Go out to play, even!" he shouted at his cowed audience), with an ominous lack of sideburns and a mind like a sponge. Joyfulness, happiness, internal jogging (that's laughing to you) - they were all the same to Holden; nit-picking distinctions were clearly invidious, the product of diseased minds. His platitudes were disturbingly New Labour, urging his subjects to be "More honest, more loving and, um, seizing the moment a little bit more," and when he was writing important words down on his big pad, he spelt "naive" in large, childish letters as "Niave". Love, evidently, means never having to say you're "srory".

The three self-confessed saddoes perked up considerably once they'd been bailed out from Holden's laughter workshop. Keith, a man who gave up his sales job and girlfriend but kept the racing-green Daimler, acted as a control to the experiment. He wasn't unhappy, just suffering from psychic greed: he couldn't be bothered to do the happiness homework, because "I've been quite enjoying not doing very much". Good for you, Keith. More affecting was Caroline's story: she gave up her job six years ago to care for her ungrateful, unloving mother, and since then the "glitterball" that was her social life has become tarnished and still.

After only eight weeks, Caroline was transformed, smirking girlishly and looking about 10 years younger. You still wanted to shout at her to put Mum in a home, for pity's sake, but it was a colossal improvement, proven by whizzing her off to the USA for fancy before-and-after brain scans.

Dawn, a private investigator and mother, hit a blip halfway through and faxed the programme intending to jack it in, but she, too, was there at the end, so happy she didn't mind being punted down the sparkling, soft- focus Isis by a grinning Holden. Dawn blinked in her heart-warming surprise: "I thought it was just gonna be a laff, but it became a life-changer, which was really weird."

The reprogramming that had taken place was remarkably simple: don't assume you have to deserve happiness; set yourself goals, from long-term desires to everyday lists of chores, and tick them off once achieved. And do a bit of exercise, to release those endorphins. Professor Michael Argyle told us wryly that in many studies, "exercise was found to be as effective as psychotherapy, which is bad news for psychologists, I suppose." I, too, found myself to be measurably happier after this film, because I no longer had to endure Felicity Kendal's frightful I'm-a-naughty-young- minx commentary. Had she been there, in my home, happiness would have been a warm gun.

Freud would have enjoyed The Fred Dibnah Story (BBC2), a new series of edited documentaries about a gifted Bolton steeplejack who spends most of his time demolishing enormous chimneys. A lot of symbolic meat in that; but Fred's the image of a happy man anyway, fag in fist, hammering at bricks with aplomb. It was enormously enjoyable, full of nerve-wracking shots of Fred atop some cloud-skimming, dodgy wooden scaffolding, reassuring viewers about the danger of his vocation. "I've never fell off a big chimney," he said cheerfully. "You only fall off one of them once, like."

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