Last Night's TV: With a little self-help from his friends

Imagine..., BBC1; Horizon, BBC2

"I'm a great believer in saying 'yes' to everything rather than 'no' to everything," said Richard Branson in Imagine...'s film about self-help books. I found this a rather inspirational thought. It suggested that if I wrote to Richard Branson asking him to give me £1m, I'd get the cheque by return of post. "Screw it... let's do it!" I thought, adopting the title of Branson's own motivational bestseller. Sadly, I didn't move fast enough. Only a few minutes later, Alan Yentob was quoting from the founding text of motivational literature, Samuel Smiles's Victorian bestseller Self-Help."Help from without is enfeebling, but help from within invigorates." And hearing that I began to doubt.

Maybe Richard Branson, as a go-getting, yes-to-the-universe type of guy, would be just too caring to risk enfeebling me. Then again, it could be that I was Feeling the Fear and Saying, "Oh, Sod It, It'll Never Work... I'll Do a Sudoku Instead", very much not the approach counselled by Susan Jeffers, the author of the zillion-selling Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I began to feel a little low, which as it happened primed me perfectly for the arrival of Adam Phillips, a man of refreshing realism. "We're never going to be cured of the fact that we have conflicting desires," he told Yentob. "We're never going to be cured of the fact that satisfaction is limited, we're never going to be cured of the fact that happiness is transitory, if it's available at all... Plus, we're all going to die."

I can't tell you how that cheered me up, so much less naggy and disapproving than the Gillette-commercial boosterism of Anthony Robbins, an eerie man with a smile like a calving glacier, who has made a fortune out of peddling self-improvement fantasies to people who believe they can think themselves rich. And, oddly enough, the stoical acceptance that life is less than perfect does have an echo in some self-help bestsellers. The writer Amy Jenkins, who likes to start the day with a chapter or two of some self-help tome to get the motor running, recalled her relief at encountering the opening line of M Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled, "Life is difficult", the kind of truism that would be dismissed as self-fulfillingly defeatist by Mr Robbins.

Yentob had come to mock, but stayed to lean pensively on a London balcony and concede that there might be something in some of it, particularly those titles that modestly aimed at ameliorating the universal griefs of the human condition rather than turning the reader into some grinning automaton of self-empowerment. If you're anxious to get started and looking for the bullet points, Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy, a bestseller about cognitive behavioural therapy, got a big thumbs up (and a lot of clinical backing) and Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning – drawing on the author's experiences in Auschwitz – got an eloquent endorsement from the Chief Rabbi. But the really liberating remark came from Phillips. "What works?" Yentob asked him. "Nothing works," he replied, and then, as if seeing how crestfallen his interviewer looked, he softened his answer just a little. "Some things work some times for some people." With expectations that low, I think most of us could achieve a modicum of contentment, and at least not beat ourselves up if we failed.

Whatever you do, getting stressed about your lack of success and happiness is going to be counterproductive, if Horizon's documentary about ageing is to be believed. Apparently, stress hormones can play havoc with your prospects of a longer life, though if you're that stressed, it's possible that you won't want to live to 98 anyway. How to Life to 101 reported on research being conducted in three of the world's longevity hot spots: the Japanese island of Okinawa, a Sardinian town called Ovodda and Loma Linda in California. The unsurprising news is that there aren't any short cuts. It helps to be born with the right genes and in the right place, but even then, you're going to have to eat well and you'll need to work out too. Marge Jetton, a sprightly centenarian, starts the day with six miles on an exercise bike and a weights session. "If you don't have something that hurts you, why it's not worthwhile," she explained, a "secret" that is not likely to recommend itself to the great mass of the people.

I don't think there's going to be a huge take-up for "caloric restriction" either, which is part of the culture in Okinawa, where it's regarded as sensible to rise from the table when you're still not quite full. Apparently, having some meaningful activity to do helps as well, though you don't have to go quite as far as Dr Ellsworth Wareham, a 92-year-old who still practises open-heart surgery three or four times a week. He doesn't tell his patients how old he is. The information is contra-indicated for people with weak hearts.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick