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
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence