Fed up? Just listen to Stephen Fry's humanist secret of happiness

The actor sums up a non-religious approach to the big questions of life in just three minutes

Share

I’ve just been listening to the voice of reason, otherwise known as Stephen Fry.

The actor has narrated short videos for the British Humanist Association on happiness, truth, morality and death, and I found all of them (even the last one) immensely cheering. The message is forget about old men in the sky, treat other people well, stop imagining an afterlife and enjoy the only one we know actually exists. I could listen to Fry for hours but he sums up a non-religious approach to the big questions of life in two or three minutes.

Secular and humanist values are everywhere. At a dinner hosted last week by the BHA, the television presenter Dan Snow declared that we’re living through the triumph of secularism. Not long after he spoke, the point was made by the reaction of the BBC’s Question Time audience in Brighton to a woman who tried to argue in favour of the traditional Christian view of marriage. She got short shrift, and I can’t help recalling that Brighton has the second-highest number of non-believers in England and Wales.

I love the people who turn up at secular and humanist events. One of the speakers at the humanist dinner was the association’s president, the theoretical physicist  Jim al-Khalili, who presents a wonderful BBC Radio 4 programme in which he interviews other eminent scientists. I also ran into the Labour MP Angela Eagle, who came with her civil partner Maria Exall, and I talked to a woman who has recently become a celebrant at humanist weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals. She told me she was hugely excited by the prospect of officiating at her first same-sex wedding.

Religion is losing one argument after another, from abortion and contraception to gay marriage. It’s one of the best things that’s happened in my lifetime.

Food for thought

In his little video on happiness, Fry advises people to enjoy simple pleasures such as cooking. If only more of us followed his advice instead of relying on takeaways and supermarket ready-meals: according to new research by an organisation called Kantar Worldpanel, we spend half as much time preparing meals as we did two decades ago.

The average time spent preparing the day’s main meal is 32 minutes, compared with an hour in 1993, and spending on chilled ready-meals has risen by 25 per cent in the past two years. At the same time, the annual report from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, says we have reached a stage where most adults in England are overweight or obese.

The poorer people are, the more likely they are to eat unhealthily, but time is also an issue. Lots of people say they don’t have time to cook, yet British adults spend an average of 27.5 hours watching their televisions each week. You don’t need me to tell you that’s almost four hours a day, a statistic which seems incomprehensible if (like me), you almost never turn on the TV. I don’t spend four hours a day preparing food either, but cooking dinner is one of the highpoints of my day.

It doesn’t make any difference whether I’m cooking for myself or expecting friends; I love making tagines, risottos, cous cous, pasta with home-made sauce or fish with roasted vegetables. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m not overweight, but I’m also sad that so many people are missing out on the profound sensual pleasure of eating meals that they’ve prepared themselves.

Hip hip... dismay

As well as eating a healthy diet, I run 10 miles a week and go to the gym as often as I can. So, I was startled last week to receive a copy of a letter from a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at a London teaching hospital to my GP. He reported that I was recovering well from hip surgery, but have numerous musculoskeletal problems and have been using a wheelchair for several years due to back trouble.

Not me, guv: my hips are fine and I’ve never so much as sat in a wheelchair. The name, address and date of birth were all correct, but clearly the hospital had mixed me up with another patient. I thought I’d better let them know about the mistake, naively imagining that they’d be anxious to sort it out.

After several attempts to navigate an automated switchboard, I finally got through to an operator and asked to speak to someone in orthopaedic surgery. A woman answered the phone and demanded to know how I’d got her number. She said it wasn’t really her job to sort it out, as though the whole thing was my fault, and started denying that there’d been a breach of confidential data. I’m just hoping that the poor woman with the dicky hip, who definitely isn’t me, isn’t still lost in the system.

Abuse victims deserve better

I’m not at all surprised by a new report on domestic abuse, commissioned by the Home Secretary Theresa May, which suggests that the police are failing victims in England and Wales. The report concludes that only eight out of 43 police forces are responding well and says that thousands of people are at risk of injury or even murder. It calls on chief constables to recognise that domestic abuse is a major problem, a recommendation that goes to the heart of the matter.

Domestic violence is much more widespread than people think. Here is a sobering statistic: in London, the police attend more than twice as many emergency calls relating to domestic violence as they do residential burglary. That’s around 330 calls a day, and one third of all violence with injury in the capital is domestic in nature.

Domestic abuse is beset by myths, including the idea that women – 80 per cent of victims are female – “choose” to stay with abusive men. Research carried out by the charity Refuge actually shows the opposite: two-thirds of women who seek help have already left or are trying to leave. Often they have nowhere to go, but the threat to themselves or their children is too great to stay. It requires a kind of quiet heroism to leave, and I wish the police forces which are currently failing these brave women would recognise the fact.

Joan Smith is a Distinguished Supporter of the BHA.

twitter.com/@polblonde; politcalblonde.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape