JANET STREET-PORTER: Bisto, booze and my secrets to happiness this Christmas

Bisto, booze and my secrets to happiness this Christmas

When did happiness become something measurable — another skill we can fail at, like driving or bread-making

Tony Blair stormed to power in 1997 to the sound of Things Can Only Get Better which has turned out to be a bit of a hollow promise. Since then, the happiness industry has taken off big-time.

Tony appointed a ‘happiness tsar’, who encouraged the NHS to introduce talking therapies to deal with depression. David Cameron picked up the baton, and is spending 2 million on a survey next year to discover how contented we are.

How to have a Merry Christmas: Forget about calories consumed and drink your favourite tipple (posed by models)

How to have a Merry Christmas: Forget about calories consumed and drink your favourite tipple (posed by models)

The PM is a big fan of ‘positive thinking’ and says future Government policy must be evaluated to ensure it will improve our happiness. The first part of the survey has already found that most of us are ‘fairly’ happy — which you or I could have told Dave without spending 2 on a bus ride to Downing Street.

The latest happiness evangelist is EU President Herman Van Rompuy (or Rompwee as the BBC keeps calling him, which gives me a silly grin every time I hear it). The bespectacled, owlish fellow. Rompuy, who was unknown outside his native Belgium before his appointment, has decided to send 200 copies of a pretentious volume of essays entitled The World Book of Happiness to political leaders around the globe.

Surely our leaders are happy when they rate high in opinion polls, when they have the best position in the group photos at the endless banquets and summits they go to — or, if they’re Silvio Berlusconi, when they have a nubile teenager doing a bit of Bunga Bunga in the vicinity of his lap.

Leaders are happy when their opponents are suffering — is that really a quality we should emulate Mostly, they are happy — if they’re Tony Blair — because when they stop being politicians, they can turn into multi-millionaires travelling the globe first class, looking important.

The problem with measuring happiness is it comes down to a scale of one out of seven. It’s just box-ticking, dressed up as a science. What if some things don’t make you happy — like bringing up annoying children or cooking for the family Do you dump the kids on someone else or tell everyone that from now on they can starve

The happiness movement is a load of bilge that’s grown into a huge industry spewing out books, dvds, seminars and academic research projects, making plenty of dosh for its so-called experts.

Positive psychologists love meaningless mantras like ‘how to work at getting the life you want’, ‘practising gratitude’ and — my most loathed catchphrase — ‘living in the present’.

Allegedly it’s not about wealth, but contentment. Some experts say that those on a salary of more than 60,000 (only one in 16 people) don’t see rises in their happiness. But as the average salary in the UK is under 25,000, does this mean we are all less happy Of course not.

The editor of Van Rompuy’s Christmas tome says that ‘all over the world people have only one objective, happiness’. Talk about stating the bloody obvious. It would be a bit weird if we said our main goal in life was to be as miserable as possible — as vacuous as saying Make Poverty History’.

The truth is, we Brits are complex characters, who come packaged with little nuggets of happiness and big clouds of self-doubt and anxiety.

Nothing wrong in that. We have good days and bad days — perfectly normal. I hate the idea that happiness can be learnt, like playing tennis or baking a cake.

So here’s the JSP guide to happiness for the festive season:

If you receive Van Rompuy’s book, or any other self-help tome, use it to light the fire, or take it to the charity shop.As experts estimate we will gain 7lb over the next two weeks, don’t exercise portion control but give a big cheer! That fat will serve as insulation in January when the huge heating bill arrives and the thermostat gets turned down.Move forward the hour you reach for your daily tipple to 6pm — you’re on festive time; if The Archers continues its current miserable storyline, you might as well get merry before tuning in.When your partner starts re-boiling marmalade, damson jam and making (inexplicably) crystallised ginger at 10pm on Christmas Eve, don’t state the obvious (he’s lost the plot), but celebrate he’s not down the pub and you can watch your boxed set of Downton all over again.Do not make gravy on Christmas Day. Make a secret stash of Bisto the day before, hide it and no one will notice. Gravy equals grief in our house.Suspend the fashion police for Christmas Day. Yes, he’s wearing trackpants plus the nasty leisure top mum gave him. But this is the season of goodwill to all men — and their mums. Just smile. Start practising now.Just pipe Downton, luvvies!

Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens are talented young actors who have captured our attention playing the tortured duo of prissy Lady Mary and the incredibly wet Matthew Crawley in period super-soap Downton Abbey.

Their on-off relationship is fascinating and has become a real reason to watch.

But that doesn’t mean we want these two to give us their real-life opinions about modern values.

Always banging on: Dockery and Stevens

Always banging on: Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey

Before Downton, both had won awards and appeared in prestigious productions in the theatre and on telly. But the massive ratings for Downton — here and in the U.S. — seem to have gone to their heads.

Earlier this year, Michelle was moaning about the lack in chivalry in modern life. Now Dan has been complaining about morality, saying that speed-dating and sex on the first date have taken the mystery out of romance.

If they were playing a couple of gang members in a remake of West Side Story, or a couple of vagrants in Waiting For Godot, would we be hearing this twaddle about chivalry and romance Of course not.

Actors should stick to their job and keep half-formed theories about sociology to themselves.

It’s all gone to their heads, poor darlings.

Don”t patronise the PM”s wife

Don”t give up the day job: Samantha Cameron

Sir Gus O’Donnell, shortly to retire as head of the Civil Service, thinks that Prime Ministers’ wives should be paid an allowance. I disagree.

How would this salary be evaluated

PMs’ spouses are not elected, and when they married politicians, they surely knew what the job might entail.

Women must preserve their individuality to have an equal part in a relationship, and one of the most admirable qualities about SamCam is that she still manages to fit in a real job.

Paying a PM’s partner implies that cooking meals and listening, standing at their side through countless public events, is a chore that has a rate per hour, and if they get a clothing allowance it signifies they are arm candy and little more.

Denis Thatcher would have sneered at such a demeaning suggestion.

Where”s ferrety Werritty hiding

Where is Liam Fox’s friend and best man Adam Werritty

Since the furore broke over Werritty’s unorthodox working relationship with the former Defence Secretary, burly Mr Fix-It seems to have vanished — he seems more accomplished at avoiding the paparazzi than Madonna or J-Lo.

Werritty pops up in the latest Spectator magazine, claiming that he will be spending Hogmanay with Mr and Mrs Fox, but doesn’t mention in which country.

Between May 2010 and last October they ran into each other in five-star hostelries all over the world, from Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore to Washington.

Perhaps he’s changed his appearance Or got a real job

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge can’t go on a skiing holiday because the royals are worried ‘it sends the wrong message’. I wouldn’t have thought so. Every builder I know goes on a skiing holiday now — they’re hardly exclusive. There are packages for every price range. It probably costs more to spend a fortnight in a hotel in Scotland, or pay for a day’s shooting on a top estate — hardly the sport of the impoverished.