CAN you learn to be happy, or are you born a grump and fated to be that way for life?
Brian Colbert of the Irish Institute of NLP claims you can change from a misery-guts to a happy person, if you do the right exercises.
NLP, by the way, is neuro- linguistic programming -- a soft science based on the idea that what goes on in your mind is deeply affected by the language you use. Change the language, the theory goes, and you can change your life.
It can be fun. One of the many exercises in Colbert's new book The Happiness Habit (the 'official coaching handbook' of the Irish Institute of NLP) is meditation.
You know those helpful things you say to yourself: "What kind of effing fool are you? You always do that", "Not again, dopeface", "Oh shut up!" -- Colbert says you can use these, along with a mantra, to heal your mind.
Start, he recommends, with the basic meditation position: sit with legs folded, arms in a praying posture, hands circled to make an 'O' shape. Now think one of those sayings -- take "What kind of effing fool are you?" for a start -- and follow it with a deep chanting mantra: "Shaaaaaaaah."
Deep from the belly now.
Now think it again: "What kind of effing fool are you?"
And again. When you're deep into the zone, you can complete the mantra. Think that familiar phrase again. "What kind of effing fool are you?"
Now you add to the mantra, and in its completion -- repeated again and again after the phrase you've used to destroy yourself -- you will break its power.
It's fun -- and it's true that a relentless devotion to misery leads only to more misery, slavery to a black past.
But can you unthink? Can you drag yourself from unhappiness to happiness by smiling and teaching yourself to respond in more positive ways to stress, anger, argument and your own bad-thinking habits?
NLP advocates would definitely say that you can -- and Colbert's book is a great guide to their methods.
Others say that ordinary everyday misery -- not deep medical depression -- can be helped by good food, exercise outdoors and helping others.
But the 'be-happy' worm is definitely turning, and its forerunner is Barbara Ehrenreich, an American who has written a collection of savagely honest books.
Her Nickel and Dimed peeled away the illusions about low-wage work -- she toured American cities getting jobs as a waitress or cleaner, and wrote about living on the money. Or not.
In her latest book, Smile or Die, Ehrenreich looks at the enforced positivity of the 21st century -- spurred on by her being diagnosed with breast cancer. She's all for happiness, but laughs at the idea that "negative thoughts somehow produce negative outcomes, while positive thoughts realise themselves in the form of health, prosperity, and success".
What's the truth? The jury's out. And I think I can hear them chanting: "Shaaaaaaah . . ."