SOMETHING terrible has happened to me. It dawned on me last night, after a third helping of Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing prompted my family to stage an intervention.

"Dad, we’ve gotta talk," said Daughter One. Daughter Two just shook her head in mournful pity. My wife tried to smile and told our children - both adult women - "Don’t worry, girls, Dad will be okay." She patted my hand.

The thing is, I think I’ve lost my dark side. Here’s an example of what I once considered entertainment: I was at a horror movie festival in London. Funny Games was premiering. If you haven’t seen Funny Games, it’s brilliant, demented and brutal in equal measure. The festival host told the audience, "If you can watch this to the end without walking out, then you’ve gotta ask yourself ‘what’s wrong with me?’." I watched to the end, nodding along in appreciation of the finely choreographed mayhem, while most of the audience fled, close to boaking. "What a bunch of noobs," I thought.

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But I’ve changed. Somehow over recent years my tastes have altered dramatically. My lifestyle is almost unrecognisable. Once upon a time, if I slept at the weekend, I’d consider it dull. Now, three beers and bed by 11 equals crazy-town.

Maybe life just caught up with me? I’ve spent most of my career hanging out with terrorists, spies, neo-nazis and generally depraved, awful people. An editor once nicknamed me "Murder Mackay". Bad and nasty things happened to me thanks to the stories I chose to tell. Kidnap isn’t fun. Mock execution isn’t fun. Getting chased with knives isn’t fun.

Subconsciously, I think I poured much of this into books I wrote: books about Iraq, novels about violence and murder and what makes this world so full of human wickedness. I’m not sure what I was trying to work out, but perhaps I was simply struggling to understand what the hell is wrong with our species.

I don’t think I could write such dark books any more, though. I still investigate terrorism and extremism and awful crimes as a journalist, as that’s my job; it’s also a duty to shine a spotlight on the terrible things people do to one another, it’s why I came into the profession.

In the rest of my life, though, all darkness has just fallen away. I’ve shed something, of late, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Back to Mortimer and Whitehouse, though - as it’s the way I watch TV now that’s made me realise something has changed. Until recently, unless TV was pitch black - either black humour or just dark as hell full stop - I wasn’t much interested. Intense documentaries, bleak foreign movies, comedy the shade of midnight, this was what I watched. I considered shows like The Wire light relief.

Now, I find myself watching what I’ve come to call "Therapy TV": television that somehow makes me feel like I’ve had the grit of the world washed from my body.

The best example is the Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil. I cannot tell you how much I love it. The recipe is simple: a delightful chap called Phil Rosenthal travels the world, meeting sweet, kind people, eats food with them, and chats to his family back home about his adventures.

You can almost feel the neuroscientists at play, working out how to fire up your endorphins. Honestly, an hour on the couch with Freud wouldn’t work as good as Phil. It’s sublime. Divine. It makes me so incredibly happy.

Mortimer and Whitehouse does the same. Two lovely old geezers arsing about on a riverbank. Bob falls over; Paul rolls his eyes; and Ted the dog is an ugly-beautiful wee scamp.

You can see why my kids are wondering "what’s happened to Dad?". Matters have taken such a turn that I even watch Countryfile now. Previously, I just looked at animals as food. Today, I like to see them gambol around a bit before I eat them (I haven’t gone completely soft, you know).

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However, I don’t count saccharine-schmaltz like The Great British Bake-Off as Therapy TV. Therapy TV is about real people in real situations (or as "real" as TV allows) being authentically decent. It’s about family and friendship. It’s not simply there to make you glaze over, it’s there to remind you that the world can be full of light, that kindness exists.

I’ve wondered if this change of mood is pandemic-related. I think I can trace the roots of my metamorphosis back to the start of the plague. I found myself struggling to watch Covid-19 news reports, even though I had to, as a journalist, stay across what was happening.

I started using programmes like Phil’s as a sort of come-down drug. Today, well, for pity’s sake, TV news is just unremittingly awful: war, hunger, hate, catastrophe, and no hope in sight. Therapy TV almost feels a necessity.

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I asked a pal of mine who’s a psychotherapist about this taste for comfort-telly I’ve developed, and the disappearance of my once rather-pronounced dark side. She told me about Carl Rogers, a founder of modern psychotherapy.

For folk to be mentally healthy, Rogers said, they must be prepared to move from a fixed state to a state he called "changingness". In other words, remaining the same is bad for the soul. Happiness depends upon change.

Okay, I thought, I like the sound of that. Maybe this change is good for me. It’s not that I’ll never watch another horror movie, and I’ll certainly still be investigating bad people and the bad things they do so I can tell readers about it, but my mental palette definitely has more colours in it now, and they’re pretty colours, not all dark.

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I mentioned this change in intellectual appetites to my younger daughter’s boyfriend - a lovely lad, very calm and considered. So different to the mid-20s me. "What’s wrong with a little self-care, Neil?" he asked.

This fella is bang on the money, I thought. What is wrong with a little self-care? Nothing.

If only my generation had got our poor old noggins around that truth decades ago.

Hope always lies with the young.