Do Self Help Books Really Help?

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Do Self Help books really help people?  I don’t think so.

Last night I was watching “The Great American Read” on PBS, and thought what could possibly be better? An entire show dedicated to exceptional novels and reading! That’s right up my alley being a teacher. And I have to admit; it was simply delightful hearing ordinary people, from all walks of life, sharing their relationship with some of the best books ever written.

In the middle of being enthralled with a myriad of viewpoints, one of the women being interviewed said something I found to be truly profound. It was so inspiring that I literally jumped up from my chair and shouted, “YES!!” Usually that kind of animated response from me is reserved for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Barach Obama, or Benedict Cumberbatch.

But, last night what she said, (I am paraphrasing) was something that I have always found to be blatantly true. She stated, “People get a lot more out of reading a novel than any self- help book on the market. Because a novel allows you to use your imagination and create possibilities. It forces you to think and come up with alternative solutions.”

I so agree. So much so, that I had to wipe away a couple tears after she expressed her thoughts. I know I am a geek, but I get all weepy when it comes to good literature. Why? Because when you read a good book, you become “one” with the main characters. You jump into their heads and feel what they are feeling. You temporarily live through, and react to what they are experiencing. The world in a book seems to be happening all around you, just inside your head.

You laugh when the protagonist laughs. Cry when she or he is hurting. In essence, you become the characters, or at least transform into a fly on the wall observing all the action in the story.

When I open up a book it comes to life! Be it through actual pages or my iPad, it doesn’t matter.  The people, places, and events in the narrative take me to the past, the present, or even into the future. The possibilities are endless!!! I am taken away on an adventure. And often, while I am on that reading journey, I’m taught lessons in life from the stories I have read.

I learned way more about internal strength and survival from the likes of Elizabeth Bennett, Jo March, Jane Eyre, and Scarlet O’Hara growing up, than I ever learned from a self-help book. I was inspired by each of those female protagonists during my youth, and I drew from their characters unique and powerful qualities. I discovered the standards I wanted to live by and see in myself. And I understood the steps I needed to take to over come diversity simply because of how the women in my favorite books prevailed.

They were strong and independent, even when society frowned upon it. I admired the authors too. For only through such determined creative spirits could these  brilliant characters have been created.  And as I lived my life, I mustered up my own inner strength and creativity from what I learned from my favorite literary heroines and the writers who conjured them up. They were the best role models a girl could have. Perhaps, that is why I still have each of those novels on my shelves today. Some are quite dog-eared, but all well loved, and read dozens of times.

So, the comment this one particular woman on the PBS special made, was something I could easily have said myself in my own classroom. That there is nothing quite like a well-written novel to change or affect an individual’s thought process and behavior. A book can inspire and uplift you. It can motivate and teach you lessons. Or help you understand the human condition and find compassion for others.  It can introduce you to other cultures and those less fortunate. Reading books allows a person to feel a gamut of emotions that one doesn’t necessarily get to experience in real life.

Now, I am not saying that if you enjoy self- help books to stop reading them.  If they motivate you and you enjoy reading them, then by all means, continue on. After all, happiness is created when we do what we enjoy. And that’s all that matters.  Do what works for you. If self-help videos, books, or blogs are your thing, then go for it.

I just have a different point of view.  It seems to me that everyone these days is writing a self-help book or blogging about how to be happy and live an amazingly, fulfilling life. And goodness knows now a plethora of people are making self help videos on youtube. And quite often, most of these people are not qualified to tell anyone how to live their lives. Sometimes they are out of touch with reality or have no life experience to draw from. Other times, their comments may be relevant, just not for me. I am an out of the box thinker, so lists of ordinary solutions don’t work for this gal. They never have. Just this morning while searching for something interesting to read, I came across half a dozen self-help blogs explaining how various writers could help everyone on the planet become happier. (Perhaps these authors really do know the secrets of the universe), but, I highly doubt it.

In fact today, even though I usually never read that sort of thing, I decided to be open-minded and peruse one of these blogs. First, I burst out laughing. (The advice was something my 7-year-old grand daughter could have given me.  She is very logical.) The outline/ lists were categorized and so lengthy that I almost fell asleep trying to read all that nonsense. And doing that made me very unhappy!!! It wasted my time! (I could have been reading a novel or writing a new chapter to my newest book.)

The funny thing is, I was happy BEFORE I started to read HOW to be happy. By the time I pored over this particular blog, I was miserable! Plus, I was annoyed at the gall of the author deciding she knew what would make ME happy. How could she? She doesn’t know me from Adam. I don’t like to climb mountains. (I have vertigo.) I don’t want to sky dive, I am afraid of heights. How is that going to make me happy???? ICK! Let me read a classic novel. Give me a lesson to create. Hand me Shakespeare and I will be in seventh heaven. So, no way would anything on the list of this professed guru of inner peace, give me contentment. Let me listen to Jimi Hendrix or dance to Harvest Moon’s “Dancing In The Moonlight.” THAT will make me happy.

The thing is, I wake up every day smiling. (Especially after a cup of coffee. LOL) I am basically a very happy person. I have always been a glass half full kind of girl. My life hasn’t always been easy, but, I have enjoyed it so far. In fact, I consider myself pretty darn lucky. I have two amazing sons and three fabulous grandchildren. I’ve been married twice and for a certain duration of time, I was very happy in both my marriages. I think that is an amazing feat in itself. LOL Is that the norm? Probably not. But it is for moi!

My parents and one spouse have now passed away and I remember them with kindness, love, and am grateful to have had them all in my life. I had an amazing 36-year teaching career that I cherished, and I still remain in touch with a huge number of my former students while in retirement.

I have been an actress, a dancer, and a model. I have played guitar in an all girls’ rock and roll band when I was a teenager; I’ve been a teacher, a mother and a grandmother.

During difficult times to make ends meet I pain stakingly drew calligraphy for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, and I created watercolor paintings for baby’s rooms that helped pay for my son so he could be on baseball and soccer teams after school.

My first job when I was in middle school was going to the local record shop and being hired as a go go dancer to help sell Beatles and Rolling Stones albums. Yep, I got to dress in white go-go boots, a mini skirt, and wear a John Lennon hat. It was totally GROOVY! (Yeah, yeah, yeah!)

I have been vibrant and healthy and I have had some challenging health issues and a couple of car accidents. But, I am still here, smiling and kicking and looking pretty okay for my age.  So why on earth would I need to read a self-help book on how to be happy?  I don’t get it?

All I have to do is wake up every day and realize that I can still walk and talk, I can see and hear, I can think, and I can create. I can even still wear cool embroidered jeans and enjoy my life. I get to see my grand children and children whenever I want to, and above all else, I can read! And download a book on my iPad Pro which lets me make the font as large as I want! AND boy do I love technology. I have an iPhone, an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro laptop. And I continue learning anything new in technology that comes out. I love staying current. I just got a Ring Doorbell and have fun talking to my cute UPS guy from my phone telling him to just drop off my package from Amazon. It doesn’t take much to keep me smiling!

So, you see, this groovy grandma thinks life is pretty damn awesome. Sure, I have some crummy days now and then like everyone else. But, I AM happy. So why would I want to read a self-help book/blog? Help for what?

I think a lot of folks are too consumed with all the negatives and that is their problem. People need to think for themselves, be who they want to be. Or just be who they are. If they want lists then they should create them for themselves rather then trying to copy someone else’s ideas. What’s the commercial say? Just Do it? That is great advice! Come on people, just do it! Or at least do what you CAN do. I have limitations some days. But so what? There’s no reason to be miserable. Do your best. Give happiness a try.

I say, forget about self-help books and just help yourself. Be happy. Look outside and see the beauty in everything around you. Be grateful for what you have and don’t obsess about what you don’t have. Self-help to me means help yourself. And THAT is Lesley’s self- help advice for today! Take it or leave it. Just be happy. Or don’t. It’s up to you. I’m going to download a good book to read and get happy! Why don’t you join me???

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The Parkland Poets

Please take a moment out of your day to watch and listen to a group of students who are part of a network of poets, and a Foundation, for which I have had the honor of volunteering my time. Listen how they turned tragedy into poetry.

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Sharing a beautiful piece by my friend poet lady universe…

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One by one
They left this world

I didn’t know my grandfather
Heard he left on dad’s birthday round about 1950
Leaving dad
White as a ghost

Simon was next
Another grandfather
Didn’t know much about him neither
Except he was a big imposing man
With a strange resemblance
To a WWII hero

Mother’s mother, mother’s sister, dad’s aunt, dad’s mother, dad’s brother, a brother in law, a sister, 2 uncles, another aunt
Each one quietly slipping out of this world
The only traces left behind
Vague memories
Habits
A saying or two

Yet surrounded by ghosts
I live my life
As if they are all still here silent, approving, disapproving

Hah! They can’t touch me now
How I wish they could

Copyright M L Schaefer 2018 All Rights Reserved

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Rain Rain Go Away…

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What a gloomy, rainy day it is. It has been raining, (thundering and lightning) since the wee hours of the morning and now way into midday. Not that I mind the rain, its rather cozy and a nice way to spend a Sunday.

However, I must admit that last night before the huge storm began; I got a text from my oldest son saying that he was taking his family up the state to enjoy the Labor Day weekend and give my grand daughter a LEGOLAND Birthday. (LEGOLAND is my grandchildren’s favorite place in the entire world!) And he wanted me to know he was not going to be in town and to stay safe.

He is so sweet. I know he worries about me because when he leaves the local area then both my boys, (I mean men) will be gone, and I am alone.  I have to admit that it IS a strange feeling. I have gotten used to my youngest son living in Georgia but it IS an odd feeling to think both my sons aren’t around the corner any more. I suppose moms always want their children close, no matter how grown up they get.

In any case, I was awaken this morning with a face time call from my younger son in Atlanta, who was off today, showing me his organic garden and was very concerned because his home grown cucumbers that were a delectable treat last week, were now filled with little worms. We had a discussion about organic gardens and he said he had to get an organic spray that wasn’t harmful to the soil or humans and animals, but would drive away the worms. (Yes, that is what we really discussed.)

I shared with him my time in California where young hippie- Lesley was living on a farm in Sebastopol and I had my own organic garden. I returned home one afternoon after work only to discover that the cows from a neighboring farm had jumped the fence and eaten all my sunflower plants that were almost ready to eat. We then had a long discussion about how fragile crops were to the elements and how difficult life must be for farmers. But the best thing was his literary reference. (Keeping in mind I AM an elementary school teacher who has a vast Children’s literature collection and read to my children endlessly when they were little.)
He commented,” You know, this experience of growing my own food makes me much more sympathetic to Mr. McGregor and his garden and less understanding of Peter Rabbit and his pesky sisters, Flopsy and Mopsy!” I got hysterical laughing. That kid!!!! Kiddie Lit. humor is right up my alley!

Son, Johnny then proceeded to take me on a face-time tour of his garden and one of his neighbors (Who I met during a visit last summer) came out to say hello and she wanted his opinion about plants to use for her newly built front porch.
I left them chatting and felt like I had been virtually with my son. And before I could even get into the shower my other son text a group of photos of the grandkids having a blast at LegoLand. And several comments checking on my well being.

It’s nice to know that even on a rainy, gloomy day when my grown children are miles away, they are still thinking of their mom and sharing their lives with me.
Gosh,I feel very, very lucky. Let the storm rage on, because I feel enveloped in love.

                        My sons and I                    Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor

He Came To Me In A Dream…

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I had one of my “unique” dreams last night…
I was at John McCain’s funeral and his family was standing, lined up by his casket. I walked by and nodded paying my respects, but then looked up and saw John himself standing beside his children, dressed in full military garb. His face smiling, young and full of life. His arms and body repaired and once again whole from the tortures he endured as a prisoner of war.

I started crying when I saw him and he walked over to me. I spoke to him softly and said, “Sir, what is our country going to do without you? How is Congress going to proceed without the voice of reason? I fear there aren’t any decent people fighting for ‘We the People’ any more.”

He smiled and then put his hand on my shoulder. I could feel his strength and his warmth and heard him say,  “Don’t despair. Don’t stop fighting because it WILL eventually be alright. I’m not giving up the fight. I’ll still be there fighting for you, I promise. Even death cannot change my commitment to America.”

I looked up at him through tears and saw him grin. And then I asked, “But, how? I’m the only one who can see you.”

He laughed that maverick chuckle of his and replied,  “That’s true, but, some will feel my presence, and that will be enough. I promise you, I won’t stop fighting and you cannot give up either. Never ever give up! Will you promise me that?”

I nodded.  He once again put his hand on my shoulder and then turned around, looking  at me smiling as he walked back to his family who were kneeling by his casket weeping.

I waved goodbye and walked on… and abruptly woke up.

I have had many “special” dreams in my lifetime. Mostly from friends and family who have passed away. But when John McCain comes to you in a dream and tells you to keep fighting for freedom and liberty, you listen.

So that, my friends, is the message I share today. Keep up the fight for freedom because “WE the People” must be the conscience of America.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (Review)

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Last night I watched the movie, “Goodbye Christopher Robin”. I thought I’d watch it first and see if it was appropriate to show my grandchildren, to whom I have recently introduced the poems and stories of A.A. Milne.

This is NOT a children’s movie. Instead, it is a touching and heart-wrenching story of a man haunted by the ravages of war and suffering from PTSD. A man trying to find happiness again while running from the bombs he still hears in his head long after the First World War ends.

Alan Alexander Milne was a fellow who stumbled on precious moments here and there when he was able to escape real life and delve into remarkable adventures with his young son, Christopher. Together they discovered a magical place bringing stuffed animals to life and filled with wonderous imagery that can only be conjured up by the innocence of a child.  This movie tells a gut-wrenching story revealing much more than I ever knew about the author whose books I have cherished and read to countless children over the years.

My copies of Milne’s poems and Winnie the Pooh stories are from my own childhood collection. (Reprinted from the 1926 originals and were given to me in the mid 1950’s.) Yes, my own well-loved books graced my shelves for decades and then sat in my classroom for 36 years so my students could enjoy and delight in their magic. And they currently are back where they belong… with me, on my shelves once again, to love and cherish for as long I am able to delight in them.

My grandchildren read them to me when they visit. They too have fallen under the spell of Christopher Robin and Winnie just like I did.( And like children all around the world after WWI.)
If you want to see an excellent film I highly recommend this one. I shed a lot of tears, but then it may have touched me in particular because of my connection to children’s literature and the incredible world of Winnie the Pooh. Such wonderful stories that got me through the 1950’s, and enchanted my own children, and now my grandchildren.

In the mid 1970’s I remember sketching out figures of all the characters from the Hundred Acre Woods and painting them around the bottom of my son’s bedroom wall when he was little. I even used colored contact paper for their clothing. That way, each day when he awoke, he could see Winnie and his friends there to greet him.

I personally found this film extremely touching and also quite sad. It reminded me just how damaging war is to those young people who are in the middle of battle, and how society just goes on and simply ignores the inner turmoil our veterans are feeling when they return home. A poignant statement.
If you get a chance. Check it out.

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When Will This Nightmare End?

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I remember being a little girl watching the trial of Adolf Eichmann on a black and white television.
He sat in a little booth- like cage at his trial for crimes against humanity. I vividly recall hearing witness after witness tell their heartbreaking stories.
The survivors…sobbing, fainting from the horrors of their memories, as they testified against the monster of a man who sat in the booth. One after the other told atrocities Eichmann committed or ordered others to commit. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

I was just a child and yet I closely watched the face of the man who murdered countless innocents without a second thought. And what shocked me the most about his expression was his total indifference. He had no remorse. No sympathy for any of the murders he had committed. He accepted no responsibility, and even scoffed at those who had been tortured while watching their families killed in front of their eyes.

I was sure nothing like that could ever happen again in my lifetime, but I was wrong. Evil is alive and well and living in Washington DC. I see the same bone chilling depravity when I look into the eyes of our “Liar in Chief”.

I hope and pray that 45 and his entire administration, including any of the silent members of Congress, who allowed his barbaric actions and decisions against people living in this country, are brought to trial for crimes against humanity and for TREASON. These monsters do NOT represent America. They do not possess any of the values epitomized by our founding fathers. When did America tear children from their mothers and put them into camps? This sounds way too much like Nazi Germany.

I hope the lot of them rot in jail for their brutal, sadistic behavior, and that the history books reflect truthfully what happened to our country during this corrupt administration. I am disgusted, saddened, and angry that America has fallen into the depths of hell under this new leadership.

And today to hear Bible passages being spoken out of context to justify horrific acts is the epitome of corruption.  May G-d save us all.

When will this nightmare end?