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???