Do Self Help Books Really Help?

Reading0--Be-Successful

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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23 thoughts on “Do Self Help Books Really Help?

    1. I loved Erma Bombeck. My mom used read her column and cut out her favorites and post them up in the kitchen. She’d share them with friends and family. I actually think she was the first blogger. She was referred to as a humorist, but what she did was make life exciting for the average housewife. Her topics were relatable to stay at home moms, like mine. I pretty much grew up with her. Her wit was extraordinary. Nope she wasn’t a self help writer. But she turned the doldrums into something spectacularly funny and made women of my mother’s generation realize the weren’t alone in being driven crazy by their family. She was a huge talent!
      Will I be your grandma? Yikes! My grandkids are 7 and 8. How old do you think I am? 🤭😳 I’ll be your Mom, not your granny. (My youngest son is in his 20’s.)

    2. Ha ha! I thought about the age suggestion of my comment after I posted. You can be my friend, then!
      I’m so glad you loved Erma. My husband often says she’s like the mommy blogger of her day.

  1. 😊I whole heartedly agree and I’d assume you’d also include self help books written by ‘professional’ life coaches and ‘professional’ lifestyle gurus! To this day I still remember being seated in my secondary school library sitting (obviously😁) quietly reading a trilogy (over several lunchtimes) following an age appropriate love story between a Catholic girl and Protestant boy attracted to th IRA in Northern Ireland, we’re talking 1980s at the height of the blood scarred Troubles! This wasn’t a luvvy duvvy tale but a heartbreaking story of love that could never be, AND I have a strong sense that ever since those reading days I’ve been very attuned (attracted?) to similar unrequited love tales also movies in today’s war torn world. A good read Lesley

  2. I blame the lack of empathy in today’s youth on the curriculum stressing non fiction. I think in 6th grade my daughter was only assigned to fiction books in ELA, and don’t get me started on all the schools now combining English and social studies…

    1. I’m not sure what you are referring to. State guidelines still include all the classics in literature. They are required learning. All public schools in every state have educational standards that include literature in the form of poetry, plays, stories in fiction, dramas, etc. Perhaps you are referring to a specific private school? Public education follows state guidelines.. You can’t even get a GED without reading Shakespeare. As far as History it’s a separate subject and requirement. My late husband was a high school American history and government teacher. Both classes have a state required curriculum and set of standards. It’s against state law to combine the two classes because each has so many standards needed to graduate. To credit for passing each course students pass each required standard.

      I personally don’t think the school system has anything to do with lack of empathy in children. As an educator for my entire life, kids come to school already formed with their basic values. We teachers try to enrich and model good behavior and kindness but that is taught in the home.

      As far as literature goes…My son married a women who had a daughter from a previous marriage. So along with my biological 7 and 8 year old grand children ,I have one adopted granddaughter who just graduated high school last June. She read all the classics in high school. She read Shakespeare, The Bronte sisters, Austen, etc. I know this because rather than buying books or using the school’s books I gave her my own copies to read and to add to her book collection. Each state has a guided set of standards that are required. There are national requirements for middle and HS too. Plus national tests for college like the SAT and ACT. Those scores determine college entry. As a writing, Reading, and Language Arts teacher I have never heard of a Language Arts program that did not include Fiction and classic literature in its program. Besides being required, that’s why teachers specialize in that area. I’m totally astounded by your comment. If that was dome where your child went to school it was a great loss to the students and I’m sorry. I think you should vehemently complain . Are they an accredited school?

      Home schooling may contribute to your theory since many parents who home school aren’t certified teachers and don’t always teach appropriate curriculum or lessons. I feel the lack of socialization skills in isolating children by home schooling contributes more to lack of empathy or compassion for students who are of other cultures than anything else.

    2. I was referring to middle school not high school, as I referenced 6th grade. And common core standards focus on non fiction as opposed to fiction. My daughter read mockingbird in 6th, outsiders in 7th and I can’t remember what she read in 8th. There poetry section each year was about a two week block. And as we apply to public middle and high school in nyc, I’m pretty aware of the curriculum difference between the schools. I can give you examples of public muddle schools that teach humanities as opposed to separate English and social studies. As for empathy I did not say that schools should teach empathy. I said that a lack of fiction has lead children to be less empathetic because they no longer get a sample of views and perspectives. If you think the children of today are empathetic then you’ve met much nicer ones than I’ve seen so consider yourself lucky

    3. LA, I think there’s been some confusion in our communication. I thought your daughter was in high school,based on several of your blogs Ive read, thus I referenced high school. I assumed your 6th grade reference was about a time in the past. Do you have two daughters? In any event, you will have to pardon my responses because I am very aware of the common core requirements and have to add them to any current lesson plans I create for the county.
      NYC is a uniquely different area where most parents send their children to private schools if they are able. However, they still have common core standstards in literature.
      In Lang. Arts students develop writing skills in middle school primarily for expository and narrative essay style writing. And Literature is still very much apart of the curriculum. I think perhaps it might be your school that made certain creative choices.Because these are a couple of the 6th grade standards students need to meet in the state of NY:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9
      Compare and contrast texts in different forms or genres (e.g., stories and poems; historical novels and fantasy stories) in terms of their approaches to similar themes and topics.
      Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:
      CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.10
      By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6-8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
      ** I also will attach a link below and you can play with it to get NYC’s Lit standards. if you have questions or concerns you can discuss those with your daughter’s teachers.
      In regard to the students I have met. I work with young poets in my retirement from elementary to high school.* Please check my blog called “The Parkland Poets” with a video about Parkland students in the poetry network I work with.
      I wrote the elementary/middle school curriculum guide for the school board’s office of diversity that is used in poetry clubs around our county. So, from the wealthiest schools to the most needy schools, poetry is an all year round program. We even do virtual classroom meetings every other month where students share their poetry together via a country program much like facetime that allows us to get into several classrooms at one time and all the children see one another and share poems with each other. These children who are writing poems are very sympathetic and empathetic. If you watched the video on my blog about the parkland poets, those are some the students in our poetry network. They happen to come from an affluent community. Other children do not. But through poetry they have united together and empathy is part of understanding their differences and embracing one another. So yes, the children of today who I meet in Broward County are indeed incredible and very aware and empathetic, especially because our own students had a mass shooting. My own grandchildren, the ones in 2nd and third grade this year have been a part of this poetry group and have performed at the end of the year in something we call the Firecracker slam. (The high schoolers perform in Louder Than A bomb FL.) Parkland kids live in a very elite part of the county but the poetry network I work with involves students from all walks of life.
      I understand NYC’s school system (and it is uniquely different) as I have several close friends who live and teach in schools in NYC. Private schools often do their own thing. But they aren’t supposed to. Hopefully your younger daughter will get good teachers and be exposed to more fiction. If she is really lucky she’ll inherit some of her Mom’s talent for writing too. I am sure with you as a parent your children have been exposed to a great deal of literary oportunities.
      Oh, and I wasn’t saying that schools should teach empathy. Just that some children do come to school with preconceived prejudices that they have learned from their environment while growing up. That happens. In NYC, however, it is my feeling that you live in a pretty diverse, open minded environment . But, also due to the school situation and so many private schools offered to accomodate your population in such a small area, what happens sometimes is that elite private schools can create a type of environment that excludes students from getting to know less afluent young people. I know that happened to a friend of mine with her children. Then again, I have another friend whose children went to an incredible private school and grew up volunteering for those less fortunate in NYC.
      Parenting is a crap shoot. But curriculum, especially in private schools, parents have a say in. So be vocal. You are good at writing wonderful suggestions and would probably be helpful in giving other moms a voice. Not everyone has your nack for expressing yourself.
      To wrap this up, I thought you were discussing a child who has one more year of high school left. (Unless your blogs have been about an 8th grader. Then I totally got the age thing wrong. )
      .And as a teacher, I have been in parent conferences where parents have told me that it is the teacher’s job to discipling their child and teach them values. Because they won’t do it. Yes, that happens to all teachers. We do get parents who feel it is our responsibility to teach elem students manners, empathy, kindness etc. And other parents who feel we teach their children too much interpersonal skills. So yes, I may have misinterpretted your comment. If so, that was not my intention. I was trying to help you solve or deal with your problem.
      http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/7/#CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.1

  3. LOL, I feel like I’ve just read the Lesley Manifesto, and I can’t argue with a single point. Fiction, yes! Tell me a story–because stories, the great ones anyway,are really about what it means to be alive on this planet. It’s why people gathered to hear stories and then passed them along before there was a printing press. As for the constant barrage of “happiness recipes,” chasing happiness I’m convinced is the surest way of never catching it. Do what you love, what excites you, and you will be happy. And often for no particular reason, happiness just comes up and knocks you upside the head anyway. A wonderful ride of a post, Lesley. Carry on!

    1. I so agree with you Amy. (I just saw your response). Love your comment about chasing happiness.
      Instead of “waiting for Godot” it should be chasing Godot.” Happiness is our responsibility to ourselves and while for me a wise quote or a good story does the trick, I suppose some people find lists or the need to tell others how to be happy their thing. It just bugs me when some 20 something kid writes a happy blog giving advice without ever really living life. That’s like someone who has never given birth, or raised children telling a parent how to parent effectively. Ah nope! Why would I take advice from a kid who hasn’t gone through the decades. If only young people realized just how much knowledge each decade Brings. Thanks for responding to this post. Sorry I never saw it before today. Xo

  4. Lesley, I would say yes, if you apply their deep rooted message to your own life. Now, wouldn’t that be wonderful if every one did, especially Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Thank you for sharing your insight on a great topic!

  5. In the main, being an avid reader and having been so from the age of 4, I agree with you. One finds all of the problems, solutions, and mind experiences of a lifetime in a good novel. As I said, in the main. The exception is that when a person looks in the self-help section of a bookstore, they often find help simply because they are seeking help. They already have the answers and that self-help book only solidifies what they already know to be true. I hope their next book will be a good novel.

    1. I think doing research certainly helps. The more educated we are the better prepared we are for everything in life. My blog is more about unqualified people posing as experts. I would never tell anyone not to find more information that could help them in any area. I’m a retired teacher therefore I’m aware that knowledge is power. This blog was more about unqualified people posing as experts. Anyone can blog but I’ve seen and read people writing without any real life experience or educational training yet they suddenly write about being experts and make unfounded suggestions. I take no issue with someone writing about what helped them, but I do take issue with those who only see their viewpoints. For instance I love Shakespeare and also Science Fiction, But I wouldn’t tell anyone that reading either would improve their life. It does mine. But it’s not for everybody.
      As far as podcasts go, some can indeed be very interesting. If you enjoy sports podcasts you might enjoy my older son’s. He worked for a pro football team and is joined with sports greats. Check his podcast out. It’s called The Fish Tank:Dolphin Tales From The Deep

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