Today’s fast-paced world is notably characterized by an overload of information, the strive for social media perfection, and a staggering number of cases of mental illnesses worldwide. It is no surprise, then, that most people have been resorting to ‘self-help’ books for guidance lately. Defined as any book written with the intention of helping its readers change or improve aspects of their lives, self-help books have now become a cultural phenomenon. However, as the sales volume for this genre continues to rise, are they really worth reading?
Whether self-help books should be read or not cannot be answered without knowing why so many people are obsessed with them first. To put it simply, the reason is a dire need for motivation and self-improvement, prompted by social pressure. And this pressure is largely highlighted by social media. Online, there are certain high standards set for people to meet that cannot be fulfilled by everyone, thus leading people to grab books such as The Secret, desperately yearning validation and acceptance. Eye-catching titles such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson and 12 Rules For Life by Jordan Peterson also greatly pertain to the popularity of this genre. There is almost a promise for solutions and keys to happiness in that vocabulary. And that is why people do not think twice when it comes to these books; it is basically human instinct.
The true mystery, however, lies in the results of reading these books. Is there a real benefit? The answer is yes and no.
Self-help books are a great start for motivation. They provide the inspiration to push you in the right track toward personal development, and often leave people with renewed excitement, and a fresher, sometimes clearer perception of the world. They help with maintaining a positive thought process, offer hope as well as the confidence that anything is attainable with the right mindset and potential. In fact, a quote from Mark Manson’s aforementioned work is the perfect illustration of this: “we don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.”
It is worthy of mention as well, that some self-help books are more than just sources of inspiration. There are those that suggest a set of principles, meant to educate and widen the perspectives of the readers. The purpose of this is for people to learn how to effectively analyze different aspects of life, and wisely approach future situations. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, for example, examines both the successes and failures of famous people as case studies. He does so to point out the real factors of their achievements and alter the misconceptions generally associated with success.
However, these books are not as magical as the self-improvement industry paints them out to be. Many of them actually take advantage of the desperate people seeking methods to better themselves and ways to increase their productivity, by falsely convincing them that these books hold real solutions to their issues.
They do that by giving false hope. The readers are almost promised an overnight fix for their problems when buying the book, which presents happiness as an endpoint that they will eventually reach the last page. A good example of this is Rhonda Byrne’s view in her book: “You will attract everything that you require. If it’s money you need you will attract it.” Not only is it delusional, but also misleading. While positive thinking does play a big role, it means nothing if no real action is taken to change the situation. Many psychologists even claim that it makes people complacent and drained of motivation.
Most of these books are also just repetitive pages of overused motivational phrases and platitudes that pay no attention to individual differences. That is to say, oftentimes, they offer general pieces of advice that do not cater to everyone. What works for one person will not necessarily work for the next, which will ignite an urge for comparison that will leave the person miserable, again and will push them to look for another self-help book that may or may not be useful.
Self-help books have become insanely popular recently, and demands for this genre continue to increase. It goes without saying that they are incredible sources for inspiration and motivation for people seeking personal growth and improvement. However, it is best to remember they do not offer miraculous cures for problems and choosing the ones that will most appeal to your person, is the only effective way to truly benefit from them.