Don't Mock It

On Self Help, Mutual Help and Positive Thinking...

Seek your own road to not only survive but thrive in a difficult era.

Today I read an article in the UK Telegraph titled "Why self-help still flies off the shelf" essentially mocking self-help books and referring to them as "shelf-help." The article was laden with that condescending view of many so-called intellects who write in the mainstream media. "I'm smarter than you and if only you would emulate my thinking than you and the world would be so much better off." Her derision was directed mainly at the "Chicken Soup" series of books as she swept all of self help into the dustbin as rubbish, with a few exceptions at the end of the article for "balance."

It was interesting since in this economic period it seems to me that, as the saying goes, "whatever gets you through the day" is worthwhile. Far better pop psychology books than sinking into despair with alcohol and drugs or other problematic behavior. People deal with things on different levels, some deeper than others. If "Chicken Soul" books or Deepak Chopra work for some people, I'm all for it. What is pabulum to some is salvation for others just as what is too cerebral for some is the solution for others. The key is finding what works for the unique individual that is you.

The self help movement started in the mid-1800s, but in its current incarnation started in the depth of the Great Depression of the 1930s, when Roosevelt's social interventions were not helping a lot of people. As the "Depression within a Depression" of 1937-38 (today referred to as a "Double Dip") was starting, people were in need of something to look to for help that was not being satisfied by government programs. Their human need was to rise above their current situation on their own accord. It was then that Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" became a top bestseller. It focused on self confidence and improving attitude, which in turn would lead to better relationships with other people, resulting in less stress and a positive attitude. A few years prior to that "Bill W" (William Wilson) discovered a way out of alcoholism through the premise of mutual help, today's 12 Step Program for addiction recovery. Later in another bad economic era, the 1970s, the phenomenon of pop psychology took off with the book "I'm OK, You're OK" by Dr. Thomas A. Harris using Transactional Analysis.

We are in another economic downturn that doesn't seem to be getting better and no end is in sight in many people's thinking. My belief is that now, more than ever, people need to prepare themselves psychologically for not only surviving but thriving in a difficult era. Our ability to cope with adversity is what will separate us from those who succeed, whatever that may be for an individual, from those who fall into permanent despair and never recover.

Your oppression is in your own mind.

It is irrelevant to me what other people might think of the tools I personally use, developed from having lived through other difficult times, ranging from self talk, mutual help and self help along with large doses of optimism and positive thinking. They work and generally keep me out of the trap of negative thinking. Everyone must figure out what works for them and they might find some solutions in self help books. There are many other ways to do this and I'm not a guru or the best person to ask since what works for me may not work for you. I can only offer suggestions. The most important one is do not let others discourage you from seeking peace of mind, whether they are media writers or people in your life, persevere and seek your own road to what keeps you in balance. Work at it as if your life depends on it...because it does.


  1. Some of the best advice, especially regarding health issues, I've learned from individuals or by something read. Not from so-called professionals. That is not to diminish their significance, only to say, that they don't have all the answers.
    Chicken soup DOES cure a cold! Well, okay, perhaps that's an exaggeration...

    We have become too dependent on the system, a system that has become unaffordable. But you know that - I'm preaching to the choir. lol

    People around me that I love, many, are very unhealthy. Much is their own doing. The usual, they drink too much, smoke, live a sedentary lifestyle, etc... all things that are fixable. Yet, they can't seem to pull it together? So there's a segment of the population that not only chooses to not follow, a simple, self-help book (because someone's buying them) but they ignore the "so-called professionals" as well. This all sounds so much better when you write it.

    One of the few things we can do in this current political environment, is to try and keep ourselves physically strong. Mentally, that may be more challenging...

  2. I find it interesting that you state that in this current political environment is to try to keep ourselves physically strong but mentally that may be more challenging. I see it the reverse, I'm healthy and don't eat junk foods and am hardly overweight, don't smoke or drink, etc but actually exercising to being physically stronger is the challenge to me. Healthy yes, stronger no...which is odd because until I was 42 or so I was an avid bike rider with great lung capacity and strong but lightweight frame. Mentally, I think I inherited my father's western American true grit and my mother's British bootstraps mentality and am not at all worried about my mental state.

    Do I have anxiety and get downward mood swings, especially in winter? Yes...but I've also learned how to keep putting one foot in front of the other and like little orphan Annie know there's always "tomorrow." I wonder if sometimes I'm just not naive that way.

    I wonder if you realize how much thought you provoke in me and always have from the beginning of YouTube.

  3. I think anything that makes a person feel alive and gives that person a little more hope than they had before, can't be a bad thing, whether it be a "Chicken Soup" book, or Emerson's "Self-Reliance", or taking pictures or painting or just watching things while standing in the woods or desert or city or wherever, I think it's all a good thing if it makes the person experiencing it feel like they're getting something positive from it. It's a spiritual feeling (to me, anyway) and while I don't fault the UK Telegraph writer for feeling like she does, part of me pities people who strive to find fault in things they don't understand. The rest of me thinks they're idiots who'd be well served by shutting up and taking notes. But that's just me. :)

    We're in tough times, but I guess we always are. If climbing a mountain by yourself brings some comfort, then go for it. If grabbing an old Tony Robbins book helps, again, go for it. If they both help, so much the better. For what it's worth I've found both of these examples to be valuable things to pursue at various times...and in moments of solace-seeking, neither the UK Telegraph nor any other "news" outlet has never been on my "I'll find what I need there" list. As Arte Johnson would say, "Verrry Interesting."

    Great post, JR!

  4. Mike your points hit dead on what I think people who disparage this stuff don't get.

    What a great angle I hadn't thought of either, nothing in any media outlet gives much solace when you're looking for it. Thanks for that! Great comment.

    We need a web equivalent of "Laugh In" now. Have you watched the Cartoon Networks new "Looney Tunes" You can catch the current episodes in snippets on their website. A lot of it is so apropo...