Self-help books: life-changing or time wasting?


Searching for a way to transform your life? So is the rest of the world, it seems. Over recent years, the demand for the self-help book has soared, with the industry ranking up 10 billion dollars in America alone. From Kylie Minogue to Alan Carr, many of our most loved celebrities publicly swear by self-help books, with Adele even going as far to say they saved her life. They certainly make big promises, and nowadays you can find an array of books for almost any area of your life.

Whether it’s learning to love yourself, kickstarting that business or navigating love in your twenties, you’ll certainly find a book promising a solution. The question is, do they deliver? Are they really as inspirational as they seem, or are they just filled with cringe-worthy idioms you could probably find on your mum’s Facebook profile? Despite their popularity, many have begun to wonder if they are simply capitalising off of insecurities that could actually be helped in a more efficient or cheaper way. 

The issue is, with the self-help industry having risen astronomically over the past century, it can be hard to find any original ideas in a book that hasn’t already been said through a much more accessible medium, such as podcasts or TV shows. There are thousands of self-help podcasts available for free on most listening platforms, with Spotify having a designated category for them a mere few clicks away, saving your time, effort and money. The iPhone comes with its own podcasts app installed for free, making it much easier to learn how to improve your life whilst taking a walk, or during your commute to work or school.

One of the most infamous self-help books, for example, was Marie Kondo’s ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’, helping people to tidy their homes and lead a cleaner lifestyle. In 2019, however, the show had been adapted into a documentary and uploaded to Netflix, making its content much easier to access, and without the need to spend money on the book itself. 

Are they really as inspirational as they seem, or are they just filled with cringe-worthy idioms?

Similarly, ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne, arguably the most well renowned book on how to ameliorate your life through spirituality and the Law of Attraction, was also adapted for screen as well as having had its main points summarised and shared by numerous fans on TikTok and YouTube, meaning you can learn its contents in a matter of minutes. Additionally, a simple search of ‘mindfulness meditation’ into YouTube presents an agglomeration of videos to watch at your leisure, again free of charge. So, should we bother buying them? Indeed, perhaps this even begs the question, should authors even bother writing them?

For those who enjoy visual learning and proactive reading, however, these books are ideal. In an ever increasingly technological world, perhaps there is something refreshing in working on oneself through the pages of a book. There are also many interactive self-help books that include spaces for writing and engagement, which may perhaps force you to benefit better from its teachings than you would from a podcast or video, from which it is easy to be distracted. 

There have been found to be an abundance of benefits to reading these books. Positive results include an increased sense of self belief, viewing the world in a more positive manner and better focus and clarity. As well as helping us learn new skills, they have also been found to help issues surrounding anxiety and depression, with Richard Carlson’s ‘Stop Thinking Start Living’ having rave reviews from suffering readers. Unfortunately, though, many of them have been revealed to give harmful advice that comes from an inexperienced writer and often endorses toxic positivity. This can exacerbate some mental health conditions, particularly OCD. Moreover, there is less evidence of self-help books aiding other areas like schizophrenia and alcoholism, yet some still turn to these books as a cheaper alternative to therapy.  

Many argue that self-help books are simply capitalism’s scam-like way of diagnosing you with an issue in your life that you don’t have, that can only be sold through the purchase of that exact book. This is particularly prevalent in books published not by licensed therapists, but self-claimed mental health gurus, like influencers who preach positivity by uploading a weekly quote on their Instagram story.

Nevertheless, self-help books can be great for the right person, but it’s important to do your research into both the book itself and its author. It’s vital to distinguish between someone who genuinely cares about the well-being of their readers and a writer driven by money. Equally, they should never be a substitute for therapy for serious mental struggles, but they can be a great place to start if you’re looking to make some general improvements. Whilst it can be preferable to improve your life in a non-clinical setting, it is not the same as personally discussing your thoughts with a professional. Whether we like it or not, however, the self-help industry is not budging anytime soon, whether you choose to access it through the costly and time-consuming pages of a book, or the free and already accessible podcast…the choice is yours.

Image credit: David Lezcano via Unsplash

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