Do Self-Help Books Really Work?

Self-help books on bookshelf

Depending on the company, it can take some courage to admit to reading and enjoying self-help books.

The subject regularly divides opinion. There will always be those who see self-help authors as preying on vulnerable people and laughing all the way to the bank, and the people who read self-help books as somewhat lacking or in need of fixing.

As a self-help junkie, I fall into the camp of people who read self-help books because of the opportunity they offer for reflection, improvement and the impetus for change.

The best self-help books make me think about life in a different way, inspire confidence, stimulate me to think of ways to solve problems, deal with things differently, take risks.

Do Self-Help Books Really Work?

The republishing this month of four self-help classics by publisher Vermilion raised the age-old question again: Do self-help books really help?

The four books in question are Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, M Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled and Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

I have to admit that Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway is one of my all time favourite self-help books and one I recommend often to friends.

Radio 4 Women’s Hour on Self-Help Books

So, I was interested to catch the conversation on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour earlier this week, between Times journalist Helen Rumbelow, Toby Wiseman, Editor of Men’s Magazine, and historian Mary Beard .

Helen Rumbelow described Feel the Fear as a feminist classic in it’s ‘ruthless message’ to women, to be brave and take control of their lives.

Toby Wiseman, on the other hand, described the genre of self-help books as ‘pitched at the neurotic’ and no better than ‘glorified horoscopes’. He went on to describe the genre as ‘cultish’, ‘manipulative’ and ‘self-satisfied’.  As the editor of a men’s magazine, he said that men wanted facts in order to practise self-improvement.

Mary Beard hated the upbeat tone of Feel the Fear and the fact that problems are described as ‘opportunities’.

This genre-bashing has also appeared in The Independent: The modern fix: Do self-help books really work?  The article takes a rather cynical view of the self-help book industry, labelling it as a ‘billion dollar business’. Nick Duerden writes:

Since the latter half of the 20th century, we have lived in a world dominated by their kind, these often self-appointed lifestyle gurus spouting all manner of advice, and whose books, many of which spawn sequels that spawn sequels, sell in the kind of numbers Booker winners can only dream of…But can books such as these really help us to help ourselves? As if.

What some people object to about self-help books is the lack of scientific evidence and that makes them disregard them outright.

Self-Help Books are a Lot of Things…

I have to agree with Julie Hall, founder of Women Unlimited, when she says:

Self help books are a lot of things… a resource to educate oneself, an answer to a problem, a new way of looking at the world, a way of taking control of a situation … and yes sometimes therapy.  But they are not only for when you are feeling low; they are a way of moving yourself forward in a way that will help you with your life.

In a wonderful article entitled What Everybody Ought to Know About Self-Help Books  she charts her self-help book reading journey and how it has helped and hindered her.  She makes the important point that it is important to read the right self-help books for you, and that constantly striving for more happiness, wealth and success is not necessarily the path to happiness.

Ultimately, self-help books work for some and not for others. Personally, I have gained a lot of comfort and insight over the years from reading them. Over the coming weeks and months I’m going to be sharing some of my favourite self-help books with you, starting with my number one – yes, you guessed it –  Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.

What’s your favourite self-help book? Let me know by leaving a comment below.  I’m always on the lookout for new inspiration.

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