LEGALLY AGING: Won’t you please help me? | Lost Coast Outpost
“So what is the allure of self-help books, ”I asked. I had just come from Eureka Books, where I innocently asked if self-help books were still published. In my naivety, I assumed they had gone the route of pet hoops and stones. My complete disillusionment –
look at the picture – I quickly got into a conversation with my friend as we tried to understand their continued attraction (Amazon lists over 100,000 books under the “self-help” category.)
“Yes, if they’ve actually worked, why are they still selling? Thought my skeptical friend. “It’s not like they’re fresh on the stage.” We agreed that if this is the happiness you are looking for – probably the end result – then the world’s bestseller, the Bible, can certainly claim to be a self-help first book (although it does make sense to guarantee happiness, not now, but in the next life, assuming you play your cards right). Speaking of the Bible, this is the only book that the Samuel Smiles classic Self-help, “a collection of inspiring stories about hard-working men rising through the ranks ”, did not exceed sales in 1859, the year of its publication (-also the year of Charles Darwin The origin of species). By the time of Smiles death 45 years later, his book had sold over a quarter of a million copies. It is available on Project Gutenberg.
Probably the next big thing in the self-help books was How to win friends and influence people by farmer-turned-speaker Dale Carnegey, later Carnegie (in honor of Andrew Carnegie). Released in 1936, it has sold more than 30 million copies (including 17 editions in the year of its publication!). I treasure one of Carnegie’s ideas and only wish I had followed it faithfully: “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. . “
Back at our coffee shop, we wonder why, if self-help books worked, did they always sell in astronomical numbers? “Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way,” I said. “We think in terms of ‘Have readers’ lives improved after reading one of them? What about the fun of the actual reading process, no matter what happens next? “
Does that make sense? When we read a self-help book, we imagine a future where we are happier / richer / healthier / leaner / better parents / sexier lovers / more disciplined writers. Etc., etc. What feels good, isn’t it? Just reading is a joyous experience as you or I fantasize about our better life to come. Out the door come the reward chemicals – dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and all the rest – and we are (deep breathing) happy. At this point, there’s no motivation to actually do what the book says (assuming it’s good, which is questionable): you’re already fulfilled! And – he’s the genius of the genre – there’s always another one when you’re done with this one. It’s great and risk-free (other than the cost of the book itself). Until we have to prove that we are capable of making the changes the book encourages, we cannot fail. It turns out that this approach has a name: The Inspirational Life.
I know what I’m writing about. I bought myself a keyboard a few months ago, deciding it was time, well into my seventies, that I learned to play. And I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had watching YouTube videos aimed at beginners who allegedly want to learn piano. Each of them brings me joy as I imagine myself dancing happily through Erik Satie Gymnopedies, awe-inspiring anyone who marvels at the dexterity of my fingers and my moving understanding of music. All without really sitting down and playing! (Full disclosure: I can handle the first six or eight bars of the first one, played very slowly.)
But suppose you get up from the couch and decide to act on what the self-help guru just read? At the end of the line : Change is difficult! Change can cause us to lose our friends and family. Change can mean giving up that evening glass of beer or wine (reward for a hard day’s work). Change can cost us jobs, spouses, and freedom. It’s usually uncomfortable and it hurts.
And why? Dan Gilbert, whose job title should be “happyologist” (he is a professor of psychology at Harvard who studies happiness for a living – check out his 2006 book Tripping over happiness) sums up the whole paradox “my life will be better in the future if I do this now”. He writes: “We treat our future selves as if they were our children, spending most of the hours of most of our days building tomorrows that we hope will make them happy. A
American scientist the reviewer supplemented the thought: “But the children turn out to be ungrateful, complaining that we should have let them stay in the old house or study dentistry instead of the law … Like the fruits of our kidneys, our offspring. temporal is often thankless. “
It was time to get ourselves a second cup of coffee and resume our joyful kvetching.