A few years ago, self-help books were the ones we used to read in secret, and when we were done with it we would hide them very carefully. Mine were so well hidden in my bookshelves that I eventually forgot about it and never read them.
I would never have confessed that I was reading “books like that”, even to my closest friends. I didn’t want to look pathetic.
And I think it wasn’t just me. I remember an episode of Sex & the City (did some heavy research here: it’s “Cover Girl”, ep. 504) where Charlotte was recently divorced and wanted to buy a book called “Starting over yet again” in a bookstore. But to do it, she had to enter the infamous self-help aisle. They overdid it a little bit here: there is one woman looking depressed, eating here hair while reading a book. Another one is sitting on the floor crying. Charlotte, didn’t want to be associated with this kind of women, had to pretend she was actually looking for the travel aisle. She didn’t feel that she belonged there with these pathetic women.
So, she ordered the book online (Amazon sponsoring here). And Amazon algorithms were triggered: she started getting suggestions for books like “Lonely women no men”, “I’m fine NOW” or “Reservation for one”.
Of course, she hated the image of her that these books were projecting, and she immediately threw away the book she had struggle that much to get.
Now, the self-help aisle is not hidden anymore. You don’t have to sneak into it like teenagers from the 90’s in the porno room of videoclubs. Self-help books are proudly displayed at the very entrance of bookstores, and you can read them in public transport.
What has changed in these ten years or so ? First, I think that we are more prone to acknowledge the fact that we need help. Going to see a therapist doesn’t mean we are “crazy” anymore, but maybe just that we are ready to do something to take care of ourselves. We have never consumed that much antidepressants. We know that everybody has a few neuroses, and we have learned to consider that charming.
But also, I feel that the themes of the self-help books have changed. The ones in the top of sales are “Miracle morning”, “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, “The power of habit”, “Think and grow rich”. These books don’t appeal to our most secret flaws anymore. These are not books telling the world what are our deep fears, what makes us feel bad.
These books are more positive than they were before. What they say about us is “I’m okay, and I want to get better”. So the good news is that we can tell the world about it, and maybe inspire our closest ones to find a way to enhance their life as well, to be more happy.
But again, it is quite easy when the title of the book is not “How to seduce a man after forty”.
Telling our friends that we are reading a book that could help us being more productive or self-aware is not confessing anything. It will never be perceived as pathetic, it’s all about being in a positive path.
Admitting our weaknesses is not the same thing. “I want to start a diet because I don’t like myself.” “My procrastination habit makes me feel like shit.” “I want to learn how to get people to love me because I am lonely.” These are very difficult sentences to pronounce, even with close friends.
So, even if we are in a good path of learning to get support and inspiration to become happier, I’m not sure we are better at doing it when we feel real bad and we really need it.
I don’t know about you guys, but I know that I am not ready for that yet.