Self-Help Books, Finding Balance and Happiness in Black and White

Self-help books dangle happiness. Is it that easy?

There are so many ways to find happiness.  Just peruse the self-help section in your local bookstore and you'll find doctors, actors, impassioned speakers, and school-of-hard-knock types, all offering tomes of redemption and paths to “balance.” I hate that word.  Ever since “finding balance” became a quest for ordinary folk, I’ve failed miserably.  What does it mean?  Finding my daily Zen is about as remote as finding the $10 I lost when I was in third grade. I more often find myself sniffing clothes to see if they're clean, rushing to pick up my son from school, and putting in extra hours of work to stay ahead.  Meditation happens sporadically, exercise slightly more, but luckily I laugh a lot. However, balance is what the self-help books are offering.  We can get more organized, tap into a deep, meaningful relationship with our spouse (or kid or whoever), we can lose weight, manage our boss, get ahead, and live our dream.  Sure. An ugly realization I watched a public television show recently called "This Emotional Life: Happiness."  A buzzword in psychiatry circles, happiness seems to be the new black.  Balance is on its way out (maybe). The film interviewed Professor John Norcross of the University of Scranton, an expert on all things self-help.  He has studied over 1,000 different books and programs in the genre and estimates that more than 95% of all self-help books are published without any scientific research attesting to their effectiveness or safety. So to boil that down, more than 95% of self-help books are full of crap. Where does that leave us? May I suggest, without any research to back me up, that we just give ourselves a break?  If we’re desperately unhappy then professionals such as career counselors, therapists, and ministers should be on our schedules.  But if we’re just run-of-the-mill ho-hum then how about setting small goals to get to a bigger goal? Think big, Act small We all have lofty goals and idealized fantasies of life.  We all have the capacity to achieve this but we need to break it down into smaller steps. Here’s an example:  I'm in the process of moving my Pilates studio.  I can’t “wish it into life;” I have to act on it with a thousand little decisions.  I’m keeping my eye on the big idea, but I’m breaking it down into a host of smaller steps. I’ve got my peeps too.  My friends, family, and staff are all helping me get there.  I nicely asked for their help before I dove into a project as large as this. Back to those self-help books So you can buy a self-help book if you wish, but how 'bout this: just pick a goals big or small, and then figure out how to get there. Create an inspiring moment, maybe candlelight and a glass of wine, or just a quiet, sunny spot after a good night’s sleep, and pick a dream.  Break down the parts and figure out how to get there.  Begin with Step 1, check it off, and move on to Step 2.  I doubt you’ll need a self-help book to get you there, but maybe a “how to” guide for a skill that is new to you. You’ll get there, with or without that self-help book.  Maybe you won’t feel “balanced” when you reach your goal, but I bet you’ll feel rather proud of yourself.  I know I will.  I’ll be celebrating with a big ol’ party too. What do you think?  Have you found self-help books to be helpful?  Or just a distraction full of frustrations? Cheers, Lisa

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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3 Responses to Self-Help Books, Finding Balance and Happiness in Black and White

  1. Joseph Dabon March 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    Reading your blog made me lose my balance. I can’t get a good grip on the meat. Of what you are trying to say.

    But……Whatever your intention was, your writing is pleasurable, light, whimsical sometimes. But that is what life is about, isn’t it? A mixture of everything we can lay our hands on, dream about and, yes, laugh a lot about.

    Bottom line? I like it.

  2. Lisa Johnson March 19, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Hi Joseph, I’ll take whimsical … I guess my approach to my blog is things that interest me about fitness, things that I’m passionate about sharing with you (new research, etc.) and a manifesto here and there. Little blog posts to have you tap your energy reserves and get moving.

    If you have a specific question ask away! Thanks for taking the time to read through my blog through. I appreciate it.


  3. sean September 26, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    “So to boil that down, more than 95% of self-help books are full of crap.”

    Just because it’s not based off of a study doesnt mean its crap. It may have helped the author, and perhaps similar people to the author.

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