The Subtle Art of Self-Help

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In antiquity, Rome and Greece were self-declared beacons of democracy, civilization, art, and philosophic thought. Nonetheless, they were plagued with problems that any civilization in its infanthood would experience. Self-help books were at the pinnacle of literature. The most admired thinkers – Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius – all wrote self-help books, whose aim was to teach us to live and die well. Furthermore, they deployed every resource of intelligence, wit and style in writing their manuals so as to ensure that their messages would delight the intellectual as well as the emotional faculties.

There are several benefits of reading self-help books:


  • Self-help books are among the most controversial genres in the 21st century
    due to the subjectivity of the topic. The first step is being able to pick up a
    self-help book and objectively read, apply, and analyze the perspective of the
    authors without holding any biases. This allows you to be more tolerant of
    other’s points of view.

Learn and apply new strategies

  • Self-help books and marketing are very similar in that they are both vying for
    your attention and time. There are thousands of authors who swear they have
    the right strategy for you. The beauty in self-help books is that they offer you a
    strategy that might possibly unknot your problems, but the onus is on you to
    experiment and learn from the vast collection of thoughts in this growing

Become independent

  • One can say that self-help books are similar to the “internal: voice within you
    in that you are simultaneously reading and interpreting the content relative to
    your life experiences.

Thus, if we read, learn and decide to create our own life plan and carefully do the necessary things that can make us better, we can accomplish our goals and improve our lives significantly.
Reading self-help books can also build a higher sense of confidence in a person – over time that can help them to get out of almost any challenging situation without resorting to the help of others. Another benefit of self-help books is that one develops the mentally tough attitude of relying on oneself and develops the skills of addressing and untying the knots of day-to-day life.
For example, Tolstoy’s: War and Peace explicitly aims to teach compassion, calm and
forgiveness; it offers guidance around money, manners, relationships and career
development; it seeks to show us how to be a good friend and how to be a better parent. It clearly is a self-help book – it just doesn’t happen to be officially described this way by the current guardians of Culture.

Marcel Proust’s: In Search of Lost Time is, similarly, also a self-help book, that teaches us how to surrender our attachment to romantic love and social status in favour of a focus on art and thought.
Despite their popularity, though, there is a lot of criticism on self-help books. These can be grouped into three categories:

#1. Bad effect: Self-help books give wrong and sometimes harmful advice, they give
false hope, they make uncertain people just feel worse about themselves, or they make people refrain from seeking professional support.

#2. Placebo effect: If they already work, it is not because of the advice given in the
self-help books, but because of the fact that people pay attention to something that
they didn’t pay attention to before.

#3. No effect: Even though people may find self-help books interesting to read, they don’t work, because the advice is just common sense or overly simplistic and people don’t do anything with them.

Nonetheless, it is hard to believe that the growing collection of self-help books are all useless…
The art of self-help books lies in the ability to dissect them for what they are, strategic manuals for a better life, and to select which parts you want to apply and which you want to throw out. Ultimately self-help books are like video games, they allow you to try and tweak different strategies so that you are able to level up and get more out of life!

Thanks for reading.

Kareem Abdurazag


Writer | C&H Blogger

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