Before launching Common Sense Atheism, I spent two years reading all the self-help books I could find.
I started writing quick thoughts on all those books, but the signal-to-noise ratio was so low I gave up. Seriously, reading just a few dozen self-help books will make you want to punch the whole industry in the face, and then in the balls, and then in the face again. A few bright spots in all that reading came from actual scientists who genuinely wanted to help people, and really cared about testing whether or not their advice worked.
So it’s a great reference book, but it would take a serious investment to actually use.
Richard Wiseman is an experimental psychologist who also does work as a magician and an investigator of paranormal claims.
Also, even though that other book you mentioned is 2000 pages long, do you think it’s worth the time investment if i were to read it? Case in point for any parents or guardians reading, 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12.
Meditation is simple; just go in a quiet area that is comfortable and concentrate on a single thing. The only product I’m aware of, though, that comes close to providing some of the concentration benefits of meditation and is easily bought is L-theanine. Along the lines of what Chris is asking, why did you go through 300+ pop self-help books written by media personalities instead of going straight to the professional, scientific helping profession? Thomas, I have emailed you the 59 seconds, its in epub format, so you either have to have adobe digital editions installed or have a smartphone. It is s little short for me, but I guess that also makes it more readable and compresses a lot of really good content into very few pages. No, I just mean that we have lots more studies now from which to draw our conclusions about human psychology.
Dennis Prager wrote an excellent book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, that I have found most helpful. There were two moments in my life when I hit rock bottom, three if you count the time in junior high when I was so viciously bullied I spent lunches in the library. Both times, my lifeline wasn't at the bottom of a bottle, or a BFF who tirelessly sympathized, or a fling (though all of those played a part), but a book — a self-help book to be exact.
This is an ode to the genre of books that people never name-drop, like a New York Times best seller that the cultured casually slip into conversation, or boast about reading religiously from cover to cover, like The New Yorker. But, in the times of serious need, when spiraling in self-deprecating despair, I was most consoled by people who went through what I was going through. When my first (again, we're counting post-wax) serious boyfriend cheated on me during a missions trip, lied about it, and then promptly started dating her once he realized that the jig was up, I spiraled.


Instead of a shoulder to cry on, the pages of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, with its cheesy title and equally cheesy cover (don't Google it), helped me find purpose in my unexpected single status. From one high to the next, I jumped from book to book, each one helping me work through the five stages of grief. Self-help books may not be the sexiest titles and I might not proudly read them on the subway, but they've helped me through heartache that lasted years, through career drama, and subsequent identity crises. I used it myself, to great effect (seriously; you have no idea what a different person I was 5 years ago), but I was only able to use it by reading the whole thing and typing up my own 30+ page summary! He has published many scientific papers, academic books, and a few popular books, like Quirkology and The Luck Factor. So he dived into the scientific literature and pulled out the most useful advice he could on all the major self-help topics. Then I read my second ever self help book, Dale Carnegie’s How to win and influence friends as Wiseman refered to that book in one page. Albert Ellis, and many other helping professionals have written self-help books based on scientific research, though I see very few of them on your list. Reading Luke’s description of his experience so far was highly evocative of it, for me. Featuring a cute baby picture in your wallet will increase your odds of having it returned when lost from 3% to 40% (as I recall the percentages).
Then I read my second ever self help book, Dale Carnegie’s How to win and influence friends as Wiseman refered to that book in one page.
I agree that MOST self-help books are made to sell, not help, but I have read one recently that was of great help. And Epictetus was a big influence on Albert Ellis, one of the founders of cognitive therapy. The science in it is of course dated now, but his were certainly the best available at the time. Even an atheist could find great value ;) Basically, overly high expectations that are impossible to achieve naturally lead to gloom about failure.
But, since nothing that happens before you get your first Brazilian wax counts (that's the universal standard, right?), I'm counting two. It's the genre of books that never get critical acclaim, and while you may start a book club about it, you’re probably not going to advertise its time and place on Facebook. And, it was the refreshingly raw words of Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, who talked me down when I thought my young career was dying a very sudden, ego-crippling death. But there was no self-help author that offered tested and proven advice on a wide variety of subjects.
The book is careful, even-handed, humble, and genuinely helpful, and was written by a professional psychologist who had researched and taught self-help methods for his entire career.


In each chapter, he tells the story of a few scientific experiments that reveal our human psychology (Malcolm Gladwell style), and then quickly explains the resulting advice on what you can do to change what you want to change in your life.
But I would certainly think that increasing one’s happiness would be part of self-help, and The Conquest of Happiness and The Nicomachean Ethics are both concerned with that.
The cognitive, emotive, and behavoural techniques could be updated but again the core would seem to be unaffected. And, now the integrity of our entire relationship was open to scrutiny, the feeling of my replaceability was insurmountable, and I was convinced I would never date again.
But, it was those books that gave me consistent and constant counsel without the hefty bill of a therapist and self-absorbed guilt from talking a bestie's ear off. Getting laid off, despite all the practical "it's just business" reasoning, can demoralize you so swiftly and effectively that I wholeheartedly believed I wasn't qualified to write another published word again. The authors usually show no interest what-so-ever in testing to see if their advice actually works. The book cites over a thousand peer-reviewed studies and does a great job of explaining what we do and don’t know about how to people can self-help with motivation, behavior modification, depression, anxiety, relationships, and so on.
It just seems like it would have been much more efficient than reading thousands of pages of trash. Then, I hopped to Francine Rivers' Redeeming Love, the closest you'll get to 50 Shades of Grey in the Christian aisle.
Lamott's brash telling of her (many) failures and ways she got back up affirmed that 1) I was not crazy, or 2) at the least, I wasn't alone. In fact, I sometimes suspected the book was being written to get people motivated without actually giving them good advice so that when they failed to achieve their goals six months later they would assume it was their fault but look back positively on their initial motivation, and then buy the next heavily-marketed self-help book to come out the pipe. Oh brother.] All my beliefs of trust, commitment, love, and faith came crashing down like Humpty Dumpty and absolutely refused to be put back together again.
It's a retelling of the biblical story of Hosea who married a prostitute and kept forgiving her and bringing her back home despite her constant affairs.
Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way taught me to haul my ass back to the drawing board and keep applying and writing and believing. You have to be willing to work your ass off but if you are this books can help anyone lead a more fulfilling life.
And, when I eventually landed a job in NYC, Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In reminded me that work is hard but it's a hard-wrought privilege and something worth fighting for.



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