Do Self Help Books Really Help?

woman in beige coat standing near white wooden book shelf

Or do they only keep us in a comfortable bubble and create the illusion of betterment and knowledge?

The smoker trying to quit smoking. The introvert trying to become more outgoing. The young woman or man having doubts about her or his sexuality. The diffident person trying to make their way into the world…

They all read self-books these days, don’t they?

Maybe self help books have saved lives. I’m sure that very successful self help authors have stories to tell about that.

But if we look at self help books in general, is it actually an advantage that there are so many of them out there?

Or are we cutting a few too many trees in order to feed personal illusions?

To be clear: I’m speaking about books written with the express purpose to help us improve our lives, teach us a better way of thinking, help us develop our spiritual side, and that sort of thing. I don’t mean textbooks.

I have a hunch that the world’s most successful people don’t have the time to read self help books. Or are just not interested in them.

Many successful people have no time to read self help books—or any books at all.

The Illusion of Betterment

Books often create the illusion of knowledge and self-improvement when in fact they keep us within our own heads, perhaps even away from other people.

Reading in itself can be a calming and comfortable experience, so it’s only natural to invent reasons to do more of it.

But often, books feed our own self-delusions. Self help books most of all.

There are self help books out there that can turn on lights in our mind and encourage positive habits. But aren’t they rare?

Many self help books are distillations of the writer’s experiences framed in a certain context.

Life’s too complicated for us to simply apply given knowledge to our own life situation and expect similar results.

And that assuming that the writer didn’t found success through an interplay of favorable circumstances and then his or her narrative self wove a nice story around it.

woman reading book

What About Fiction?

For my part, I’m wary of reading too many self help books. I learn more from fiction.

Fiction is a lot more honest than a lot of self help books out there. I don’t mean to say that self help authors don’t write with a good heart. Most of them probably do.

But fiction doesn’t start from any assumptions and doesn’t try to impart knowledge, only to explore situations by simulating experiences.

Whether it’s through good or bad example, fiction tells us “Look what can happen to you if you do this or behave in a certain way.”

It also exposes us to a wide cast of characters and views that may conflict with our own, encouraging us to observe the unfamiliar without judging it.

“You are not as unique as you think you are,” fiction says, “and that’s actually good.”

There’s usually something to be gained from every book–bad self-help books, too.

I have some self help books in my bookcase that did introduce me to interesting ideas and provided alternative interpretations to how to live life.

But to expect a self help book to really change your life, well, I think that’s naïve. It may happen, but it usually tends not to.

There are of course moments in our life when we need a bit of that naivety to get us through.

But if we start thinking about the trees, well…


Has any self help book you’ve ever read changed your life or made a big difference in your life?

2 thoughts on “Do Self Help Books Really Help?

  1. Hi Vincent, I must admit that I never read any self help books, I prefer fiction. I also think that the best teacher is life . We learn as we live. Have a nice week end. Love your photo 😅

  2. Some self help books are excellent and have helped my social and interpersonal skills. Others, as you say, are an illusion. We generally listen to self help books as audiobooks as, in my opinion, they can get a little monotonous. I love fiction, and agree that there is so much to be learned from fiction, but I have also found self help books to be incredibly useful. Especially ones which deal with how to better one’s negotiation skills, people skills and parenting skills. My favourite self help book has got to be ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. He also wrote another one called ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.’ I also found a book called ‘Calm Parents, Happy Kids’ very helpful in learning to manage my behaviour around my child and regulating how I deal with him. I don’t read self-help books often, but I expect there are a lot out there that do create an illusion of betterment and are certainly based on a narrator’s favourable life experiences, hence why I think when selecting one such book, you must take into account the credentials of the writer and look into their resume a little more.

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