The Book Club

Help Wanted for Self-Help Genre

Dear Emily,

Let me start this session with the “morning disappointment affirmation,” courtesy of Iyanla Vanzant: “I now willingly release all negative beliefs about myself, my life and all other people. I now forgive myself for thinking I ever did anything wrong. I am now filled with the love and the Power that I am. For this I am so grateful! And So It Is!”

Boy, I feel better now. It’s such a relief to know that I never did anything wrong. These books sure are great!

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Let me handle your last query first, the one concerning my wife. No, she hasn’t noticed any changes in me this week. I am still the same compassionate, flawless, always-right-but-humble-about-it guy I was last week, she says. Actually, she didn’t say this–she’s at a meeting away from her office (some people actually have to go to official-type meetings, unlike you and me, who sit around reading self-help books all day long) and I can’t reach her. But I know this is what she would say.

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Before I address your point about the pursuit, rather than the attainment, of happiness, I’d like to give one final shout-out to Richard Carlson, Ph.D. As you noted, one tidbit of Carlson’s wisdom holds that “Remember, one hundred years from now, all new people.” It is on the subject of mortality, I believe, that Carlson is at his stupidest. The “all new people” business is idiotic; here, though, is the single dumbest quote I found, from the chapter entitled, “Imagine the People in Your Life as Tiny Infants and as One-Hundred-Year-Old Adults”: “Know that each of us will be one hundred years old, alive or dead, before too many decades go by.” All I can say is, Qaddafi’s Green Book makes more sense than Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

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But on to the Founding Fathers, who knew enough, even way back then (many of them are 270-years-old now, except that they’re dead), not to promise the people actual happiness, only the right to pursue happiness. Promising actual happiness came much later, shortly after the establishment of Carmel, California, I believe. Now, of course, this false promise is everywhere. And yes, drug makers make this false promise, too. Chemistry can help people live better lives, but Zoloft isn’t a panacea. But for many people, it’s a better investment than buying the books of Iyanla Vanzant and Richard Carlson. As for the Dalai Lama and his friend Howard Cutler, if they can push people to give themselves over to causes larger than themselves–and the Dalai Lama’s next book, I’m told, will advocate just this–then I find it harder to knock them. Not impossible, just harder.

One final note: I still believe that there’s room on the shelves for at least one more self-help book. If you’re game, I am, too. I envision an antidote to Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. We can call it Neurosis for Beginners.

Over and out,
Jeff

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