Self-help books: Can we really help ourselves?

This is a very simple question – with a very complex answer.

If you want to learn more about this topic, the following article is just for you.

For many years I have been reading self-help books and articles and I admit that I am “addicted” to the subject. So far, I have written many articles on self-help topics with the intention to learn more on how to help myself and others (

I understand that not everyone is impressed by the possibilities offered in self-help books. Many of these readers are very skeptical, and I have no problem with that.

Throughout the years, so many people have asked me different questions about self-help books, not believing in them. In this article I will answer some of the questions that I have received from skeptical non-believers on this subject.

The most frequent question is: “Self-help books: empty promises, or not?”

My answer: Just reading any kind of textbook will not teach us anything useful. But active learning, including writing exercises, and applying the material and knowledge from the textbook can teach us. If we expect that any material will teach us without our active participation and hard work, we are simply wrong. We cannot expect “magic results”, shortcuts, or a quick transformation by simply reading self-help books. There are no five or ten easy steps to any improvement or change to our lives without applying persistence and critical thinking. Self-help books are not merely “empty promises”, if we know how to choose them and read them.

Question:  Why do we need to always be happy? Self-help books are teaching us that we should always be happy and optimistic.

My answer to this question is very simple: Misinterpretation!

In order to be happy, not ‘always’ happy, we need to find both meaning and pleasure in our lives. A good self-help book can aid us in finding meaning, satisfaction, joy, purpose and positive emotions. But the main work is still up to us.

Next, there is no person in the world who is always happy! Expecting constant happiness is a prescription for disappointment.

Similarly, claiming that self-help books advocate constant bliss contradicts positive psychology. According to the positive teaching, sometimes a good way to overcome negative emotions is to experience and express them. Suffering is unavoidable in life, and we cannot overcome it simply by reading self-help books.

Reader Question: Self-help books do not describe real life, so I wonder why we need to trust them.

Answer: I have no intention in convincing anyone believe that these books describe a real life, for one reason only: you have no evidence for your statement, but I respect your choice not to trust them.

Each and every good book will tell you that “life is beautiful”, but not predictable, not fair to everyone, sometimes cruel, not always rewarding and meaningful, and not always with a “happy ending”.  A struggle-free life does not exist in any good motivational book. That kind of life is not real life and is not a prescription for happiness.

Question: I don’t believe we create our own lives, because life is already determined by our destiny. Therefore, why do we need help from motivational books?

Answer: From which platform are you coming by asking this question? If you strongly believe in determinism, a theory that all events are inevitable, and if you are denying free will, then these types of books are not for you. But if we start creating, and not merely reacting to day-to-day life, then we are in the position to see everything differently. Again, it is up to us to make our own decisions.

Conclusion: My personal opinion is that people can learn a lot from good books and find answers to their questions. Receiving the greatest benefit from the books depends on us. It cannot just come from reading the books but requires putting what we have read into action. In real life there are hundreds of ways to happiness but only one way to unhappiness: doing nothing.

At the end of the conversation with opponents of motivational, uplifting, self- help books, I can say that too many people are asking too many wrong questions.