Those words might draw sneers from some, or at the very least, a derisive roll of the eyes. Others have incorporated the theories behind “self help” into their lives with varied results.
I was a child of the sixties and seventies, when things like EST and Transcendental Meditation became popular among those seeking answers to the increasing turmoil in the world around them. It was a strange time with few easy answers. Our society was in the last transitional stages of fifties’ innocence and naivete, living through the sixties’ “flower power” and “love generation” movements, and stumbling into the hedonistic (and oft-times nihilistic) seventies and eighties. As a species, we seemed to have lost our way, became confused, seeking what answers we could. Recreational drug use grew disproportionately. Violent crimes rose and rose until it seemed there could be no one left on earth to kill, and disease seemed to claim even more. Perhaps the nail in the coffin of our innocence was the assassination of the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. The world no longer seemed like a “safe” place to live.
When individuals and companies began to realize that there was money to be made from the self-help industry, there was a sharp increase in books and other products that seemed to promise peace, love, happiness, but only if you purchased the products. We became a society that felt entitled to having the “American Dream” handed to us on a silver platter. The idea of working hard for something became an anachronism. Our food was brought to us by large trucks and displayed in opulent colors on shelves that stretched for what seemed like miles. We no longer had to grow crops and raise animals to provide for our families. Someone else did it.
Ever increasingly, we strove to find ways to save ourselves more and more time, which we filled with leisurely activities that may or may not have helped us grow. We became self-indulgent and complacent. Television showed that we could solve any problem in 22.5 minutes, with only a few commercials thrown in along the way. Moving into 2012, we see a proliferation of shows called “Hoarders,” “Intervention,” and “Addicted.” We’ve created a world of more, but then don’t know what to do when we find ourselves 200 pounds overweight and unable to stop eating, or maxing out credit cards that put us in danger of becoming homeless.
For many years, self help was considered “new age,” and therefore, suspected by the masses as selling fantasy and magical thinking. Many of my friends described it as “airy-fairy crap,” and wanted nothing to do with it. In the 21st century, we were introduced to things like “The Secret,” which seemed to promise that if we only thought hard enough about wealth or happiness, we could achieve it. We have become a people who awards trophies to all the competitors and not just the ones who worked the hardest in an effort to bolster the self-esteem of each and every player.
Have we, though? Are we hurting or helping ourselves by making it so easy to “win” and to achieve personal fulfillment? Has it, instead of guiding us toward enlightenment, made us helpless? Our most recent president brought us a campaign based entirely on the concept of “hope,” without really ever defining what that meant, and so left it up to the imaginations of each of us to fill in those blanks, perhaps creating unrealistic expectations.
We seek out those who claim to have all the answers so that we don’t have the work. In this way, the self help industry takes in more than a billion dollars a year…by selling us hope. No one ever said it would be easy. But we’re led to believe it would be as easy as reading a book. So when one method doesn’t work, we rush out and plunk our money down on the next thing, hoping that one will make us happier.
Changing behaviors, thought processes, patterns, and our lives takes a lot of hard work.
It cannot be done in five easy steps, or with the latest gadget, or through a sleep learning course or hypnosis. It’s not accomplished in 21 days, six months, or even a year in some instances, depending on the task we set for ourselves to achieve. The changes are infinitesimal, and often we lose patience with the process and give up.
Helping ourselves to gain more fulfillment and meaning in our lives takes focus, tenacity, and a lot of inner heavy lifting. It takes a strong support system, motivation, and the willingness to do what it takes to achieve your goals. Changing ourselves is akin to the progress a glacier makes each year. Are you willing to work for it? Can you enlist the help you need to keep you on course? And when we seek change, what is it we’re really seeking? A new car? Whiter teeth? More things to clutter up our lives, or some fundamental improvement within that will bring us a healthier outlook on the world?
In 2012, I urge you to gain clarity in your life, to strip away outmoded beliefs and cluttering thoughts that keep us seeking the ‘next big thing,’ that keeps us thinking, “If only I could afford _______________, I’d be so much happier.”