The Cult of Self Help

Self help is almost as old as mankind.  We find it attached to religion and see it in the Bible as well as other religious works.  Today, depending on whether the self help deals with being health, spiritual, financially secure, or able to do many of the work we have often paid others to do for us, you will find the books, audio disks, and video disks in books stores and libraries under psychology, health, business, philosophy and religion, or home improvement.  Most books on substance addiction are not written on the exact physiological phenomenon but on how to move beyond that dependence.  Avoidance is the major theme along with the prescribed number of steps, the prescribed medication, and whatever nostrum is added in for good measure.  If one wants to build a box or a house one can find any number of books and other references to aid that effort.  Go to You Tube and search for the video you believe is most helpful.  Of course it also helps to have the right tools but another video or book will inform you as to which you should purchase.  And another will inform you how to arrange them in the necessary space needed to work comfortably and safely.

On the other hand if one wants to become financially secure the advice becomes a little less specific.  Buy low and sell high is the common theme of financial advice.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket really means diversify your wealth witch, plainly speaking, buy a few good stock, buy a few good bonds, buy a little gold and silver, and so forth.  Sounds like good advice.  But the questions arise: what are good stocks, what are good bonds, and what forms of gold and silver; and what price should I pay; and when should I buy and sell?  Well, back to the original bit of advice, buy low and sell high.  We cannot see into the future and investments, those items usually bought and held over a long period of time (notice I did not specify its length) will tend to appreciate (meaning their value will either grow through an increase of profitability or be inflated by the current rate of inflation), over time.  On the other hand there is always that fear of a great depression like the one that started around 1929.  But if we don’t buy now we may lose out because we all know that financial instruments (meaning stock, bonds, whole life insurance policies, and annuities) always rise in price because inflation is always with us.  well, until deflation occurs and the prices drop like a lead balloon.  Financial risk is future financial loss.  Buying a house where one has a very large mortgage in relation to one’s income stream, meaning weekly paycheck, is a financial risk.  You bet that you will not lose your job in the future or incur any financial disaster in the future that will reduce or end that income stream.  You are also betting that someone will buy your house later when you want or need to sell it and that they will pay a much higher price for it than you did.

Then there are the health books and videos that claim you can have great health by doing or not doing certain things.  Or if you already have some condition, then how you can overcome it or at least minimize it.  We can lose weight by doing different activities and eating healthier.  We can seize the magic formula and success will be ours regardless of our particular physiology and metabolic processes.  Just take the right pills and supplements and the that dress size will be lowered instantly.  The problem is that while some of the advice is good and does produce measurable results, so much of the advice is worthless, useless, and at times deadly.  The main problem with self help health advice is that it tends to be aimed as if all individuals were exactly alike.  Indeed, doctors have been trained to view the individuals they treat as being cut from the same cloth.  Yet individual variation is the life of human science.  Even identical twins are not exactly identical.  The real advice in this area of self help is buyer beware and do your research.

Now we come to that area of psychological and spiritual self help.  The two are similar in that they both deal with belief and yet are different because of the nature of the belief needed to be effective.  Why am I not happy?  Is it because I do not believe in god or because I do not believe in myself?  Yes, that is a rather simple way of putting the issue.  But sometimes simpler is better.  Most of us have heard of the seven highly effective habits of successful people.  Just acquire those habits and you can be successful, too.  Or why not read the books that billionaires read and become like them?  I have read thousands of books but I am no closer to being a billionaire than I am to being a millionaire.  In research we call that cherry picking.  Many people read the same books and their incomes and assets have not increased measurably.  We could try and meditate like a Buddhist monk and be no closer to that high plane of spiritual wisdom that said monk is suppose to have.  Perhaps we suffer from depression.  To put depression into a better context, it is neither an illness like a cold nor is it a disease like cancer, it is a mental condition.  Anti-depression medication has been helpful in about a third of those diagnosed and treated for depression.  The literature offers tends to offer advice on how to cope with the condition whether one has depression or is in the family or a friend.  For those in need of spiritual guidance there is a wealth of advice on achieving that state of spiritual bliss.  If all one wants is happiness there a great deal of advice on how to achieve that happy state of mind.  One can think happy thoughts and become more active and interact more with people.  Actually, a bit of common sense should inform you that if you pal around with happy people you tend to become happier yourself.  Ah, but where to find all those happy people and how to become a member of their group?  That’s the trouble with guiding principles, they never have an accompanying set of formulas to go with them.  Unlike building a shed where I can describe in exact detail each step needed to build that shed, life does not come with an exact plan let alone a set of exact detailed steps.  And there hangs all the difference in living.

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