I read 31 self help books this year. So, um, that happened.
I must be the most well-adjusted, improved person on the planet, right?
Not even a little bit.
I’m unlikely be handed a Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon.
But, am I a changed person, 31 self help books later? Here’s what worked and what didn’t.
How to Find Your Passion: Less Looking, More Doing
Finding your passion is an industry in itself. Google ‘How to find your passion’, and you’ll get just short of a billion search results.
Some writers have specialised in passion, and have done very well for themselves. If these authors are right, the only thing between us and giddy happiness is passion. And passion is just around the corner.
The problem is most people don’t have a passion just waiting to be discovered. We’re not going to try our hand at coding one day, then light up with passion and build a global tech company overnight in our garage.
This misconception can discourage people from trying to find something they’ll love doing.
So is passion just for the very lucky?
Not at all.
Angela Duckworth says in her (highly recommended) book Grit, passion is developed rather than uncovered.
It can be encouraged by sparking an interest, which we do by trying new things. But once we find something we like, then we need perseverance. We need to develop that interest.
As we get better at whatever we’re doing, our interest will grow, which drives greater perseverance. It’s this self-feeding cycle of effort, interest and competence that creates passion.
So finding your passion is less like this:
And more like this:
While I didn’t ‘find my passion’ this year, I did try a new thing (writing In The Meantime). And I now understand that I need to develop this interest into a passion. Rather than quit because I didn’t explode into a fireball passion after finishing my first post.
How to be Happy: Kick the Pleasure Pops
I read a lot of books on happiness. So am I any happier than I was a year ago?
A little. But mostly I’m wiser about happiness. I understand more about what it is (mostly relationships and meaningful living); what it isn’t (pleasure seeking); and what we can do about it (not much, happiness levels are pretty much fixed).
This understanding helped me moderate my happiness ambitions and got me off the merry-go-round search for ultimate happiness.
It helped me focus on the things that really matter; people, meaning and attitude. There’s more on this in our post on happiness, if you’re interested
How to Retire Early: Motivation is Good; Planning is Better
FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) is another growing self help industry. But be warned, for every good bit of advice, there’s a ton of bad.
Overall, and coupled with advice from a reputable financial planner, I learnt a lot of life-changing lessons from my FIRE readings. Through these learnings, Maggie and I changed our life plan, started this blog and geared our finances toward FIRE-ing off in January 2024 (one year down, five to go).
We dismissed a lot of the more extreme FIRE advice, which would have had us living out of a cardboard box and feeding the kids sawdust.
We took a balanced path that allows us to live in the present as well as save for early retirement. FIRE books are great motivators on the long path to early retirement. But they are not a financial plan.
Have a look at this post for advice on how to go about proper financial planning.
So is Self Help Good For You?
Self help is definitely worth reading, if only to keep learning and thinking about self improvement. But, you don’t need to read 31 self help books each year.
And it would be wise to not jump from book to book with high expectations that you’re going to radically change your life.
Self improvement is hard, it’s incremental.
Self help books often come with a hefty dose of inspiration, which can be sugar-rush addictive.
Inspiration is for motivation. Then you need to do stuff. You need to apply the ideas by doing the work. Inspiration is not an end in itself.
Unfortunately, inspiration-heavy self help gives the impression that helping yourself is easy. It’s not.
But it is worth the challenge, and it’s one of the keys to happy living, which is about maintaining your level of happiness and building resilience for the inevitable tough times.
To see some of the books I read this year, and give yourself a self help check-up, see our 6-Point Happiness Checklist.
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