Do self-help books make us happier?

by on August 22, 2008 at 5:38 am in Books | Permalink

Ad Bergsma says yes:

Advice for a happier life is found in so-called ‘self-help books’, which are
widely sold in modern countries these days. These books popularize insights from psychological science and draw in particular on the newly developing ‘positive psychology’. An analysis of 57 best-selling psychology books in the Netherlands makes clear that the primary aim is not to alleviate the symptoms of psychological disorders, but to enhance personal strengths and functioning. Common themes are: personal growth, personal relations, coping with stress and identity. There is a lot of skepticism about these self-help books. Some claim that they provide false hope or even do harm. Yet there are also reasons to expect positive effects from reading such books. One reason is that the messages fit fairly well with observed conditions for happiness and another reason is that such books may encourage active coping. There is also evidence for the effectiveness of bibliotherapy in the treatment of psychological disorders. The positive and negative consequences of self-help are a neglected subject in academic psychology. This is regrettable, because self-help books may be the most important–although not the most reliable–channel through which psychological insights find their way to the general audience.

Here is the full issue, of the Journal of Happiness Research, and I thank whichever web site led me to this, sorry I forget.

I like that word: bibliotherapy.

1 Anonymous August 22, 2008 at 8:26 am


Great word. (And from someone’s book boyfriend, too. No, not mine.)

2 bgc August 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

Projecting ahead – it seems clear from revealed preferences that a lifestyle of effective, intelligent, enlightened happiness-optimization leads to low fertility.

So maybe humankind will have a brief-ish period of increased average happiness, after which average happiness will decline as the less happiness-oriented – but more fertile – folks shall ‘inherit the earth’.

3 The other Eric August 22, 2008 at 3:16 pm

A good friend of mine purposely listens to the self-help audio tapes of the 1970s and 80s still found in many local libraries. She comments and laughs out loud at the awful advice about personal growth and relationships, the routine sexism of many of them, and the insipid suggestions — after her commute she insists she feels much better.

4 k August 24, 2008 at 11:17 am

yes , if you wrote it

5 Russell Nelson August 26, 2008 at 11:04 am

but the placebo effect is REAL healing. It’s just healing that the doctor didn’t cause, which leads them to downplay its effects.

6 julia smith August 28, 2008 at 5:55 am

The effect of these books last as long as you read the book,once the book ends things slowly go back to normal.

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