I accidentally logged onto a list compiled by a man named Tom Butler Bowden. After conducting lots of research and interviews, he wrote down what he believed to be the top 50 self-help books of the 20th century (although some of the books on it were from earlier time periods). Now, as I'm often on the look-out for a good self-help book as often as a good fiction, I skimmed down the list with interest. To my surprise, I found I'd already read almost half of them. And for some that I hadn't read, I'd read other books by the same author.
Here are some of the self-help books that I've actually read.
The Bible (which was listed surprisingly as number 6)
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
7 Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Real Magic by Wayne Dyer
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain
Women Who Run with Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, by Dr John Gray
You can Heal your Life by Louise Hay
Feel the Fear & Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr Maxwell Maltz
The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr Norman Vincent Peale
The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck
The Game of Life and How to Play it by Florence Scovell Shinn
And this is not to mention several that could've been mentioned and would surely be in the top 100, such as "The Power of Now" by Eckart Tolle, "Think & Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, and several Christian classics such as "The Practise of the Presence of God" by Brother Lawrence and "The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life" by Hannah Whitall Smith.
My first impulse was to feel very tired, thinking of all those words I've read in the quest to turn myself into a better person which started far back in my teens. Yet I still feel like the same person, who is basically earnest and insecure, looking out for the next book full of life-changing wisdom. You think I would've been some sort of guru by now!
Is this to say that I think I've wasted my time reading all these self-help books? Well, I'd have to say no. Some of those books are real gems. I can remember scribbling down what I regarded as life-changing quotes from many of them. I have taken a lot of the advice on board. And it definitely has changed my life. "The Power of Positive Thinking" is the book that prompted me to become a Christian back when I was 17 for example. So if they've done their job and changed my life, why do I keep reading more and more and more?
This might not sound very profound but I think it's because I don't want to feel as if I'm missing out on anything good. It's the same reason why I sometimes feel frustrated and flustered when I look at all the great homeschooling curriculum that's available and know that I can't buy the lot. "This is pretty good but what if this other one in the catalogue is absolutely mind-blowing?" Well, it seems there's only one way to find out. I can see why the quest can turn into a treadmill with this sort of attitude. And a treadmill isn't what I want to be on.
So I took another look at that list and noticed something else. Many of them express exactly the same principles, in each author's own unique style of course. There were even groupings of books that encourage you to follow your dream, books that speak about the human condition, books about changing the way you think and so on. So looking at this list has taught me that all of the wisdom I need to get by in life is already lined up in these volumes on my loungeroom shelf. The Bible alone has enabled thousands of fantastic men and women to live their best lives. So I can jump off that treadmill and read self-help books in a less fevered, more relaxed manner, not because I'm afraid I'm missing something important and new but simply because they are more wholesome food for my brain than more depressing literature.
It's actually made me feel pretty good.