Self-help books waste of money

Walk into any bookstore in America and look at the self-help section to find an eclectic yet conspicuously overpopulated selection of personal advice. Authors such as Stephen R. Covey, Anthony Robbins and Deepak Chopra claim to have the answers to all the biggest personal problems Americans have been losing sleep over. “The South Beach Diet,” “Chicken Soup for the Soul” and “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” all claim to have the answers to a happier, healthier life. Yet are these authors really that concerned with helping the average American’s problems? It seems more likely that they are just interested in their bank accounts and stock portfolios.Americans love “success literature”; in fact, in 2006 alone, Americans spent $741 million on self-help books, according to What about those $200 seminars where participants find themselves chanting, “I will take control of my destiny” or the get-rich-quick guide to “Dominating the Real Estate Market” from one of those late-night infomercials? In 2005, the self-improvement industry picked up a $2.99 billion check from apparently problem-riddled Americans, according to

These self-help advocates tend to promote a critical and constructive method.

First, they make the reader feel as though there is something wrong with his or her life, and second, they claim the only road to happiness is to buy into their messages. The problem with this mode of selling a product is not peculiar to self-help books. Nearly every product sold uses that critical/constructive method. But self-help books are personally effective. They prey on the weak by making them feel inferior to the speaker, thus, reinforcing the need to be cured of a problem that they did not know they had. Ideas such as “releasing the inner child” and “unlocking your full inner potential” lead listeners to feel that there is a problem in their lives, and the only way to fix it is by following the speaker’s, say, 12 Steps to Being Sexy.

It may be safe to say that many of these works are loaded with pseudoscientific psychobabble, disguising common-knowledge sayings with medical jargon or citing obscure research results. That really gets under my skin, especially when it demeans the average consumer and creates unhealthy expectations that are not necessary for living a full and happy life.

So far, I’ve presented a rather skeptical account about these gurus of the good life, but there are some benefits in the things they say. Psychotherapists have shown there is a measurable benefit to listening to the advice of men, such as Stephen R. Covey, writer of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” for it promotes a mentality that seems to be a precondition for effectively functioning in life.

After Intel started running employees through Covey’s program, communication between the techs and the engineers improved and productivity jumped noticeably. According to a Newsweek article from 2000, 2,500 psychologists rated their favorite books and authors in “The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health” saying that at least two-thirds of the available material was beneficial. Yet there is no laboratory test to give empirical proof that this particular method or any particular 10-step program actually works.

All in all, these authors are self-interested swindlers who create problems so they heal the reader with clever programs that solve issues the reader doesn’t actually have. With some rhetoric and a clever vocabulary, Americans are just curing themselves of a placebo effect. If that is the case, these authors have no interest in improving the human condition; they are only interested in their own selfish gains: book sales.

So, while we may find some nuggets of wisdom in literature out there, if it starts with a 10-step plan or bears the word “secret” somewhere in the title, save the money, get some free advice from those with wisdom and buy a dog.

Win Jackson is a sophomore radio-TV-film major from Fort Worth.