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Some people swear by self-help books. Some people swear at them. And sometimes the fine line between calling BS or calling them bedtime reading comes down to the title.
As a genre, self-help is rarely viewed with open arms. We don’t talk about self-love, and that involves an orgasm. So we’re hardly inclined to rave about a psychological reference book when the most we think we’ll get out of it is a mantra.
But it could be time for a rethink. Because, at its core, self-help is literature that has your back. It’s all about you – helping you, empowering you, educating you. Sure, its title might have come from the cheese factory, but when have we ever said no to a little Parmesan?
Open minds at the ready, these are our tried, tested and genuinely converted-to picks:
1. The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris
10/10 good if you suffer from anxiety, Dr Russ Harris is a GP-turned-therapist who looks at evolution to suss out why we have a tendency to think the worst and compare ourselves to others. It’s completely devoid of naff ‘think positive’ affirmations. Instead, he uses a mindfulness model called ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy) to get you to accept what’s out of your control and live in the moment. He won’t say, ‘Don’t think bad thoughts’ – which is like asking you to look at a piece of chocolate and not salivate – he’ll tell you how to work with negativity so it bothers you less. Realistic and practical.
2. Textbook Romance: A Step-By-Step Guide To Getting The Guy by Zoë Foster and Hamish Blake
A bit like The Rules, if The Rules lost its sexist clichés and game-playing torture games and was actually really funny. You get a male and a female take on all the issues a woman with a vagina goes through in love – from making excuses about why a guy hasn’t texted (dead?) to when to move in with someone. Proof that there must be something in it? Ex-Cosmo writer Zoë and comedian Hamish were just friends when they wrote this book. Now they’re married with a baby.
3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
If you want an avocado, you go to the supermarket and buy one. If you want more happiness? You do, um… nothing. Hmm. Realising this was Gretchen Rubin’s light-bulb moment. Her book is a series of lists and personal anecdotes to help identify what brings you joy in life, plus the concrete actions needed to enjoy them more often. Particularly useful if your sources of happiness are hard to come by, such as getting more sleep.
4. The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
A self-help book for the ambitious. An ‘outlier’ is a thing outside of the normal experience – a snowy Christmas day in Australia, for example. Here, Gladwell looks at people who are outliers – those multi-million dollar earners who’ve achieved above and beyond most other mortals. He argues that it’s not a question of intellect – most people are smart – but how these individuals (ie Jobs, Gates) took advantage of the generation they grew up in. Fascinating read on making the most of our potential.
5. Thrive by Arianna Huffington
Teaches you about the three pillars of success – power, money and wellbeing – but with an emphasis on the latter. When she talks about sleeping her way to the top, she means actually getting some sleep. It’s an impactful read because she writes so personally about her own journey managing a growing career with raising two daughters. A big advocate of unplugging, it’s a must-read (and re-read) for anyone feeling burnt out.
6. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle
Warning: at times this does get a little too much. OK, much too much – it actually includes ‘break time’ markers so you can stop, have a breather and mull over what you’ve read. But the general idea is about mastering the basis of mindfulness – i.e. how to stop an overactive mind. Useful basics that everyone should know.
7. The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
Written by an American neuro-psychiatrist, this contains an amazing mixture of science, psychology and real-world anecdotes that take you through why you feel certain things at different points in your life. (Plus, why men probably don’t). Anyone with oestrogen needs to read it.
Still want more? Here are The Glow Teams' top reads for summer:
What's your favourite self-help book?