It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Optimism for Sale

One of the perks of blogging – apart from you, all my wonderful readers and commenters – is the attention you sometimes garner from publishing types. Publishing types who then send you books. Free books!!

(For some reason, most of the books I’ve been offered have been self-help books. Should I be concerned? Is the Universe trying to tell me something? If it is, I’ve read enough of these books to know the proper response: be open to the Guidance of the Universe.)

Thus, this semi-regular influx of Improving Literature has helped me create a highly satisfactory morning routine. Each day, in the quiet space I preserve for myself by getting up an hour or two before everyone else in the house, I zip through my morning housework routine then make myself a cup of tea and retreat to the front porch with a notebook, pen, and a book, often a self-help book.

Now, you may be of the percentage of the population that holds the whole self-help industry in some suspicion, giving it a long, lean, dubious look before passing on. That’s okay. Some days I’m in that camp, too, but, for reasons I’d never before stopped to consider, I’ve always found the idea of self-help books appealing. Now that I have them arriving in my mailbox, little surprise packages of how-to and you-can-do-it, I’ve grown to understand their appeal – their appeal to me, at any rate.

Self-help books, you see, trade in optimism. In hope. Sure, your life may not be all you desire right now, but look what you could have! See? It’s all possible!

And you know what? I think they’re on to something. Now, stop being cynical. I’m not talking about the millions that are made from selling these books and seminars and DVDs and workshops and, and, and…

Can we all, every one of us, be slim, healthy and long-lived, be in perfect relationships and have beautiful, obedient children, our dream home, and the perfect job? Oh, and rich beyond the dreams of avarice, of course. All of us? You know, something tells me that it just may not be feasible for the every person on our weary old planet to achieve such heights.

And yet…

Just because we all can’t have it all (and we can’t), doesn’t mean we can’t each improve our lot in meaningful, permanent ways. And why shouldn’t we try? In fact, I’d turn that around: we should try. I think it’s a basic human drive. We need to try. Consider how much depression and/or dissatisfaction with life stems from the feeling that we’re not improving, that we’re stuck in a rut, that nothing will change. Consider how much satisfaction comes from tweaking your life, from identifying goals and striving towards them.

No two people will have the same sets of goals. For me, relationships, home and career feature high in my pantheon of desires; great wealth is low on the list, and fame doesn’t even feature. Someone else’s will be quite different, may include things I’ve never considered. Whatever our goals and desire, we all have them, and we’ve all felt frustrated by things that just don’t change.

Self-help books? They offer a leg-up out of that rut, the possibility of change, the hope of a brighter, more fulfilling future.

The books can’t change you, of course. You do that for yourself. Or not. But they can offer guidance, a fresh perspective, ideas, a goal, a plan of attack, or a strategy, a little encouragement, and maybe even a hint of inspiration.

Not so shabby for $19.95.

July 19, 2007 - Posted by | books, health and safety


  1. I’ve always said this is the great appeal of both drugstores and hardware stores – the promise to be able to improve, repair, or upgrade anything about you or your home. All right there! (In fact, I’m reading Not Buying It, and she posits that all consumerism is about that Hope.)

    Comment by kittenpie | July 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. I have one or two that I’ve almost worn out with reading.

    Comment by ann adams | July 21, 2007 | Reply

  3. Wifey’s away, so I thought I’d comment – not in her stead though.

    The pessimist’s creedo:

    If you expect the negative, it will happen and you can run around saying “See, I was right!”

    If it doesn’t happen, the worst result is you will be pleasantly surprised 🙂


    Comment by Wolfen | July 21, 2007 | Reply

  4. Kittenpie: Another interesting-sounding book for my continually-lengthening book list! I feel the same way about hardware stores, and also craft and fabric stores. Ooo, the potential!!

    Ann: Probably one of my all-time favourites is Richard Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. A great book.

    Wolfen: Surprised by the good, vindicated by the bad, but never experiencing the satisfaction of feeling any level of control for anything that happens to you? Whatever floats yer boat…

    Comment by MaryP | July 21, 2007 | Reply

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