Monday 22 April 2019

Lorraine Courtney: You can have anything you want – so long as you buy the right self-help book

Julia Roberts in the movie Eat Pray Love. The book that the film was based on sold more than 10 million copies in 30 languages before Roberts bought the film rights and played the lead character
Julia Roberts in the movie Eat Pray Love. The book that the film was based on sold more than 10 million copies in 30 languages before Roberts bought the film rights and played the lead character

IREAD 'The Power' last year because I wanted to change my life. "You are meant to have an amazing life", 'The Power' told me. "You are meant to have everything you love and desire".

I want an iPhone, a job and Kevin Spacey. And apparently I can have all of this without doing very much. You see, 'The Power' is basically a condensation of 'The Secret', and 'The Secret's' big non-secret, the Law of Attraction, is you can have anything at all you want just by wishing for it enough.

The universe is, in fact, just like one ginormous Asos.com. It's quite a claim.

The list of self-help books around right now is endless. 'How to Walk in High Heels'. 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus'. 'The Rules'. 'He's Just Not That Into You'. 'The Goddess Guide'. 'The New Rules of Attraction'. On and on it goes. There are limitless self-appointed spiritual gurus and pop psychologists waiting to lead us down the path of success, everlasting love, money and empowerment.

Why? Because we're not able to make our own choices any more and must consult a CD or book instead.

Back in 1859, social reformer Samuel Smiles published the very first self-help book, called 'Self-Help'. It opens by telling us, "heaven helps those who help themselves." The book was an instant hit that outsold Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species'. There were a quarter of a million books sold during Smiles's lifetime alone.

Self-help books chase each other out of the shops. In the US, the cult of self-help is worth more than $10bn (€7.3bn).

For every book there is a sequel or a copycat. Following John Gray's best-seller 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus' came 'Mars and Venus on a Date', and 'Mars and Venus: Starting Over'.

Rhonda Byrne has given us 'The Secret', 'The Power' and now 'The Hero'. But which to believe? Eek.

The recent Behaviour and Attitudes survey showed that there is a god-shaped hole in our lives. Just 10pc of twenty-somethings and 15pc of thirty-somethings look to the Catholic Church for emotional comfort. So we are turning to books like 'Eat, Pray, Love' – Elizabeth Gilbert's easy-to-digest tale of her own spiritual awakening that made the idea more mass-market than ever.

It contains such mushy gems as, "A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave."

The book sold more than 10 million copies in 30 languages even before Julia Roberts bought the film rights and played the lead character opposite Javier Bardem. When Gilbert came to Dublin last month, her public talk in Liberty Hall was crammed full of fawning female fans.

Whether you find books like Gilbert's uplifting or just plain daft obviously depends on your current level of neediness.

But clearly quasi-spiritual, trite self-help books will allow any self-appointed guru to make money from the impressionable.

Alchemists and snake-oil salesmen have been peddling potions to bring wealth, health and happiness forever. These days, they come in book form with accompanying CD ROMs and we go on hoping, foolishly, that there just might be something in it this time.

I do want to be fair, though. Some of these books definitely contain some excellent nuggets of inspiration. It's just that those teeny nuggets are then inflated into 60,000-word books and, well, my life is far too short.

Besides, if the books actually worked, we might not need so many of them. We also might not be a nation of overweight, borderline alcoholic begrudgers. And who's to say that life would actually become any better if we got promoted, lost weight or found a boyfriend.

I've followed Byrne's advice. I'm sleeping on one side of the bed. I've cleared out a shelf in my wardrobe. I set my table for two every night. I'm thinking very positive thoughts but I wake up every morning and Kevin isn't beside me.

Irish Independent

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