Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Color me skeptical ...

... Mark Vernon on The Self-Help Summit. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I don't know. It all strikes me as another example of the contemporary epidemic of narcissism. I'm with Henry Miller: Happiness consists in finding a more or less pleasant way of passing the time.


  1. Hi Frank,

    I think your answer is the short and short-term answer.

    Happiness also has to do with having a clear conscious. So we need to do things that will allow us the freedom to be happy, recognizing when we need to make amends or when they are possible.

    Happiness also means not having sorrow, happiness as opposed to sadness or even grief, which is a necessary part of human existence. If a loved-one dies, I may find it difficult to be happy no matter what I am doing--although my emotions may fluctuate depending on my focus.

    We also have sorrow for atrocities that take place or catastrophes following natural disasters. If there's been an atrocity, then there may be actions to take following, to ensure that such a thing does not happen again, or actions that lead to changes. Along these general lines, the China and the US summit is an opening for more happiness in the future, and it would be nice if there were some immediate benefits to humanity as well.

    One curious thing about this latter aspect, happiness as opposed to grief, is that it is possible that more happiness comes from having gone through the hardships that life has to offer. Indeed, one can be happier in less than ideal conditions. This is almost a requirement for aging, as the aches and pains get stronger, and the painful losses get more frequent.

    There is also attitude. My 53-year-young and beautiful stepmother just died a week ago. My father, who's in his 80th year, spoke at her funeral service, saying how when we receive a gift, we don't look at it, put it down, look back at the gift-giver and ask, "Okay, what else do you have for me?" We are thankful (and happy) for the great gift we have received.


  2. I'm with Rus on this.

    Also, point 7, that life advice can be found in literature, in the arts, in an overheard conversation somewhere—that's very true. I've gotten a great deal more useful advice and attitude correction from fiction than from most self-help books. Culture itself is indeed a deep and vast resource for help and support.

    And I also have learned that making art is better therapy, for me, than almost any self-help practices. With the exception of meditation, which I've been practicing in a loosely Zen framework for a long time, which also makes a positive difference.

  3. Like you, Art, what works best for me is work. Ned Rorem is reported to have said to someone once, "You must understand, I don't feel things deeply." I met Ned once. I would say that he does not feel things deeply in a superficial manner. He lets them sink down, so they can surface on their own later on. That's how I operate, too. In most immediately emotional situations, I try to calm myself down so I can observe what's going on. I guess that sounds a little cold-blooded, but there it is.

  4. I've never been a big fan of self-help books myself. But I found out about The Happiness Project through a family member and I was intrigued.

    The author addresses the issue of happiness and narcissism briefly in this blog post
    and in more depth in the book.

    The author is a former lawyer who gave up practicing because her love of literature and writing was stronger than her fondness for law. She sites a multitude of works -- both fiction and non-fiction -- as well as many brilliant minds, ancient through modern, to back up her explorations into increasing the happiness in one's life.

    I learned about myself reading this book and many tidbits of her advice stick with me still -- even after only one reading.

    Even to those who dislike self-help, I recommend checking out at least the blog, if not the book.