Feb 05

“Swearing Is Good”: Plus Two Other Self-Help Books

How do you feel about swearing? Below are three recent and popular self-help books that either use swearing to make their points or support a belief that, as the third title suggests, “swearing is good.”

I. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (2016), by Mark Manson.

Jennifer Haupt, Psychology Today, lists eight things many of us may care too much about, per Manson:

  1. Impressing other people
  2. Being right all the time
  3. Being “successful”
  4. Being pleasant and polite
  5. Being happy
  6. Feeling good all the time
  7. Being “perfect”
  8. Feeling secure and certain

How can you change this, i.e., not give a f**k? Manson presented this book excerpt in a blog post :

SUBTLETY #1: NOT GIVING A FUCK DOES NOT MEAN BEING INDIFFERENT; IT MEANS BEING COMFORTABLE WITH BEING DIFFERENT

SUBTLETY #2: TO NOT GIVE A FUCK ABOUT ADVERSITY, YOU MUST FIRST GIVE A FUCK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN ADVERSITY

SUBTLETY #3: WE ALL HAVE A LIMITED NUMBER OF FUCKS TO GIVE; PAY ATTENTION TO WHERE AND WHO YOU GIVE THEM TO

Kirkus Reviews:

Popular blogger Manson…criticizes self-help books for their fundamentally flawed approach of telling readers they’re special, assuring them that they can surpass—but, notably, not solve—problems, and encouraging them to embrace their exceptionalism. The author sternly disagrees…Throughout, the author continually slaps readers sharply across the face, using blunt, funny, and deceptively offhand language when expanding on his key principle…This book, full of counterintuitive suggestions that often make great sense, is a pleasure to read and worthy of rereading.

II. Unf*ck Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life (2017), by Gary John Bishop.

From the publisher’s blurb:

Are you tired of feeling fu*ked up? If you are, Gary John Bishop has the answer. In this straightforward handbook, he gives you the tools and advice you need to demolish the slag weighing you down and become the truly unfu*ked version of yourself. ‘Wake up to the miracle you are,’ he directs. ‘Here’s what you’ve forgotten: You’re a fu*king miracle of being.’

The following seven assertions serve as Bishop’s focus:

I am willing.
I am wired to win.
I got this.
I embrace the uncertainty.
I am not my thoughts; I am what I do.
I am relentless.
I expect nothing and accept everything.

“Remember, everything is solve-able,” states Bishop, “and if you can’t see a solution, it only means you haven’t worked it out yet.”

III. Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language (2018), by Emma Byrne 

On her website Emma Byrne refers to herself as “the Sweary Scientist.” So, her Swearing Is Good for You could be viewed as “the sweary book.”

“Byrne’s book is just the latest evidence that we’re moving toward a more cursing-positive culture,” reports Danielle Friedman, The Cut. “Over the past few years, a growing body of pro-swearing research has suggested cursing can be linked to everything from intelligence to authenticity to a greater ability to withstand pain.”

Kirkus Reviews: Swearing Is Good for You “is divided into seven parts covering neuroscience, pain, a special look at Tourette’s syndrome (though she admits that most afflicted with the disease don’t swear), the workplace, primates, gender, and swearing in other languages.”

It’s not, however, about swearing with abandon; rather, while swearing can serve certain purposes in limited quantities, it can also harm. About the latter, for instance, reviewer Andrew Anthony, The Guardian, states, “In terms of disputes, swearing can just as often be a trigger as a defuser. As Byrne goes on to note: ‘In order to swear you need an understanding of the psychology of others…to be able to anticipate how your words are likely to make someone feel’.”

Jul 20

“How to Be Miserable”: Some Reverse Psychology

If you realize that if you want to feel worse, you could be completely inactive, get no exercise, eat nonnutritious food, or compare yourself negatively to others, you can then go, well, wait a minute, maybe I could do the opposite of that and that would be helpful. Author Randy Paterson, explaining the premise of How to Be Miserable to Science of Us

Just reading self-help books won’t make you happy, you may have noticed. As presented in Randy Paterson‘s tongue-in-cheek How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use, ignoring or rebelling against commonly prescribed advice won’t help either.

Obviously some reverse psychology is his aim. The four main parts of How to Be Miserable involve Adopting a Miserable Lifestyle, How to Think Like an Unhappy Person, Hell is Other People, and Living a Life Without Meaning.

Giving a listen to his podcast (The Art of Manliness) on this topic revealed the following key points:

  • We stay miserable by “fixing” things only in the short-term, using remedies that are not helpful, e.g., overeating when you’d really feel better eating more healthily.
  • Some of the lifestyle habits we commonly perpetuate are poor eating, lack of exercise, maximizing our screen time, and minimizing our social life.
  • Our non-workable goals are VAPID: V for vague, A for amorphous, P for pie-in-the-sky, I for irrelevant, D for delayed.
  • The more accepting we are of so-called negative emotions, the less they affect us.
  • Misery often leads to social isolation. On the other hand, socializing can lead to misery when we do such things as compare ourselves unfavorably to others and fail to set appropriate boundaries.
  • One question to ask ourselves that can lead to positive change: What would you do if you were already good enough?

The following are some quotes by Paterson from interviews with David Marchese, Science of Us (the first two) and Gayle MacDonald, Globe and Mail:

If we can accept distressing feelings for what they are — part of the normal flow of human emotion —then, paradoxically, we will be less distressed. Our distress comes not from experiencing those emotions, but from our reaction to them as being unacceptable or abnormal.

It’s beginning to look like exercise is probably the most powerful antidepressant we’ve got.

Part of the problem is expectations. We have told people they can be almost unfailingly happy. And their expectation is that they will attain it. But the human mind is not aimed at 100-per-cent happiness all of the time. If you expect to be able to leap eight feet, and you can only leap five, you’re going to be constantly disappointed. Sadness, anxiety, disappointment are all normal parts of life. So striving for happiness is like trying to reach the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, to use an overused cliché.

In the past, we knew and understood that life is difficult. That grief is inevitable. That disappointment is part of life. We seem to have been engaging in societal denial of this essential reality. Formerly, we may have simply thought: “Today I’m sad.” Now we tend to think something has to be fundamentally the matter. Perhaps I have a disease? God, what’s wrong with me? Whereas, often the simple answer is: You have a life.

Sep 18

F*ck Feelings (Well, At Least to Some Degree): A New Book

…I think the words “feel” and “fair” are dangerous 4-letter f-words, and urge you to avoid them, together with “should” and “why.” Michael Bennett , MD, “F*ck Feelings: Our M*nifesto”

If you’re skeptical that a self-help book can really help, psychiatrist Michael Bennett and daughter/comedy writer Sarah Bennett, non-readers themselves of the genre, believe they can offer you something different. But it’s still in the form of a book, which is called F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problems.

Go to Dr. Bennett’s website and you’ll find that he uses Dr. Lastname as a pseudonym for the purposes of doling out advice. “Why? Because real doctors go by their last names, and you shouldn’t let the Phils, Lauras, Nicks, and Drews cause you more pain.”

Kirkus Reviews: “First, a word about the invectives here: they are legion. ‘Given life’s cruelty and unfairness,’ the Bennetts believe that ‘profanity is a source of comfort, clarity, and strength.’ They may be on to something, for the liberal sprinkling of profanities is not only pointed, but they ring loudly in your head so as not to ring loudly at those with whom you have issues, which rarely improves matters.”

Some of the specific bits of guidance? For one, figure out what you can’t control. From their FAQ:

The Serenity Prayer, which insists that you should always give first priority to identifying and accepting what you can’t control before deciding what to do next, is a useful way of approaching many of life’s seemingly insurmountable problems. If you don’t learn to move beyond what you can’t control about a problem, be it an addiction or a difficult relationship, your wishes and expectations become dangerous. Although this prayer is most often used by people in recovery from addiction, the principle of confronting your limitations prior to setting your goals is essential for all constructive problem-solving.

Additional elements, as gleaned from an interview with the Bennetts by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic:

  • Using common sense
  • Having a sense of humor about “how much life sucks”
  • Practicing not always saying what you really feel to others. Dr. Bennett says, per Sarah, “it’s like letting go of intestinal gas: It leads to a moment of catharsis but it poisons the air for everyone around you.”
  • Sarah states that the common approach of getting someone to admit wrongness and then beg you for forgiveness lacks legs. “When you’re dealing with someone who’s an asshole, that’s never going to happen. Let it go in a way that you don’t feel compelled to [wait] for them to have that revelation. Because waiting for that is probably going to be painful or disappointing.”

And more from Alexandra Tunell, Harper’s Bazaar, who lists “five refreshingly blunt takeaways” from the book (click on the link for details):

1) Realize that The Secret is bullsh*t.
2) Embrace your negative side.
3) Accept that addiction, by nature, is uncontrollable.
4) Erase the word ‘closure’ from your vocabulary.
5) It’s okay to hate people you love.

Selected Reviews

Gail Erlick Robinson, psychiatrist: “Despite the in-your-face title, Dr. Michael Bennett really does believe in feelings. He just thinks that there is only so much time that one should spend examining one’s belly button searching for answers or getting hung up on guilt or anger. Instead, people should recognize and accept their flaws and get on with modifying or changing their behaviors and attitudes.”

Edward Hallowell, MD: “F*ck Feelings offers not only reliable, practical, and eminently useful advice to deal with all of life’s various points of pain, but it is also funny, engaging, intelligent, and warm. Full of arresting examples and memorable quips, the book will help anyone who reads it to replace fool’s gold with the genuine gem of wisdom.”

Jen Kirkman, stand-up comedian and author of I Can Barely Take Care of Myself“It gives clear examples of our own circular thinking and how to accept our feelings but not always cater to them, and it’s FUNNY. Because life – even when it sucks – is FUNNY.”

May 03

Psychobabble and Self-Help: A Book By Psychologist Stephen Briers

A recent book by British psychologist Stephen Briers, called Psychobabble: Exploding the Myths of the Self-Help Generation (2012), takes on the industry of self-help books.

In an interview with Lucy Walton, Female First, Briers explains:

For me the term ‘psychobabble’ is just a cheeky way of referring to what happens when ideas from psychology are hijacked and carelessly injected into the wider culture without due care and attention to what they mean or respect for the limits of our current understanding. In my experience self-help books can be amongst the worst offenders. They may adopt the language, jargon and buzz words of scientific psychology – but often there’s precious little that’s scientific about them. We dress up opinion, superstition and wishful thinking as if they stem from an established understanding of what human nature is all about.

It’s not that he’s opposed to self-help books. He just wants us to be more thoughtful and aware of what we’re being asked to swallow. Moreover, he doesn’t want us to fall for the oft-perpetrated self-help lie that life doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Briers lists the top five myths of self-help books on New Humanist. They’re listed below with descriptions excerpted from his essay:

1. The root of all your problems is low self-esteem.

All the evidence suggests that your self-esteem rating does not predict the quality of your relationships or how long they will last…The science suggests that, if our self-esteem is riding high, we may feel great, but we may also be slightly delusional.

2. You can control your life.

Life can be frightening, unpredictable and unfathomable at times…As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell shrewdly observed in The Power of Myth, ‘We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.’

3. You can never be too assertive.

Most books on assertiveness are ultimately manuals on how to gain the upper hand. They have a place but let’s not fool ourselves: passive aggression is aggression nonetheless.

4. You should let your feelings out.

…(T)here is emerging evidence that letting it all out isn’t always necessarily the best strategy. After the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, University of Buffalo researchers found that witnesses who ignored a request to record their feelings actually fared better psychologically and physically than those who agreed to write their emotions down. And while we are routinely taught that ‘letting your anger out’ is good for us, reviewing 40 years of evidence led Professor Jeffrey Lohr, a leading clinical psychologist from the University of Arkansas, to conclude that the expression of anger actually intensifies feelings of aggression.

5. We must all strive to be happy.

Modern psychology agrees with the ancients that feelings of pleasure and contentment are the felicitous byproducts of a life well lived, rather than prizes to be grabbed directly. The 19th-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne gave us a poetic but fairly neat summary of the situation: ‘Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.’

Why or how do psychobabble and self-help books grab our collective attention? Through fear, Briers tells Walton at Female First: “Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being out of control. Fear of being unhappy…”

If, in fact, you’re currently afraid you’re not “leaning in” enough or you’re not “vulnerable” enough or you can’t crack Dr. Phil’s “life code” or feel the “power of now,” you’re part of a large group of today’s book buyers. And that’s okay (and you’re okay). Just don’t be fooled into thinking a book is necessarily going to change your life in a significant way, Briers may tell you. “The secret” is that it rarely does.

May 08

Augusten Burroughs: “This Is How” Dispenses Self-Help Advice

This is how you survive the unsurvivable, this is how you lose that which you cannot bear to lose, this is how you reinvent yourself, overcome your abusers, fulfill your ambitions and meet the love of your life: by following what is true, no matter where it leads you. Augusten Burroughs, This Is How

In 2006 the best-selling memoir of Augusten BurroughsRunning With Scissors, in which he relates his account of being adopted by his mother’s nutty psychiatrist when neither parent can raise him, was made into a movie. Great cast, not so great film.

Watch the trailer below to get an idea of how he perceives his childhood:

Among his various other books is Dry, a memoir of his later recovery from alcoholism. According to Wikipedia, Burroughs is currently writing a version of this to be a series on Showtime.

In his latest book, out today, Burroughs tries his hand at offering us advice on all types of issues. And here’s the title—This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike. Have I mentioned his dark sense of humor?

The following NSFW video features a blunt Burroughs saltily introducing his book:

Amanda Lovell, More: “…a self-help book that’s shrewd, funny and so full of tough love, it practically reaches out and shakes you by the shoulders.”

Kirkus Reviews: “Despite pages of platitudes, Burroughs provides plenty of worthy material on the absurdity of the human condition and the unpredictability of contemporary life.”

Click here if you’re interested in a schedule of his book tour.