“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
We’ve focused mainly on fiction genres in recent posts, but this month we’re going to take a closer look at a nonfiction genre: self-help. The purpose of self-help books is to provide tools and information that allow people to use their own efforts and resources to achieve goals, without relying on the help of others. Books in this genre can provide guidelines and advice on improving one’s economic standing, intellectual powers, emotional state of mind, or feelings of self-worth.
The concept of personal development has been around for thousands of years. In ancient cultures, philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were concerned with people living a good life and flourishing. To flourish, they thought, a person must examine his or her life in intentional and directed ways. This self-reflection and examination of one’s life was necessary in order to care for one’s soul. In fact, Socrates famously stated that “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
While philosophy formed the basis of “self-help” for millennia, the term itself has a much shorter history. In 1859, Scottish author and government reformer Samuel Smiles published a book entitled Self-Help, which encouraged readers to avoid materialism and focus on gaining knowledge instead. By the time he died in 1904, his book had sold more than 250,000 copies and launched the genre, which remains popular today.
Traditionally, interest in self-help books peaked each January when New Year’s resolutions triggered thoughts about self-improvement and personal development. In recent years, however, celebrity endorsements and publicity on TV and websites have helped make self-help books popular year-round. The demand for science-backed self-help is also showing an upswing. New trends in psychology have filtered into self-help, giving hard, scientific fact to support ideas on habit forming, mindset, happiness and other major themes of self-help. It’s no longer just a case of “‘this worked for me so you should give it a try.”
Self-help books cover many topics and can help make your life better in countless ways. From marriage advice to attitude adjustments, lifestyle improvements to how-to books, the self-help genre offers information and advice to help motivate and inspire you.