Why should there be a stigma against self-help books? After all, “self” is a good word. And “help” is a pretty good word.
But you’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. That little turning up of the nose when people speak about the self-help section.
Sure, in some bookstores, the section has a brand new title with “personal development,” but we still know what it is.
I recently heard professor Angela Duckworth of UPenn speak, and she talked about the words “self” and “help” being good words on their own. She also added that there shouldn’t by definition be anything wrong with self-help books. But, she continued, it may be the fact that a lot of the conclusions and results of the books have not at all been tested in any way that tends to put people off. I’d add that it’s like reading opinion books – “I suggest you do this” versus “Well, I suggest you try this other thing.”
But some books just catch on… sometimes there’s a “vigor without rigor” Angela says. And that’s where Positive Psychology comes in. That’s where Positive Psychology can add bang for the buck.
There are studies that you can get excited about because they’ve been shown to be stable again and again. For example:
- Business teams function best when the ratio of positive comments in the team to negative comments is about 3:1 (for marriages, the optimal ratio is 5:1). Fredrickson/Losada and Gottman.
- People who have had episodes of depression are much more likely to have follow-on episodes. Seligman and others.
- When you improve self-control in one area of your life, it will filter through into other areas of your life. Baumeister and others.
- When a pilot group of Ann Taylor store employees used their strengths for a whole year, their increase in store sales – if projected to cover all of Ann Taylor – would have resulted in a 10% increase in sales. Gallup.
- People experience more “flow” at work than at home. Csikszentmihalyi and others.
That’s a good reason to like Positive Psychology – because it adds rigor to those things we’ve always wanted to question and study but just may not have yet.