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.


4 Comments

  1. Posted Tuesday September 11, 2007 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    Wow cool post Senia! Gotta admit, sometimes people’s negativity and cynicism about self-help and personal growth can get me down.

    Good to know there’s some real-world backing of the benefits of positive psychology in action!

  2. Posted Thursday September 13, 2007 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I think many people had way too high expectations when they read a self-help book and were disappointed. And now they’re all cynical about self-help. Too bad. On the other hand, it’s still a section in the bookstore that sells really well so although we act like we look down on self-development books, we buy them anyway :)

  3. Posted Thursday September 13, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I also think that maybe some of us are nervous about admitting our interest in self help, for fear of looking clueless or “pathetic”. Ah, American culture.

    There are many inspirational and informative ideas, tools, practices and research that are shelved in the self help section. Sure, there are a lot of not-so-great books there, too.

    Thanks for emphasizing that positive psychology is based on research.

  4. Posted Thursday September 13, 2007 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    That’s true, Heather.

    And the most important thing IMHO is if the book HELPS YOU – that’s all that matters. Research-based or not. If something helps you, great!!!

    Thanks for the note.

One Trackback

  1. […] Allen wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptI 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. … […]