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Why You Should Read Self-help Books

Why You Should Read Self-help Books

We’re often encouraged to be dismissive of the idea of self-help books, but reading in order to grow emotionally is one of the most serious and important of all literary tasks. For gifts and more from The School of Life, visit our online shop:
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“There is no more ridiculed genre than the self-help book. Intellectually-minded people universally scorn the idea of them. Self-help books don’t appear on reading lists at any prestigious university, they’re not reviewed by highbrow journals and it’s inconceivable that a major literary prize could ever be awarded to one of their authors.
This concerted attack on the entire genre of self help is a symptom of a Romantic prejudice against the idea of Emotional Education. Offering explicit Emotional Education is regarded as beneath the dignity of any serious writer. We should – if we are at all intelligent – know how to live already…”

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Produced in collaboration with:

Nina Cosford


Animation by Ali Graham #TheSchoolOfLife


  1. See What I Did There? on February 7, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Interesting subject matter. You get a passing grade!

  2. Cliff DaRiff on February 7, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I call them Self Improvement Books…. A better title.

  3. Joe Alias on February 7, 2019 at 5:42 pm

    I agree with this to an extent. I think we have to acknowledge that the current "self-help" section deserves its reputation to a large extent. Most of them are fancy vocabularies for nothing more than this:
    1. The placebo effect
    2. The basic fact that trying to improve yourself–however you do it–leads to a sense of purpose and is preferable to letting yourself waste away
    3. The novelty effect (the sensation of hope that this will work, before it’s been given a fair try)
    4. The basic fact that it is possible to think of virtually any situation in a positive or a negative way.
    These things can all leads to improvements in one’s immediate situations, but that doesn’t justify delivering them to you inside a house built on a foundation of pure pseudoscience, as most of these are. Additionally, many of them also critically leave out these other basic facts about self-improvement
    1. That you don’t learn how to be better, you *train* yourself to be better. That means that, while following the advice of these books seems easy while you are reading them, without some expectation-setting, instructions for long-term practice, and methods of remaining accountable and evaluating your progress, then the effect lasts as long as it takes to read the book.
    2. That there is no route to the solution of your problems that does not go through both an honest acknowledgement of the reality of your problems and the flaws that cause them, and a vulnerable experience of your feelings. You can’t skip this, but many of these books make it seem like solving your problem is mechanical: do the steps and after that you’ll be fixed, and that no actual unpleasant experience is necessary.
    Maybe this is the cause of why self-help is poorly regarded. Or, maybe if self-help were well-regarded, we would have higher standards and wouldn’t let them get away with so much nonsense.

  4. Zman888 on February 7, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    George Carlin was right

  5. RUBÍ UZCÁTEGUI on February 7, 2019 at 5:44 pm

    I still don’t understand why self-helping books are so ridiculed. It’s the cheaper or quicker way of getting help for many. Self-helping is much better than complaining about your own suffering and not doing anything about. At least the person in need is DOING something.

  6. LazyLlama on February 7, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    The self help books as we see it today imo are garbage. No point in reading any of them unless your truly ready for action but if you really are then you are not reading them cause you are doing or working at what you want to do.

    You are trying to redefine what we generally perceive self help books are now in the current age to philosophical schools of thought in the classical age but they are not the same on one explores the process of thought and reasoning with no specific goal in mind the other "tries" to instruct its readers on solving personal problems and/or reaching their specific goals. How is the book to know? It can’t fundamentally help it doesn’t know your circumstances or who you are or what you want.

    There are only two questions you need to ask yourself when one is ready for change "Who are you?"
    "And what do YOU want?"
    Then act.

  7. Robert Martin on February 7, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    The problem is, IMHO, that self-help is either nonsense (think garbage like the secret), pop-psych (the only stuff in the genre really worth anything, and even then, most is worthless crap), or garbled western/eastern philosophy that you’d be better served learning via the original works or material from the actual philosophy section of the bookstore, which is the original self-help section anyway.

  8. Postmodern neo-Marxist Hoe, Dr.Gavagai on February 7, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    Why my argument is write and u should do the same?

  9. Elgen on February 7, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    I think books like "the Secret" are partly to blame for this. There are millions of self help books that do not help, and simply serve to make the reader feel good.

  10. Leonardo Ruiz on February 7, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    Alright just don’t you ever dare to put deepak chopra on the same category as my beloved Marcus Aurelius.

  11. TheDarkLord on February 7, 2019 at 5:53 pm


  12. Ryan N on February 7, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    War and Peace was self help?

  13. Caitlin Day on February 7, 2019 at 5:55 pm

    Did you just spoiler Proust?

  14. Emily Silliman on February 7, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Two books that changed my life are: "Letters to a Young Poet" by Rilke and "Man’s Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. These books challenged how I view and interact with the world, and even how I approach my own life. However, I never saw them as self help books until now. It makes me want to write such a book one day as well!

  15. Chun Wong on February 7, 2019 at 5:59 pm


  16. Buzzy Bee on February 7, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    Why would anyone “not like” this?

  17. lalala like this on February 7, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    So thats why you should buy my mixtape

  18. Alex Liu on February 7, 2019 at 6:01 pm

    …i fuckijg love selfhelp books, its like tje keys for a great life are all lying there for people to pick up… keys to open up so many new world. Kawledge man!!!

  19. Neil Laquian on February 7, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Self-help books are not really that bad, and they are good advice, especially from people of great experiences. The only thing is: Most of them doesn’t really give much solutions in real life and situations. There is fine line between attracting positive forces, and thinking reasonably to handle a situation, the latter is obvious way.

  20. staywithme on February 7, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    I’m dealing with constant rude remarks from my partner when I even try to look at any self-help book. He’s one of these people saying "you should already know how to live". Well, then teach me, you genius human being.

  21. kefsound on February 7, 2019 at 6:09 pm

    Yet again The School of Life ignores anything that is not of western origin.

  22. Infinty ! on February 7, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    Yes true. Here’s a funny experience, once my librarian said me…

    Read more

  23. OmAr LiVeS on February 7, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Who talking shit about my favorite genre of books? Fuck outta here. Good thing I was oblivious to the fact that this is looked down upon although I have noticed that when someone came to the section at Barnes and nobles I’m like, "look at this idiot." He don’t know how to live. So I am guilty of this. I didn’t know this is a wide spread outlook on the genre, tho.

  24. Gara Ameer on February 7, 2019 at 6:16 pm


  25. Mohamed Walid Belahdji on February 7, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    I will not judge all of them, because some of them are priceless like the 7 habits. But why they had been criticized is they provide false information without evidence like the law of attraction, and most of the time they give pieces of advice that suck and don’t work. At the end, I’m not talking about all of them, but most of them.

  26. Robert Martin on February 7, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    Since Emperor Marcus Aurelius never intended the Meditations to be published, you could reasonably argue that he didn’t write a self-help book. Unless you want to argue that any adult who’s kept a diary that went beyond "this is how I spent my time today and who I spent it with" has written a self-help book.

  27. surveyhart on February 7, 2019 at 6:19 pm

    lol good one… defeat the purpose

  28. dani waples on February 7, 2019 at 6:19 pm


  29. Developer LLL124 on February 7, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    Wow, another video about "Self-help" books that’s really just a distraction.

  30. kevinsince1993 on February 7, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    You should only read self-help books if you’re actually going to apply or use the knowledge. If not then don’t bother because it’s useless.

  31. G.P. Kim on February 7, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    50% of my ipad storage is
    filed with self-help books
    and they makes me as a
    better human being.

  32. Jackie B on February 7, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    "The guardians of culture" xD

  33. P. Z. on February 7, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    So what led to the sneering attitude towards selfhelp books ? Mayne they are trying to catch lost souls with good sounding but empty phrases ?

  34. Dave Albrecht on February 7, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    "Awaken The Giant Within" by Tony Robbins

  35. YogaPsych on February 7, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    That is a good explained video!

  36. Jessica Lee on February 7, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    the sound at 3:16 made my day

  37. Scrotumus Baggins on February 7, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    George Carlin has a funny saying about this that goes something like: "If you did it yourself, you didn’t need help. And if you needed help, you didn’t do it yourself. So self-help books don’t make any sense."

  38. worldfilledwithmore on February 7, 2019 at 6:27 pm

    Wait, what? I thought it was clear that nobody knew how to live.

  39. Hafeleni Hamunyela on February 7, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    It never helped me. It only made me feel special and boosted my ego. They are so addicting that you feel as if you need to watch every motivational video and read any book. I’m my opinion I think that it’s how they make money of of you. I don’t want my motivation to rely on them. It should come within. And after I stopped being obsessed, I actually started doing work rather than imagining.

  40. EYE OF THE WATCH on February 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    I love self-help books because I love psychology.

  41. Belle Nguyen on February 7, 2019 at 6:29 pm

    This video did not get the rep it deserves <3 thank you….much love

  42. Luciana C on February 7, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Gente, por que o título do vídeo está em português e ninguém teve o trabalho de traduzir o conteúdo?
    Por acaso o Inglês já se tornou universal?!
    Quem é brasileiro tem obrigação de saber inglês como se fosse a língua mãe?
    Vamos colaborar, né?

  43. Jeffrey Blend on February 7, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    Self-help books tend to trigger me to feel worse.

  44. Elgen on February 7, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    Yo, do an episode on Herman Hesse, Ernest Hemingway or Knut Hamsun.

  45. Karennn w on February 7, 2019 at 6:32 pm

    just a side note, the animation is really cute 🙂

  46. The School of Life on February 7, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Happy New Year from everyone at The School of LIfe. Be sure to join us on our app to discuss more interesting topics with like-minded people:

  47. Houssem Mallem on February 7, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    I go to a bookshop looking for some philsophy and history books and all that I can see is shelves full of Self-help books.

  48. Rising Star on February 7, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    I don’t see the universe conspiring before me.

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