One of my Christmas books LAST YEAR was Practically Perfect in Every Way by one of Brain, Child's editors/founders Jennifer Niesslein. I wrote notes in my notebook about it on Dec. 26th 2007, but they were so extensive that I never got around to actually get them onto my blog. So, now that it is practically the one year "anniversary" of my reading the book, it is high time I actually post about it! It was quite good and it made me think a great deal about my own penchant for self-help books (the subtitle of this book is "my misadventures through the world of self-help and back"). I enjoyed the book a great deal, though I don't have many specific notes/quotes about it, itself. What I have are notes about how I felt/things I realized while reading it. So, this isn't a review post per se, but more like ruminations and navel-gazing! Kind of stream-of-consciousness as I transcribe it now.
The author employs an ongoing analogy between her emotions and a glove that is fitting right or is "twisted." She expresses that she feels emotionally "neutral" most of the time--sometimes on the happy side, sometimes on the "glove is twisted" side (off balance, sad/crabby side). My husband seems like this to me as well--we've discussed it actually--that he is emotionally "neutral." When we talked about it, I used my hands wildly to demo the imaginary line of my own emotions and how I am rarely at neutral and would kind of like to be. Instead I seem mild cyclothymic in my emotions/attitudes towards life, swinging fairly rapidly from buoyancy and mild euphoria to despair and doubt. I am well aware this sounds manic-depressive, but it isn't anywhere close to that level (I do have a copy of the DSM-IV, thankyouverymuch). Though, when considering whether I'd like to be neutral truly, I realize that if giving up the despair bits meant also giving up the wellspring of joy--I'll keep the occasional despair! (And yes, I'm also aware that bipolar people say the same thing about their manic phases.)
Almost two years ago, I had a realization that there is a current of sorts underlying all of my feelings and when I tune into it I can "dip my toe in" and see how it feels--sometimes the current itself is sad, though a switch of some kind flicked when Z turned 1 (PPD?) and several other significant experiences occurred and I had a physical sensation that the current had become a wellspring of joy underlying anything else I experience. This has basically continued to be true. The "upper" level (i.e. above the current) mood shifts occur (I can be really happy and really sad), but the current running below them is happy now instead of sad. I feel like a spent a couple of years with a "sad current" instead and, YAY! to have a wellspring of joy instead. Okay, so my point is that at one point I had said that I'd like the current to be "neutral," but I don't think I really do. Too "dulled" or something.
Okay, back to the book a little. The author decides to embark on a year-long quest for self-improvement and to become happier. This causes me to reflect on whether happiness is a "right" or a "worthy goal" even. My life might be simpler if I operated under a happiness principle--sort of an "if it makes me happy, do it, if it doesn't stop." I do a lot of things in life--that are of my own choosing--that do not make me happy, though they do not necessarily make me sad either (side note: when I originally wrote this a year ago, this was true. Now, I've made a variety of life changes that have me doing a lot less--things of my own choosing--that does not make me happy). OTOH, seeking happiness exclusively is a sure recipe for unhappiness, not to mention is self-centered, narcissistic, and unreasonable. One of my books (Nothing Special?) makes several points about happiness not being our right and why do we persist in thinking we should be happy all the time or that we should try to be happier or only seek happiness (this, according to her, is instead a sure route to disappointment and frustration. The whole seek pleasure, avoid pain thing is the antithesis of Zen. A very egocentric, selfish, unenlightened, and animalistic way to approach one's life course).
Heck, I don't know what to think. This is an example of how I carry too much info in my head and other people's voices drown out my own gut responses...
Okay, back to the book again. She notes that improving herself is a full-time job and left little time for anything else. Basically, it caused her to think about herself all the time.
As I read this, I began to ponder that it could well be possible that all the self-help book reading I do actually makes me less happy and less able to help myself? Trying to do things someone else's "expert" way sometimes clicks and sometimes not (using day planners for example. I'm an organized person, day planners would logically appeal to me. They DO NOT WORK for me at all. I've basically never used one. My little grid is what works for me. I spent a number of years trying to make myself use a planner though, before I stumbled on my fabulous grid-system). However, what/how long is a fair try of someone else system, or moving out of your comfort zone enough to really evaluate the value of self-help.
I read tons of it. Seems somehow more "productive" or "worthwhile" than other types of reading (but, in reality, might make me more self-centered, feel guiltier, etc.). Reading these books gives me an illusion of "productivity" when really I do not DO most of what is in the books, just leap upon the next one (and practically speaking, how much self-improvement can I actually do while lying there nursing the baby). It makes me feel like I'm "doing something" and might lessen the uncomfortableness of being?
Interestingly (to myself!), I read little to no self-help re: parenting and NONE re: marriage, which indicates to me that I feel good/successful about the relationships in my life. I also read no home organizing/organizing self-help and almost no financial self-help (simple living reading squared the financial box away for me back int 2001 or so). I read personal self-help/improvement (selfish? Or low self-esteem?). There are so many things to do to get it right according to each expert that then not doing them, adds guilt to my life. OTOH, my husband does NOT read self-help ever and seems generally happier and more relaxed about life than I do (this is also just our personalities!). I started reading it during my first pregnancy in 2003 (I was a primarily fiction and textbooks reader before that) and it has not lost its grip since.
Upon making these realizations, I decide to take self-help book "fast." I go to my to-read bookshelf and count how many self-help books I have there waiting to be read. There are THIRTY! Not to mention 24 more masquaraders (those that are not labeled "self-help" on the back, but clearly have "improving YOU!" as their prime message). I also have 25 additional self-help/self-improvement books on my wish list at Amazon that I move to a separate list. Isn't this bizarre?!
Okay, I'm going to have to finish this later, because it is insanely long (and possibly insane!) already and I have like 5 notebook pages left to go!