Self-help books have insights, but there’s a lot of padding. Like life, these books are what you make them – you can have that one for free, writes Jo Cribb.

Opinion: You know the genre. Self-help books.

The title of the book is usually a verb about something the author has read some research on and thinks they can spin for 300 pages. The subtitle is always about how it will create unparalleled change in your life. 

There seems to be a book on every facet of human existence. Sleeping. Breathing. Thinking. Eating. Copulating.

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I couldn’t help myself. In my annual New Year’s quest to be ‘a better person’, I delved into two specimens.

The first, The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again by Catherine Price, seemed like a sure bet. The past couple of years have certainly sucked the fun out of life, right? Price promises to bring all that back.

She makes some interesting points. Our lives are ultimately made up of what we pay attention to. Attention is our most valuable resource, and we all start with the same amount.Our attention is irreplaceable – once we have used it, we don’t get it back. Once we have provided for our basic needs, Price argues, where we choose to direct our attention will affect our quality of life. 

But most of us spend too much of our discretionary time on what she terms ‘fake fun’ – doing things we think we should do, that aren’t actually fun. Such as spending time with people we don’t actually like, out of politeness. 

To feel alive again, we need to banish our perfectionist tendencies, try new things, do things we suck at but enjoy, and rebel against our routines.

This is all very wise, except that the worst thing that perfect Ms Price can think of telling us happened to her is falling out of a canoe when learning to row. Most pages I just wanted to make dirty footprints on her no doubt perfectly clean floors and leave messy handprints on her glass sliding doors. 

Yes, she made me reflect that I need to create time for more fun, but I also immensely enjoyed myself mocking how she presented a squeaky-clean image of herself while arguing we should do the opposite. Now that was fun.

My second foray was into Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play: When No One has Time by Brigid Schulte. For the first 256 pages, Schulte describes how we are all overwhelmed, especially working mothers. At the end of reading that, I needed a stiff drink. 

But then she does try to identify some solutions to that feeling that we are never on top of our to-do lists. 

She points out that being overwhelmed usually stems from trying to live several lives at once (like trying to be the most engaged mother, best housekeeper, ultra-marathoner, and ideal worker all at once). We need to be clear on our priorities and allocate our time accordingly. 

As our time horizons shorten (a polite way of saying as we get closer to dying), we become clearer on our priorities. She argues that we should tap into some of that thinking throughout our lives. 

Then she loses me. Women, she argues, need to stand up for themselves and be better at negotiating flexible work. Ah, but what about their partners being more engaged? Or workplaces that care about their workers and their families so that women (and men) don’t need to be shrill?

My summary of both books: there are insights, but they come with a lot of padding. There is also good stuff there if you make ‘Live, Love, Laugh’ signs and want inspiration for some more slogans.

But like life, these books are what you make them (you can have that one for free). 

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