In Defense of Self-Help

Question: Do you consider your work and your books self-help?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Okay. I most certainly see my books, my writing, my teaching as self-help. Self-help in the traditional sense. Self-help was, to a great extent, about applying yourself, about cultivating character, about working hard toward self-cultivation, toward more success and well-being. And this is what I attempt to do through my teachings.

Question: Do you think self-help is particularly important today?

Tal Ben-Shahar: I believe that taking responsibility for one's life, for one's happiness is critical. It's critical at any time; it's especially important during difficult times and the misunderstanding that many people have about happiness and joy is that it can come somehow from the outside; whereas, more and more research, more and more experiences, suggest that it can only come from within. Another words we need to help ourselves.

Question: Does self-help work deserve any of the stigma associated with it?

Tal Ben-Shahar: Yeah. Many of the self-help books today offer quick fixes so the five steps to happiness, the three things you need to do in order to become the great partner or leader, the one secret of life flourishing and success. This is over promising and under delivering. There is no quick fix or at least I haven't found the quick fix. Improving, growing, flourishing is about hard work. So some of the stigma that is associated with the self-help literature today, some of it, not all, is well deserved.

Question: What do you consider a classic self-help book?

Tal Ben-Shahar: The classic self-help book is by Samuel Smiles, a 19th century British writer who wrote a book called Self-Help. This is about hard work. It's about cultivating your character. More recently, very good self-help books that have been written would be Stephen Covey's, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Marty Seligman's book on Learned Optimism and **** books on mindfulness and so on. And it's mostly today books written by ecodemics who do rigorous research or rely on imperical evidence.

Recorded on:   September 23, 2009

Tal Ben Shahar is widely respected academic, but he is also a proud self-help guru. He told Big Think the problem with most books labeled "self-help" these days, defined what true self-help is, and recommended some classics of the genre.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

The dos and don’ts of helping a drug-addicted person recover

How you talk to people with drug addiction might save their life.

Videos
  • Addiction is a learning disorder; it's not a sign that someone is a bad person.
  • Tough love doesn't help drug-addicted people. Research shows that the best way to get people help is through compassion, empathy and support. Approach them as an equal human being deserving of respect.
  • As a first step to recovery, Maia Szalavitz recommends the family or friends of people with addiction get them a complete psychiatric evaluation by somebody who is not affiliated with any treatment organization. Unfortunately, warns Szalavitz, some people will try to make a profit off of an addicted person without informing them of their full options.
Keep reading Show less

The most culturally chauvinist people in Europe? Greeks, new research suggests

Meanwhile, Spaniards are the least likely to say their culture is superior to others.

Image: Pew Research Center
Strange Maps
  • Survey by Pew Research Center shows great variation in chauvinism across Europe.
  • Eight most chauvinist countries are in the east, and include Russia.
  • British much more likely than French (and slightly more likely than Germans) to say their culture is "superior" to others.
Keep reading Show less

In a first for humankind, China successfully sprouts a seed on the Moon

China's Chang'e 4 biosphere experiment marks a first for humankind.

Image source: CNSA
Surprising Science
  • China's Chang'e 4 lunar lander touched down on the far side of the moon on January 3.
  • In addition to a lunar rover, the lander carried a biosphere experiment that contains five sets of plants and some insects.
  • The experiment is designed to test how astronauts might someday grow plants in space to sustain long-term settlements.
Keep reading Show less