Before bookstores became dinosaurs I worshipped within their walls. The Strand in New York, Chapters in Toronto, Barnes & Noble in Chicago, and Nicholas Hoare in Ottawa. Now bookstores sell more tchotchkes than actual books (but that is another story). One section that never drew me in was “Self Help” books. That category was always expanding and encroaching on my beloved literary fiction and history sections.
From The Power of Positive Thinking to Chicken Soup for the Soul to Awaken the Giant Within the shelves were stuffed with how-to’s to become a happier and healthier winner. What screamed out at me was, “Snake-oil!” That is my active skeptic (and I love him) though I conceded there must be a few things of value in so many books and so many pages.
Mostly though the content is all derived from the same few pieces of common sense wisdom. Then it is repackaged and regurgitated resulting in a nauseous cycle of vacuous repetition. Of course the writing, publishing and selling of these magic panaceas continues. In fact, Amazon has 660,249 Self Help books available online.
In the last decade we have seen the definition and explosion of a broader industry. This is wellness. It encompasses so many businesses that it is losing specificity. The Global Wellness Institute has proclaimed that the industry is now worth $3.7 trillion. That is more three times larger than the worldwide pharmaceutical industry.
In one sense that is a victory for humanity. Simply speaking we are seeking solutions beyond doctor-written prescriptions but we are medicating in new ways. That is because marketers would have us believe we are facing new problems. Stress, anxiety and depression are more widely accepted and talked about. That is fine as long as it is never absolutely normalized. We are close to having normalized divorce even though it is incredibly destructive within the family unit and society overall.