Why You Should Read Self-help Books


There is no more ridiculed literary 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.
Unsurprisingly therefore, the quality of all self-help books is at present highly degraded.
The most accomplished stylists and sharpest thinkers would feel ashamed to put their name
to a work which would be destined to end up on the most ludicrous shelves of any book
shop. Yet not all eras have shared this dismissive
attitude. In the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome, it was taken for granted
that the highest ambition of any author was to offer the reader an Emotional Education
that could guide them towards fulfilment (Eudaimonia). Self-help books were at the pinnacle of literature.
The most admired thinkers – Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch and Marcus Aurelius
– all wrote self-help books, whose aim was to teach us to live and die well. Furthermore,
they deployed every resource of intelligence, wit and style in writing their manuals so
as to ensure that their messages would delight the intellectual as well as the emotional
faculties. Seneca’s On Anger and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations are among the greatest
works of literature of any nation or era. They are also, undeniably, self-help books.
It can look as if humans stopped writing good self-help after the Fall of Rome. But once
we view Culture as a tool for Emotional Education, many more works emerge as, in fact, belonging
to the currently much maligned genre of self-help. For example, Tolstoy’s War and Peace explicitly
aims to teach compassion, calm and forgiveness; it offers guidance around money, manners,
relationships and career development; it seeks to show us how to be a good friend and how
to be a better parent. It clearly is a self-help book – it just doesn’t happen to be officially
described this way by the current guardians of Culture. Marcel Proust’s In Search of
Lost Time is, similarly, also a self-help book, teaching us how to surrender our attachment
to romantic love and social status in favour of a focus on art and thought.
It’s not an insult to describe such masterpieces as self-help books. It’s a way of correctly
identifying their ambitions, which are to guide us away from folly towards more sincere
and authentic lives. Such works show us that self-help shouldn’t be a low-grade marginal
undertaking: the desire to guide and teach wisdom is at the core of all ambitious writing.
In the bookstores of the utopia, the self-help shelves would be the most prestigious of them
all and on them would sit many of the most distinguished works of world literature – returned,
at last, to their true home. If you liked this film, please subscribe to our channel and click the bell icon to turn on notifications.

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100 thoughts on “Why You Should Read Self-help Books”

  1. The School of Life says:

    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:

  2. Jovan Bešlin says:

    too much animation and growth as well for me.

  3. mekman4 says:

    Yeah, but self help would mean, you wouldn’t buy the latest drug, toy or weapon to deal with emotional emptiness.

  4. Espaço Psi-Saúde says:

    Academics probably won´t support the idea but I agree. But, of course, we should know the difference between good self help books and bad ones. That´s the most important

  5. Grant Orrewe says:

    wow defo undescribed now XD

  6. S L Filho says:

    I think the current problem with those books is that they are dumbed down to stimulate ephemeral sensations, instead of real maturity. It’s easier, cheaper and more effective to get people to think they can do anything without any effort, thus the shelves get full of those silly books.

  7. Tenzin Dheden says:

    Ahhhh~~ I always feel understood and find comfort in this corner of the internet. Thank you! 🌹

  8. aNaturalist says:


  9. Jacqui Baker says:

    Would be great see more gender balance in the School of Life cartoons. The only women (aka books with boobs) are the books being ridiculed (the ones of THOSE shelves) and as a piece of art (something to simply look at).

  10. CYCLOGY Love Psychology says:

    Nice work
    I am working on the same topic…
    The video will be uploaded Soon.

  11. Stanislav Manilov says:

    I'm a bit skeptical about the message here, given that you are in the business of self-help books. One thing that struck me as suspicious was mentioning Marcus Aurelius. My impression was that he never intended to publish his Meditations, but it was rather more of a collection of personal diaries. Is that incorrect?

  12. İlhan Neğiş says:

    ALL BOOKS are self help in essence, we all know what we mean when we say "self help books", and we all know those books are utter dogshit, most of the time, so why insisting on skewing meaning agains zeitgeist.

  13. Redcatrobe says:

    I disagree with this video because self-help books exaggerate the effects of their recommendations. They set unrealistic expectations. That's one reason why they're so lowly regarded

  14. Andrew Schultz says:

    I've been out of college for a while, but I recently read a book about how to do well in college. There were a lot of moments where the author described something where I wondered if I could do something that way, and if I'd read that book, I'd hav had more confidence. There was also stuff like asking questions without seeming like a teacher's pet.

    I think one reason self help books get such a bad rap is that the bad ones are really bad. They give flat out wrong information how to live, or they are pro-greed. While you can laugh at a bad novel and be done with it, the "if you failed, you didn't try hard enough" message TSoL has had problems with is very prominent. It may not be right, but it's simple.

  15. Timothy Shipley says:

    The Bible is also a self-help book.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Completely agree that emotional education should be more important. I read nothing but psychology, self-help, biography and memoir; can't swallow fiction.

    I am the only member of my immediate family who isn't alcoholic and/or personality-disordered. Self help and psychology books have helped me vastly more than any shrink or counselor, and for free.

    Thanks for your videos–the animation cracks me up and the colors are beautiful.

  17. Ro L says:

    It would have been great if you'd mentioned some excellent books published within the last 50 years that are explicitly identified as belonging within the 'self help' genre. A couple of examples: 'How to Be An Adult' by David Richo, and 'How to Be Sick' by Toni Bernhard. I have benefitted from, and have a lot of respect for, great self help books. I'd like to see a video where you go one step further as far as removing the 'cringe factor', and recommend some books that live on the self-help shelf in the bookstore.

  18. JRTG says:

    Yet isn't it ironic how many self-made millionaires have made their riches from writing such self-help books and running self-help personal development seminars

  19. Ying Li says:

    At least the reason I read is to know myself better. Sometimes through literature and sometimes through self-help.

  20. jedics says:

    IF only there weren't so SO many bad self help authors maybe they wouldn't have such negative connotations !

  21. Ailithic says:

    Ok so seneca's on anger opens some blaring misconceptions about infatuation with antagonistic behaviors and disturbingly references things we take for granted today.I think it closes alot of gaps of knowledge for things like bullying behavior. The main thought I came up with to consolidate the book is "Is good, good enough", not in a passive contentive way but as a question you might ask your self if you are "wanting for check". It's a must read, be it translated from Italian and using long lost words :).

  22. JoRiver11 says:

    It is similar in visual arts. In my experience, one wouldn't be taken seriously if their work was overtly spiritually meaningful. (I use the word 'spiritually' rather loosely).

    Though to be fair, a lot of the more woo-woo work is heavy on the woo-woo but light on the technical skill within the chosen medium.

  23. JoRiver11 says:

    I am really enjoying everyone's comments on this where they are sharing their favourite self-help books. Lovely reaction to this video.

    I have occasionally had the experience of a book that is not self-help being quite life changing, perhaps even more effectively than books intended to be self-help.

    The one that comes to mind was Mists of Avalon when I was in my early 20's. I had been raised catholic and had some limited views about sex and women's potential. I don't remember any specifics, but reading MoA was like an awakening.

  24. Micheal Morris says:

    i cant read

  25. Felipe says:

    As I see, the problem with most self help books is trying to use the author's religion religion to teach me how to think and live. Secular and universal books that work for any culture are far more interesting than the ones that presuppose that I need to have the same culture as the author's in order to be happy. I mean, who thinks so big of their own culture that actually believes no other culture can be genuinely happy? Those books never sell me any good ideas.

  26. Bani San says:

    I believe we've still got a long way to go in teaching the world that emotional intelligence – and therefore emotional education – is just as vital as any other form of intelligence.

  27. brocktopia says:

    A lot of self-help books seem to have a predatory element to them. Aimed at individuals with low self esteem that are easily lured by promises of a secret escape hatch from their problems. They are to bookstores what clickbait is the the internet. Maybe this created a self-fulfilling cycle where no serious author would want to associate their work with the genre and they must then either pursue a writing career in psychology, the sciences of self help, or try to end up somewhere else in the fiction or non-fiction isle. Daniel Quinn comes to mind as someone who is essentially writing self help books but didn't end up in the self-help isle. Besides, do people even go to bookstores any more? Anyone who writes a great book should be able to transcend genre.

    Our bigger problem would seem to be our quickness to judge the genre or the people who would seek help there. For me, best-seller list and genre identifiers like self-help are handy filters for classes of books I just don't want to bother with. However, if I see an intelligent review of a book and the book sounds interesting, I'll usually ignore those filters and give it a try.

  28. Artechiza says:

    Paulo Coelho likes this video.

  29. Luka Benedičič says:

    Do a Philosophy piece on Julius Evola

  30. GokuTheSuperSaiyanDemon says:


  31. Juiceman says:

    Aren't you a self-help book essentially?

  32. kyriakostp says:

    "I am not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own cock", Anthony Scaramucci 2017. Why did this highlight of the past year just come to mind I wonder?

  33. Just a Thought says:

    Art isn't about catering to people's need. It's about creating a need. Self-Helps are to its core is about catering. So there is no surprise why Self Help books are undermined in its literary value. People in this golden age of mediocrity have taken the crutch of empathy to disseminate trivial works. Self-Helps are good but when it is done enough it loses its value.

  34. Altayeb Yousif says:

    Can you do videos about art and painters.

  35. Anže Zajc says:

    That's not self help.

  36. Eugene Frank MD says:

    "First hand experience. Books are awesome! But remember to go out and execute those practices.
    No, I do not reject such self-help out of hand: so I fully accepted your advice on direct, right hand, experience: but, in hand, it was a disaster, I am allergic to the lubricant…and he could not get his hand through he Skype filter…the swelling was terrible…

  37. XERNEXX says:

    I read Self help books

  38. None Of Your Business says:

    I got a chill down my spine from this.

    I often wonder why the self-help genre is so harshly criticized. The books are not judged separately, but instead by category. It always struck me as odd that this would be the case.

  39. Felipe Carvalho says:

    – it seems self help books from the old are now just called philosophy
    – I wanna a little book toy from this video!

  40. Maito Gai Sensei says:

    The problem already starts with the genre name… It should call "self-knowledge"…

  41. yihui zhu says:

    This video really give me power to move on. Thanks.

  42. Basb Subs says:

    paulo coelho is the best one :v

  43. Baron St. Von says:

    In my opinion, I think the reason the genre is not viewed the best is due to the fact that there are a lot of poor works/non-qualified authors. If there were a stricter barrier to entry when it came to being a "guru" or educator in the space, I believe it would innately be held much higher

  44. Jeppe Lauridsen says:

    It seems to me, that the problem with most self-help books today is that they offer individual solutions to structural/ societal issues.

  45. Joel Edelstein says:

    Self-help books are like diet books, if they worked there would only be need for one not one million.

  46. Clark Tierney says:

    Also, the original Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius.

  47. Clark Tierney says:

    …and the Confessions by St. Augustine…

  48. Mesh He says:

    It is not the fault of the Self-help genre. Instead, it is because most of the self-help Writers nowadays are simply stupid. Therefore, I would recommend those in need to read the Classics and academically proven Psychological books.

  49. worldfilledwithmore says:

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

  50. Buzzy Bee says:

    Why would anyone “not like” this?

  51. Joe Alias says:

    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.

  52. Scrotumus Baggins says:

    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."

  53. Neil Laquian says:

    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.

  54. Gara Ameer says:


  55. Infinty ! says:

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

    Read more

  56. Robert Martin says:

    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.

  57. Robert Martin says:

    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.

  58. Emily Silliman says:

    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!

  59. TheDarkLord says:


  60. staywithme says:

    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.

  61. Weltschmerz von Gavagai says:

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

  62. Cliff DaRiff says:

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

  63. Ryan N says:

    War and Peace was self help?

  64. Nilanjan Paul says:

    🍀Guys, I need help. I'm feeling really sad to say this, but I'm DROPPING OUT OF SCHOOL 🏫

    It has been really hard for me, but finally I think I'm doing it. I also made a video on this recently. See it here: 🍀

    But please all I want from you all is your suggestions on it. I really would be glad if you took some time off to watch what I got to say and really, really would appreciate you to tell me something. 😇 I hope I didn't waste your time ⌚

    And btw, Have a Great day. Wish you be in good health. Much Love 😇
    Peace ✌️ ✌️ ✌️
    SEE YA 😊

  65. CW Productions says:


  66. OmAr LiVeS says:

    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.

  67. dani waples says:


  68. See What I Did There? says:

    Interesting subject matter. You get a passing grade!

  69. P. Z. says:

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

  70. Luciana C says:

    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?

  71. Alex Liu says:

    …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!!!

  72. Rising Star says:

    I don't see the universe conspiring before me.

  73. kefsound says:

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

  74. Jeffrey Blend says:

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

  75. Mohamed Walid Belahdji says:

    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.

  76. Caitlin Day says:

    Did you just spoiler Proust?

  77. lalala like this says:

    So thats why you should buy my mixtape

  78. Psychology with Jesse says:

    I love self-help books because I love psychology.

  79. Developer LLL124 says:

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

  80. RUBÍ UZCÁTEGUI says:

    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.

  81. Zman888 says:

    George Carlin was right

  82. Larsluster says:

    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.

  83. Larsluster says:

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

  84. Houssem & Christina Mallem says:

    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.

  85. John David Santos says:

    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.

  86. Jackie B says:

    "The guardians of culture" xD

  87. Dave Albrecht says:

    "Awaken The Giant Within" by Tony Robbins

  88. kkxmas says:

    just a side note, the animation is really cute 🙂

  89. Belle Nguyen says:

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

  90. Leonardo Ruiz says:

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

  91. YogaPsych says:

    That is a good explained video!

  92. LazyLlama says:

    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.

  93. G.P. Kim says:

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

  94. 다시드가 says:

    the sound at 3:16 made my day

  95. surveyhart says:

    lol good one… defeat the purpose

  96. Hafeleni Hamunyela says:

    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.

  97. Jeff McNair says:

    Check out my book- 101 Self Help Secrets

  98. Fingers Crossed says:

    this is so true

  99. danmar007 says:

    "… don't appear on reading lists at any prestigious universities.' That's probably why graduates of those once-prestigious universities are most in need of those books.

  100. Vlad Filen says:

    In my opinion self help books shouldn't be a stand alone genre

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