Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Self-Help Book That Helps

Now and then, when a friend is dabbling in an existential, emotional and/or mid-life crisis (which, by the way, can now occur anytime between the ages of 30 and 70), I get asked if any of the stacks of books lying around my home have helped. I say "well, of course I haven't read them all!"

But as it turns out, I have read some of them, and I can even remember some of the best, even some of the best so-called self-help books, which, for better or worse, are usually the sort of book that comes closest to helping a friend who is suffering an existential, emotional and/or mid-life crisis.

Some have these crises in chronic fashion, and they are often at a loss for tools, including the tool of believing that anything in a book can help. Some self-help books do become bestsellers these days, but you ain't seen nothin' until you discover by comparison how many prescriptions are written for feel good/"better than well" anti-depressants.

I got asked this question this week and realized, in this case, how slim were the chances that any particular book or little stack of books I might recommend would really hit home. Take a powder, blah blah blah. What some of us want in a time of need is a crowbar, a lever, a taste of real profundity that sticks with us for years.

So reread "The Little Prince" if by chance its profundities to beat all profundities happen to have slipped your mind.

But back the realm of more conventional "self-help" books.

Here is one that I can recommend more highly than any other, because it sticks to some real basics, good for anyone in any culture in any situation at any time.

The book is called, "How to Want What You Have" by Timothy Miller. The subtitle is, in the current vein of the genre, a bit New Agey: "Discovering the Magic and Grandeur of Ordinary Existence." Yes, too bad that we're such a bunch of cynics that words like "grandeur" and "magic" and even "existence" ring flimsy if not phoney. OK, so ignore the subtitle, and jump in.

Miller's book uses the practical tools of cognitive therapy to focus the reader on just three personal attributes, three attributes that we would all do well to improve:

1. Pay quality attention.

2. Express overarching compassion.

And 3. Show constant gratitude.

It's amazing how much else about our lives and values and stray paths makes more sense and can be put into better perspective if we really do make the effort to consider what Miller has to say about these three things.

No seven secrets, no ten items, just three.

If you happen to read "How to Want What You Have," let me know what you think.


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