Self Help and the Empty Pursuit of Just a Little Bit More

Simple Takeaway:

America is driven by capitalism, which is fueled by a constant desire for more. But studies have shown that the keys to health and happiness are relationships and community, not money or status. It turns out, the happiest and most fulfilled people focus on what’s in front of them rather than constantly chasing more.

American society is very much a society of “not quite good enough”.

The entire concept of capitalism hinges on the idea that we are not quite good enough as we are.

Every product and service we encounter in our society exists for the purpose of improving life in some way.

While constant improvement is a noble concept, it can take a toxic turn pretty quickly if we’re not careful.

Enter America’s inundation with self-help products.

From 2013 to 2019, the number of self-help books published increased nearly three-fold.

It seems as if everywhere we turn, there’s a new program, product, or service intended to make our lives just a little bit better.

But is all of the self-help actually helpful?

Is constant progress really the goal of our lives?

In a broad sense, self improvement is a great thing. Progress and growth are certainly good things in the right context.

But in America we’ve become so overwhelmingly obsessed with better that we’ve lost the idea of contentment almost entirely.

We’ve also forsaken the idea that who we are and what we do is valuable regardless of how big and important it may seem.

Here’s how self-help became the focus of modern Americans:

In the past, our ancestors did the work that needed to be done and they found contentment and joy in the every day aspects of life.

Their dreams were to build families, put food on the table, put clothes on their backs, and keep a roof over their heads.

But in order for the American economy to continue to grow, there needed to be more products and more services in the marketplace.

The idea that “more is better” had to be sold to the public for economic growth to continue.

Having more money makes you feel better.

Losing more weight makes you look better.

Reading more books makes you a better business person.

These ideas had to be sold to the public in order for the market to continue to grow.

But now we have a different kind of problem in America.

Popping the Self-Help Bubble

According to the American Psychological Association, America is now facing a national mental health crisis as levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and more continue to rise at an alarming rate.

Not surprisingly, the number one cause of stress for Americans is money.

From 2008 to 2018, anxiety nearly doubled among 18 to 25 year olds.

One study in 2018 found that nearly 40% of respondents said they were more anxious then than they were a year before. Then a global pandemic hit two years later.

Depression has also been on the rise at an alarming rate in America over the past decade, and it’s rising especially fast among teenagers and young adults.

    So what’s the antidote to this mental health crisis?

    The simple answer might be right in front of us.

    Here’s why:

    Harvard University conducted a nearly 80 year old study to try to figure out what led to healthier and happier lives.

    What did they find after nearly 80 years of research?

    They found that the keys to health and happiness are relationships and community, not money or status.

    Yet we still have a sea of voices yelling at us daily telling us we should be just a little bit better and that happiness is only one self-improvement hack away.

    Studies have shown that success, status, and notoriety are vain pursuits.

    It’s time for our mindset as a society to shift from constantly looking for something better to instead learning how to better steward the common yet extraordinary lives that are right in front of us right now.

    The most valuable thing a human can do is find happiness in the mundane by embracing what actually matters – which is serving and loving one another. 

    If self improvement hacks help you do that better, then go for it.

    But more often than not, we’ll be just fine without the next self-help trend.