"The Last Self-Help Book You'll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer and Throttle Your Inner Child" by Paul Pearsall (Basic Books, $24)
Despite a flood of self-help advice on the airwaves and bookshelves, "the majority of Americans are still unhealthy, unhappy and uninspired" because we are in thrall to an industry whose core teachings are largely unproven and often demonstrably false.
That's the view of Pearsall, a Hawaii-based neuropsychologist who urges readers to chuck the drive to "be all that you can be" or "discover your personal power." He urges instead a "contrarian consciousness" that subjects the uber-confident urgings of every Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura to scientific scrutiny. The idea, he says, is to question what he calls the platitudes of empowerment, such as "keeping a positive attitude is the key to success" or "a failure in character is a product of low self-esteem."
Anyone who's ever vainly searched for evidence of low self-esteem in a bully -- whether in the workplace or on the playground -- will likely appreciate Pearsall's approach. Among other contradictions of self-help wisdom, he debunks the idea that guilt and worry are not good for you, citing credible research that shows that "the happiest, healthiest people are, in fact, guilty worriers."
Pearsall, a cancer survivor who says rejecting the urge to think positively helped keep him alive, steers readers toward a "creative self-help" that focuses on "the ordinary magic of people who are thriving despite, and often because of, adversity."
The key, he writes, is to learn what is known and to keep asking questions, always being open to learning. In the end, his objective is not so much to cause readers to abandon self-help books and the goals they address, but to warn against the dangers of deferring to the certainty of others -- presumably including himself.
-- Gregory Mott