How to Develop Emotional Health (The School of Life) Paperback – 2 Jan 2014
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This new series of The School of Life's self-help books build on the strengths of the first, tackling some of the hardest issues of our lives in a way that is genuinely informative, helpful and consoling. Here are books that prove that the term "self-help" doesn't have to be either shallow or naive (Alain de Botton, Founder of The School of Life)
The School of Life offers radical ways to help us raid the treasure trove of human knowledge (Independent on Sunday)
How to understand the role the past plays in your present and live a fulfilling, emotionally healthy life.See all Product description
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Mmmh, I also had some other issues with the book. It relies heavily on studies. I am sure that psychologists are fascinated with them, but for me, they did nothing. Also, the uncritical way they were presented and the conclusions that were drawn from them made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. The whole book had a 50s-vibe to it, I am afraid. There was something very conservative and dogmatic about it, especially when it came to divorce and marriage. Snide remarks about therapists who chose a different approach than the author were also unnecessary in my opinion. (I am not a therapist or in any way associated with psychology, this is not my personal vendetta against child psychologist or anything, the book just really made me feel uncomfortable.) All in all everything in this book comes down to "If you have issues with your partner, with yourself, it was probably because as a baby you were not cared for or even mistreated". Well, as mentioned before I could neither recognize myself nor relate to any of the descriptions.
Made me think of something one of my teachers at university always said to us: To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
James is certainly in no danger of sugar coating his point, and overall he has taken an incredibly lucid and refreshing approach to the self-help genre. He cites some genuinely fascinating case studies from the likes of Henry, who killed many members of his mentally ill family, to Archie, a convicted football hooligan with a chilling relationship to women, and Gloria, an Indian born billionaire with a borderline sociopathic personality. He illustrates through these people and many others, his theories and beliefs in relation to emotional well-being, dispelling many myths along the way. He also references some other thinkers, the likes of Anthony Storr and Donald Winnicott as well as the results from the Human Genome Project.
This book is immensely readable and is packed with many erudite and insightful revelations and observations, like a “A Nigerian is six times less likely than an American to suffer a mental illness, and a Singaporean child is ten times less likely to be illiterate than a British one. Yet none of these things is as important to emotional health as our early care.”
At one point he pays particular attention to the USA, saying, “It is no coincidence that the highest rates of personality disorder are in ultra-individualistic America-many times higher than in Asian nations.” He goes on further, “There is good evidence that in America disagreeable people end up being paid more than friendly, likeable ones. This finding might seem surprising-you would have thought that popular people would do best-but in America shoving others out of your way or climbing on their backs is almost essential for success. There is also good evidence that narcissism is rampant among American high achievers. Full-blown narcissism is a state of ‘me-me-me’ attention seeking grandiosity. The individual compensates for feelings of worthlessness and invisibility by exhibiting their opposite.”
He draws on a number of studies done from the likes of 200 celebrities and MBA graduates, and ones between Americans and Danes with some telling results. He says, “The truth is that people who get to the top or into the public eye in America tend to be narcissists. But this is only the tip of their cultural iceberg. The majority of Americans hold unrealistically positive views on themselves, believing they are much better than average in a variety of ways.”
Toward the end James summarises by saying, “Focussing on happiness as a goal is destructive: it is unattainable. The same goes for mental health: there are no completely mentally healthy people. Improved emotional health is much more realistic.” He compiles a strong and thought provoking homework section at the back, which has a nice and appealing range of sources to follow up on. I’ve read most of the books from the “School of Life” series now and I’d say that this is up there with Philippa Perry’s and Roman Krznaric’s contributions as the cream of the crop. The world is all the better for clear thinking books like this and the world could do with more of them and the people who write them.
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