The Benefits Of Reading Self-Help Books (With Studies And Examples)

Updated 13 February 2020

by Christian: Academic researcher and writer with a passion for statistical analysis, neuropsychology and mental health.
by Christian: Academic researcher and writer with a passion for statistical analysis, neuropsychology and mental health.

Looking for the next great way to improve your life? So are millions of others. There’s a big market for self-help books, and some of them make big promises: helping you to be more successful, more confident, more assertive.

But do they work? And how can you benefit the most from self-help books? Is changing your life really as easy as picking up a book? Maybe - if you learn to do it right. Self-help books can be a powerful tool when used properly. They are cheaper than therapy and can be just as effective. You can progress in your own time, and most people find it more comfortable than seeking professional help.

Knowing when, how and why to benefit from self-help books will help you to avoid the pitfalls of fads and fake gurus, and get the most out of your time and money. In this article, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of self-help books, to help you realize your full potential in your own time and without breaking the bank.

This article is part of a much bigger guide on learning how to become happy that I'm sure is the biggest freely available guide on the internet right now. This article contains some great tips, but you'll find a lot more actionable tips in the section Happiness Tips!

Who can benefit from self-help books?

Everybody can benefit from self-help books, but not necessarily in every situation. According to one review of the scientific literature, self-help books are more effective at helping us learn new life skills, like assertiveness, problem-solving and even tidiness.

That’s good news for everybody since we can all benefit from learning new skills that help us to navigate our lives. Nobody is perfect, and we all have areas where we’d like to improve. If you’re like most people, you’ve sometimes wished you could be more patient or more outgoing, more resilient or less concerned with what others think. Maybe you’re just looking for ways to be happier. These are the kind of skills where self-help books can be really useful.

When are self-help books not beneficial?

The same study showed that self-help books are effective in the treatment of anxiety and depression, but less so in other areas, like alcoholism and schizophrenia. Self-help books can help you feel more empowered and in control of your life, but in some cases they should be used with professional guidance.

If you suffer from depression, anxiety or any other clinical disorder, consult a physician, psychologist or therapist to know the best course of action to take. If you have persistent feelings of low mood, low self-esteem, loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy and/or pervasive feelings of anxiety or fear, of which any last for more than two weeks, seek professional help. You can improve your life with professional intervention, which may include using self-help books.

The remainder of this article will focus on using self-help books to improve aspects of your life in a non-clinical setting.

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How can you benefit from self-help books?

In the last decade, self-improvement has grown into a 10 billion dollar industry in the United States alone. More and more, people are taking their own wellness and happiness into their own hands. At the same time, we’re more wary of self-help scams and self-proclaimed gurus. There are thousands of self-help books out there - so how do you pick the one that’s right for you? And how can you separate out the good from the bad?

Find the right self-help book for you

As with other self-improvement practices, like journaling for self-improvement, it starts by identifying your goals. An easy way to do this is to make a list, starting with the sentence, “I want to learn to be more/less/better at ___________.” Think of the different ways in your life you would like to improve. When I made a similar list, here are some of the things I included:

I want to learn to be: more patient with my colleagues; better with money; less messy at home; better at leaving my work when I’m on holiday or with friends and family.

These are all learning goals that can benefit from self-help books. Your next step is to find the right self-help book for your goal. A quick internet search can usually turn up a number of books. For example, if you search in google “self-help book patience”, you can find a number of books to help you be a more patient person, including:

You can read through the reviews on Amazon, look at how other people have rated the books, read a summary, and choose which book will work best for you.

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How to make the most of reading self-help books

Now that you’ve found a self-help book you think you can benefit from, it’s time to dive in! Self-help books are a lot like relationships -- you get back what you put in. Reading for self-improvement doesn’t have to be boring or tedious, but it’s something you should take seriously. There are a few general guidelines that will help you get the most of your self-help book.

1. Read the book thoroughly and with intention

Unless specifically instructed otherwise by the author, take the time to read through the book from start to finish. You never know what you may miss otherwise. Make sure that you’re in an environment that supports self-improvement. It can be indoors or outdoors, at home or in a library or cafe, but it should be someplace that’s relatively quiet, free of distraction, and allows you to read your self-help book with intention and purpose. Avoid things like reading at work, reading with the TV on, and reading when you’re pressed for time.

If you only have 15 minutes to read, it’s probably better to wait until you have a bit more time and can really focus on what you’re reading without feeling rushed.

2. Be open to suggestions

You may not agree with everything that you read, but you’ve chosen this book for a reason. Try to keep in mind that your own ideas about a given topic may not include all the most recent research or may be colored by your own experiences.

Try to stay open while you’re reading. If you find something strange or doubtful, just make a note of it to come back later. You may find that as the book progresses and you start putting things into practice, it ends up being true. In any event, don’t go in with a closed mind, or you may miss out on some life-changing advice.

3. Take notes, make plans and put them into action

Almost every self-help book out there will have actionable advice - things you can actually do that will make a difference in your life. We really believe in this principle. In fact, it’s what the Happy Blog and Tracking Happiness are all about. That’s why almost all of our articles include lots of practical advice that you can put into action. It’s the same with self-help books. Any self-help book that claims it can change your life without giving you any real-world examples or exercises to do or activities to practice is probably not worth your time.

With that in mind, we recommend taking notes from the book, making a plan of action based on the practical exercises you’re given, and then putting them into action.

Almost every self-help book out there will agree - if you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results.

4. Journal about your progress

Tracking Happiness is all about recording your day to day life and finding out what works best for you. It’s another principle we strongly believe in. It’s also what’s going to allow you to get the most out of self-help books.

As you start to integrate the book’s advice into your daily life, you’ll want to record the experience. Write down any thoughts or feelings you were having at the time (even if they’re ones of doubt or dismay), whether you were successful, and why or why not. The act of writing down these experiences will help you to understand them better, pick up on any patterns that could be areas of improvement (or achievements worth celebrating!), and by tracking your happiness, you can see what kind of impact it’s having on your life and well-being.

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5. Enjoy the journey

Self-improvement takes a long time. You may read several self-help books before getting significant benefits, taking insightful information, useful exercises and helpful tips from a number of them. Be patient and recognize that change takes time. To the best of your ability, try to enjoy the process. Celebrate your victories and focus on correcting negative behaviors without demonizing them or yourself.

Remember, there’s a reason the self-help industry is worth over 10 billion dollars in the US alone: everybody wants to be better at something, and you’re definitely not alone. Accept your shortcomings as normal and natural, and then focus on trying to enjoy the process of self-improvement. You may find great comfort in taking control of an aspect of your life that previously frustrated you. At the same time, be patient and understanding with yourself.

The simple act of trying to get better is already a huge step in the right direction; allow yourself to feel proud of that step, and then continue making them.

Closing words

Self-help books can be a valuable resource on your journey to happiness. We all have areas of our life where we’d like to improve, skills we’d like to learn, behaviors we’d like to integrate or curb. Self-help books can be a good way to achieve these goals, as long as you go about it properly. Take the time to research the right book or books for you and your goals. Read with intention and open-mindedness. Take an active role in your self-improvement by taking notes, making plans and putting them into action. Track your progress through journaling - in whatever form comes easiest to you.

But most of all, try to enjoy the process. Self-improvement isn’t about misery, it’s about mastery. So, is changing your life really as easy as picking up a book? Nope. But it’s a great place to start.

Now I want to hear from you! Are you a fan of self-help books? What were the ones that have helped you most? Did I miss anything in this article? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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