Self-help books and buying into the idea that The Universe Has My Back

I don't know whether there's been a shift in perception regarding self-help books, or whether we've all just come to the age where some of us realise that there's still loads to learn about who we are and how we think, but I definitely feel like self-help books are on the rise. I'd say there's still some stigma attached to self-help books, presumably stemming from the fact that reading such books indicates that you in some way need help. There's also an unquestionable feminist aspect to it - I doubt many people would raise an eyebrow at someone reading "Thinking Fast and Slow", one of the best-selling self-help books of recent times and written by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, whereas self-help books written by women, for women tend to be frowned upon.

I recently finished reading one such book called The Universe Has Your Back, and I was so pleased when I got a substantial number of questions and enquiries when I posted about it on Instagram, thus inspiring this blog post. Slight disclaimer: TUHYB is probably one of the most cringy self-help books I've read - it includes quotes like "when we accept our role as the Universe's happy learner, life gets really groovy",  so you sort of get where I'm coming from. That said, though it's 25% cringe and American, it's 75% phenomenal.

Spiritual leader and life coach Gabby Bernstein positions love vis-a-vis fear and suggests that although we've been taught to lean towards fear, life can "get really groovy" (heh) if we learn how to instead choose love. Behind the soppy rhetoric you'll find different examples of how to face fear in order to choose love in different shapes and forms, regardless of whether that relates to work, relationships or, err, real estate (I think we can all relate to that one).

Below are some of my favourite quotes:

On work: "We buy into the belief that a meaningful life requires struggle (..) [but] when we commit to joy we increase our chances of success" - the first part of this really resonates with me, and I think it's deeply rooted in our society as part of the Protestant work ethic of discipline and frugality. This is something I believe we as a society will have to rethink quite fundamentally with the rise of automation, but that's probably another post in the making... Either way, it's a novel and modern idea that work should be "fun", and it goes against what most of us were taught as kids. And even now, people wear their busy-ness as a badge of honour to make sure other people know just how much and hard they work. Bernstein doesn't instruct the reader to work hard - she instructs the reader to seek out joy, thinking that once you enjoy what you do, working hard will be a side effect.

On judgement: "The ego cannot survive without judgement (..) we use judgement to avoid the feeling of our own inadequacy, insecurities, and lack of self-worth" I usually make a conscious effort to be open-minded and avoid judging others, often quite successfully. In spite of this, there are certain things I really struggle not judging. I probably wouldn't mind had it not been for the fact that 1. it's just not very nice, 2. once I get going, it's pretty draining and 3. it's just so damn unnecessary. Bernstein presents some interesting takes on why we judge certain things and not others, and linking it back to own insecurities seem to make sense. Accepting this removes focus from the judgement and thus the symptom, and instead goes to the root cause - highly uncomfortable, but necessary.

On obstacles"Obstacles are detours in the right direction" I feel really strongly about this, mainly because so many of what I've first experienced as huge obstacles have turned out to be blessings in disguise - or, as one religious friend said, "I don't even think it's that disguised"? Being made redundant twice in six months is one such example, finding myself in a destructive relationship that taught me loads about myself is another, and - quite frankly, and on a highly personal level - Brexit is a third. Whether it's true that obstacles are detours in the right direction or not, I've come to believe that it is as I have anecdotal evidence to back it up. I'm fairly convinced such a conviction sets off a self-fulfilling prophecy, where obstacles will make you look for any opportunities coming as a result - which can only be a good thing. If you believe that good things will come, you'll start looking for them.

TUHYB is not for cynical people on high horses. It speaks of assignments from the Universe (I reckon another word for the Universe could be God) and for the reader to surrender their hopes and dreams to the Universe - but unless you're a fundamentalist, it might challenge you to challenge yourself in how you perceive yourself and others.

Personally, it's the second ever self-help book I've re-read (the other one is Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet - not strictly a self-help book, but it's offered me more guidance in life than any other piece of literature). If you manage to see past the fluff, chances are you're in for a treat.