The subtitle of Oliver Burkeman’s book gives us a clue: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done. It’s basically a collection of newspaper columns that he wrote for the Guardian about the problem of human happiness (his words) where he began to delve into
self-help, happiness studies, life hacking, and other ideas with an emphasis on practical implementation by a mass audience
Why did I want to read it?
I heard Burkeman being interviewed on the Guardian books podcast a couple of years ago and he sounded so interesting and non-judgemental that I thought this was worth a look. And there’s also a tiny part of me (which I try to disown) that thinks there might actually just possibly be a simple answer to life, the universe and everything and that this could possibly just be found within the pages of a self-help book.
What did I think of it?
It is a really fascinating book, very funny in places and extremely quotable. For example:
- he talks about journalling, and the fact that though focussed writing can be very positive, people who journal a lot to tend to wallow a bit and tell the same story over and over again (I am ashamed to say that I recognise this in myself which is why my diary is not something sensational to read on the train as Gwendolen Fairfax would have it but a fairly boring repetition of the same whinges – though I may be being a little hard on myself there);
- in talking about stress, he asks whether rather than doing things that avoid triggering our stress response we should try working on our response instead;
- that the best thing to do when you get an unwanted invitation is just to say no and not try to come up with a justification or elaborate excuse (he suggests Emily Post’s “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” can’t be beaten);
- that meetings should be abolished;
- that you won’t transform your life in seven days, but you won’t do that by reading books called Transform Your Life in Seven Days either.
Well worth a read if you are at all interested in any aspect of the self-help industry. I enjoyed it very much.