Thursday, November 20, 2008

Two Self-Help Lies

Two days ago I was feeling blue and I went out and bought new pair of shoes. And you know what? It cheered me up.

If you believe the self-help establishment, this sort of thing never happens. They'll always tell you that indulging in bad habits and material pleasures will never make you feel better. Have you noticed this?

The party line is that if you have a problem with eating sweets, and you eat sweets, you think it will make you feel good, when in fact it will make you feel worse; if you have a problem with drinking, or smoking, or spending money, you might think that doing those things would make you feel good, but you'd be wrong.

As far as I can tell, this is just false.

I mean, you might not be best off in the long run for indulging in bad habits. Sure. That's what makes them "bad habits."

But that's something we all know. Nobody needs someone to tell them that their future selves will be best off if they refrain from eating cookies every afternoon and drinking that extra glass of wine every evening and spending money they don't have on new pairs of shoes every weekend.

No, the establishment "news" is supposed to be that the indulgence itself won't make you feel better—not even, like, over the next few hours. You'll feel worse.

Sorry, but while it might be nice if the world worked this way, if good and bad were all black and white like that, the angel in the broccoli and the devil in the Mars bar, and we humans just all confused about which one is worth wanting and which one isn't.

But that's just not the way it is. In my experience, buying stuff is actually fun, and it actually makes you feel happy. Eating high-carbohydrate snacks in the afternoon? It's wonderful. It floods your brain with sucrose and you feel good. The extra glass of wine? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to have figured out that people actually enjoy these things.

It's just silly to pretend otherwise. I don't know who these people think they're kidding.

The other big lie about bad habits is that you indulge in them because you don't respect yourself. This makes no sense to me either. I mean, it's because I have a robust sense of my intrinsic worth that I believe I ought to have these pleasures. I deserve those shoes. I deserve the Mars bar, the extra glass of wine. I'm me, and I get to.

The problem that leads to indulging isn't that you don't care enough about yourself. If anything, the problem that leads to indulging is that you don't care enough about your future self. She's the one who is going to be diabetic and broke with liver disease. But that's an excess of self-regard, not a lack. It's your poor future-self who's getting shafted.

I don't know what to do about the problem of feeling good now versus feeling good later or not caring enough about our future selves. But this campaign of misinformation has got to stop.

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