Since what we’re doing here, at its core, is a camouflaged form of self help, I think this video is relevant. It’s a short 20-minute talk given by a British journalist who spent a great deal of time researching and participating in the self help industry. It’s a pretty realistic critique and fair discussion of the industry and worth a watch if you’ve got the time. I think probably 80% of what he says can be accurately applied to the dating advice industry. Below the video are my notes and what I found particularly poignant.

My notes and comments:

  • Happiness isn’t so much an obsessive focus on positivity as it is the ability to hold both positive and negative emotions in balance.
  • Success is most easily achieved by lining up a series of small and easy goals and achieving them successively rather than attempting to attack massive life-changing goals all at once.
  • We as humans generally over-estimate how much happiness certain life changes will bring us (becoming rich, being fit, getting laid, etc.).
  • Self help inadvertently encourages people to remain self-absorbed, something which is counter-productive as most things that make us happy usually involve transcending the self (i.e., relationships, altruism, spirituality, etc.). I made a similar critique of self help’s unintended implications here.
  • The Cheesiness Factor: it’s unfortunate that some of the most proven and successful self help tools appear so cheesy and trite upon first glance which causes many people to disregard them (i.e., writing goals down, keeping a journal, gratitude exercises, etc.).
  • Despite Self Help’s flaws and the large amount of unqualified or flat-out fraudulent teachers, it fills an important role in our culture and encourages people to confront important questions and personal issues.
  • After spending months enmeshed in and actively involved with self help, and despite wading through the massive amounts of bullshit, he feels that on the whole, it was a positive experience and he’s happier for it. I’ve had the same experience and I agree.
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11 Responses to How to Be Slightly Happier

  1. zeets says:

    I honestly visit your site more for these types of posts, and I doubt I’m the only one.

  2. David says:

    The problem that I’ve found, and many others, is that while you’re reading through all the self-development books and advice it can alter your reality and get you down. It’s a trap some authors knowingly invite us into, as once we’ve ‘mastered’ one area, there are plenty of others that we “must know, and if you don’t then you’re not going to achieve…”

    So at some point we need to get what we can from all this, then put the books and Tony Robbins’ shiny DVDs down and get on with living.

    And life is probably a better learning tool than any book.

  3. Tim says:

    @David, I agree with that. Like dating, reading a million articles/chapters and not applying any of it is less helpful for real solid life change than reading one thing and applying it. I think there’s a happy medium between giving knowledge and applying it, but often the self-help industry is too eager to focus on the former, because it’s much harder to teach the latter, and because a lot of the time the answers aren’t as ‘sexy’ as we’d like them to be (like Mark said about writing down goals, gratitude exercises, etc). Hopefully we’re getting there though. I think Steve Pavlina’s stuff is really great for that. He has some very theoretical stuff, but if that gets to be too much once in a while, then he’ll come out with very practical advice that you can use from the minute you’ve read it.

    I also strongly agree with the comment that the alteration it provides to your reality can really get you down. I certainly am still feeling that to some degree from when I was totally immersed in it. Too objective about life, too busy lost in the trees to see the forest, and too unforgiving of mistakes. Luckily if you’re a well-balanced person, you’ll gain some perspective on this in time and get back to normal eventually. Here’s a really great article to do that:

  4. Tim says:

    P.S. The writer of the blog I just posted to, Leo Babauta, also has another great blog about minimalism at: I’ve been traveling frequently in the last year, and I’m going to start up again in a couple of months, and I’ve really enjoyed using the limits that luggage size and living short-term in a city have placed on my ego’s desire for prettier clothes, unnecessary gadgets, and a social status. Downsizing my wardrobe is one of my favourites, because it’s meant I have to just buy or keep clothes that I really love, that are very good quality, and that I can wear frequently. As a result, I wear those clothes more often, feel better about how I look, and feel less of a desire to splurge on more clothing. Quality>quantity.

    • Mark says:

      I can certainly vouch for this… My total possessions currently add up to: a laptop; suitcase plus clothes; a guitar; and an iPhone. I’ll spend 3-4 months abroad with a single medium-sized suitcase and shoulder bag, and not only is it all that I live out of for months at a time, but I operate my entire business out of it as well. People think I’m crazy, but I love it. I would never go back. In fact, the biggest dread I have about getting my own apartment again and settling down again (which I plan to do this year) is that I’ll be forced to buy stuff, that I’ll have to actually own a shitload of possessions again.

  5. This is the only “PU” blog I still read because you bring what we’re really seeking in life to a better view. BTW, if you haven’t already, check out the other videos site has, especially the animated ones, they’re amazing.



  6. Geert says:

    I really like his entire attitude towards this, because like any other industry a lot of the material is cheap and lousy.
    The thing that struck me the most was when he mentioned “emotional highlights being confused with breakthroughs”. This is so true! If you’ve ever visited a seminar from Tony Robbins, you’ll know what he means by that.
    But then on the other side you have Steve Pavlina. This is a guy who is less “sexy” but he offers practical advice that you can immediately apply. He talks about the idea behind change f.e. if you want it to be permanent you have to focus on habbits, take small incremental steps, your levels of wilpower don’t last forever.
    Yet “unlimited power” was the first book from Tony Robbins that I bought and it inspired me to improve my life. It made me think differently about my life and how things can be achieved and altered.
    the reason why I feel that these “gain instant succes, transform you life today…” books are very popular is because people don’t want the hear the nasty truth. Which is that if you want to have lasting benefits it’s going to be hard work, i’s going to be though.
    You can easily see connections with other industries:

    a) fitness
    go to the gym 3 times, eat well and rest well VS this magic ab toner will give you the abs you seek.
    b) fix your life, set new standards for yourself VS learn my 6 DHV DVD’s and you’ll become an instant chick magnet.

    I can also agree with the self-conscious fact. There is a skill that I learned a while ago called “self-talk” and in the beginning it made me very self-conscious, but now that it is a habbit I can say that it’s definetly a great skill to have. It only becomes dangerous when you start to believe that this is the way it should be 100% of the time. That’s insane! Just like you eat healthy most of the time you sometimes enjoy a cheese burger.
    And this is a normal human proces, there is even science to back this up. The problem is just that most of the time it’s being presented as the ONLY WAY to truly live and the ONLY RIGHT WAY. You should draw the line between where you want to apply it because you want it or where you feel that you must apply it because you feel that it’s the only correct way to live.

    But then again, Tony Robbins has inspired me a lot. And reading Steve Pavlina’s articles has definetly helped me to grasp the idea of change. My idea about change (your body, carreer) is now that it’s about forming the correct habbits that will push you in the right direction and then it’s just a matter of time.

    But you need to be able to separate the good from the bad and if you want to progress in life a minimum amount of self-help will be necessary.

    you want to manage your time –> Time Management
    you want to read faster –> Speed Reading
    you want to expand your network –> Networking Skills

    All of the above have something in common, all three of them are oriented towards daily practice. Action if you want to use that word.

    So as a summary, let Tony Robbins inspire you and let Steve Pavlina teach you.

  7. Breeeeeett says:

    well said, Geert

  8. Zachary Coak says:

    I must say you have a cool post. This hit the spot and then some! Thanks for posting this and sharing it with the world. I’ve just bookmarked your site. And I will check back soon to read your other articles. Keep up your awesome work.

  9. Andrew Paul Schettino says:


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