Svend Brinkmann: Stand Firm – Resisting The Self-Improvement Craze


I haven’t been able to get hold of Barbara Held’s “self-help book for curmudgeons”  Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching, but I enjoyed Svend Brinkman’s description of it in his own anti self-help book  Stand Firm – Resisting The Self-Improvement Craze.   This is from a chapter that starts, “It’s much more fun to be a sourpuss than a happy-clappy type”:

A good old public moan is a fine thing – it gives people something to talk about and fosters a certain sense of community.

The basic premise of Held’s moaners’ charter is that life is never completely okay. Sometimes it’s just slightly less not-okay. This means that there is always something to complain about.  When house prices fall, we complain about negative equity. When house prices rise, we complain about people constantly harping on about the value of their properties. Life is hard. But according to Held, this isn’t our real problem. The real problem is that we are forced to pretend that life isn’t hard. You’re expected to say, “Fine!” when asked how you’re doing. Even if your spouse has just had an affair. Improving your ability to focus on the negative – and complain about it – gives you a coping mechanism that makes life slightly more manageable. But complaining and dissent aren’t just about coping with situations. The freedom to grumble comes from the ability to face reality and accept it as it is. It endows you with a type of human dignity in stark contrast to the terminally positive individual, who zealously insists there’ s no such thing as bad weather (just inappropriate clothing). Well actually, Mr Happy, bad weather is real – and when it’s bad , it’s nice to be able to complain from the warmth of the pub. (39)

And as someone who’s never been too keen on the idea of “finding herself”( ) Gert likes Brinkman’s take on it:

…perhaps the time has come to ask whether four decades of navel-gazing have really done us much good. Have we found ourselves? Is it even possible? Is it worth even bothering to try? My answer to all of these questions would be no.  (17)

8 thoughts on “Svend Brinkmann: Stand Firm – Resisting The Self-Improvement Craze

  1. As a strong believer in the Examined Life I must exclude myself from the opinions expressed above. The word ‘better’ is a favourite of mine. I am of Samuel Beckett’s mind, ‘Fail again. Fail better.’ I find the grim complacency of ‘I yam what I yam’ quite infuriating.

    Other Gert’

    1. You’re being a bit dim, Gert 2. He’s certainly not saying you shouldn’t examine your life, quite the opposite. Face up to its difficulties without kidding yourself is more the message.

  2. I’ve never found myself, despite decades of looking, and so have given up and am now searching for the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.

    I’ve already established that none of the 42 so-called solutions so far advanced stand up to scrutiny, so am knocking on all the doors numbered 43.

  3. Positive thinking doesn’t mean refusing to face realty. It means maintaining an optimistic approach despite the fact that things are not fine.
    I don’t agree with the concept of finding oneself though. In my opinion it’s a little too self involved and introspective.

    1. Agreed.. He’s quite deliberately provocative, but he’s not dismissive of Martin Seligmann – just the potboiler kind of self-help approach that can come from it.

  4. I’ve never been a fan of being overly optimistic. I prefer being realistic, which means stating the glass is half full and half empty, because I know that both halves matter. It’s like the saying goes, ‘the optimist invented the air plane, the pessimist invented the parachute’

  5. I’m with you on that, Rebecca. And along the same lines I’ve been reading lately about women reacting against Sheryl Sandberg’s “lean in” advice because it makes complex situations seem simple and makes women feel even worse about themselves for not succeeding.

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