First Person

Do you hide your self-help books behind rows of great literature? Here’s why you need to stop

Everyone admits that they could improve some aspect of their lives, but no one wants to be seen actually seeking help to do it.

Admitting that you read self-help books is a sure-fire way to lose all kinds of credibility: intellectual, emotional and financial. A person who reads self-help books is like the kind of person who writes to agony aunts – someone who manages to get themselves into the most unimaginable scrape possible, but also someone who has no qualms wasting precious time seeking advice from celebrities with dubious credentials.

In other words, the typical reader of self-help literature seems like a desperate, socially-incompetent creature, to be pitied for their problems, rather than admired for their attempts at self-improvement.

While most people say they want to improve in at least one area of their lives, no one wants to actually be seen doing it, specifically if those skills are of a psychological or social nature. If you want to run a marathon, for instance, it is okay to be seen practising everyday, but if you want a successful relationship, God forbid you read a self-help book which teaches you how to be a better partner (ironically, seeking couples’ counselling after a relationship has already broken down, is somehow seen as socially permissible.)

By the same token, it is perfectly acceptable to read manuals or how-to books on cooking, coding, or to learn a new language. People are even willing to enrol in classes that train you to do these things. But when it comes to figuring out life’s fundamental questions – like how to be a good friend, how to be happy, what to do with anger – you’re supposed to figure it all out on your own.

via Flickr CC BY
via Flickr CC BY

The irony of self-help

Like most members of my family, I learnt how to read at an early age and never stopped. Once I was through reading everything by Roald Dahl and Enid Blytons, done with popular series like Tintin, Tinkle and Champak, I began raiding the libraries of older people in my home. These consisted of a wide assortment of books – literary classics and women’s magazines to books on childcare, origami and self-help.

As a result, I developed a highly indiscriminate reading habit early on. No book was too good or too bad for me. Young and still unaware of literature with a capital L, I found something of value in everything I read. Self-help books were no different.

We had a lot of self-help books at home. Most of them belonged to my father. The books ranged from advice on how to speak in public, how to read fast, how to be fulfilled, and how to move things with your mind. What I learnt (aside from the fact that moving things with your mind is called psychokinesis – a very cool word to know when you are ten) was an important piece of wisdom, that seeking help is okay and that there is no shame in trying to be better than you are.

I don’t quite know when the shame crept in. I remember one incident – I had gone to a book exhibition with a fellow book-lover. It was part of our annual ritual where we would buy books made available at ridiculous discounts. This included Penguins classics, science fiction, Kafka and Kundera – the usual suspects. This time I also picked up a self-help book on how to do things alone. The book had a clunky title: Positive Solitude: A Practical Program for Mastering Loneliness and Achieving Self-fulfillment (1991) by Rae Andre. I was recovering from a particularly bad break-up and having a hard time being by myself. Even though I was a veteran of self-help literature by then, I knew instinctively to hide the book from my friend, who was perusing, at the time, a well-worn copy of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

via Flickr CC BY
via Flickr CC BY

For some reason, I knew it was acceptable to have existential pangs about turning into a cockroach, but to have a mundane and ordinary problem like suffering from a break up was hugely embarrassing. Few people feel the need to justify their reading of fiction – it enriches our lives by giving us access to completely different worlds.

But if books tell us that there are alternate ways of living our lives, that we don’t have to submit to the dominant social script of our time, that we can write and re-write our own story, then self-help books too play an important role. As much as I love getting lost in a novel, there are times when the comfort of a book is not enough. Sometimes what I need is concrete advice. It is one thing to read Tolkien’s creation Gandalf say, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,” but quite another to know how to structure that time.

Unfortunately, when we took our haul to the checking counter, my friend caught a glimpse of my book on how to do things alone. I don’t quite remember what mortifying thing he said, but I do remember the raw feeling of burning shame rising inside me. I felt exposed and inexplicably angered, partly at the circumstance that created the need for me to buy the book and partly at the feeling that I needed to justify my reading choices.

The moment passed, I got home and began to read my book. I began to follow the instructions it laid out: for the first time in my life, I went for a movie alone. I started going on solo-walks, going to coffee shops by myself and, eventually, even took myself out on solo dinner dates. Now, as a resolute do-er of solo things, it is difficult to imagine that there was a time when I would hesitate to do something that I enjoyed, simply because I didn’t have company. Without having read that book, I might never have started and my life would be devoid of all the art exhibitions, movies, walks, farmer’s markets and strange adventures I had had by myself.

Of course, it is entirely possible that I might still have learnt to enjoy life on my own, as many people have. However, it has always perplexed me when people are so quick to ridicule and discard something that helps other people find their way.

via Pixabay CC BY
via Pixabay CC BY

The myth of total self-sufficiency

One reason no one wants to be seen reading a self-help book is that we want to give others the impression that we are totally self-sufficient. No one wants to admit that they could possibly be lonely or unhappy, or in need of psychological help.

There is a widely-held belief that self-help books don’t actually work and cannot possibly bring about lasting change. While the self-help industry, like any other, is not without its share of frauds, much of what we read in self-help literature can give us solid advice.

For instance, the main message of the self-help classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), by Dale Carnegie, is that if you want people to care about your needs, you need to care about theirs first. The book is full of sentences like, “Personally I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted.”

Sure, the book has things you might already know: it tells you that you need to smile, make sure that you don’t have bad breath, be a cheerful, encouraging person. But the core message is valuable – that nothing can substitute your genuine concern for another person. All things considered, this not such a bad place to begin forming relationships.

Another classic, M Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (1978), taught me that love is not the same as attachment. Love is a verb, not a feeling. It is something you do for another person, even though you might not always feel loving. This is a hard-won piece of wisdom at age 30, but at 15, it was a novel and life-changing idea.

Even the much-satirised Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), by Stephen Covey, contains some reliable nuggets on getting things done. Covey writes, “You have to decide what your priorities are – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – learn to say ‘no’ to other things; the way to do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

None of these books are without their flaws, but the idea is to treat them like you would any part of life – keep the parts you like and ignore the rest.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.