Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What's Wrong With Just Being Yourself?

I spent a few hours at the bookstore yesterday afternoon. Since the introduction of Kindles, Nooks, iPads, eBooks, etc., I fear that one day, all bookstores will go the way of the dinosaur. So, I try to patronize them as much as possible. A quiet table by the window…Australian Vogue Living…a latte and a lemon bar…ahhh.

Have you ever noticed how many self-improvement books are on the market? There are literally thousands of “how to” books that deal with self-confidence, depression, fear and anxiety…not to mention coping with mid-life crisis, gray hair, wrinkles, and unwanted belly fat.

There are books on diet and exercise regimens that promise to add years to your life. There are books full of makeup tips, hairstyle suggestions for your facial shape, and wardrobe ideas to minimize your butt…and more books touting lotions and potions for your skin, dyes for your hair, and cosmetic surgical procedures to nip, tuck, and lift whatever sags. You won’t necessarily live any longer, but the strong implication is that your quality of life will greatly improve if your eyes and lips are lined, your cheekbones are amply defined, your unnaturally golden blond bangs are draped over your forehead to hide the wrinkles, and your “love handles” are strategically camouflaged…or sucked out.

Are we really that unhappy and insecure? I mean, as I go from day to day, I come in contact with a lot of people. Most of them look pretty good, and seem reasonably together. But somebody buys these books. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be written and bookstores wouldn’t have a gigantic self-improvement section. Of course, “looking pretty good and seeming reasonably together” doesn’t always translate into actually “being” secure and happy.

I’ll admit, I’ve read a few (hundred) self-improvement books in my lifetime. And, some of them were marginally helpful. But I stopped when I realized that my dog is the happiest person I know…and he doesn’t read. He eats whatever he wants when he’s hungry, and he stops eating when he’s full. He likes to chase squirrels, but never seriously considers the health benefits of running. He enjoys riding in the car with the wind blowing his hair, damned the hairstyle! He likes everybody at the dog park and accepts them as they are, and they all love him back for his friendly, non-discriminatory attitude. He has big ears and a crazy-big nose, but he embraces his flaws and doesn’t consider cosmetic surgery an option. And, he never, ever, checks out his ass in the mirror before he leaves the house…

My question is, why do we human beings think there’s something wrong with us? Do we really need that much "self-improvement?" Are all of those books written because we feel so bad about ourselves…or do we feel bad about ourselves because there are so many books written about what’s wrong with us…and how to fix it? As the kids say, “I’m just askin’.”