Self-help books doubled as a percentage of overall titles in the United States between 1975 and 2000, Laura Vanderkam reports in her article, “The Paperback Quest for Joy,” which takes stock of the huge self-help book industry. This rise of self-help books has paralleled the destabilization of the labor market and of families. “In place of a social safety net, Americans have been offered row upon row of self-help books,” Vanderkam quotes a sociologist.
Yet, according to Vanderkam, while the self-help genre provides “much to mock” and to seriously criticize, at its core, it “captures something uniquely American: the belief that anyone can pursue happiness.”
“A democracy requires thoughtful citizens who believe that society can improve with effort. Is it surprising that such citizens believe that they can improve with effort, too?” she notes. “And so, living out the Founders’ expectations, we undertake our happiness projects, trusting that with hard work — and perhaps a few positive thought vibrations — we can succeed.”