Last week I was invited to a book release party. A friend had published on her own and invited friends to a restaurant celebration. On a freezing night in the East Village, I picked up flowers and walked to the party through empty, windy streets. In the back I found Laurie, the author, standing beside a stack of books fresh from presses in China. A big banner with the book title hung behind her.
She ran toward me with her arms open.
“You came! Thank you so much. And look at these flowers! You shouldn’t have! You are so sweet!”
“Congratulations,” I said. “You are certainly a person who makes things happen. I’m glad you just decided to publish the book yourself.”
“Yes, I thought, why not! I have to live my own principles.”
She showed me the book with its multi-colored glossy cover.
“Laurie, it looks great. It really turned out well.”
“Yeah, I think so too. Thanks! Let me put these flowers in some water. I’ll be right back.”
The book is called “Love Your Life Today.” It’s a small flipbook on spirals. Each page contains inspirational message. The back of each page has a space for readers to jot down their personal goals. Inside are line drawings of happy people smiling and gesturing exuberantly. The back cover shouts, “Rejuvenate the way you look at the world, and make this life the one you’ve always wanted to live. Love it!”
Whole sections in bookstores are set aside for books in Laurie’s genre. And they sell. The estimated worth of the self-improvement market was $9.59 billion in 2005. It expected to reach $13.9 billion by the end of 2010. Laurie hoped to be part of these numbers.
I looked for Laurie but she was lost in a swirl of “Oh my goshes!” and “Thanks for coming!” hugs.
I struck up a conversation with a dark-haired woman sitting next to me.
“How do you know Laurie?” I asked.
“I worked with her at an advertising firm. She’s no longer there but I still am.”
“Do you like working in advertising?” I asked.
“No, I hate my job. I’ve hated it since I started. After the first two years I said I was going to do something about it. Then I said it after the next two years. And now it’s been eight years and I’m still there.”
Her eyes sagged as she spoke.
“You’re in luck,” I said cheerfully. “I have a book that can help you!” I pulled Laurie’s book off the table and she laughed.
“Yeah, maybe I should read it,” she said.
We started thumbing through the pages together.
“Exude Confidence” was the title of the first page we opened. “Approach everything you do with a confirmation of your personal confidence and conviction. YOU are a phenomenal human being capable of amazing accomplishments. Carry yourself like you believe this.”
I turned to another page.
“Crystallize Your Goals: What do you want out of the next week, the next month, the next year? What do you want from your relationships, your work and your physical well-being? Visualize yourself succeeding in all your goals.”
We continued to read but said nothing.
“The Law of Attraction: The Law of Attraction states that we naturally attract that which we focus on. Be selective about what you think about. Become a magnet for greater abundance and personal success. Whatever it is, you can do it.”
I closed the book and looked up at her. “Well, does any of that inspire you?”
She frowned. “I’d like to say yes, but honestly it depresses me. Now I feel worse. I need a drink. Do you want one? I’m heading to the bar.” She didn’t wait for my reply.
According to a study published recently in the magazine Psychological Science, most self-help ideas don’t actually work, particularly among those who may need them most.
Researchers found that individuals with low self-esteem actually felt worse about themselves after being asked to repeat positive statements of self. A follow-up study uncovered a paradox: low self-esteem participants felt better about themselves when they were permitted to express negative thoughts, not when they were told to focus only on positive ones. Only people with high-self esteem to start with showed a slight improvement.
I looked up from the book. By then, the room had filled with people and Laurie stood up to speak.
“Thanks to everyone who came to support me. It means a lot. I wrote this book to encourage people to live their life to their fullest and pass the word that you can do anything you set your mind to. I also wanted to thank those who have stood by me as I’ve cried. And those who know me know I cry a lot. But however we feel, we must persevere. I hope my book will help you love your life today!”
Everyone applauded and began drinking. I bought a copy in solidarity and Laurie signed it with a bright red marker. She hugged me again, and I walked back out into the winter cold.
Once home, I reexamined the book. I found myself wondering, Did I love my life today? What about tomorrow? Maybe I should love my life tomorrow? What were my goals?
I wasn’t sure. Just thinking about it made me tired. Sometimes getting through the day was accomplishment enough, I thought. Today was good enough. I’ll take good enough.
With that, I filed the book away.