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The energy to read generously

A confession: I enjoy reading self-help books. I know this isn’t cool. I certainly roll my eyes at plenty of stuff when I’m reading self-help, but they can also stimulate useful self-reflection.

The key is to skim anything that is boring or too cringeworthy and to read sympathetically rather than as an adversary looking to find a fatal flaw and demolish the argument.

Given that defensive preamble, here’s a quote I highlighted from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project (which I finished yesterday):

Of course, it’s cooler not to be too happy. There’s a goofiness to happiness, an innocence, a readiness to be pleased. Zest and enthusiasm take energy, humility, and engagement; taking refuge in irony, exercising destructive criticism, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui is less taxing.

Skimming through all my highlights, this originally jumped out at me in relation to Nick Riggle and seeking to be awesome rather than cool. Now I see that it also describes how I relate to self-help as a genre! It takes energy to read generously OR to read something with thoughtful criticism.

The easy path in reading is to read dismissively, to toss something aside or fail to put your irritation into words. It’s OK to do this, too. Life is too short to force yourself through books from a sense of obligation. But even book that looks dumb, if you put in the energy to ask “What is the way of seeing the world that makes this seem true?”, might be better than you credit.

Just don’t entangle “I enjoyed this book and got value out of it” with “You should read this book, too”. I feel incredibly weird rating books on a five star scale, because your engagement with a book is so incredibly personal, so dependent on the time and place in your life where you read it and the particularities of how you think.

You probably won’t like The Happiness Project. But, overall, I did and I’m OK with that.