What Has “Self-Help” Taught Us?: Opinion Essay

Hudson Hsieh

What Has “Self-Help” Taught Us?: Opinion Essay

Hudson Hsieh

For the past decade, self development has been a buzzword that is often thrown around all over pop-culture and the internet. Popularized by the increased interest around being “productive” and living a more minimalist lifestyle, self development has caught on to many as a way to find contentment. Living in a fast paced and high stress environment can cause many to turn to self development in an attempt to find the answers to living a balanced lifestyle. Maybe, the rise in self-help is a reflection of society as a whole. Self-help can teach us about the values we hold as individuals, as we try to live a more meaningful life. 

The culture that facilitated the rise in self development can be attributed to the hypercompetitive space that dominates most work and school environments. The expectations that are held of employees and students have never been higher, with the need to stand of paramount importance. As education becomes more and more accessible to people around the world, the competition for well-paying jobs becomes tougher and tougher. Oftentimes, what separates the people who get the job and those who don’t is the amount of time and effort they put into their studies (connections don’t hurt). This is what often creates the 5-6 hours study sessions students put themselves through, in order to receive a high mark on the examination. Furthermore, students and adults are expected to be more than just hard workers in their occupations. For example, in a school setting you’re expected to be in extracurricular activities that are outside of regular school work, while having a vibrant social life. 

The rise in social media only exacerbates this issue, as more people are shown the lifestyle of other people. Although many do not outright admit the influence social media has on them, there is evidence to support that at least on a subconscious level, social media does have an effect on the brain. On social media and the internet, people are often shown the glamorous snapshots of other people, almost a window into their life. Oftentimes, looking at the success and achievements of other people is cathartic, but  in the back of our mind, we kind of wish we were like them. It’s easy to see why people turn to self development as an alternative once the pieces start to fall into place.

Self-development is the process in which people aim to improve their lives through goal setting, developing healthy routines, finding contentment in life, and ultimately to achieve inner peace. It’s  ironic that social media was originally designed as a way to connect society and exchange ideas and information – a way to make people feel more in touch with their peers. However, nowadays social media has some sort of a label attached to it. The turnaround of societal views on social media is astounding and it has totally shifted from a revolutionary way of communicating to a privacy-invading platform whose sole purpose is to engage the user for as long as possible. These companies employ hundreds of scientists and programmers who’s job is to harvest your data and to run algorithms on your preferences. I find it funny that a popular tip for living “a more present life” is to detach yourself from social media and the news. We went from a society where paying attention to the world around you is important, to a society where unplugging from the world might be a good thing. Also, I found a common theme to self development is to “be present” and “finding peace”. One of the effects of living in a society where information is constantly being exchanged at work, in school, and the world around us, is how our attention is scattered. Attention span has gotten way shorter as people are constantly thinking ahead and not focusing on the present moment. People are being bombarded with all sorts of information, and this can result in a feeling of being overwhelmed. This scattered thinking dominates many of our existence, because once we are finished with a task, another one is thrown at us. There is just so much going on that it is hard to simply turn off social media, because it has become such an integral part of our lives. 

The idea of being present aims to end this destructive cycle, and it does this by slowing life down. It encourages people to meditate and think about nothing at all, and see if you’re able to just do nothing. An internet detox is another popular strategy as it removes that coping mechanism and it challenges people to reevaluate other strategies to deal with stress. Other self-development ideas emphasize the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating, and how doing both could improve mood and boost productivity. Also, self-development can question people to think about where they want their life to go, and how they would like to get there. It provides the encouragement needed to start taking proactive steps to live the life they want to live. In the end, what all these strategies aim to do is to provide the foundation for people to live a more deliberate and guided lifestyle.

The need for self development in our society can point to the values that we may hold. In some cases self development has been monetized as people found out that there was an opportunity to sell courses, products, and services to the masses. The trend also spawned a whole generation of lifestyle gurus or people that try and teach others on how to live their best lives. Besides the monetization of this trend, self development opened up a new conversation within society. It shifted the focus from work, social media, and the outside world to the individual. It teaches the idea that a person should be the center of their own life, and that they should prioritize the well-being of themselves. It’s a trend that aims to disconnect us from the world around us, and helps us live a better lifestyle. 

The rise in self help can be seen as a way society is trying to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. The population has to often deal with the unsustainable expectations that a work or school setting might hold and this can lead to burnout. Social media, the platforms that were established with altruistic purpose became platforms that are concerned more with profit margin than their users. As a result many started to believe that self-development was the path they needed to follow in order to live the lifestyle they always dreamed of. As a whole, self development did create a more aware society, and most importantly a society who is living a more conscious lifestyle. 

Author’s Note– I wanted to clarify that I think social media is not all bad, because it’s not. I personally find a lot of use out of social media, and I agree with the fact that it is a great way to connect society. For example, I would’ve never gotten the idea if it wasn’t for the inspiration that social media gave it. Also social media is the reason why self-development got so popular in the first place. 

This essay was a way for me to give my stance on why self development is so popular right now. In my opinion, as long as there is an incentive for people to improve themselves, self development is going to stay relevant. As always thank you for reading, and many more to come in the future. Pls comment ideas on the next essay! 


1.“Cambridge Analytica.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Jan. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge_Analytica. 

2. McCoubrey, Dean. “The Effect of Social Media on the Subconscious Mind.” MySociaLife, 27 Feb. 2021, https://www.mysocialife.com/the-effect-of-social-media-on-the-subconscious-mind/. 

3. Neighmond, Patti. “School Stress Takes a Toll on Health, Teens and Parents Say.” NPR, NPR, 2 Dec. 2013, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/12/02/246599742/school-stress-takes-a-toll-on-health-teens-and-parents-say.

4. “Self Development.” Destiny’s Odyssey, https://destinysodyssey.com/personal-development/self-development-2/.