The focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week has been ‘stress: are we coping?’ This got us thinking about books that have helped us cope with the stresses of life.
One, in particular, is a recommended read for us. And it just happens to be the birthplace of many of the idioms that pop up regularly on your social media feeds.
Are we coping when life gives us lemons?
‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’ was first published in 1948. Yet it contains timeless wisdom that has helped people through periods of severe stress.
Alongside author Dale Carnegie’s own guidance ‘when fate gives you a lemon make a lemonade’ there are references to ancient wisdom and true life stories of battles with anxiety and stress.
Carnegie is best known for his book ‘How to Make Friends and Influence People’. The book was written in the 1930s and became a template for a certain type of guide to personal development. As examples of this, see the more recent ‘The 12 Rules of Life’ and ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.
The book is highly rated by many including successful American businessman and investor, Warren Buffett. Despite being over 75 years old it still regularly appears on bestseller lists.
How to stop worrying and start living
Whereas ‘How to Make Friends…’ focuses on how to succeed in a business arena, his follow up, ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’, attends to tried and trusted ways of dealing with life’s trials and tribulations.
Both books have one important point in common; they are not meant for casual reading. Rather, they are to be used as prompts for action.
The book is structured into sections that look at worry from different angles. Chapters include ‘Seven Ways to Cultivate a Mental Attitude that Will Bring You Peace and Happiness’ and ‘How to Keep from Worrying About Criticism.’
Each section contains 3 or more chapters with the section ending with a short to do list. For example, the section on criticism ends:
- Unjust criticism is often a disguised compliment. It often means that you have aroused jealousy and envy. Remember that no one ever kicks a dead dog.
- Do the very best you can, and then put up your old umbrella and keep the rain of criticism from running down the back of your neck.
- Let’s keep a record of the foolish things we have done and criticise ourselves. Since we can’t hope to be perfect, let’s do what E. H. Little did: let’s ask for unbiased, helpful, constructive criticism.
This is where your favourite #WednesdayWisdom quote came from…
Carnegie loves slogans and, in a way, was the forerunner of the social media phenomena of ‘Monday Motivation’ and ‘Wednesday Wisdom’.
He was well read, often quoting leading philosophers and psychologists of the day like William James (‘Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.’)
He also understood that his way was only one of many ways of approaching the challenge of worry and anxiety.
Carnegie concludes one chapter with the Serenity Prayer, a central part of the Alcoholics Anonymous approach: ‘God give me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Are we coping? From the perspective of people like you and me
‘How to Stop Worrying’ ends with a section of short case studies written by individuals about their personal struggles dealing with worry. Much of the content of the book centres on stories of ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances.
Written just after the Second World War many stories relate to the personal challenges men and women faced during this difficult time. Other stories in the book are more familiar and deal with the common experiences of life, for example, losing a loved one.
This reliance on everyday examples was used by Carnegie in his other books, as a direct result of his background in public speaking. It is said that he listened to and critiqued over 150,000 speeches in his lifetime and these provided a rich seam for his books.
‘How to Stop Worrying…’ was written some time ago and there are many self-help books that have been published since. Perhaps there’s a book that you turn to when times are challenging. If so we’d love to hear about it.
Are you coping with life?
If you are finding life a struggle, speaking to a counsellor can be helpful to understand the emotions you are experiencing and develop strategies to cope.
At The Spark, we have been providing counselling and support to individuals, couples and families for over 50 years. We are also the biggest provider of school-based counselling services in primary and secondary schools in Scotland.