Book Review: Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman

Book Review: Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman


Help! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done by Oliver Burkeman, , RRP $40, ISBN 9780857860255, Available now.There is something highly amusing about a book that sets out to puncture a few of the most cherished self-help myths, and simultaneously manages to be one of the best and potentially most useful self-help books you’ll probably read.

Help! is truly incredibly helpful. Oliver Burkeman (who you can and should find at) writes the column This Column Will Change Your Life at The Guardian and has consequently spent several years trolling, um, sorry, trawling the self-help beat, attempting to separate the dross from the drivel from the actually rather helpful. (BookieMonster. Not a fan of self-help.)

Help! is a collection of these columns, covering ways to be happier at home, love, work and with friends. The beauty of Burkeman is he’s managed to distil the actual useful information out of various “lifehacking” websites, productivity sites, self-help books and courses, and even serious psychological research.

Some of my favourite gems from Help!:

  • Oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. Seems to be associated with forming strong attachments. Yes, hugs really do help.
  • You know how you see your friends and they seem like they’re really popular and have heaps of friends (way more than you). Well, statistically that’s because they are. Yes, your friends have more friends than you. (This is one of my favourite insights).
  • The Secret is a load of self-serving bollocks. Burkeman is possibly more erudite on this subject than I.
  • Circumstances actually have very little effect on happiness.
  • We all think other people are fundamentally annoying/angry/rude people but we ourselves are only like that when we’re having a bad day. It’s called the fundamental attribution error.
  • Not being a specialist in your career is a positive, not a negative (thank god for me, a serial career-ist).

He’s also not afraid to be totally honest and bag what we all deep-down know is a load of old cobblers, but at the same time he’s also happy to highlight what actually might work, no matter how twee or ridiculous it may seem to cynical minds. Case in point – gratitude journals.

Gratitude journals are at the extreme end of the cheesiness continuum, but the studies are hard to refute.

In the end, the best thing about this book is the little snippets of true, unvarnished advice.

In The Happiness Trap, the psychologist Russ Harris suggests a simple yet powerful perspective-shift… Imagine you’re 80, then complete these sentences: “I spent too much time worrying about…”* and “I spent too little time doing things such as…”

For reasons which I am not going to elucidate for public consumption, your BookieMonster (me) has been suffering under some serious stress recently. Now, I wouldn’t claim to be the most happiest-go-lucky kinda gal at the best of times, but circumstances have all come together in the last few months to make some serious claims on my mental well-being. Help! actually made me feel better. Not on-of-the-world-everything’s-coming-up-roses better, but just a little better. And, as Help! tells it, even just a little better can be a serious victory.

*The fact that your intrepid BookieMonster’s answer to this was “everything” may indicate where I have issues. Sigh.