Let’s Get Miserable: 5 Fall Non-Fiction Books About The Other Side Of Happiness

Think positively.  Say affirmations.  Be still in the moment. Journal!!!!

We are told to find gratitude when we feel deficient. To pray for serenity when anxious thoughts get the best of us.  To chase our wildest dreams. If we want a Jacuzzi, we are told to make a vision board with pictures of said Jacuzzi and meditate on luxuriating in that Jacuzzi; it will, in time, be ours.

These ideas are not exactly novel. We’ve all heard them, whether we’re those who scoff and call them trite or the starry-eyed types who say things like “they’re clichés for a reason.”

More likely, our standpoints will waver. We’ll turn to a book with a zingy title and nice pull quotes after a breakup or a major life change brings on the emotions. We’ll get a boost of inspiration and momentarily feel like the goal-reaching, God-talking, granola-eating versions of ourselves we’ve always dreamed of. But the pink cloud ultimately disperses, and we get back to binge-watching Ally McBeal and eating cold pasta out of the fridge.

Why can’t we permanently implement the seductive updates we so desire? After all this time spent trying to repair ourselves, shouldn’t we be fixed by now?

A new wave of books with similarly-timed release dates are disputing the “magic fix” banality found in the self-improvement genre’s usual bubblegum-flavored positivity offerings. The concepts and styles vary (from science to exercise-based and humor to personal memoir), but all zero in on the embracement of bad feelings, something this genre has historically considered taboo.

The authors aren’t disputing the “when you fall, get back up” maxim. They absolutely want us back on our feet.  But they suggest that to achieve and maintain actual positive change, we take some time to lie on the ground and experience suffering instead of clamoring to get back up the moment it hurts. This way, we won’t be relying on fair-weather friends like false hope and wishful thinking to pull us off the ground. We’ll have done the work and risen on our own.

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Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution by Brené Brown (Random House)

Everyone’s favorite self-help guru cum statistician (and probably the only one we know), Brené Brown, has made her mark in the personal development genre with her unique blend of science, spirituality, and personal wisdom. In her fifth offering, she preaches vulnerability, and asserts that feeling powerless is the only road to powerfulness.   Utilizing concrete data as evidence, she demonstrates that successful people are generally the way they are for a reason: they are OK experiencing negative emotions.

Although bad feelings are often misinterpreted as perilous, Brown argues that in the process of finding our footing, we discover our innate courage and sense of self.

Give yourself permission to feel emotion, get curious about it, pay attention to it, and practice.

TAKEAWAY: If you lean into discomfort, you may eventually find you’ve fallen into a better life.

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Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson (Flatiron Books)

In her darkly hilarious memoir, The Blogess writer Jenny Lawson, who has struggled with clinical anxiety and depression, urges us to accept the inevitable dark periods of life while clinging to moments of authentic happiness, as they are what eventually pull us back up. She also recommends we be batshit crazy, and jump into water fountains we aren’t supposed to, just because.

You have won many battles. There are no medals given out for these fights, but you wear your armor and your scars like an invisible skin, and each time you learn a little more. Sometimes we walk in sunlight with everyone else.  Sometimes we live underwater and fight and grow.

TAKEAWAY: Forget who you’re supposed to be, be who you are.  Acknowledge the bad, cherish the great.

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Yoga For Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom by Colleen Saidman Yee (Atria Books)

OK, so this is very much an exercise book that has photos of yoga poses and sequences we most likely won’t do. But Colleen Saidman Yee’s honest and unidealized story about working as a high fashion model and struggling with heroin addiction gives this book depth and authenticity (not to mention some juicy stories).

Saidman Yee’s ideas may be a little new-agey for some; I mean, she really loves yoga and sees it as a remedy for most of life’s problems. But she also delves into the idea of staying in the present moment whether it feels good or bad.

I’ve learned that the best high exists in the joy—or the sadness—of the present moment. Yoga allows me to surf the ripples and sit with the mud, while catching glimpses of the clarity of my home at the bottom of the lake: my true self.

TAKEAWAY: Sit with the mud even when it feels gross and slimey; you may walk away clean.

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Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget by Sarah Hepola (Grand Central Publishing)

A lot of people love addiction memoirs. They’re entertaining and cathartic; it’s comforting to see someone else struggling, probably even worse than ourself. I’m sure out there somewhere, there is someone addicted to addiction memoirs.

Journalist Sarah Hepola’s take on the often-predictable genre sticks out for its grace, candor and unexpected humor.  Alcohol was the ammunition that kept her firing through life (goodbye social anxiety, intimacy problems, fear of failure).  But she soon found that self-medicating and numbing her pain had also deadened her spirit.

After recovery she had to relearn basic human activities, like how to connect with friends, do her job, date, and even relax, all without the crutch of alcohol.  She had to relearn how to feel pain, a lesson even non-addicts can apply if they find themselves leading an avoidant lifestyle.

I needed alcohol to drink away the things that plagued me.  My self-consciousness, my loneliness, my insecurities, my fears.  I drank away all the parts that made me human.

TAKEAWAY: The dark cloud you’re hiding under is much worse than the one you’re hiding from.

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F*ck Feelings: One Shrink’s Practical Advice for Managing All Life’s Impossible Problemsby Michael I. Bennett, MD, and Sarah Bennett (Simon & Schuster)

OK, so this premise is a little different.  Marketed as “the last self-help book you’ll ever need,” a Harvard-educated psychiatrist father and his comedian daughter duo have essentially written the first anti self-help book.  The F*ck Feelings concept started as an obscure advice blog (where Bennett Sr. went by “Dr. Lastname”) that urged its wayward readers to accept reality, chill out on trying to change bad feelings, and STOP WITH THE MAGICAL THINKING.

The book basically comes with a guarantee that it will not make your problems disappear or imbue you with the tools for lifelong happiness.  Unfortunately, many people will be assholes and many things won’t be in our control.  Fortunately, we can choose to ignore the assholes and pay attention to what we can change.

Victory is putting up with the pain and humiliation of reality and trying to make things better anyway.

TAKEAWAY: Life’s unfair; some people suck. Get over it and make life awesome on your own terms.