Give up the rat race, accept reality and have the courage to be disliked – the latest self-help trend is not about self-reinvention but finding contentment in the life you have
By tradition, this is the season for personal reinvention, but these days it’s hard not to feel cynical about the idea of a triumphant liberation from the past. In the news, Brexit provides an hourly reminder that merely wishing to bring about a glorious fresh start is no guarantee that calamity won’t be the result. Meanwhile, other dark developments – from the erosion of American democracy and the resurgence of the European far right, all the way to climate change – fuel a sense of foreboding that isn’t exactly motivational when it comes to self-improvement: the creeping fear that you might be living in the end times is a poor basis for making a new beginning. In any case, the never-ending debate on nature versus nurture seems to be drifting toward a gloomy acceptance that there’s much about ourselves we’ll never change. “DNA isn’t all that matters,” writes the geneticist Robert Plomin, whose book Blueprint epitomised this mood last year, “but it matters more than everything else put together in terms of the stable psychological traits that make us who we are.”
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