Once a West Coast phenomenon, self-improvement is big. Advocates of self-improvement strategies with journals, ice baths, cold showers, and meditation have millions of followers. And it's a huge business too: the global personal development industry was estimated at $44 billion last year. But there is growing evidence that self-improvement can be a real risk to our health. Studies show self-criticism contributes to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. This can even turn fatal: 56% of those who committed suicide exhibited a “perceived external pressure to be perfect". It is not even clear that self-improvement is really possible, after all, who is the self carrying out the improvement?
Should we conclude that the self-optimisation industry is peddling an illusion? Is a focus on pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps not only misguided but a means to squeeze the joy out of our lives? Or is self-improvement a vital way to create a better way of living and create meaning in our lives?