Previously published at the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.
I was grateful this morning to wake and find a comment on a piece I wrote a while back titled, “Are You a Caregiver Burning Out?” The column itself meant a lot to me as it was the fruit of my first realization that I fit in the category of “caregiver” and with that, the advice I regularly read for caregivers also applied to me. Being a person less inclined to let me off the hook, the excuse “experts say I should” fascinates rest quite nicely for me.
In the comment, the reader said my writing did little more than help a person feel good in a moment, but tips and to-dos are no substitute for the real work of love.
I whole-heartedly agree.
Which is why I hate the click-bait headlines:
“Ten secrets to a happy marriage.”
“Solve all your problems with three easy steps!”
“Never gain weight again!!”
“Five ways you’re ruining your life (and how we can help you fix it)!!!”
“One Step to Get You on the Path to Never Suffer Again!!!!”
Too many articles promise with their openings lines to fix our lives. The melodrama piques our curiosity and draws us in. Generally dividing the steps/tips/mistakes into one or two individual slides, the desire to know what comes next and if it will be worth it keeps us clicking. Each click earns the advertising dollar for the company who created the articles, paid for by the companies splattered all across the screen.
Those companies and advertisers track the number of views per screen and direct their actions accordingly.
In newspapers this is called “yellow journalism” and refers to (according to Wikipedia) “journalism and associated newspapers that present little or no legitimate well-researched news while instead using eye-catching headlines for increased sales. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism.” The term was coined in the 1890s and describes that era and the emergence of tabloids.
The method is not new. Only the medium.
Meanwhile, and less in-your-face, the self-help industry is booming. In 2016, the U.S. self-help industry was worth about $9.9 billion dollars, according to a report from Research and Markets. Their titles and approach, like the clickbait, offer to tell you the secret to the meaning of life, and how to live it.
Every generation likely has its own version: “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” in the 1990s, “The Total Money Makeover” in the 2000s or “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” in the 2010s. The field goes back as far as the 1850s.
These books and articles generally lack a philosophical framework to hold up their claims. Thus nothing lasts longer than a moment. According to Aristotle, happiness cannot be sought for its owns sake. It is a byproduct, the result of good actions done habitually, of living a life more human than animal, by practicing virtue (not limited to a Christian perspective).
The best books and works speak to us about the universal condition of love, suffering and death, and then convict us to act rightly. The best columns will do likewise.
I found my right place at the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch with its mission to promote the positive press. We are not interested in clickbait or sensational news. We tell the stories because people are what matter. This column is not meant to solve all your problems but is an invitation to think about them, as I write to you about the idea I myself am exploring in my own life.
From the distance of pen and paper, no one can make you act. The column, book, retreat or therapy session might have a powerful effect, lifting you from the moment of fleeting or lasting self-deprecation. But to really face the problems of life one must put the phone away, lay aside the newspaper, close the self-help book, get outside and get to work.
A lot of people are already doing it. Improving your life might just mean taking one step towards doing it better.
Kathryn is a freelance writer in Hughson, California. To read more of her writing, go to www.kathrynannecasey.com.
Kathryn Anne Casey
Hughson, CA 95326