We’re all trying to be better. At least a lot of us are. We’re trying to be better friends, better siblings, better children, better partners and better spouses. We’re trying to be better at our jobs, better in our careers, and just in life in general. We’re trying to be better people overall. It’s such a challenge sometimes. Life and the world we live our lives in demand so much of us, every day and every hour.

It’s hard to think about texting a significant other back when there are deadlines at work to meet. It’s hard to check in with a friend when there is a term paper that’s due tomorrow. It’s hard to remember to call your parents when there are last month’s unpaid bills to pay and kids to feed. It’s a lot. There’s hardly any time to get everything that needs doing done, let alone try to be a better you. But we still want it to happen, so we look for ways to make it happen.

Often that takes the form of web-prowling and hours (or maybe just a few minutes) spent reading and watching self-help and self-improvement articles and videos online. It’s become big business, the self-help and self-improvement industry. It has been valued at around $11 billion year-on-year since 2009. That’s an insane amount of money. It’s a lot of money going around in people’s pockets, capitalising on our desires and attempts to be better.

But I wonder, are they telling us anything we don’t already know? Do we really need their help as much as the numbers seem to suggest we do? Is it that we didn’t know the things they tell us, or that we know them but are loath to accept them and confront them? Are we simply looking for support and confirmation for what we already know?

We are incredibly intelligent creatures, us human beings. We make ungodly creations and marvellous advances in science and technology. We get so far in five years that we make what happened before those five years look like ancient history. Just look at iPhones from five years ago. We think about things deeply and extensively. We’re the epitome of God’s creation, and yet we can’t figure out how to be better people. Is it really that hard? Is it that the simplest things in life can often be the most complicated?

Maybe so. It’s hard to keep things simple. Life gets crazy and so many things can make even the simplest things complicated. Like how the birthday boy’s extreme lactose intolerance means no pizza for his birthday. What kind of party doesn’t have pizza? Then when it comes to the more serious things in life (not that pizza isn’t serious), it’s even worse.

The questions start out simple, then increase in number and complexity. How do I become a better person? What does it involve? What does being a better person even mean? Better according to whom? How will all that affect my relationships? What will people think of me? Is becoming a better person even worth it? What started out as something simple morphs into a philosophical debate with oneself, and sometimes the task is abandoned before it is even begun. It shouldn’t be that complicated to figure ourselves out and we might conclude that someone else must have figured out an easier way of doing this, which leads us to the aforementioned billion-dollar industry.

You might have heard of Mark Manson. You might even have consumed his content. Mark has some issues with the self-help world. The self-help world can be very helpful to us. It can help us figure things out easier than if we were to do it all on our own. It can help us feel better about ourselves, which is oh so very important. There are definitely merits to the self-help world, but just like other things in our world, there are demerits to it too. Humans are wildly different from each other, and it’s difficult for there to be a one-size-fits-all remedy to their problems. That’s not to say there isn’t a one-size-fits-all remedy to some problems, but we have to be careful with what we interact with in the self-help world and filter out what’s helpful and what isn’t.

Is that the problem? Or is it something simpler? Is it that deep down we know the truth, we know what we need to do, but because it might scare, shame, or confuse us, we deny it and pretend reality is different? Maybe even ignore it entirely? The human mind is extremely powerful, sometimes more than we give it credit for or want to give it credit for. We can trick ourselves into believing a fallacy and make it make sense when in reality it doesn’t.

We can also be very idiotic and silly sometimes. Our intelligence doesn’t prevent us from making mistakes. In fact, to quote Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, our intelligence may make our mistakes “correspondingly huger”. It’s easy to convince ourselves that our problems are someone else’s fault. It’s easy to say that there’s nothing wrong with us, that the rest of the world has it wrong. It’s easy not to take responsibility. It’s easy to be a victim.

Easy doesn’t mean correct or good though. Deep down we know the truth. We know when we’re messing up. We know when we need to do better. We usually know when we’re wrong and being boors. We know when we’re being less than stellar human beings. We give ourselves excuses to misbehave because the alternative might be taking a long look at ourselves and filtering out the nonsense. It means sometimes accepting that you’re the bad guy. And that’s hard.

It can mean starting over and redefining oneself. It can be super uncomfortable and maybe even painful. It can be a blow to one’s pride and ego. It can even be embarrassing. But diamonds aren’t formed from cuddles and caresses. And everyone has a diamond in them waiting to shine through, even if it’s still in the rough.

Granted, sometimes we are incapable of figuring things out for ourselves and need help to do so. It’s important to recognise that we need that help and get it when we need it. But when the obvious is staring us in the face, or even just whispering in our ear, it shouldn’t be ignored.

So are we really that ignorant about how to help ourselves? Or is some of the advice we hear just stating the obvious?