I usually do not like self-help books or books where the author is basically a professional at giving advice. I find that with a good percentage of them, there is some sort of unfulfilling theme, and by the time I finish reading one, I have a piece of paper telling me I’m beautiful, while I’m wearing bleach spotted sweatpants, with one ankle sock, and I’ve just remembered that I didn’t shower before noon again. It can be very hard to convince me at that point, that what I’ve read in the self-help book helped at all.
Cynicism also runs in my family. My brothers are cynical, my mom is, my dad was, their parents were, and I’m sure I could somehow trace the cynicism in my blood all the way to a caveman telling a cavewoman that, “There’s no way the cave paintings will stay on that rock more than a week.” Even with my friends, I’m sure that about 60% of our conversations are about the world ending or the fall of American society as we know it.
I’ve been aware for a long time, that I have a serious amount of cynicism hardwired into my system, and I’ve tried to use it in ways that benefit me: in editing my writing, in jokes that I use on-stage, or in making horrible experiences hurt me less than they would, by readying myself for the worst. I thought that I was doing well and that most of my cynicism would probably go away eventually, but it got worse. There are probably many reasons that it got worse, but I knew I had to figure out how to get a hold of it.
Then I got lucky and bumped into Loretta G. Breuning’s, Beyond Cynical. AProfessor Emerita of Management at California State University, East Bay and also a docent at the Oakland Zoo, Dr. Breuning has experience in teaching, and it shows in her writing. Once I read the blurb, I knew that not only did the subject of the book sound interesting, but the way Dr. Breuning was handling the subject was different from the way I’ve seen most self-help book authors handle it. In the cover description, cynicism is described as popular because it is a stimulant for brain chemicals that make you feel good and give you a feeling of being a step above the rest, but that this great amount of cynicism is actually doing more harm than good.
Unlike most self-help books, Dr.Breuning explains the science behind the human need for cynicism and also how it can become addicting physically as well as mentally. She explains that while we use cynicism for evolution and survival, we can also end up misusing or overusing it as well. She breaks down some forms of cynicism like predictability, solidarity, and superiority and their associated chemicals, like dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin that can often make a person feel better, but also can affect emotions negatively and slowly alter their state of mind.
The most enjoyable part of Beyond Cynical for me, was Dr. Breuning’s many methods to use to put a person on the path to recovery. Usually, when I research ways of how to get out of any funk that I’m stuck in, I mock them, completely sure that they won’t work for me, because they’re either so complicated or so silly. Dr. Breuning’s methods however are simple and easy to do, and not only does she explain how to do them, but she also explains how the methods will actually break your habits and help create a balance with your own cynicism.
Dr.Breuning spends the rest of the pages of Beyond Cynical explaining her life and how she recovered from her own cynicism, including a list of things that we have been told or have told ourselves that were supposed to destroy society or the world but didn’t.
There is often a stigma when it comes to self-help books, and it’s easy to dismiss them as I have often done in the past, but if more self-help books like Beyond Cynical are made, it will be hard to continue to push them aside. Most of a person’s day can be one where they are force fed things to be cynical about, like economic crises, foreign wars, and former Disney stars twerking, so finding a nice cozy spot in your mind for unhealthy amounts of cynicism to fill gets easier every day. In Beyond Cynical, Dr. Breuning offers ideas and also helps the reader understand how the cynical part of the human mind works and how it can sometimes negatively feed off cynical thoughts.