Ever since I can recall my father's annual Christmas present has been cash in an envelope coupled with some generic well-wishes; All the best, son. It's been a great system, he didn't have to shop, and I didn't have to pretend to like whatever he'd panic-purchased on Christmas Eve. Everybody wins.
But for our most recent Christmas, he went rogue and bought me a gift. As I unwrapped it, I knew exactly what it was - the bright orange book cover, the big bold letters, the controversial curse word. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson.
I'd seen it beaming out at me from shop windows, sitting on coffee tables at friends houses, dotted across beaches, the designated 'summer read.' A kind of anti-self-help self-help book, the Subtle Art is aimed at people who roll their eyes at self-help books, and it has been insanely popular. A New York Times bestseller, the book has also been the top-selling lifestyle read in Australia for two years running.
"Chris Hemsworth likes it," my dad said pointing to the endorsement quote on the cover.
I mean if it's good enough for Thor...but receiving this gift added weight to something I've been suspecting - 2019 is shaping up to be the year of the Self.
Getting to know me self
Never before has the focus on self been so widespread. It's hard to log on to Instagram without being bombarded by quotes about self-reflection, true self or self-empowerment. Then, of course, there are endless selfies, taken with a selfie stick and ultimately self-serving as we wait to get the dopamine hit that comes with every 'heart eyes' emoji.
Dis year me focusing on me self-care. When me need little love, me going to give meself cookie.— Cookie Monster (@MeCookieMonster) January 2, 2019
Now it goes without saying that thinking about your self isn't bad, not by any stretch. But sometimes too much of a good thing can be bad. It seems to me we're hurtling towards a culture where the self comes first, second and third, with no room on the podium for other people. It's #TreatYoSelf and no one else.
The biggest concern is that people who shouldn't be worrying about self-anything are being swept up in the wave. Sure most of my adult friends and family are profoundly flawed individuals who need to seriously improve (love you all, though), but all the kids I know are perfectly imperfect, and it should stay that way.
Over the holidays, I spent time with my 13-year-old cousin. He's on the cusp of high school, so I tried to engage him on how exciting that was, but all he wanted to talk about was his new Fitbit.
"It counts all my steps, and if I don't do enough one day, it reminds me to do more the next day," he explained.
"So that way each day you get better!"
At 13, he's counting steps, at 13, I could barely count.
His step counter is solid proof of the direction we're headed.
Profiting from wellness
According to Amazon Australia's most recent Consumer Trends Report, released at the end of last year, the Fitbit was one of the top two selling electronics items of the year.
The report also showed that eight out of the top 10 best selling books sat firmly in the 'personal development' category. Subtle Art came in at third, behind Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life and Scott Pape's The Barefoot Investor.
In fact, according to the Nielsen BookScan which surveys Australian book retailers, the personal development genre jumped by 35 per cent in 2018, after an 83 per cent growth in 2017.
Talk about self-improvement – it's now a market worth more than $53,000,000 annually.
What is best anyway
Flicking through the Subtle Art, I can see why it's been so popular. With chapter titles like "You Are Not Special", and Mark Manson's casual-but-considered swearing, it's like learning a lesson from your older brother's cool mates. It may well be the best book I read this year, but I still struggle to ignore the unspoken agreement: after reading you must become - finally - the best version of yourself.
And no matter which way you package it, that can start to feel like pressure when you hear it too many times. So while I have every intention of finishing Subtle Art and being the best me I can be, sometimes it's OK to put the book down, ditch the Fitbit and just let yourself go.
Do you buy into the extreme self care trend? Share your thoughts in the comments below.