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Socrates famously said that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I used to imagine that these deep an meaningful words were only part of the story. I fantasised that, in the millennia since he spoke the lines attributed to him (somebody else wrote them down, apparently), part of the text had been lost, and that he had originally completed this pithy aphorism with “…and neither is the examined one”. Things must have been tough in ancient Greece, after all.

We get his drift. In order to achieve a sense of fulfilment and contentment with life, we have to accept that it is a long learning process, one that provides opportunities for growth to those who choose to embrace it. For those who don’t, it is just not worth living. Had we inherited the full (admittedly fictitious) version, there’d be no point. The first statement is cancelled out by the second.

Whatever your point of view – and whether you choose to believe it or not – it seems to be a given that self-knowledge and contentment go hand-in-hand. Whether you turn for spiritual guidance to something outside yourself, or you are lucky enough to have an inner well of inherited wisdom to draw on, personal growth comes at a cost; it requires commitment and tenacity to relinquish the delusions and falsehoods that will otherwise hold us back.

For those who choose therapy there is also a financial cost, just how much depends on the route you choose (see my post Brief Therapy vs Counselling). On the other hand, there is a lot you can do yourself. You too can have an ‘examined life’, and it’s as simple as being curious about what that means. Here are some books to get you started. Two are classics and the third deserves to be.

The Road Less Travelled

The classic crash course in waking up to the facts of life we’d often rather ignore. Sacred cows and delusion are swept aside to prepare the way for understanding ourselves and how we function in the world, our relationships and all the rest. This comes into the ‘oldie but goodie’ category. There’s a strong probability that less you like it the more you need it, but hey, you’ll find plenty of reasons to discard it if you don’t like the effect it has on you.

The Feeling Good Handbook

Moods, emotions and unwanted feelings are all manageable if you follow the step-by-step exercises. Good stuff and practical too. Ignore the icky cover and the publisher’s hyperbole on the back and focus on the 580 pages in between.

Single Session Solutions

If you are not so keen on DIY, this’ll help you clarify your thinking in your quest to find a symapathetic and manageable therapist. The author – the researcher and psychologist who coined the term in the title – explains how, in therapy, less is often more effective. Written to help readers make informed choices before deciding on therapy, it’ll also open your eyes to how much you could fix for yourself.

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