vintage self help


How I came across the video Keeping Mentally Fit I’m not quite sure — pretty sure it’s a combination of my own YouTube content and Safiya Nygaard’s decades videos — but when I first saw the video in my recommended feed, I naively expected it to be filled with such out-of-touch advice that it would be laughable to those interested in self-help today. While some of my 1950s-era expectations were certainly met (blatant racism, overt sexism, and a bizarre understanding of mental health treatment — 2 out of 40 high school graduates could expect to someday spend time in a mental institution???), I was surprised by how relevant the advice actually was. 

While advice for living well has been part of human culture for centuries, it’s booming growth in the late 20th century (and my own personal and professional focus on it) often makes me forget that, though it may not have always been as popular of an industry, self-help advice isn’t new. And looking back at what was advised in the past not only gives us insight into how previous eras viewed self-help, but it also provides an interesting perspective of evergreen tactics for living life well. 

This particular video focuses on four key elements for acquiring, maintaining, and improving mental health: expressing emotions naturally, respecting yourself, respecting others, and solving problems as they arise. While these tips seem simple and, perhaps, obvious, I think it’s worth exploring each one a little bit because often it’s the simple, timeless advice that’s the most taken for granted. 



Expressing your emotions was not at all what I expected to hear when I first started watching the video. There’s so much talk in today’s culture about how we all need to open up more about mental health issues, how we need to talk about more how we feel, that I was honestly quite surprised to see this advice being heralded back in 1952. 

Most of us know that bottling up negative emotions is bad. We might also know that, when not expressed in a healthy way, bottled up emotions tend to come out in unexpected (and often unpleasant) ways. But this portion of the video also touched on how important it is to express positive emotions as well. It touched on facing and expressing not only feelings of pain, but also on sharing positive feelings, like love, as well. Additionally, it touched on expressing emotions with consideration for others, which is something we all can benefit from taking to heart. 

This segment also highlighted the important notion of talking about feelings with a professional or trusted friend. The more you talk about your problems (particularly with a professional), the easier they are to solve. Expressing emotions can be really tough sometimes, but it’s one of the best pieces of self-help advice out there, even all of these decades later! 



Next up, the video dives into one of my personal favorite topics — self-love. While that specific term has only risen to popularity in recent decades, the concept has apparently been of value for some time in the self-help space. I was particularly pleased to see how the video addressed the topic of perfectionism. Aiming for perfection is a struggle for a lot of people and learning not to be so hard on yourself (remember: you’re human!) is such a positive message to master. 

There’s often a struggle between the need to improve (the underlying, guiding force of a self-help video) and the desire to respect the self as is. The video addresses this, reminding viewers that it’s great if you want to improve, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accept (and respect!) yourself just as you are right now. 

As someone who has a very stereotypical idea of what life was like in the 1950s — perfect little families living in colorful houses behind white picket fences, a notion I know is not based on reality but I can’t help but see in my head when I think of that decade — I was thrilled to see that the issue of perfectionism was tackled. No matter what the era (or the situation), no one’s life is perfect and striving for perfection often gets in the way of lasting self-improvement. 



In this segment of the film, the advice focused on getting along with others, having fun, and being part of the group. While this certainly isn’t bad advice, it was a bit tricky for me to fully embrace in today’s culture because I think we’re realizing more and more that you don’t have to have a large group of friends or fit in with the current trends to have a fulfilling, enjoyable life. Of course, surrounding yourself with positive people who enrich your life is always good advice but it’s not always an easy thing to control, depending on one’s circumstances and disposition. 

Today, I think we have a better understanding of the idea that different people crave different levels of social interaction. Joining a club, as recommended in the video, won’t work for everyone. That being said, even if you’re an introvert and prefer time spent alone, that doesn’t mean you can’t gain something positive from socializing (perhaps one-on-one if that’s more your style). 

“There’s no room for bashfulness in good mental health,” something said in the video, isn’t advice I’d agree with, but I do think the underlying point — that positive relationships have a big impact on mental health — rings true. Spending time with the right people is important for keeping mentally fit. 

Likewise, being a positive person in the lives of others is equally as important. As the video suggests, it’s important not to expect others to be perfect, to let them go their own way sometimes, and to cultivate give-and-take in relationships. It’s also important not to dislike or distrust people who are different from you (this point certainly wasn’t showcased in the video — everyone looked pretty much the same! — but the words are just as important today as they were then). 



As someone who does a great deal of avoidance — I’m writing this post, in fact, because I sat down at my computer to do something that really needs to be done and instead of doing it, I’ve chosen to do this instead. Awesome. — I was so glad this was one of the four topics tackled in this video. Combatting a problem as soon as it comes up, rather than avoiding it as many of us are prone to do, is such obvious but important advice. 

The video reminds us that, when we avoid the things we don’t want to do, the problem becomes three-fold: we worry about facing it for however long we’re avoiding it; we deal with the struggle of actually conquering it; and we may fret over it after the fact, wondering if things might have been different had we handled it promptly.

Of course, depending on the problem, it’s not always easy to face, but the video really made me think about what life would be like if, when a problem comes up, I chose to face it right away with the three words they mentioned in mind: calmly, reasonably, and honestly. It seems, at first glance, that it would be difficult to do, but is it really more difficult than avoiding the problem and still having to deal with it later? 


Though some of this mid-century advice might be a bit obvious, I’m glad I came across this video. It not only inspired me to pause and think about all four of these tips — each one really deserving of some attention — but it also opened my eyes to the fact that so much of what we talk about in the self-help space isn’t new and, no matter what the decade, humans have always been working to improve their mental lives. 

What do you think of this advice and, if you watched it, the video? Let me know in the comments section below! 


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Comments (1)

  1. Thanks for the post on Self help/Mental health. I have been working in mental health for 33 years. The simple and obvious that you refer to holds true to only a very few people. Honestly letting go of general societal views and expectations are the main reason that people do not understand and practice consistently self help tools available to everyone. These perceived expectations of society conflict with the true values of practicing good mental health. Even though mental health seems to have come a long way in media and advertising etc. The truth is a lot of it remains no different from the 1950’s for some as you mentioned.
    Thank you

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