Bestselling author Matt Haig returns with a companion to his hugely successful Reasons to Stay Alive. Notes on a Nervous Planet is a similar self-help book of sorts offering wisdom borne from Haig’s own experiences with mental illness. However, Notes is a book that everyone can benefit from, even if you don’t feel you share the extremity of the author’s difficulties.
Haig is contending with the question of what of what it means to be human in the 21st-century, why it’s unsurprising that we might all feel anxious or exhausted or discontented (or all three), and what we can do about it. The answer is not a fad diet or new product or organised belief system – it’s an inward change of our reactions to the world around us. The book isn’t just some sort of New Age compendium of inspirational Facebook quotes, though. The author’s ideas are founded in genuine research that he cites as well as legitimate realisations and conclusions he has come to through personal experience, which he shares with honesty.
Chapters on social media and smartphones stand out as an example of something we all seem to know can be unhealthy, but Haig breaks down solid reasoning behind this, giving us a wakeup call for change. A section on ageing is particularly uplifting, offering us gentle and beautifully-written guidance: “The way to get rid of age anxiety might be the way you get rid of all anxiety. By acceptance, not denial […] Maybe don’t inject yourself with Botox. Do some knifeless mental surgery instead. Reframe your idea of beauty. Be a rebel against marketing. Look forward to being the wise elder. Be the complex elegance of a melting candle.” His musings on our culture of constant achievement and commercialism also make for fundamental reading, and transform the book from a research piece into something more significant – a genuine means to altering the way readers view what they do with their lives.
Throughout, his voice feels reliable and personable. He is talking to rather than at us, from a sincere and personal stance. There is even a gentle humour to Haig’s writing that provokes knowing laughs at our own behaviour.
Notes on a Nervous Planet is a self-help book that isn’t geared towards one demographic cleverly chosen by a marketing group. It is for every person living in the westernised world. Best to follow Haig’s advice: resist your smartphone; choose not to watch another episode of a boxset just yet; forget buying something else you know you don’t need. Sit somewhere quiet and read – and Notes would be a good place to start.