The Comfort Book by Matt Haig is a collection of thoughts and reflections on happiness and hope. Haig doesn’t claim to have any particular insight or expertise. Instead, his words are intended to soothe in times when many people are feeling frayed.
Like any book of this nature, it’s one you can open to any page – it’s probably the best way to read it, taking from it what you need at any one time. As a result, some entries will resonate more than others (although, the entry which simply says – ‘No physical appearance is worth not eating pasta for’ is universal, and equally, ‘It’s rare to escape a maze on the first attempt’, is also useful).
Much of the book is based around Haig’s experience with suicidal depression and anxiety, and it builds on what he explored in Reasons to Stay Alive (which remains one of the best books I’ve read about depression).
Readers who are unfamiliar with Haig’s style, might find The Comfort Book a little unorganised, and perhaps obvious or repetitive in parts. Personally, I found some gems – truly, all I ask from a self-help book is one or two ‘take-home messages’ – this had more than one or two.
Perhaps because it’s pertinent to the unsettled times we are living in, the multiple entries on uncertainty and hope stood out.
… if we demand the future be free from suffering in order to be happy, we can’t be happy. It is like demanding the sea be entirely still before we sail on it.
In exploring how uncertainty feeds anxiety, Haig describes how we do things such as write lists, or seek constant reassurance, or procrastinate in order to tackle anxiety. Of course, these things do not address the root problem – that uncertainty remains.
Uncertainty is the cause of anxiety, but also a solution. While everything is uncertain, everything is hope. Everything is ambiguous. Everything is possible.
Haig draws on history, philosophy, pop culture and personal anecdotes to provide examples. My favourite entry was a description of a time when he and his father were lost in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was right, and the principle of moving forward guided Haig through the worst of his depression –
It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.
The Comfort Book is not groundbreaking, but self-help books rarely are. Instead, if read at precisely the right moment in time, something will land, and it will be of great value to the reader (which is why sometimes people are evangelical about particular self-help books).
3/5 Haig fans will find it especially comforting.
Experience one beautiful thing a day. However small. However trivial. Read a poem. Play a favourite song. Laugh with a friend… Eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake…
As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 31): Belfast 11°-18° and Melbourne 8°-19°