The Art of Selfishness by David Seabury

I love me some self help books.  Anything to give me the tiniest hint of how to be a happier person, I will eat up.  My boyfriend thinks all self help books are a marketing ploy for lonely, low self-esteemed housewives.  That it’s just the same message over and over, and  when boiled down to its basic message, it’s just “Are you sad? Don’t Be!”

I try to explain to him that lumping all self help books into one generalized category is like saying, “I don’t like science” or “I don’t like colors.”  In science you have chemistry, physics, biology, zoology, anatomy, psychology, and most words that end in -ology; in self help, you have the categories of relationships, how to relate to your children, how to relax, how to meditate, how to fix your marriage, how to get married in the first place, how to go through a divorce, how to be happy in general, how to be more organized, and many more.  I don’t really care about the relationship section but mainly focus on the happy in general section.

I had heard about David Seabury’s book from several different sources before actually deciding to read it myself.  I went to the book store, but it’s not in print anymore.  I went to four libraries that didn’t have it either.  Eventually the interlibrary loan got me a copy.  A very old copy.  Most people think new agey, law of attraction, manifestering, and happiness books are all from 1980 forward, but apparently like Ronda Burns found out when writing the Secret, the secret is actually a really old concept.

David Seabury originally wrote the Art of Selfishness in 1933.  The copy I got was another edition his wife put out in the 1960’s, in which she attempted to update some of the concepts.  I was fascinated to no end at the differences in language and tried to figure out what this book was saying, but in the end I didn’t really get anything useful out of it except a few chuckles.

Seabury’s main concept is that most people in 1930’s society hide behind a mask of religious and social constructs that prevent them from being the best version of themselves.  An example is the wife who has to always have dinner ready when her husband gets home and make the kids behave instead of taking care of herself first.  (Authors have been booed on Oprah for saying the same thing today.)  Or the husband who goes to work all day and comes home to be nagged by his wife and relatives.  Or doing something you don’t feel right doing because “they’re family.”  Seabury’s advice focuses around trying to get the reader to see that being selfish at the right time, no matter how uncomfortable to those around you, benefits everyone.

He uses many anecdotes that demonstrate how being selfish helped people (he was a psychologist).  One such example was a husband who kept his family living in the stone ages.  He expected his wife to do everything while he went to work, he yelled and chased boys away from the house that his daughters would bring home, and he wouldn’t let his sons get driver’s licenses.  And when he got home, he yelled because the temperature of his food wasn’t right or someone left a light on in the other room.  The wife went to Seabury for advice and he told her to treat the husband like it was the stone ages, and everyone in the house had to play along, no exceptions.  While the husband was away at work, the wife and kids turned off the electricity, gas, and heat, threw away all the food,  and got dressed like peasants.  When the dad got home, they let him have it.  He was basically stunned into submission and gave the family no further problems.

Another story was of a husband who wanted to move to the west coast and follow his dreams.  But his wife was bedridden to the point his mother-in-law had to move in with them to take care of her.  There was nothing physically wrong with her; her sickness just started  when her father died.  Anytime the husband mentioned moving west, she would go into fits of hysteria and he would feel so guilty.  Seabury told the husband to take acting lessons, especially learning how to be hysterical, and then go see his doctor and come up with an incurable illness of his own.  The doctor was in on Seabury’s plan with the husband.  Slowly the husband started to act sicker and sicker, eventually going to the doctor and telling his wife it was quite serious.  She started in with the hysterics, but the husband matched her.  The husband then told his wife that the doctor said the only cure was a warmer, dryer climate out west.  What could the wife do but go along.  They moved out west, without the mother-in-law, and the wife became a whole new person, wanting to travel all over the world.

Most of Seabury’s anecdotes left me stunned at his advice and the lengths his patients went to attain what was “best” for everyone.  Most of the means seemed shady, sneaky, and underhanded.  But every case seemed to have justified ends.

There were many bullet point lists that sprung up on the pages and didn’t necessarily have headings as to what the lists’ topics were.  One of the funniest lists involved how to put others at ease, with one of the points being to not have impassive faces like Asians since their faces rarely show expressions.  When things weren’t borderline racist, they were classic passive aggressive.  Seabury lightly dances around such modern terms like alcoholism for example.  He doesn’t say “raging alcoholic” or “abusive relationship”, instead he says someone is weary from “the drink” or giving someone “what for”.  So many times I found myself laughing out loud from the terminology.

There are many more current self help books that cover the same topics and are more understandable.  Some of Seabury’s lists on the right kinds of being selfish and the wrong kinds were interesting, but for the effort needed to get a copy of this book, you can get the same info elsewhere.



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2 responses to “The Art of Selfishness by David Seabury

  1. Sounds like an interesting read. I’ve read the Art of Loving by Eric Fromm, but never heard of this author or the book. Nice review.

    -mea nada madison

  2. Freddie Schnitman

    Great posting, I bookmarked your blog so I can visit again in the future, All the Best

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