Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
‘I am keenly aware that the oft-used approach of pointing out a list of advantages of modern life, such as health and education and average income, does not help. It is like a wagging finger telling a depressed person to count her blessings because no one has died. This book seeks to recognise that what we feel is just as important as what we have. That mental wellbeing counts as much as physical wellbeing – indeed, that it is part of physical wellbeing. And that, on these terms, something is going wrong.’
Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index. How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad? How do we stay human in a technological world? How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious? After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.
In 2015 Matt Haig released his bestselling Reasons to Stay Alive, a fantastically honest account of his experience with mental ill health. Notes on a Nervous Planet is a kind of follow-up, though it focuses less on Haig as an individual and more on society at large.
Haig takes on some big, scary subjects here, from how long it will take for our jobs to be taken over by robots, to the despair and anxiety created by 24/7 news. In fact, the first few chapters are so full of doom and gloom you might be tempted to put the book down. But in amongst Haig’s damning takedowns of everything from shopping centres to magazines, there are bright flashes of hope, offering a kind of guidebook on how to stay sane when 21st century life is getting you down. Sections on why you should be glad you’re not a robot and why really no one cares about what your face looks like but you, are both funny and reassuring.
The format of the book makes it very accessible and easy to read, as all the chapters are very short. The succinct essays and insightful lists make it the perfect book to dip in and out of, and to come back to time and time again.
Haig doesn’t set out any perfect solutions on how to change the world or slow the inevitable march of time towards ever smarter technology. Instead he offers easy-to-follow snippets of advice to help you feel less alone and better able to cope with the parts of modern life that might be getting you down.
This book is for anyone who has ever scrolled through Instagram and felt depressed because their lives aren’t like the perfectly framed and filtered images on the screen. It’s for anyone who has ever looked in a mirror and hated what they saw. It’s for anyone who has ever been made to feel like a cog in a machine in their workplace, rather than an actual individual. It’s for anyone looking for a little bit of hope in a world that often seems as though it’s going mad.
Many thanks to Canongate for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.