Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong: A Guide To Life Liberated From Anxiety, by Kelly Wilson & Troy Dufrene
There is something deeply funny about this book. I do not mean funny in these of comical, but rather funny in the sense of deliberately and provocatively strange. In particular, the book is full of various “games” that seek to expose the reader to one’s own thinking processes and to what can be done about them. The authors correctly assume that most readers of this book will be somewhat anxious people in one way or another, and they wish to subtly help the reader overcome anxiety through self-awareness and candor and conscious reflection rather than through the usual appeals to willpower and even less praiseworthy tactics. In particular, the authors strive to encourage the reader to recognize that not all of the thoughts that one deals with are coming from within oneself but from another place, a place that does not have to be regarded. Seeing negative self-talk portrayed as being unpleasant and often untrue communication from another place is an insight that is well worth appreciating, and one that will hopefully encourage readers to live lives of greater calm in the awareness that things could go wrong, but that is something that will have to be dealt with when the time comes.
As a short book of roughly 150 pages or so, this particular volume contains nine chapters and various supplemental material. The authors begin with what they want to say, and then move quickly on to the recognition that things may go terribly, horribly wrong (1). Beginning with an acknowledgement of reality is certainly a bold and worthwhile approach to take. After this the authors discuss the form, function, and unity of suffering, recognizing that anxiety and various behaviors that seek to relieve anxiety exist for very good reasons and that it is worth reflecting on these (2). The authors then discuss the matter of anxiety in the present moment and how to cope with it (3). The next four chapters examine various approaches that the reader can take that help to successfully cope with anxiety, such as defusion through telling stories and separating oneself from the negative talk that ratchets up anxiety levels (4), acceptance of what life has to offer (5), the importance of values and meaning to one’s life (6), and the issue of commitment (7). The authors then close the book with a discussion of the self as a complex context with many facets (8), the recognition that things may still go wrong whether one is anxious or not (9), and some suggestions for further reading.
There are a great many books that one can read about anxiety, and many of them (including this one) have a strong degree of support for various Buddhist practices. This book, though, rises above the general level of books about anxiety largely by pointing to the positive good that anxiety has provided and what role it serves in our lives. The games of the book are immensely worthwhile as well and it is easy to see this book serving as part of a counseling for anxiety issues providing plenty of conversation topics between a therapist and someone seeking to overcome anxiety. Obviously, the book has considerable aim in helping people wrestle with anxiety themselves outside of any therapy as well. There are few books about anxiety that I feel comfortable recommending to readers, but this book is certainly one of them, indicating that the authors’ distinctive approach is certainly a worthwhile one. A book that has an honest approach and a great deal of humor and a sly and implicit interest in provoking personal insight is certainly worthy of the recommendation.