‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’: The messy guide to tidying up your life

‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’: The messy guide to tidying up your life

  • Matt Haig struggles with compulsions such as TV and checking his smartphone
  • And studies show that  more and more people are driven to distraction every day
  • He wades through personal experiences, thoughts and feelings in this book 



by Matt Haig (Canongate £14.99)

Matt Haig is a self- confessed addict.

These are some of his inescapable compulsions: checking his smartphone; posting on social media; replying to other people’s provocations on the same; binge-watching TV; angsting about things he can’t change; writing bestsellers then worrying about them endlessly; worrying about the state of the world, panicking about panicking; and fretting about his difficulty in harnessing all of the above.

But he is not alone: more and more people are driven to distraction by all the distractions we have created, and statistics bear out this truth.

In this book, Matt Haig struggles with compulsions and everyday things that have become distractions for us

As one who has himself suffered a serious, suicidal breakdown, as well as now being dogged by debilitating panic attacks, Haig understands it all only too well.

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His question is: how can we stay sane in a world which insists on ‘connection’ yet leaves us feeling more disconnected than ever?

Haig’s bestseller Reasons To Stay Alive was an engaging self-help memoir which mined personal trauma for valuable life lessons.

This follow-up is a rag-bag of personal experience, thoughts and feelings — some of which are cracker-barrel obvious, some thought-provoking, some pertinent and important.

Yet he knows what he is doing: ‘I am trying to write about the messiness of the world and the messiness of minds by writing a deliberately messy book . . . Fragments that I hope together make a kind of whole.

‘If it doesn’t make sense, I hope it makes nonsense in a way that might get you thinking.’

He also discusses the problem of the internet and shares how he believes it is affecting us in daily life

That’s what I call a clever hedging of bets. Matt Haig presents an image of endearing scattiness, yet in truth he’s a smart operator who knows his readership and genuinely wants to help them.

Having cruised through a quarter of the book feeling faint irritation at some of the wide-eyed simplicity, I reached the last page admiring the author’s inventive energy and insight.

As a successful novelist he knows exactly when to break up ‘health journalism’ musings with flights of imaginative fancy — like a therapy session projected to the year 2049, in which he imagines his adult son asking: ‘Why wasn’t I as interesting to him as his Twitter feed?’

These are two pages I’d photocopy to hand out to hundreds of parents everywhere, communing with their hateful phones while ignoring their children.

Haig is no Luddite. He’s careful to list the upsides as well as the downsides of the internet, but he warns that we must listen to fears about the damage that what he calls the ‘problem in your pocket’ is inflicting. For a start he’s weaning himself off having his phone in the bedroom — and so should everybody. Bring back old-fashioned alarm clocks!

While writing about the difficulty of staying sane on a ‘nervous planet’, the author experienced a shock that shoved him away from his technological compulsions: his mother had to have a major operation.

Then his love for her and the time he spent at her bedside made social media and emails irrelevant — of course. And now, with this book, Matt Haig wants everybody to get their priorities right.

Simple — yes — but who can gainsay that? The fine thing about a ‘rag-bag’ is that it’s the raw material for a patchwork quilt which is as attractive as it is useful.

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