Tagged: psychology

Solve for Happy

Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat, 4/5

If I wasn’t absolutely, abjectly ready to hear someone else say what my husband has been telling me for years, then I probably would have hated this book for its many cliches, general cheesiness, and cringy clip art. Though a highly intelligent and successful businessman, Gawdat is rather a layman in terms of psychology and philosophy, so one might expect that his contribution to the well-worn topic of “happiness” would be in a uniquely analytical approach to existing research, rather than any foundational insights. I was very surprised to find that this was not the case. In fact, the much-advertised “happiness equation” and concept of “solving for happy” seemed under-developed and forgettable to me. What will stick with me for a long time and, in fact, motivated me to copy all those “cheesy cliches” into a Word document for later reference, was three concepts: 1. the natural, default human state is happiness, 2. unhappiness is generally rooted in thoughts about the past or the future, and 3. mental suffering is useless.

These ideas fly in the face of what have been, up until now, my beliefs that 1. happiness is an otherwise unattainable by-product of pursuing a passion in life, 2. controlling every aspect of my life will compensate for my uncontrollable thoughts (and their accompanying emotions), and 3. suffering is necessary to stimulate personal growth. Frankly, these beliefs have not worked out that well for me over the last three decades and recently having a child has intensified my desire to enjoy every moment and make peace with my own existence, instead of obsessing over what the “point” of it all is.

Though it did not come from any of the many decorated philosophers or psychologists whose work I have read, and it can feel over-simplified and unreasonably optimistic at times, Gawdat’s perspective brought me immediate relief and seems to be in line with the life experience I have accumulated. I don’t expect everything to be sunshine and roses from now on, but (or maybe, and) I’m excited to apply this new perspective to each moment as best I can.

Why I read it: my dad sent me a link to an interview with Mo Gawdat, but I don’t have the attention span to watch slow, unstructured conversations, so I opted to read his book instead.

The Culture Code

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle, 5/5

Impeccably organized around three main skills (1. Build Safety, 2. Share Vulnerability, and 3. Establish Purpose), this book examines some of the world’s highest-functioning groups in such varied fields as business, tech, the military, sport, comedy and medicine. Coyle achieves a beautiful balance of well-referenced information, firsthand observations, anecdotes, and suggestions for real-life applications. I was fascinated to see how similar a healthy culture is to a healthy family and recognized many of the ideas and values from my own experiences growing up in a large and loving family.

Why I read it: While writing my review of Peak and refreshing my memory on Coyle’s contribution to the same topic via The Talent Code, I was happy to discover he’d written this book more recently.

Experimenting with Babies

Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid by Shaun Gallagher, 5/5

This book is very good for what it is–a light-hearted and accessible collection of activities, based on scientific experiments, that highlight the nuances of a baby’s development. The presentation is not at all rigorous and might even uncharitably be considered “dumbed-down,” but does go well beyond the few common reflexes (e.g. rooting, Moro, stepping, etc.) with which parents might already be familiar. Personally, I do not feel motivated to actually perform any of the experiments with my own baby, but it was still fascinating to learn more about his fascinating progression from potato to person.

Why I read it: A friend lent it to me.

Peak

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, 4/5

This book gave me a feeling of déjà vu since it is the third I’ve read on the same general topic, preceded by Coyle’s The Talent Code and Gladwell’s Outliers. On paper, Peak should have been my favorite of the three. Ericsson, a respected professor of psychology, is able to provide the academic backbone that was missing from Coyle’s otherwise very enjoyable take on the subject. And, as one of the researchers responsible for the original study that Gladwell later contorted into the “10,000-hour rule,” Ericsson is both qualified and motivated to debunk that incorrect (yet annoyingly memorable) interpretation of his work.

That said, I felt that Peak was rather a latecomer to the party and the authors’ efforts to transcend the genre of pop psychology relaxed in the book’s later chapters. Their painstaking attempt to distinguish between “deep practice” and mere “purposeful practice” felt contrived, and the concept of “mental representations,” so vital to Ericsson’s psychology-based perspective on the topic, was discussed in a consistently wishy-washy way. I couldn’t resist an eye roll upon encountering the section about London taxi drivers and their overdeveloped hippocampi, a study that has already been beaten to death (à la the Stanford Prison Experiment). Overall, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I remember enjoying Coyle’s more biology-based perspective and discussion of the topic in terms of deep practice, ignition and master coaching in The Talent Code.

While it might not have lived up to my six-year-old memory of a similar book, Peak still has a lot to offer. I was very interested in the application of the science of expertise to the field of medicine, specifically surgery. No one wants their medical practitioner to be just “average,” but the old joke that goes “What do you call the medical student who graduated last in his class? … Doctor” is unsettlingly accurate. Ericsson poses a real “moneyball” moment for the medical industry by showing how studying the highest performing outliers and applying science-based teaching techniques can raise the success rates of “average” surgeons.

Why I read it: my brother piqued my interest by telling me interesting stories from it.

The Family Bed

The Family Bed by Tine Thevenin, 2/5

The author is a passionate advocate of communal family sleeping arrangements but writes in the simplistic style of a college research paper and relies too heavily on anecdotes. Before the topic of bed-sharing was even on my radar, I had already been warned against it by a friend whose eight-year-old was still not comfortable sleeping alone. Since opinions obviously vary, I wish this book had presented a more scholarly approach to the topic. Despite its shortcomings, it did provide an interesting point of view that encourages an open-minded approach to what should be a very personal and judgement-free lifestyle choice.

Why I read it: I’m expecting my first baby, so a friend gave it to me along with a couple books on childbirth.

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It

How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Patricia Love, Ed.D., and Steven Stosny, Ph.D., 2/5

Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I feel this book’s title may as well be How to Improve Your Marriage by Reading About It. Yes, the book presents some interesting psychological concepts, focusing mainly on how men’s vulnerability to feelings of shame and women’s vulnerability to fear can result in a sense of disconnection not reparable by verbal communication. Unfortunately, you have to take the authors’ word for even the most outlandish-sounding statements, since they provide no footnotes or references. This lack of academic documentation seriously undermines the book’s credibility, in my opinion, and gives a strangely pop-psych flavor to an unpopular message of resolute self-improvement and one-sided commitment to acts of connection. While I respect and agree with the authors’ encouragement to generally be an emotionally intelligent human being and not a shitty, selfish one, their “practical” advice seems laughably out of touch with reality. I honestly can’t see the “Power Love Formula” saving any relationships, but I guess what do I know since I’m lucky enough to be almost four years into a relationship with an amazing, sensitive man who is secure and loving enough to demand we talk things out even when I’d rather sulk in silence. In terms of practical relationship advice that resonates with what I’ve observed and experienced, I find The Five Love Languages to be much more relevant and helpful.

Why I read it: it resonated with my dad but not my mom, so I was curious.

Love Does

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff, 5/5

Bob Goff knows how to tell a story. His stories were almost too good; I devoured them like a kid devours a bowl of fruit loops and had to keep reminding myself to slow down and digest the bigger messages. When someone who has accumulated a lifetime’s worth of remarkable experiences takes the time to write down what they’ve learned from a broad perspective, it’s a gift–a sneak peek of a meaningful work of art when all you could see before was the close-up chaos of individual brushstrokes.

Formerly a lawyer and law professor, Goff was not a “professional Christian” when he wrote this book, so I didn’t get the uncomfortable feeling that he was trying to sell some pre-packaged, preachy, lifeless form of religion. He is very practical and realistic, using stories to transcend the cliched verbiage of encouraging people to fearlessly follow their hopes and dreams while living in God’s love.

I used to think following God required complicated formulas. I thought I needed a big stack of books, so I could figure out exactly where I was all the time. I thought if I constantly measured the distance between me and God, I’d get closer to Him. Early on, the religious people I knew explained to me all kinds of nuances for doing this sort of spiritual math. They suggested that I say certain things in my prayers, have quiet times, go to Bible studies, and memorize Bible verses. They said I needed to know how to explain to someone that God could be a person and a spirit at the same time. They urged me to know how God was going to come back someday but that some people would be here and other people would go missing because it would be a time of great tribulation. They said that for me to know God, there was a whole pile of things I’d need to know first. […] What I realized, though, is that all I really needed to know when it came down to it was the direction I was pointing and that I was somewhere inside the large circle of God’s love and forgiveness (156).

There are a lot of crazy stories and insightful life lessons packed into this easy-to-read book, but perhaps the thing that stuck with me the most a couple weeks later, was how fearlessly Goff loves other people and gets involved in their lives. If he was giving bits of himself away, he would soon be reduced to nothing, but instead his life seems immeasurably richer. It truly seems that he has an endless supply of supernatural love from which to draw. I still don’t fully understand how to live this way without getting used up by the “takers” in the world, but this book was a helpful piece of the puzzle for me and an amazing reminder that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Why I read it: My friend, Joy, recommended it to me.

Tribe

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger, 4/5

Disjointed, unscholarly, easily debatable and offering no real solutions, this book nevertheless makes a tiny but very specific contribution towards understanding the complexities of U.S. mental health issues. Junger postulates that mental health declines as societies lose their tribal features, becoming more complex, prosperous, elitist and individualistic. Further, he attempts to prove that people’s resilience actually increases in troubled times, when society temporarily becomes more communal and egalitarian. His final claim is that long-term PTSD in soldiers is not so much caused by wartime trauma, but the difficulty of transitioning between these two cultures.

Junger makes some controversial statements and is up-front about his book’s origin (a Vanity Fair article) and purpose (nonacademic). Because of this, I feel Tribe transcends its pop-psychology characteristics and can be forgiven for feeling like a very preliminary exploration of a complex topic.

Why I read it: When the title was recommended separately to me by two of my brothers, I knew it was worth checking out.

The Five Languages of Apology

five languages of apology chapman thomas thomson gale 2007The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships by Gary Chapman and Jennifer Thomas, 4/5

Making and receiving apologies has always seemed like a fairly natural part of human interaction to me, so I’ve never given the topic much thought.  However, I was recently very confused to be told plaintively by someone that “so-and-so has never apologized to me in twenty years!”  What was so confusing about this comment?  Well “so-and-so” had recently made an unexpected and unsolicited apology to me!  Was I to believe this same person had purposefully withheld all apologies from someone else, or was there some other communication issue at play?

It turns out that different people have different expectations when it comes to what makes a sincere apology.  According to this book, if one or more of the five “languages” of apology is lacking, the whole effort can fail to register with the recipient as a sincere apology, no matter how genuine it was intended to be.

  1. Expressing Regret: “I am sorry.”
  2. Accepting Responsibility: “I was wrong.”
  3. Making Restitution: “What can I do to make it right?”
  4. Genuinely Repenting: “I’ll try not to do that again.”
  5. Requesting Forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”

I feel that the use of the word “languages” to describe these five aspects is a too-obvious effort to tie this book in with Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, but it is undeniably helpful to know what shortcomings could cause an apology to ring untrue.  While the main focus of the book is on how to make sure your apology meets the intended recipient’s subconscious criteria, it is also interesting to understand that just because an apology doesn’t cover the aspect that is most important to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is insincere.

Another very interesting point the authors make is that, while forgiveness is a decision, trust is an emotion (213).  You can choose to forgive someone, but trust should be earned.  Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting what someone has done, making light of their bad actions, or going back to the way things were, but it does mean giving your relationship with them a chance to heal and grow.

Why I read it: my sister recommended it and I’m always interested in learning to be a better communicator.

The Five Love Languages

five love languages chapman northfield publishing 1995The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman, 5/5

It took an effort to get past the cringe-worthy cover and subtitle, but this book is well-written and explores concepts that can apply to a variety of relationships besides marriage (such as between friends, family members, or people who are dating).  Using common sense and many examples from his years of experience as a marriage counselor, Gary Chapman proposes that, while everyone needs to feel loved, each individual tends to recognize and express love in primarily one of five ways: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.  Two people with loving intentions who speak different “languages” can be left each feeling uncared for and confused as to why their expressions of love aren’t accepted as such.  Chapman encourages people in relationships to notice which of the five categories their partner might belong to and adjust their own behavior accordingly.  It seems to me that this could be a bit forced and awkward in some cases, especially if the other person knows you very well and notices that you start acting out of character.  I think it makes more sense for everyone to learn each other’s love languages, not so that they can necessarily speak them, but so that they can appreciate love in its different forms.  For example, if someone prefers to hear affirming words, they should learn to appreciate the love of a person who makes time for them or quietly does helpful things.  Or if a person wants their partner to show they care by giving them gifts, they should also realize that a kind word or touch can be equally meaningful and heartfelt expressions of love.

Why I read it: One of my sisters said it was interesting and it is important to me that the people I care about feel loved.