2018 is officially underway and I am excited for a fresh start and the year ahead. I am feeling refreshed by my visits back home, the time spent with friends and family and just to be back in the States. Now I am happy to be back “home” in Cork with my little Coco, back to Flex in the City and my beloved routine. As I mentioned previously, my Happiness Project last month was focused on fun and allowing myself to do things just for the sake of enjoyment and pleasure as opposed to limiting myself only to my more traditionally productive activities. This was a good decision in light of the holidays, travel, and increased opportunity for time with others, but it was also an important challenge for me to practice switching off a bit more rather than worrying about any major progress or accomplishments. Fortunately however, much of my 2017 in particular was focused on building a “normal” day-to-day life which includes doing more of the things that I love more often, so most of the things that I regularly spend time on ARE in fact the things that I enjoy. One of said things is reading! Last month, I read whatever I wanted to rather than staying within a particular topic and I didn’t feel bad at all about spending the time I did buried in a book. Here is what I read last month:
Strengths Finder 2.0
One of my 2018 projects is focused on personality. I plan to read and learn all that I can about various personality frameworks, comparing and contrasting different models and discovering more about myself and the way that others work. Throughout my ongoing Happiness Project, I have been fascinated by the different perspectives and paradigms I have learned about and it has led me to appreciate individual differences (and the corresponding strengths and weaknesses that accompany each style) more deeply. Therefore, I had a long list of books on my Christmas wish list this year which I am itching to get started on now. But for December, I kicked off the month by rereading Strengths Finder 2.0, which was given to me by an old roommate years ago. The author Tom Rath, writes about identifying our unique cluster of top five strengths (from a list of 34), how “people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies” and that people who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths daily are “more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.” In essence, our knowledge and skills act as amplifiers to what comes naturally to us. This is why I find it not only interesting, but imperative, to understand patterns in human nature and tendencies so that I can structure my own efforts, goals, and activities accordingly. Rath’s argument, and one consistent in all my research in this area to date, is that when we build upon our natural inclinations, talents, and leanings, we have tremendous opportunity for growth. Anyone can take the Clifton StrengthsAssessment online to determine his own top five and ways to leverage those strengths versus focusing on improvement of deficiencies.
In case you are wondering, my own Top Five Themes are Input (Inquisitiveness), Learner, Focus, Achiever, and Discipline.
Many of the authors and influencers that I admire have referenced or quoted Brene Brown repeatedly, but this was my first time reading any of her work. The subtitle captures the topic well – “if we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about getting back up.” As a distinguished research professor of social work at the University of Houston, Brown’s primary areas of study are in vulnerability, shame, courage, and wholeheartedness. Throughout the book she shares personal stories and practical advice about the Rising Strong process, which includes 1. The Reckoning where we “recognize emotion, get curious about our feelings, and how they connect with the way we think and behave,” 2. The Rumble when we “get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggle, then challenge these confabulations and assumptions to determine what’s truth, what’s self-protection, and what needs to change if we want to live more wholehearted lives,” and finally 3. The Revolution where we “write a new ending to our story based on key learnings from our rumble and use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to ultimately transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.” She says although no one enjoys it, we have to learn to not only survive through challenges and the tough parts, but also to choose to be honest and vulnerable with ourselves in order to fully move forward. The book was inspirational and refreshingly honest. I find it reassuring sometimes to hear the honest day-to-day experiences of others and know that I am not alone in the feelings and struggles that I face and reading this book included many stories to which I could totally relate.
I am consistently overwhelmed by the eloquence, style, quality, and power of C.S. Lewis’s writing. He was aptly described by Christianity Today as “meticulous about the precise use of words, the quality of evidence presented in arguments, and meter in verse.” It was therefore truly a treat to read Mere Christianity which is one Lewis’s most acclaimed works about the fundamental doctrinal beliefs that all denominations of Christianity have in common. As an atheist who converted to Christianity, Lewis builds the case for his faith by discussing the “Natural Law” which he argues is a set of values and baseline morality which all of humanity acknowledges; and that there must be something underlying these universal principles. His argument is that although we may all be aware of such principles, we all fail to uphold them consistently and thus the need for redemption. I enjoyed the apologetic style, systematic presentation of evidence and discourse, and what Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, called “pastoral theology.” He described Lewis as “an interpreter of people’s moral and spiritual crises… somebody who [was] a brilliant diagnostician of self-deception [which makes his work] an appeal to the heart by way of the head.” Absolutely brilliant.
The Screwtape Letters
I rarely read fiction, although I am not sure why, since anytime I do I usually enjoy it tremendously. So much so that it’s often hard for me to put the book done until I’m finished (actually that may be the reason I have to consume in moderation). After reading Mere Christianity, I was eager to dive into one more of Lewis’s books and settled into another one of his most famous – The Screwtape Letters. The Guardian described the book as “Lewis’s perceptive inquiry into temptation cast as a series of witty letters between a demon and his apprentice” and I LOVED it. Screwtape, an executive tempter, writes from the Head Office of Hell to his nephew who is on assignment with The Patient on Earth, providing him advice which would condemn said patient’s soul to be feasted on by demons. Lewis described his technique as “diabolical ventriloquism [where] Screwtape’s whites are our blacks and whatever he welcomes we should dread.” This satirical epistolary addresses many of the common temptations, challenges, and areas of weakness that humans face in terms of morality and faith from a decidedly unique viewpoint. The irony is outstanding and Screwtape’s manner of addressing poor Wormwood is so dripping with contempt it could nearly only be paralleled by Miranda Priestly of The Devil Wears Prada.
The Science of Happiness
This was a small self-published book which provides a primer of sorts on some of the most influential research on positive psychology and happiness. The writing was a bit crude (especially following the rhetoric of C.S. Lewis) and the content was lacking in depth, but it did provide a high level overview of some of the major areas of study and findings within the concept of happiness. It was short and served as a reminder to me of many of the things that I have been learning over the past year and throughout my research and personal project, but it was a bit simplistic with only a cursory look at a wide variety of subtopics. In my case, it served its purpose on the train ride from Providence to Boston and set the stage for the many new related books that I received as Christmas gifts!
And that was it for December. I had hoped to be able to use more of my time off for reading , but I certainly can’t complain about the opportunity to spend time with friends and family 🙂 And since three of my four major projects for 2018 include research and reading, there are plenty of good books in my near future. As always, any suggestions you may have are more than welcome and if you are looking for another resolution this year, resolving to read more is one I’d highly recommend!