Read - January

What I Read Last Month :: January

2018 is off with a bang and I am loving it thus far!  I invested some time at the end of last year in setting goals, resolutions, and intentions for the next few years and then got to work to in January lying the foundation.  Choosing my one word theme this year, “PREPARE,” was helpful, I had fun creating a vision board to remind me of this daily, and I worked on many of my personal projects throughout the month which influenced my reading list as well.  Books made up the bulk of my Christmas wishlist and my friends and family made sure I am well stocked up 🙂 Here is what I read last month:

Happiness:  Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
Ed Diener and Robert Biwas-Diener

Written by a father and son duo, both esteemed psychologists and authorities on happiness specifically, this book focuses on some of the scientific evidence for a variety of factors which impact our happiness, adding further depth, causality, and generalizations to prevailing related wisdom, religious and philosophical insights.  As the authors and many others in the field have described, happiness can be a difficult construct to define due to differences in the temperaments, personalities, and values of not only an individual, but also the society to which he belongs.  They outline a framework for what they refer to as Psychological Wealth, a scale which takes into account “your attitudes towards life, social support, spiritual development, material resources, health, and the activities in which you engage… [it] depends on happiness and life satisfaction, and the factors that lead to them… [it’s] the experience that our life is excellent – that we are living in a rewarding, engaged, meaningful, and enjoyable way.  Psychological wealth includes life satisfaction, the feeling that life is full of meaning, a sense of engagement in interesting activities, the pursuit of important goals, the experience of positive emotional feelings, and a sense of spirituality that connects people to things larger than themselves.”  The book looks at the many ways that positive feelings are both functional and beneficial – improving our social connections, creative thinking, helping us live longer with less illness/improved health, helping us stay married longer, commit fewer crimes, work harder and more productively, and help others more.  I liked their deep dives into various topics and arenas of life which many would assume impact our happiness, and the evidence which sometimes supports, but often runs counter to commonly held beliefs and opinions.  I took the various tests on satisfaction with life, hedonic balance, and psychological flourishing which were provided in the book – the composite of which calculated that I am “Upper Middle Class” when it comes to Psychological Wealth on a scale that ranges from Abject Poverty to Billionaire/Top 400 Psychologically Wealthy List.

The Happiness Hypothesis
Jonathan Haidt

Throughout much of reading over the past year of my Happiness Project – this book is consistently cited and very highly recommended by a variety of experts and researchers in the field so I was quite excited to read it.  Unfortunately, I did not like it much.  Actually almost not at all.  Haidt and I have quite different worldviews and perspectives on many topics which is fine – I can agree to disagree and I do like learning of alternative views, but I do find it quite ironic that he discusses our lack of consciousness about the stories we make up to explain the world, life experiences, and events around us and yet he continually presents unfounded, or at the very least controversial, science and opinion as infallible fact.  He lets many of his own personal opinions and perspectives bias his writing – which again would be acceptable except for the fact that it is very hypocritical.  He repeatedly presents his arguments by showing the fallacies of other’s thinking, seemingly completely oblivious to his own.  The book had some interesting points and evidence for consideration and did contain a lot of new and different information on the topic, but Haidt’s approach was somewhat off-putting and definitely distracting to me.

The How of Happiness
Sonja Lyubomirsky

And thankfully after finding The Happiness Hypothesis less than impressive, I was thrilled to have chosen to read The How of Happiness next – this is definitely in my top 5 favorite books I have read in the past year without question.  I found it to be tremendously helpful and informative in terms of both research and evidence but also practical applications built upon the foundation of knowing ourselves better and choosing activities which are well aligned and best suited for us.  It may seem obvious, but it’s really not the way many of us live our daily lives.  In my own Happiness Project (which I have said recently has indeed made me feel MUCH happier), I have found that the greatest impact has not been following some prescribed 10 steps to happiness, but rather digging deeper to know myself more and better understand what will actually make ME happier as opposed to what is fun for other people or what I should like.  Lyubomirsky outlines 12 different happiness strategies along with many suggested activities for each, first providing an evaluation called the Person Activity Fit Diagnostic, which requires rating various potential activities as to the extent to which the actions would feel natural, be enjoyable or valuable, and which are not carried out simply because one feels forced, imposed upon, or guilty.  According to this instrument, I should personally experience the most happiness when I am strategic about maximizing my efforts in the following areas:

  • Doing more activities which truly engage you
  • Committing to your goals
  • Nurturing relationships
  • Practicing acts of kindness

This all made perfect sense to me immediately, and even more so as I read through the details of each of the different strategies and potential activities.  My Happiness Project has indeed been effective, because I have identified resolutions and actions in each of these areas, and have learned to restructure and prioritize my time and energy to allow for more of these things.  So here I am deep in the world of barre, Pilates, cooking, learning about nutrition, happiness, and personality, reading, and of course writing this blog!

The Little Book of Gratitude
Dr. Robert A Emmons

This book was a Christmas gift from friend here in Cork who apparently knows me well.  I have read bits and pieces of Robert Emmon’s work on gratitude throughout the past year, but not any of his full texts and this was a nice overview of his work on the topic and the profound positive impact it can have on us.  He defines and describes gratitude and the host of psychological benefits that a regular attention and effort in this area can confer, while also dispelling some common misconceptions and myths.  Although this book was a quick read, it was complete with practical suggestions and methods on how we can build a gratitude practice into our lives and read the benefits.   Which is something which much of the literature ion happiness and in positive psychology supports, as does my own experience in keeping a gratitude journal which helps me to find the silver lining or at least a bright spot in each day.

It Starts With Food
Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig

Deepening my scope in terms of nutrition and specifically the Whole30 is tied to another one of my big projects for 2018, so I reread this amazing book (which is signed by the Whole30 headmistress herself since Jon bought me tickets to see her when she visited London awhile back).  I read it first over two years ago and was astounded by it then, and perhaps even more so now. It helps to provide detailed explanation for the science behind the Whole30 rules and recommendations.  The Hartwigs argue that each choice we make regarding our food either makes us more healthy or less healthy and their protocol includes an elimination of particular foods which have been demonstrated to violate at least one of what they refer to as Good Food Standards.  Their philosophy is that the food we eat should 1. promote a healthy psychological response, 2. promote a healthy hormonal response, 3. support a healthy gut, and 4. support immune function and minimize inflammation.  I love the logic and rationale for the Whole30 which is basically like a small science experiment/elimination diet of potentially problematic foods over 30 days followed by a systematic reintroduction to determine the effects or non-effects of particular foods on you personally.  More than just the actual things we eat, the Whole30 also addresses the way that we eat, helping it’s participants to “hit the reset button on [their] health, [their] habits and [their] relationship with food.”  I myself completed my first Whole30 the summer of 2015 and have chosen to continue eating that way fro the most part ever since.  If you are interested at all in the topic, you will love this book – which explains how “food can change your life in unexpected ways” which is absolutely fascinating to me .

And that was it for January!  I only wish there was even more time in the day for reading because as I have learned, it is something which always makes me a little happier!

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