Favorite Books from 2013.
By HEIDI GRANT HALVORSON
WE pick the most thought-provoking, important, or useful nonfiction books published in 2013 on the science of a meaningful life.
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence
by Daniel Goleman
In today’s world of Internet bombardment, it’s easy to become distracted by social networks, video games, and emails to the exclusion of more important activities, like having an uninterrupted conversation or finishing a work project. What is this costing us as a society?
A lot, writes bestselling author Daniel Goleman. In Focus, Goleman makes the case that paying attention is a lost art form that needs resurrecting, especially for our kids. Knowing how to focus on our inner thoughts and feelings, to be present and empathic with other people, and to pay attention to larger systems and societal trends are important for personal success, as well as for solving world problems like global warming.
Goleman’s book covers research that shows how important focus is to happiness, productivity, and relationships—both personal and professional. While featuring stories of successful people who’ve honed their focusing skills, he argues that kids should receive mindfulness training—which builds attention and counteracts mind-wandering—if they are to become productive citizens.
Give and Take
by Adam Grant
Cooperation and generosity—not competition—is the road to success in business, according to Wharton School management professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take. Grant argues that, beyond having talent, luck, and a willingness to work hard, how one interacts socially at work is critical to success.
Those who give generously of themselves are better at networking, collaborating, evaluating, and influencing others, all important for business growth. That’s because giving to others makes others want to give to you—as long as it’s not expected in a qui pro quo way—and can become contagious, spreading within an organization.
Since givers look for the best in others and are open to criticism, they are skilled at employee development and can be flexible and responsive to changing markets. All of these make givers—and not takers—better at business, which leads Grant to suggest tips employers can use to promote more giving in their workplaces in order to improve their bottom line.
Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity
by Robert A. Emmons
Robert Emmons directs the GGSC’s Expanding the Science and Practice Gratitude program, and he’s one of the world’s leading experts on thankfulness.
His new book, Gratitude Works!, turns decades of research into tips, tools, and quizzes anyone can use to deepen their appreciation for the good things in life and to enhance relationships with the people who give us the good things.
The book especially shines when Emmons unpacks some of the contradictions inherent in gratitude. Readers learn that we appreciate things most when they are about to end; that too much thankfulness can make us less happy; and that life’s hardest moments are the ones when we need gratitude the most. “Gratitude works,” he writes, “but not always in the manner that we think it does or for the reasons that we think it does.”
Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence
by Rick Hanson
In his bestselling Hardwiring Happiness, neuropsychologist and Greater Good Science Center Advisory Board member Rick Hanson has one key message for you: your attention physically shapes your brain, and so if you point your attention toward the good in life, the better your brain will get at fostering goodness, and the healthier it will become.
Easier said than done? Hanson knows that, and his book provides the HEAL method—four concrete steps you can take that will help you see and cultivate the good in your brain: Have a positive experience;Enrich it; Absorb it; and Link positive and negative material.
Hanson is a clear, warm writer with a gift for metaphor—his description of the brain of Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad has become a classic—and Hardwiring Happiness is a terrific example of the kind of book we love the most at Greater Good: scientifically grounded advice for living a better life
Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become
by Barbara Fredrickson
The concept of love needs an upgrade, suggests emotions expert Barbara Fredrickson in Love 2.0. Rather than looking for love only in romantic partnerships, Fredrickson suggests we can experience“positivity resonance”—a warm, pleasant feeling that has profound benefits to our health and happiness—anytime we have a positive interaction with another person, even a stranger.
We are born to love—literally—as long as we feel safe in the presence of another person. Our vagus nerve helps us to make eye contact and synchronize facial expressions with other people, increasing feelings of love. The hormone oxytocin is released in the body during positive social encounters, reducing stress, and lowering our heart rate and blood pressure. Even our brains tend to “synch up” with another person when we feel connected.
Though these systems are not under our conscious control they can be augmented by cultivating more positivity resonance in our life. Fredrickson suggests using loving-kindness meditation, gratitude practices, or focused attention on positive interactions to increase positivity and improve our health, outlook, and relationships.
Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect
by Matthew Lieberman
Why are social relationships so primary in our lives? UCLA cognitive neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman answers that question in his bookSocial, by providing a clear picture of the three neural pathways in our brains devoted to connecting socially: one that makes us feel social pain and joy, one that helps us attend to and predict others’ behaviors, and one that helps us subconsciously accept the social norms around us.
The book is chock full of fascinating research. For example, we learn that social pain involves the same neural pathways as physical pain and can be lessened with Tylenol; that our brain’s “resting state” is not very resting, and is constantly monitoring our social surroundings; and that we learn best when we engage our social neural pathways, so that preparing to tutor someone else can help students learn material better.
Taken together, the research shows that we have “a tapestry of neural systems woven together to bind us to one another.” Because of this, Lieberman makes recommendation on how to modify our schools and workplaces—and our personal lives—to better take advantage of our social reality.
→ Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is Greater Good‘s book review editor and a frequent contributor to this magazine.