Books To Make An Excellent Life

I'm back! It's been an enormous few weeks with multiple projects on the go and sadly, my blog has been neglected, but I'm getting back into the swing of things and getting ready for a big 2016!  So let's go.

This is another one for the book junkies. *You know who you are.*


A couple of weeks ago I trawled through eight or nine dusty book boxes in our garage - unopened since our house move last December - looking for a particular text book. 

I found the book, in the last box of course, but I also uncovered a treasure trove of psychology-based self help books that I have collected over the years but largely neglected in the last decade due to, well, life.

So today I'm exploring these treasures with you on the off-chance that you share my bent for scientifically driven but eminently readable books on making an excellent life. 

1. Finding Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. My copy of this book is so old that it has the original title of 'Living Well' which I kind of prefer.  The blurb on the back cover describes it as 'a profound exploration of what it means to have a good life' and that's exactly what it is.  Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced 'cheek sent me high') mixes a good dose of philosophy with psychology and sociology to paint the bigger picture of what living looks like today and then throws in a dose of easy-to-understand science and some practical tips. It's a classic for good reason.

2. Learned Optimism, Martin E.P. Seligman Seligman is known as the Father of Positive Psychology (although is was Abraham Maslow who coined the term). Learned Optimism was published seven years before Seligman addressed the American Psychological Association, suggesting that psychologists should study what makes happy people happy.  It's not difficult to see that in his exploration of optimism and how we can train ourselves to stop assuming guilt, stop looking for obstacles, stop automatically expecting the worst and instead teach ourselves to look for the positives, that he was already thinking about what makes people flourish. This book gives you the chance to test your optimism (and your children's) using a questionnaire and then explains the science behind the theory of learned optimism in a really practical way, filled with real life examples.  Part 3 is dedicated to helping you change from pessimist to optimist. If you're new to these ideas but you're keen to know more, this book is a great place to start. It went on to become an international best seller.

3. Authentic Happiness, Martin E.P. Seligman (eBook) As a positive psychologist I have a library full of Seligman's books and it was this one that really caught the attention of the media and spread the word about positive psychology.  Authentic Happiness is the first book to examine how mentally healthy people become happy and how happy people become very happy.  It's easy to read, peppered with examples of real people leading everyday lives, and introduces concepts such as character strengths that have become the backbone of the science of living an excellent life.  In usual Seligman style there are questionnaires to complete for insight into your own strengths, stories and examples from his own life and a really interesting discussion on meaning, purpose and how this applies to work, relationships and parenting.

4. Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman (eBook) The very title of this book takes me back to a patch of grass in a sunny garden courtyard hidden away amongst tall office buildings in North Sydney.  I spent several lunch hours soaking up sunshine, intensely absorbed in this book.  Goleman was not the first to discuss the importance of attributes other than general intelligence and IQ to human success but his background in journalism (he's also a PhD qualified psychologist and Harvard lecturer) meant that he was able to articulate and spread the word of emotional intelligence far more successfully than his predecessors.  In this book, which spent over a year and a half on top of the best seller's list, Goleman tells us that not only is being able to understand our own and other peoples emotions important to all types of success in life (work, relationships, parenting) but also that these are skills that we can develop.  He proposes that kids should be taught emotional intelligence and emotion management in schools; an idea that I wholeheartedly support. If you haven't read it already, this is a book to put on the list.

5. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, David D. Burns (eBook)  This last book is maybe a bit more 'psychological' in nature but it's an absolute classic of the field and it's written for non-psychologists.  It opened my mind to many ideas about how we think and how the way we think influences how we feel. Published in 2008 it has had over 1,000 review on Amazon, with an average rating of 4 1/2 stars so it's obviously helped more than just me.

Burns, who's a psychiatrist, talks about how to recognise what causes your mood swings, deal with guilt, hostility and criticism, build self-esteem and feel good everyday. This book was voted number one out of 1000 in a US survey of mental health professionals where it is also the most frequently recommended self-help book for depression.  

Burns has a very helpful website that you might like to check out too.


Have you read any of these books? Have you had a massive few weeks? Are you as tired as I am? ;-) Let me know!