The Happiness of PursuitBy Jill Suttie | April 3, 2012 | 1 comment
What's the basis of a good life? Jill Suttie reviews three new books about happiness, forgiveness, and gratitude.
You’d think with all the books coming out on how to find more well-being in life, I’d be the happiest person around. After all, I get to read all of these books and gather their wisdom on a daily basis.
But I’m not always that happy, and now and then I need good ideas to help me figure out where I’m stuck or discover new techniques I might use to reset my happiness point a little higher.
That’s where the following new books come in. Each is based on solid research and suggests proven ways to make you happier or healthier.
If you having trouble forgiving others and your anger is causing problems in your current relationships, you may want to look at Robert Enright’s newest book, The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love.
Enright, a pioneer in the science of forgiveness and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin, answers the question of why and how to forgive others, with step-by-step instructions based on his scientific work. The book shows how forgiveness—contrary to what many believe—benefits the person who forgives more than the person who has done harm, and it includes answers to many questions people have about forgiveness, like how it differs from forgetting or reconciliation.
Personally, I’m not the type to hold a grudge; but I do sometimes focus too much on the dark side of life. So, I’m particularly drawn to books that focus on gratitude. There’s nothing like stepping back for a moment and giving thanks to the people in my life to make me feel a bit better about the world. And research has shown that practicing gratitude on a regular basis increases your health and well-being in significant ways.
If you’re looking for guidance on how to incorporate more gratitude in your own life, you can read Angeles Arrien’s new book, Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life. Arrien, a cultural anthropologist and international lecturer on transpersonal psychology, offers a month-by-month set of practices—a combination of reflective questions and simple actions to take—that can help you get on the path to a more grateful life. And for those who require some research to show why this is a good idea, Arrien’s book provides that as well.
Ultimately, practicing gratitude and forgiveness are aimed at making us happier—they are tools we can use to set ourselves on the path to more well-being. In Shimon Edelman’s new book, The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life, we learn more about how this happens on the neurological level.
According to Edelman, professor of psychology at Cornell University, the brain is the world’s greatest computational “machine,” continuously combing through data acquired through experience and perception to make predictions about our future happiness. He suggests that understanding the way our minds work to process emotions, language, learning, and other experiences can help us to appreciate that happiness is not an end-goal, but an ongoing negotiation happening within our brains.
He encourages us not to hold onto happiness, but to focus on its pursuit as the key to well-being. For someone like me, who is always searching, that can be a very reassuring message indeed. However, Edelman’s book is less prescriptive than the others, so don’t count on a recipe for becoming happier—it’s more of an owner’s manual for the mind, albeit an entertaining one.
The message in all of these books is that we are capable of changing the way we think about our lives and to promote our well-being. Depending on your own blind spot, any one of them might inspire you to practice becoming a happier person, although there are no guarantees. But, since it’s all about the pursuit anyway, why not give one a try?
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About The Author
Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine.