At Greater Good, we often learn of books that we don’t end up reviewing for one reason or another. Sometimes they come to us too late; sometimes they don’t exactly fit with other editorial content. But, nevertheless, many of them are worthy books, deserving a read. Here are some the books we overlooked in 2013.
Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science, edited by Tania Singer and Matthias Bolz
Can compassion be taught? Research suggests that it can and that it should, according to neuroscientists Tania Singer and Matthias Bolz, co-editors of the ebook Compassion: Bridging Practice and Science. Singer and Bolz, both of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, study the social brain, the underpinnings of altruistic behavior, and moral cognitions. Their book offers an in-depth look on what we know about compassion and its trainability. Available for free online, the book was born of a conference on compassion held in 2011 in Germany that was organized by their institute. With chapters from conference participants, the book helps readers to distinguish between empathy and compassion. It also underscores the importance of compassion for our health and happiness, while encouraging secular forms of compassion training in schools, psychotherapy, and other areas of life.
Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are, by Carlin Flora
Friendships play an important role in steering our life course, influencing everything from what we read to how we monitor our weight to how we pick a partner. Friendfluence, by Psychology Today journalist Carlin Flora, surveys friends of all stripes—from casual buddies to close confidents—and shares research findings on how friends impact our health and happiness. We learn that companionship is the element of friendship that makes us most happy, that talking to a friend for a few minutes improves cognitive functioning, and that having friends at work is crucial to wellbeing and performance at work, among other findings. From defining friendship to sharing its benefits to understanding how social media influences friendship, her book provides a rare overview of friendship in all of its forms, while encouraging readers to nurture their friendships carefully.
Until recently, science had little to say about romantic love. But, with the increased attention on the role emotions play in our lives and the advent of fMRI technology allowing us to look into our brains, that stance is changing. Sue Johnson, a psychologist at Alliant University, who also developed Emotions-Based Therapy for couples, outlines the new research on love—everything from how love helps us survive in infancy to how love increases happiness and decreases stress in adults. In the process, she makes the argument that we are born to be connected to others, that we do best in committed, monogamous relationships, and that we need a safe, emotional haven throughout our lives in order to thrive. Johnson’s book provides practical prescriptions for couples struggling in relationships, based on her own and others’ research. Her findings are somewhat counterintuitive: It turns out that adults have attachment needs similar to children, and that couples in crisis need to learn how to be more interdependent—rather than independent—if their relationships are to survive.
Kim Cameron and colleagues at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business have studied what makes successful organizations tick for over a decade. In Practicing Positive Leadership, he’s put together what they’ve learned to create a how-to book for organizational leaders. Cameron identifies four main strategies to help organizations flourish: positive social climate, positive relationships, positive communication, and positive meaning. He shows leaders how to create these within their own workplaces, transforming them into organizations where both people and businesses can thrive. What makes this book carry more weight than the average business book is the extensive research behind these suggestions.
Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business, by Margaret Greenberg and Senia Maymin
In Profit from the Positive, two skill sets converge: executive coaching and a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. The result is a book that looks at business success through the lens of human strengths and virtues. “Many of us are fairly adept at studying what’s wrong,” write the authors. “We don’t apply the same rigor to studying and capitalizing on what’s going right.” They recommend taking specific steps to correct for the brain’s natural “negativity bias”—the tendency to focus attention on threats—by assessing “strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results.” They also suggest concrete, specific ways to build resilience in leaders, employees, and the organization as a whole, starting with “don’t resist resistance”—in other words, encouraging bad news and feedback, and then growing in response.
Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir
Why do many of us struggle with time management? Why do the poor stay poor? Why do lonely people have trouble making friends? According to Harvard economist, Sendhil Mullainathan’s, and Princeton psychologist, Eldar Shafir’s new book, Scarcity, these seemingly unconnected situations are all related to the mindset of scarcity and how it affects our brains. When we humans believe we are short of something—whether it’s food, money, time, or love—we respond by focusing our brainpower on overcoming that shortage, overriding other areas of our brains that could help us to plan better, exert self-control, and problem-solve. This, in turn, inhibits our ability to get out of stuck situations, perpetuating many of the ills we hope to change. While a scarcity mentality affects us at all levels of society, there are ways we can use this knowledge to nudge ourselves toward more positive behavior.