Reviews of books read last month: all three books were non-fiction. My fascination with psychology seems to know no bounds. I started a novel too, but haven't finished it yet. A bit of an experiment this month: I've limited myself to three hours to write the reviews. 1. "The Resiliency Advantage" by Al Siebert <http://www.amazon.com/The-Resiliency-Advantage/dp/1576753298> Resiliency, the ability to adapt and cope with life's changes, is not an innate talent. It is a skill that can be learnt just like any other. The book's subtitle is: "Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks". The author is a clinical psychologist and researcher. The book looks at the attributes of highly resilient people: those suffering chronic pain or life-changing disabilities, and survivors of terrible adversity. The examples and anecdotes are backed up by research findings. Attributes that help build resilience include the ability to solve problems, curiosity, willingness to try new and possibly uncomfortable or challenging things, and openness to serendipity. This last point helps turn accidents or misfortune into positives. Resiliency requires a healthy view of three aspect of one's "self": self-esteem, self-confidence and self-concept. An interesting argument the author makes is that people who never complain and always try to please others (i.e. to be a "good child") can actually harm their ability to cope with their problems. Detachment and a modest level of selfishness can help people become resilient. The author challenges the concept of stress. Often the thing causing stress is not the real problem, but rather how we choose to internalise it and react to it. Just as straining muscles in an exercise routine helps strengthen them, coping with the strains of everyday life helps strengthen our "resiliency" muscles. This makes me wonder if many parents are actually harming their children by always trying to make their children's lives as easy as possible. Too much sheltering from helicopter parents could backfire when the child grows up and has to face life's challenges on their own. 2. "How to Thrive in the Digital Age" by Tom Chatfield <http://www.amazon.com/How-Thrive-Digital/dp/1447202317> Advances in technology are changing the way we live our lives. This book looks at how our "wired", continuously "plugged in" lifestyles impact our work, leisure, relationships and politics. The author points out both the benefits and drawbacks of the digital age. While we have access to more information than ever before, not all the information is of equal quality. He argues "much as online authority has increasingly become divorced from expertise, so, it seems, cultural production is becoming divorced from talent". Other issues include information overload, the dehumanising effect from instant gratification, escapism, and the feeling of isolation. Technology is not the root cause of these problems, but just an enabler. As such, we can learn to take control of the situation to help mitigate the problems. The author makes some interesting points about the consequences of technology, and provides some useful suggestions for thriving and flourishing in the digital age. 3. "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert <http://www.amazon.com/Stumbling-Happiness/dp/1400077427> It seems like an easy question: what makes us happy? The author, a professor of psychology at Harvard, argues that we can't be relied upon to give a decent answer. In the foreword he writes: "This book is about a puzzle that many thinkers have pondered over the last two millennia, and it uses their ideas (and a few of my own) to explain why we seem to know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become". He covers psychology, cognition, neuroscience, economics and philosophy to make his argument. Findings include: * Happiness is very subjective. As they say, "one man's meat is another man's poison". * We're not very good at predicting the future. * We're not even particularly reliable remembering the past. * Our memories are selective. * Our thinking is subject to biases. * Major events which we expect would have a lasting impact on our happiness (e.g. winning the lottery or becoming handicapped), will affect us in the short term, but then we will eventually return to our individual "default" level of happiness. When making decisions about the future, and how that affects our happiness, we often resort to thoughts and imagination. But there are three major shortcomings of imagination: 1. Its tendency to fill in and leave out without telling us (Realism). 2. Its tendency to project the present onto the future (Presentism). 3. Its failure to recognise that things look different once they happen - in particular, that bad things will look a whole lot better (Rationalisation). So, if imagination leads us astray, what are we to do when trying to make important decisions? According to the author, the best advice is to ask others who have already made similar decisions to see if they're happy or not with their choices. The author also makes some potentially controversial claims regarding life as a "belief-transmission game". In particular, we believe in the joy of money and the joy of children. Regarding money, research shows that beyond a certain amount, additional income does not lead to increased happiness. Regarding children, research studies show that marital satisfaction actually dips just after the birth and only picks up when the nest empties. Overall, the author makes a persuasive case, often with humour. There is no simple, universal formula for finding happiness. We probably shouldn't try to think too much about making ourselves happy, since we have unreliable ideas on the subject. Instead, we should take each day as it comes, accept what we have, and make the most of the situations we find ourselves in. And where possible, seek the advice of people more experienced than ourselves.