The best books on navigating the road to the good life

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson Author Of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

The Books I Picked & Why

Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling on Happiness

Why this book?

Most people take the Declaration of Independence’s assurance that we are all entitled to the “pursuit of happiness” literally, and off they go, pursuing it in all directions. But do they capture it? Dan Gilbert weaves the scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics into an engrossing story of why we humans are so bad at predicting what makes us happy—or miserable, for that matter. After the first flush of excitement, why doesn’t winning the lottery make people happier? After the first shock of disappointment, why doesn’t failing to get into the college of their dreams make students more miserable? The answers will surprise you and speak to our human adaptability. This book is not a “how-to” pursue or achieve happiness, but by helping us understand our own emotional thermostats, Gilbert gives us something more valuable: showing how resilient humans are at surviving disappointments and even disasters.


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Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

By Neil Postman

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Why this book?

When Neil Postman wrote this book in 1985, few realized how brilliantly it would predict our present media-saturated times. Postman foresaw how the blurring of news and entertainment would eventually turn politics into theater; how the allure of quick and sensational news bites would diminish our ability to focus on serious, sustained issues; how glitzy if appealing entertainments would shrink our attention spans; and, most dangerous of all, how the immersion in “amusements,” a seemingly benign and enjoyable process, would have dire consequences for human happiness, well-being, education, journalism, and politics. We highly recommend this book because navigating the road to the good life means knowing when and how to control our amusements instead of letting them control us.


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The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

By Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Why this book?

This book offers an overarching analysis of good ideas gone wrong—across the political spectrum. Among young people, rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide are rising, and that was before the pandemic. Liberals and conservatives alike are finding it difficult, if not impossible, to expose themselves to ideas from the “other side,” taking cover in shouting down the opposition with the justifications of the righteous. Between the rising prevalence of censorship and self-censorship on one hand, and the rising incidence of hate speech and hate crimes on the other, how do we navigate? Law professor Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt examine the social trends that have led to today’s polarization. These include overcontrolled, “fearful” parenting, which prevents children from exploring, learning on their own, and making the mistakes that will teach them to improve; the echo chambers of social media; and endorsement of what they regard as three incorrect ideas that have long been discredited by psychological science: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; always trust your feelings; and life is a battle between good people and evil people. These ideas and their resulting “culture of safetyism,” the authors write, impede young people from becoming autonomous adults who are able to accept setbacks, criticism, other points of view, and pitfalls on life’s journey.


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Life After Life

By Kate Atkinson

Life After Life

Why this book?

And now, a novel, a brilliant, thought-provoking novel. Looking back, most of us tend to tell our life stories in order: we did this, and then we did that, and then this happened … and it all seems inevitable and obvious. But life is often wilder, less predictable. We did this—but then we came to a fork in the road and had to choose which way to go. What about the fork we didn’t follow? Would taking it have been better or worse for us? In the unruly calculus of life, some of our decisions turn out to be wise and right; others, unexpectedly, turn out to be disasters; and some turn out to be disasters that give us opportunities for action and improvement we would never have imagined for ourselves—let alone voluntarily chosen. No matter how carefully we try to plan our lives, we will encounter unexpected chance events that can lead to a spectrum of outcomes. This highly imaginative novel starts with the birth of a baby on a cold and snowy night in 1910: either she dies of birth complications, or the doctor arrives in time and she lives. As her heroine’s life unfolds across the tumultuous events of the twentieth century, Atkinson makes us acknowledge the role of chance in any human life, showing us “what would have happened if ….”


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