Happiness isn't a gift of the universe. It isn't luck. It isn't even entirely down to your genetic predisposition to cheer or gloom (though that undeniable plays a role). A big chunk of happiness is skill.
"All of the work that we and other colleagues [have done] leads us to this inevitable conclusion...well-being is fundamentally no different than learning to play the cello. If one practices the skills of well-being, one will get better at it," psychologist and happiness researcher Richard J. Davidson has explained.
And if you want to learn that skill, there are few better resources out there then UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. The center turns out articles, a newsletter, and resources explaining the latest science on feeling and doing good. So when they recently rounded up their favorite new books on the topic of boosting well-being, I sat up and took notice. Here are their picks if you want to learn to be happier this year (or any time really).
1. The All-or-Nothing Marriage by Eli Finkel
One sure-fire way to make your life happier is to make your relationship with your partner happier. This book could help you tune up yours.
Both an examination of the high expectations we currently have for marriage and a guide to improving your union, this book "pulls from research to offer advice to modern couples wanting to sustain a fulfilling relationship," explains Greater Good. It "is full of useful tips for making your marriage a happier, longer-lasting one."
2. Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson
"A grand tour of past mindfulness research," it provides "evidence that meditation -particularly when practiced over time-improves our resilience to stress, increases our compassionate concern for others, hones our ability to focus and pay attention, and helps us to be less self-focused. In some cases, mindfulness appears to also improve biological markers of health--in particular, those related to stress and disease."
3. Awakening Compassion at Work by Monica Worline and Jane Dutton
Here's one for the bosses. This book makes the business case for greater compassion at work. "A growing body of research suggests that compassionate care from employers and fellow employees improves worker performance and loyalty, and creates an atmosphere that is safe for learning, collaboration, and innovation--which all impact the bottom line," explains Greater Good. "The authors outline the steps for cultivating workplace compassion."
4. Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky
Being happier in the coming year isn't just about cultivating the good things in life, but also avoiding the nastier ones. This book can help by explaining why humans sometimes drift so far from the better angles of our nature.
"Human beings seem to veer wildly from kind and helpful behavior to prejudice and violence. Deftly synthesizing research from many sources, biologist and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky provides a fascinating look at why we behave the way we do," notes Greater Good. "The book helps explain power dynamics, political lying, social comparisons, and social hierarchies," and helps us "use that knowledge to bring out the best in ourselves."
5. Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
Did the nasty and divided political landscape get you down this year? (Yeah, me too). Brown's book might offer an antidote to the gloom. "Our political divide has led to a spiritual crisis and a downward spiral of disconnection and loneliness," she argues. "To counter that... we need to move past shame and hate and toward empathy, connection, and a sense of true belonging."
"Her key insight is this: If we're too afraid to rock the boat and stand alone--whether in our family or our political party--we won't feel like we truly belong." If her blockbuster TED talk is anything to go by, it should also be an entertaining read.
6. iGen by Jean Twenge
If your miserable teenager is the main drag on your happiness (or you are a miserable teenager), then pick up Twenge's book. It won't offer instant comfort - her picture of the problematic technological and sociological forces driving today's young people towards misery is undeniably grim - but she does offer useful insights and advice on how to cope.
"Though this is not a parenting book, the insights Twenge reveals can help parents navigate around the larger social forces affecting their teens," notes Greater Good.
7. The Influential Mind by Tali Sharot
Another recommendation that will be of particular interest to leaders. "How do we influence others for good or for ill? In The Influential Mind, neuroscientist Tali Sharot makes the case that we're full of misconceptions about how minds get changed, which means that we often fail to influence others--our kids, our students, our coworkers, our patients, and our loved ones," says Greater Good.
8. The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
Being happier in 2018 might be as easy as spending a little bit more time outside in nature. "Florence Williams chronicles our intricate connection to the natural world and nature's impact on our health, creativity, and happiness. She makes a strong case for incorporating more green spaces into our lives in order to improve personal and societal well-being," reports Greater Good.
9. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
This much chattered about book co-authored by Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg after the sudden, tragic loss of her husband, has something to offer anyone facing grief or trauma of any kind. "While sharing her story, Sandberg and coauthor Adam Grant reveal research-based tips on how to recover and thrive after a devastating loss," explains Greater Good.
10. The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith
Actually, maybe you shouldn't chase happiness in 2018. Maybe you should chase meaning instead. "A life of meaningful pursuits is likely to bring us more sustained happiness and life satisfaction--even if there is some discomfort, sadness, or stress along the way--than a life of pleasure alone," argues journalist Emily Esfahani Smith in this book.
11. Why We Sleep by Matt Walker
Could the key to a happier 2018 be as simple as getting more sleep? "Sleep researcher Matt Walker draws from his own and others' neuroscience research to explain the importance of sleep for our health and well-being. In the process, he disproves common myths around sleep--like thinking one can make up for lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends--and offers tips for falling asleep and staying asleep," reports Greater Good. Some in the notoriously sleep deprived startup community have already recommended it.