Even a half a minute of introspection is enough to tell you that the point of all our striving should be greater happiness. We build great fortunes because we think they'll bring us greater security and less misery. We get fit to feel better. We build companies to remove friction from the world.
But while chasing worldly accomplishments is certainly a great thing to do (up to a point), it's also possible to take a more direct route to happiness, working not on the conditions that surround you but on your mindset directly.
If that's your goal this year, then UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which focuses on the study of positive psychology, has a list of books you should read. I've culled a few from the list that are aimed at specific groups (such as the terminally ill or those caring for the elderly) to offer a snapshot of their recommendations.
If you're aiming to make 2020 your happiest year yet, check out their complete post for many more details.
1. Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
A big part of being happier is learning to make better decisions. And to do that, you need to better understand our buggy brains and how to combat the many biases hardwired into them. Biased is a field guide to doing just that.
"Jennifer Eberhardt's cutting-edge research on bias is not only fascinating but also important for its direct, real-world applications. Her book explains how biases arise, why they can be so insidious, and how we can use this understanding to combat knee-jerk reactions to difference--racial or otherwise," according to Greater Good.
2. The Joy of Movement by Kelly McGonigal
Kelly McGonigal might be a celebrated Stanford University psychologist these days, but once she was just a shy, awkward student. What gave her the confidence to shine? As her new book explains, a big part of the answer was exercise.
"McGonigal made the bold move to become an exercise instructor--something she'd wanted to do but was afraid to try. This started her on a path of teaching exercise, which not only made her fitter but improved her social and emotional health, as well," says Greater Good. The Joy of Movement digs into the research on how moving benefits our minds as well as our bodies. It's perfect for those looking for inspiration to stick with their commitment to greater fitness.
3. The Positive Shift by Catherine Sanderson
"Research suggests that a more optimistic mindset is good for our mental health, helping us to be happier, more socially connected, and even more successful in life. But, if you're a natural pessimist--who tends to focus more on what might go wrong than what might go right--how can you possibly turn your mind around?" asks Greater Good.
The Positive Shift offers a detailed answer, offering research-backed advice to help the gloomier among us learn to see the sunnier side of things and reap the benefits.
4. The Power of Agency by Paul Napper and Anthony Rao
If the problem limiting your happiness is procrastination and indecision, this book by a pair of psychologists is for you.
"In The Power of Agency, the authors show us ways to grow our personal agency and use it to further our personal and professional goals," explains Greater Good. "The advice packaged in this easy-to-read book can help you overcome inertia and begin crafting the life you want."
5. The Power of Bad by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister
The new book by the researcher and New York Times science writer digs into "negativity bias," or the human tendency to focus on what's wrong or bad in our environment. That bias kept our ancestors alive in a dangerous world, but it makes it harder for us to see things in a balanced way, leading to unnecessary unhappiness.
"In John Tierney and Roy Baumeister's new book, The Power of Bad, we learn about fascinating research on the negativity bias that illustrates its power over us. But the authors also give us hints about how to combat it, including how to give constructive criticism in a way that will be better received, use incentives rather than punishments to motivate others, avoid negative behavior in romantic relationships (which they argue is more important than building up positive experiences), and much more," says Greater Good.
6. The Power of Human by Adam Waytz
Another "power" book (do I detect a trend in book titles here?), this one digs into the relationship between tech and "dehumanization."
"We spend so much time online avoiding direct human contact, writes Waytz, that we are losing our capacity to connect with others in meaningful ways--making us lonelier, less empathic, and prone to bullying or being bullied," explains Greater Good. Thankfully, like many of the other books on this list, The Power of Human offers not just diagnosis, but also concrete suggestions on how to overcome what ails us.
7. The War for Kindness by Jamil Zaki
You probably don't need a book to tell you that the world is nastier, ruder, and less kind these days. So any title that suggests a way to bring back decency and civility is more than welcome.
"In empathy researcher Jamil Zaki's book, The War for Kindness, we're given reason for hope," reports Greater Good. "Presenting the latest research on empathy and kindness, he explains why empathy matters for our relationships, when it's hard to empathize and why, and what conditions makes it easier to tap into our empathy. He argues that empathy is like a muscle that gets stronger if we exercise it, and his book gives practical tips on just how to do that."