The PT Bookshelf: Brains, Happiness and Philosophy

Book reviews on how to stay focused, happy and continue to grow.

By Kaja Perina, ChiChi Madu, Sonya Sobieski, published January 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Your Brain at Work

By David Rock

Imagine an executive coach walking you through your toughest day on the job, deconstructing the painful performance review and the anemic brainstorming session with an eye towards what you should be doing, given the strengths and liabilities of your own mind.

David Rock has done just that. Rock deftly narrates a day in the life of a harried, high-performing couple, applying emergent neuroscience to their performance conundrums at every turn. We learn how to split attention (if multitask you must), how to relax when at an impasse, and how to coax the best out of colleagues by giving feedback that results in "quiet hunches" rather than diminished egos.

By illuminating the cognitive mechanisms that cause us to stumble, Rock steers clear of well-trod business-lit terrain. Take the shopworn cliche of needing to focus on a solution rather than a problem. In Your Brain at Work, it's deconstructed: Seeking solutions activates the insight-generating right hemisphere and creates an approach-oriented mind-set, as opposed to the avoidant default that kicks in when contemplating problems. A "toward" orientation in turn kicks up dopamine, which primes the brain for insight. Rock, himself a corporate advisor, shows that a little science, well applied, can carve a new path through even the thorniest of challenges.—Kaja Perina

The Happiness Project

By Gretchen Rubin

Combining advice from the likes of Plato, Tolstoy, Gladwell, and Oprah, The Happiness Project is Rubin's one-year experiment in finding what it takes to be truly content. Each month, Rubin made a set of resolutions. February was marriage month, when she quit nagging her husband, while October was mindfulness month, full of Buddhism lessons, yoga, and a drawing class. In December she combined everything into a "happiness boot camp." Rubin says the path to joy is different for everyone, but crafting a list of resolutions and actually sticking to them is a good place to start. Whether you devote a day or a year, The Happiness Project can give you the tools to find lasting fulfillment.—ChiChi Madu

How Philosophy Can Save Your Life

By Marietta McCarty

If your book club likes to talk about ideas more than plotlines, this optimistic and pragmatic how-to should be next on your list. In each of 10 chapters, McCarty explains a "big idea," such as Flexibility or Possibility, then offers discussion questions and meditative exercises (spend time with water to understand Serenity). The philosophers she quotes and the artists whose works she urges you to sample are surprisingly diverse. Cat Power has as much to offer as Camus. McCarty's enthusiasm for human achievement and potential is contagious. She encourages fun and sociable self-improvement—enlightenment for the yoga-averse. —Sonya Sobieski