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My Top 10 Psychology Books of 2018

New and uplifting ideas come from different spheres.

Daria Shevtsova/pexels
Source: Daria Shevtsova/pexels

It's been a year of amazing books that offer new and uplifting insights, creative solutions to current problems, and inspiration for the future. Here are the best of the best.

1. Educated by Tara Westover

This memoir is on everyone’s best books of the year list. But why psychology? Through extreme real-life examples of growing up in isolated rural Idaho, Westover offers some great psychological insights into how one’s upbringing shapes our worldview—and the ways in which we might not even realize it until we are exposed to other viewpoints, cultures, and historical contexts through education. The tension between loyalty to one’s roots and the discovery of a broader world is a common theme in psychological development. As readers, we become intimate witnesses of the process by which Westover becomes educated. A gut-wrenching, engrossing, and deeply moving book.

2. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris

In the sequel to her amazing TED talk, Nadine Burke Harris a physician, connects the dots between childhood trauma and physical illness in adulthood. Before that, it seems the fields of medicine and psychology weren’t really talking to each other about it. The author’s research discovered just how deeply our bodies can be imprinted by adverse childhood experiences like abuse, neglect, parental addiction, mental illness, and divorce. Childhood adversity changes our biology in profound ways—and the impact lasts a lifetime. This book is recommended for anyone who has faced a difficult childhood, or who cares about the millions of children who do.

3. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

This bestseller by the renowned historian (slash futurist) is sweeping worldview of where we are at now and where we’re going. Technology is now advancing faster than we can understand of it. To many, the world feels more polarized and dangerous than ever. Harari argues that, in order to survive, we must develop the self-awareness and psychological and emotional resilience to navigate life in the face of constant and disorienting change. Though the topics are sobering, this tome reads like an engrossing novel and is hard to put down. You’ll feel smarter and more prepared for the future after you’ve read this important book.

4. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress by Steven Pinker

Taking the long view on the state of the world is a good idea according to Steven Pinker. The news often highlights tragedy, destruction, and prophecies of doom which play into our psychological biases (such as the negativity biases, and availability heuristics). Instead, Pinker invites you to take a look at the data in his seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, showing that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. Pinker attributes this progress to “the Enlightenment,” and the deep conviction that reason and science have greatly enhanced human flourishing and will continue to do so as we confront new problems and continue our progress.

5. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt

In this expansion of their 2015 piece for the Atlantic, Lukianoff and Haidt argue that well-intended but misguided attempts to protect young people can hamper their development, with devastating consequences for them, for the educational system and for democracy itself. Emotional resiliency is declining among young people. The authors see the overprotectiveness of parents and excessive screen time as the root causes of the excessive fragility in the younger generation of today's adults. The authors advocate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a proven successful method of dealing with depression and anxiety, and use its tenets as a model for raising children and encouraging young people to deal effectively with their emotions.

6. Standing at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet by Joan Halifax

This book, Roshi Joan Halifax invites us to dive deeper into our discomfort and feelings of uncertainty and learn new skills to navigate through life. By developing the psychological resources to hold complex emotional states in our awareness, we can then choose to act skillfully instead of react based on momentary impulses. Halifax has identified five such states, which she calls Edge States: altruism, empathy, integrity, respect, and engagement. These states can define strength of character, and at the same time can be the cause of great personal and social suffering. Through her extraordinary life experiences, she’s developed a deep understanding of how our greatest challenges can become precious sources of wisdom―and how we can transform our experience of suffering into the power of compassion for the benefit of others. Read a more detailed review of the book here.

7. Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself by Mark Epstein

Psychiatrist Mark Epstein combines his knowledge of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, his clinical and personal experiences, and his longtime practice of Buddhism to help us get over ourselves—our egos, that is—and the inflated sense of importance we can have for just about everything. As a psychiatrist and Buddhist practitioner, he’s uniquely situated to offer us the best of both worlds. Though he’s been reluctant to do so, (hence one meaning of the title), because he doesn’t want to push an ideology onto his patients. Epstein structures the book around the Eight Fold Path of Buddhism and combines insights from Buddhism with psychoanalysis in this highly readable book. Find out more in a detailed review here.

8. Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly

The book challenges the conventional wisdom that anger, especially coming from women, is not a valid expression of emotion. Writer and activist Soraya Chemaly argues that anger is not only justified, it is also an active part of the solution. Women are so often encouraged to resist their rage or punished for justifiably expressing it, yet many remarkable achievements would never have gotten off the ground without the kernel of anger that fueled them. The author argues that anger doesn’t get in the way, in many cases it is the way that sparks new creative solutions. When used with conscious intention, anger is a vital tool, a detector of injustice and a catalyst for change. In contrast, Chemaly argues that the societal and cultural belittlement of women’s anger is a calculated way of limiting and controlling their power. A validating and energizing read for everyone that will transform our view of this powerful core human emotion.

9. Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl

Psychological science writer Melissa Dahl takes us along on her exploration into those unwanted experiences of awkwardness, how we can understand them, and figure out what to do about them. Dahl struggled with awkwardness her whole life and wanted to find ways to remedy it. But rather than hunting for tips to avoid the feeling, she immersed herself in one awkward situation after another. As part of her research for the book, she did a bunch of cringeworthy things like reading from the pages of her seventh-grade diary in front of a group of strangers, initiating conversations with strangers, and going on awkward “friend dates.” Though it’s an uncomfortable topic, this witty book offers a wonderfully reassuring message on the value of human awkwardness. Awkward moments are opportunities to test ourselves. They teach us empathy and compassion and unite us in our humanity.

10. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

Priya Parker offers a bold new approach to how we gather that will transform the ways we spend our time together—at work, at home, in our communities, and beyond. At a time when obstacles to face-to-face contact abound, coming together in groups is more important than ever. Parker offers a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play. In short, it is less about the protocol and more about the people. Drawing on her expertise as a facilitator of high-powered gatherings around the world, Parker takes us inside events of all kinds to offer psychological insights into what works, what doesn't, and why. She investigates a wide array of gatherings—conferences, meetings, a courtroom, a flash-mob party, an Arab-Israeli summer camp—and explains how simple, specific changes can enliven any group experience. The ideas in this book will inspire you to bring people together in meaningful ways and forever change the way you look at gatherings—and how you host and attend them.