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My Favorite Psychology Books of 2019

Be inspired by the latest ideas.

2 Photo Pots/ Unsplash
Source: 2 Photo Pots/ Unsplash

This year’s wonderful books offer new and uplifting perspectives, deep insights into current problems, and inspiration for positive action in 2020. Here are my favorites.

1. Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

A professor at Yale University’s Child Study Center and founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence presents an evidence-based approach to managing our emotions. Brackett makes a persuasive case that our feelings aren’t impediments but provide important information that can change the quality of our lives for the better – when we give ourselves permission to feel. His prescription for healthy children (as well as their parents, teachers, and schools) is a system with the acronym of RULER. The unpacked acronym: Recognizing emotions in oneself and others. Understanding the causes and consequences of emotion. Labeling emotions with precise words. Expressing emotions, taking context and culture into consideration. Regulating emotions effectively to achieve goals and wellbeing. The RULER system is an impactful and efficient approach to understanding and mastering emotions that has already been adopted in thousands of schools. Leaders, educators, parents, students and researchers will find value in this informative and fun-to-read book. Read a more detailed review here.

2. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

The New York Times best-selling author, psychotherapist, and national advice columnist, Lori Gottlieb takes us behind the scenes of a therapist's world. In this hilarious and thought-provoking book, we learn what goes inside a therapist’s head. By watching a therapist grapple with the same questions her patients have been asking her for years, we gain a fresh understanding of ourselves, others and the human condition. Gottlieb takes us inside some of the most intimate encounters as both clinician and patient. She reveals our blind spots by examining the stories we tell ourselves and others as we grapple with life’s biggest challenges. Gottlieb's willingness to expose her own vulnerabilities along with her patients’ shows us firsthand that we aren’t alone in our struggles and that maybe we should talk more about them to someone. You’ll love these engrossing stories of love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change. A delightful and insightful read!

3. Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader by Marc Lesser

As the former head cook of the world-renowned Zen center and co-founder of Search Inside Yourself, the mindfulness leadership program at Google, Lesser offers a recipe for authentic conscious leadership. The seven mindful practices can be applied to the world of business and practical affairs and everyday life. In the seven chapters with intriguing titles like, “Don’t Be an Expert” and “Keep Making It Simpler,” Lesser explains the practice of mindfulness covering skills to cultivate compassion and empathy, clarity and self-awareness, and a deeper connection to others. While the book is written mainly for executive leaders, anyone who seeks to lead and motivate people from a place of mindful compassion and self-awareness will find inspiration from this practical guide.

4. The Inner Work of Radical Justice by Rhonda Magee

Law professor and long-time mindfulness teacher and practitioner Rhonda Magee shows us that the work of racial justice begins with ourselves. Magee herself suffered racial discrimination as a black woman raised in the South. She discovered that mindfulness meditation helped her to confront racism in less reactive, more compassionate ways. The book shows how embodied mindfulness can help us to slow down, calms our fears and exercise self-compassion. Magee offers these meditation practices aimed at making us more resilient and willing to withstand the discomfort, pain, and ambiguity that comes with responding to racism. The practice of embodied mindfulness–paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations in an open, nonjudgmental way–increases our emotional resilience and gives us the space to become less reactive and to choose how we respond to injustice. This inner work can be the foundation of a more peaceful world.

5. The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health and Longevity by Catherine Sanderson

Psychologist Catherine Sanderson’s new book explains how to move from our habitual pessimistic thinking to a more optimistic mindset. Research abounds on the impact on positivity on our mental health, helping us to be happier, more socially connected, and more successful in life. By combining cutting-edge research from the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience with poignant real-world examples on the power of mindset, this book gives readers practical and easy strategies for changing maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors so they can live longer, happier lives. For instance, appreciating nature, with actions as simple as eating lunch outside can create a major shift in your mood. Helping others in simple ways can change your outlook. Spending money on experiences instead of material possessions has also been found to contribute to one’s happiness. She provides numerous tips for shifting your mind from a negative to a more positive focus such as cognitive reframing, practicing self-compassion and gratitude, and finding humor in difficult situations. Vivid stories make the tips come alive and research proves just how effective these techniques can be.

6. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki

In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States is suffering from an “empathy deficit.” There’s a good deal of evidence that since then, things have only gotten worse. In this groundbreaking new book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait, but a skill that can be cultivated and strengthened through effort and practice. He tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. This book is a powerful reminder that kindness is not a weakness but a source of great strength, and it offers an inspiring call to action. 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. Though the title might seem a bit counterintuitive, if not fighting for kindness, the book makes a strong case for at least advocating for it – and practicing it -- because our future depends on it.

7. Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN by Tara Brach

Tara Brach is a clinical psychologist and one of the most beloved and trusted mindfulness teachers in America. Her latest book to be released December 31, 2019, expands on the easy-to-learn four-step mindful meditation best known by the acronym RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. In brief, these steps are: Recognize what’s going on. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Investigate with kindness and interest. Nurture with self-compassion instead of identifying with the experience. The book broadens its application and explains how RAIN can to help us manage our inner life, and improve our relationships. Each step in the meditation practice is illuminated by memorable stories shared by Brach and her students as they deal with feelings of overwhelm, loss, and self-criticism, as well as painful relationships, and past traumas. Through this step-by-step process, they discover the sources of love, forgiveness, compassion, and wisdom that reside in us all. A must-read for 2020!

8. The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Experience Happiness, Hope, Courage and Connection by Kelly McGonigal

Perhaps best known for her TED Talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend, social psychologist and bestselling author Kelly McGonigal introduces us to the power of exercise. This science-based book explains why movement is essential for both our personal happiness and social connection – and how it’s integral to some of our most basic joys, and modes of self-expression and mastery. Fascinating stories supported by research reveal why movement is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Stories of people from around the world who have found fulfillment and belonging through walking, dancing, running, swimming, doing yoga, and more offer us inspiration to start moving. You will learn what you can do in your own life and community to harness the power of movement to create happiness, meaning, and connection. Read this book to be released December 31, 2019 and you’ll fall in love with movement.

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