Six favorite books of 2023 to help harness the stress response and boost resilience, curiosity and wonder

It’s hard to address impor­tant issues in our lives or in soci­ety if we are stressed, deplet­ed, and iso­lat­ed. Per­haps that’s why many of 2023’s favorite books offer approach­es for real self-care. They focus on how to man­age stress, find more hap­pi­ness in life, seek won­der and inspi­ra­tion, appre­ci­ate art, under­stand our per­son­al strengths, or change our mind­set in healthy ways.

In each of these books, the authors aspire to help us find greater health and hap­pi­ness as we cope with life in the present, while work­ing toward a health­i­er, more com­pas­sion­ate world for all.

Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work—Now and in an Uncertain Future, by Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman

Now that work­places are emerg­ing from the intense demands of the pan­dem­ic, they are in an unprece­dent­ed posi­tion to reflect and try to tran­scend out­dat­ed approach­es to orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture, pol­i­cy, and cul­ture. In Tomor­row­mind, coau­thors Gabriel­la Rosen Keller­man and Mar­tin Selig­man offer an abridged his­to­ry of orga­ni­za­tion­al think­ing and design, then draw from sci­en­tif­ic research, case stud­ies, and in-depth inter­views to share key insights and action­able strate­gies for real and impact­ful orga­ni­za­tion­al transformation.

Part of what Tomor­row­mind cov­ers is the top­ic of thriv­ing at work, the sci­ence behind it, and why it’s impor­tant. To pro­mote thriv­ing at work, the authors rec­om­mend sev­er­al strate­gies to help orga­ni­za­tions enhance resilience, strength­en con­nec­tion, make sure peo­ple know they’re val­ued, and pro­vide a coura­geous, aspi­ra­tional shared vision.

To increase work­place resilience, for exam­ple, Tomor­row­mind rec­om­mends slow­ing down and rein­ter­pret­ing dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ences, doing the “Best Pos­si­ble Self” prac­tice to increase opti­mism, learn­ing to put set­backs and fail­ures into per­spec­tive, and act­ing with more self-compassion.

With an eye toward future challenges—like AI and cli­mate change—Tomorrowmind also offers clear strate­gic guid­ance to help orga­ni­za­tions nur­ture a cul­ture of thriv­ing and recast tra­di­tion­al struc­tures and poli­cies to max­i­mize cre­ativ­i­ty, min­i­mize wast­ed effort and time, and “future-proof” them­selves against pos­si­ble cat­a­stro­phe in a volatile, uncer­tain, com­plex, and ambigu­ous landscape.

The Stress Prescription: Seven Days to More Joy and Ease, by Elissa Epel

Though this book came out late in 2022, it was too impor­tant not to men­tion. Elis­sa Epel, a pre­mier stress researcher, has put togeth­er a short primer on how to life a hap­pi­er, health­i­er life through effec­tive stress management.

As Epel writes, not all stress is inher­ent­ly bad; so, we shouldn’t aim for a stress-free life. We need our phys­i­o­log­i­cal stress response to sur­vive and to respond to chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions. But if we are con­stant­ly vigilant—which many of us are these days—it ages us unnecessarily.

How can we use stress to our advan­tage and soothe it when it’s over­whelm­ing? Epel has sev­er­al evi­dence-based tips, includ­ing learn­ing how to embrace uncer­tain­ty, let go of uncon­trol­lable out­comes, and rec­og­nize our stress response’s util­i­ty. We can also delib­er­ate­ly seek more joy, time in nature, small stres­sors (to build resilience), and occa­sion­al deep rest (where we are free from respon­si­bil­i­ty or our ubiq­ui­tous cell phones).

As Epel writes, “Any­thing worth doing will have aspects of stress woven through: chal­lenge, dis­com­fort, risk. We can’t change that. But what we can change is our response.” Chang­ing your rela­tion­ship to stress by tam­ing it is key.

The Mindful Body: Thinking Our Way to Chronic Health, by Ellen J. Langer

We’ve all heard about “mind/body con­nec­tion.” But do we ful­ly under­stand its impli­ca­tions for our health and well-being?

Not accord­ing to Ellen Langer’s book, The Mind­ful Body. Langer reveals a whole world of fas­ci­nat­ing research look­ing at how our beliefs about aging, risk for con­tract­ing dis­ease, and the effec­tive­ness of poten­tial treat­ments affect health, and how chang­ing our mind­set can lead to sur­pris­ing­ly bet­ter results.

For exam­ple, one study found that giv­ing peo­ple infor­ma­tion about their (fic­ti­tious) lev­el of risk for obe­si­ty changed their metab­o­lism and how they felt about exer­cise and hunger (regard­less of their actu­al lev­el of risk). Anoth­er found that mess­ing with people’s per­cep­tion of time affect­ed how much ener­gy they expend­ed doing a task.

In oth­er words, expec­ta­tions mat­ter; so, we must be care­ful what we put in our minds lest it become a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy. “Diag­noses, while use­ful, direct atten­tion to only a frac­tion of lived expe­ri­ence; con­text influ­ences our phys­i­cal respons­es,” writes Langer.

To that end, she sug­gests we become more mind­ful about our inner expe­ri­ence and out­er circumstances—and more skep­ti­cal of dire pre­dic­tions. By pay­ing atten­tion to our ever-chang­ing expe­ri­ence, she argues, we might all change the tra­jec­to­ry of our health—and enjoy hap­pi­er lives.

Your Brain on Art: How Art Transforms Us, by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross

Even dur­ing our ear­li­est his­to­ry, humans made art. This sug­gests an evo­lu­tion­ary purpose—that engag­ing with art some­how helps us survive.

Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross’s book, Your Brain on Art, shows us why that might be the case. Appre­ci­at­ing or mak­ing art—in all its forms, whether viewed in a muse­um or craft­ed yourself—involves using many parts of your brain, includ­ing those that process our sens­es and are involved in emo­tion, mem­o­ry, and cog­ni­tion. It also brings us plea­sure and insight.

There is a neu­ro­chem­i­cal exchange that can lead to what Aris­to­tle called cathar­sis, or a release of emo­tion that leaves you feel­ing more con­nect­ed to your­self and oth­ers,” write the authors.

Stud­ies show that engag­ing in art can do much for our brains and bod­ies. It improves our heart health and cog­ni­tive fit­ness, and helps us heal from ill­ness and trau­ma. Art also nur­tures curios­i­ty and emo­tion­al intel­li­gence, while mak­ing us think dif­fer­ent­ly about life, embrace ambi­gu­i­ty, and feel awe.

This means we should all incor­po­rate art into our dai­ly lives for more well-being, argue the authors.

The arts can trans­form you like noth­ing else. They can help move you from sick­ness to health, stress to calm, or sad­ness to joy, and they enable you to flour­ish and thrive.”

Final­ly, though we don’t want to blow our own horn, we would be remiss if we didn’t men­tion two books that came out this year writ­ten by Greater Good staff:

Awe: The New Sci­ence of Every­day Won­der and How It Can Trans­form Your Life, by Dacher Kelt­ner, where Kelt­ner reveals the sci­ence of awe and how it can make us hap­pi­er and more con­nect­ed to some­thing greater than our­selves (Pen­guin Press, 2023, 335 pages).

Seek: How Curios­i­ty Can Trans­form Your Life and Change the World, by Scott Shi­geo­ka, where Shi­geo­ka shows us the impor­tance of being curi­ous for bridg­ing dif­fer­ences and trans­form­ing our world (Bal­ance, 2023, 256 pages).

 

Adapt­ed from arti­cle by Jill Sut­tie, Psy.D., Jere­my Adam Smith Emil­iana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., Maryam Abdullah,Ph.D., at Greater Good. Based at UC-Berke­ley, Greater Good high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tif­ic research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altru­ism. Copy­right Greater Good.

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English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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