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HomeBlogThe science of happiness: books that help to cultivate a positive psychology

The science of happiness: books that help to cultivate a positive psychology

By: Medix Team
The science of happiness: books that help to cultivate a positive psychology

We could all benefit from more joy and fulfillment in our lives in 2021. Here are some book recommendations that help to point the way.

It’s not easy talking about happiness after the year that’s gone by. But it’s more important than ever if we’re to find the kind of meaning and purpose that we need to help us navigate through 2021 and life beyond the pandemic.


So Medix decided to contact Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a world-renowned expert on positive psychology and leadership. The former Harvard University lecturer has written numerous books on the science of happiness and most recently co-founded the Happiness Studies Academy.


In addition to penning an article for us on how trauma can lead to growth, he’s also come up with a list of some of his favourite books on the science of happiness.


Here he explains how they can help to build resilience, live with meaningful purpose and adopt a more positive outlook. He’s also included some useful primers on how to flourish at work and help others to do the same.


1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi


What makes an experience genuinely satisfying whether we are five or 65? The Hungarian-American psychologist says that it’s all about being completely immersed in whatever we’re doing. A good example is how time flies if we’re enjoying a good book. This is what he terms a state of flow and the key to long-term happiness.


Czikszentmihalyi also explains the importance of achieving a balance between challenge and skill, which is especially relevant to the world of work. Too much of a challenge can create anxiety, while too much skill can lead to boredom. Finding that golden mean takes time and experimentation. It’s one of the reasons why Mahatama Gandhi called his autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. So it’s not about discovering the truth, or even the existence of an ultimate truth, but working out what’s right for you, your children or your team members. Engage in some me-search, it’s the best form of research.


2. The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life by William Damon


On one level, this book is about why so many young people find it difficult to make the transition to adulthood. But its findings apply to us all. Developing a clear sense of purpose helps people to be engaged in life and at work. The ramifications of just drifting through life can be great. Depression is a common outcome.


The book has a clear message to parents. Let your children experience difficulties as this will help them to build resilience and develop a sense of purpose. Don’t try and sort everything out for them. Your role isn’t to please your children, but to serve them and do what’s best to enable them to live independent and fulfilled lives.


3. Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant


Grant’s research divides people into three groups: givers, takers and matchers. He demonstrates that all three can be outperformers, underperformers or middle rankers in the workplace. But it’s the givers who disproportionally appear at the top and the bottom of the rankings. He then explains why: the most effective people aren’t selfish or selfless but selfull. They take care of themselves and then others.


Think of the way that airlines teach us to put on our own oxygen mask first so that we’re in a stronger position to help those sitting next to us. It’s an important book because it explains how to set boundaries and why forgetting about the self isn’t good for you or those around you. As the Dalai Lama said: “Caring for others based only on your sacrifice doesn’t last. Caring must also feed you.”


4. The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creating at Work by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer


This is a great book for anyone managing a team as it explains the difference between a good manager and a bad one. Essentially, it’s about praising achievement and success to exert a positive influence on the productivity and work life of the people around you. When you appreciate the good, the good appreciates.


The authors also explain why it’s important to lead by example. For example, if managers tell their team that it’s good to take time off, but then don’t do that themselves they’re sending out a contradictory message. To quote Gandhi again: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


5. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth by Amy Edmondson


The Harvard Business School professor explains why psychological safety is the number one predictor of how effective an organization is. Innovative businesses create environments where people feel safe and secure enough to acknowledge their mistakes and admit that they don’t know something.


The desire to feel secure is universal. But cultures differ from one nation to another. So multi-nationals have an additional challenge to think about how to create multiple different working environments that create the same outcome: a happy and fulfilled workforce.”

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