It’s January, a time to examine your life, rethink how you live, take stock of what you value, prioritize, and set new goals. Five new books, all very compelling, offer somewhat surprising insights into living your best life now and into a long healthy and happy future.
In addition to monitoring our diet and exercise, there are additional practices that research finds we should mindfully engage in for overall wellness. Developing habits around experiencing awe, fostering social connections, having fun, meditating, and monitoring financial health are proven to improve happiness and well being.
That feeling you have when looking at the night sky filled with stars, marvel at the tininess of a newborn’s fingernails, or hear your favorite music: that is awe. And, Dacher Keltner, a bestselling author and psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that finding awe is the real secret to happiness (and better health too).
In his new book, Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, Keltner defines awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” And, he argues that this feeling has huge impact on our overall well being.
With years of detailed research, Dacher has discovered that the experience of awe has tremendous emotional, social, and physical health benefits. He has found that awe:
Awe gets us out of ourselves and connects us to meaning. So, take a moment to revel in the glory that your senses can deliver.
The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness is another new book. This one documents findings from the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted. Authors Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Schulz, PhD currently lead the Harvard Study of Adult Development , a research project started in 1938 with the aim to find out what makes for a good life, what makes people thrive, and how to achieve happiness. The study has been running for 8 decades and have had four generations of participants. The research has produced 200 scientific papers and 9 books.
And, what does this huge amount of research say? The stronger our relationships, the more likely we are to live happy, satisfying, and overall healthier lives.
Waldinger told NPR that if people could change one thing in their lives to be happier and healthier, according to to the data it would be improving their relationships. He said, “They should invest in their relationships with other people. We found that the strongest predictors of who not just stayed happy but who was healthy as they went through life – the strongest predictors were the warmth and the quality of their relationships with other people.”
It doesn’t matter whether it is family, co-workers, or the barrista at morning coffee, there are huge benefits to investing in any and all relationships. Relationships protect us from stress and we should consciously prioritize our connections to other people. You exercise. You eat right. And, Waldinger and Schulz contend that you need to also really focus on being a good friend and acquaintance, every day.
And, don’t worry if you haven’t always put the time and effort into your relationships, the researchers say that it is not too late and that you can take action immediately, like right now. Call or text someone you miss, make eye contact at the grocery store, or plan a social activity around something you enjoy doing. Just connect.
Not sure you’ll read the book? Watch Dr. Waldinger’s TED Talk about the Harvard study. It is one of the most-watched TED Talk’s ever.
When I first saw the title of this next book, The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, I knew it was for me. I have definitely been feeling a bit fun-starved. I yearn for that feeling of joy, adventure, and play. After years of spending too much time at work (which is sometimes play but not always), I don’t need scientific research to tell me that I need more fun.
Author, Dr. Mike Rucker, is an organizational psychologist and charter member of the International Positive Psychology Association. He cites endless research that shows that fun:
Improves your relationships (mmm, see above): Happy couples have fun together. Humor enhances conflict resolution and studies show that fun activities at work improve will strengthen connections and enhance performance.
Makes you smarter: Fun can improve memory, concentration, language and math skills and may even protect from cognitive decline.
Reduces stress: According to one study, individuals who laughed less had more negative emotions when compared to those who laughed more. In contrast, those who laughed more showed fewer negative feelings even when stressful situations increased (Kuiper & Martin, 1998).
The book makes a very strong case and provides practical recommendations that in addition to fostering mindful habits around social connection, physical, and emotional well being, we need to make sure we are having enough fun.
Of all the well being practices, meditation is one that just keeps getting bigger. One of the most recent books on the subject, Why We Meditate: The Science and Practice of Clarity and Compassion by Daniel Goleman and Tsoknyi Rinpoche bridges between the concrete scientific research on why meditation can be so life changing with practical how-to advice.
If you have been interested in meditation, but haven’t adapted a practice, this book may be the right one for you. Kirkus reviews writes, “The text is a smooth, interwoven narrative of science, religion, and poetry, and each chapter begins with a discourse of various aspects of Buddhist meditation practice by Rinpoche, followed by a discussion of the relevant scientific research by Goleman.”
The authors present specific emotional problems like chronic worrying for example and provide actionable steps based on both Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques and modern psychological tools.
You didn’t think there wasn’t going to be something financial on this list did you? Yes, in addition to social, emotional, fun, and physical habits, there is strong evidence that you need a focused practice around your money.
A new edition of the classic, A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Best Investment Guide that Money Can Buy by Burton G. Malkiel, has just been issued.
Drawing on his experience as an economist, financial adviser, and successful investor, Malkiel shows why an individual who saves consistently over time and buys a diversified set of index funds can achieve above-average investment results.
Malkiel offers a simple formula for long term wealth, one that anyone can follow. Want a sneak preview? We were lucky enough to have Malkiel on the NewRetirement podcast. Listen to him here.
And, the NewRetirement Planner is an ideal tool for increasing your financial know-how and monitoring your financial status. Log in regularly to:
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