By Bo Emerson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
An estimated 2,000 self-help books are published annually, a $10 billion industry that swells in size right around this time every year, as resolutions are made and broken.
While there is nothing new under the sun of human potential, there are new ways to describe the old. Here are a handful.
“The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well,” by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield
Listen, folks: Odds are you’re not going to become a tennis champion, negotiate a hostage crisis, cultivate a good bottle of wine or win the Indy 500. So reading instructions from race car driver Helio Castroneves on making it to the front of the pack in Indianapolis is likely to fall somewhere outside the realm of “self-help.”
On the other hand, reading about those who have mastered their worlds, including dog whisperer Cesar Millan and “Freakonomics” co-writer Stephen Dubner, is an entertaining way to eavesdrop on excellence, with the hope that some of it may rub off.
“Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton
The gist: More money doesn’t buy happiness, but spending the money you have on unique experiences actually will, according to co-authors Dunn and Norton.
Though we long for the bigger house or the nicer car, the authors contend that investing in others, maximizing your time and making the occasional costlier purchase a special treat will all contribute more to well-being.
“The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More,” by Bruce Feiler
In the family way: The prolific Bruce Feiler, a Biblical scholar who most recently examined his own mortality with “The Council of Dads,” turns his eyes toward his growing family and, predictably, finds a way to write about it.
“Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions,” by John C. Norcross
It’s scientific: Norcross is the Billy Beane of personal change gurus, using psychological studies the way a sabermetrician uses baseball statistics. He’ll be the first to tell you that this scientific approach beats magical thinking. “I deplore the insulting, anti-scientific fare of most self-help books,” he says.
Norcross breaks down the process of change into five steps and demonstrates how each step requires different skills, from the record-keeping and observation to the self-reward (and self-punishment) of the “perspire” stage.
Plentiful checklists, bullet points and quizzes spur the dedicated changeologist along.
“The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t; What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does,” by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Magical thinking: A professor of psychology at the University of California, Lyubomirsky writes persuasively about the paradoxes of happiness, and about our obliviousness to the mechanics of bliss.
She cites Harvard professor Dan Gilbert, who pointed out in a popular speech that two groups who would seem bound for different experiences of happiness — those who win the lottery and those who lose the use of their legs — report the same levels of happiness a year after these life-changing events.
The reason: “Hedonic adaptation” causes any extremely pleasurable new condition — say, an extra $300 million — to become part of our emotional background very quickly, therefore losing its charm.
On the positive side, our “psychological immune systems” protect us from adversity and stress in ways that we fail to appreciate or understand.
Lyubomirsky argues for a rational rather than intuitive pursuit of happiness — what she describes as “Think, don’t blink.”