The books for your New Year resolutions

Posted on Jan 1 2015 - 4:00pm by Claire Herbaux

Welcome to 2015!

We have lots to look forward to: new book releases (Housebroken, new Cardiff Bay Investigations, Katie Fforde’s new A Vintage Wedding, Creature Comforts, and so many more), but also Prince George’s little brother, the Expo will be in Milan!

That’s all well and good, but most of us have other considerations in January – New Year’s Resolutions! Whatever they may be (they may be non-existent), here are some books you may like that help you achieve some of them, examples of new beginnings and stories of reaching goals.

Meditation10% happier – That sounds like a good start to the New Year doesn’t it? This is the book by ABC News journalist Dan Harris. It starts with the simple statement of “If it worked for me, it can work for you”. Yes, it is an autobiographical guide to meditation.

“Now I started to see life’s in-between moments. I really noticed how much sleepwalking I did, how powerfully my mind propelled me forward or backward. Mostly, I saw the world through a scrim of skittering thoughts, which created a kind of buffer between me and reality. The net effect of meditation, plus trying to stay present during my daily life, was striking.”

After Harris had a panic attack on live national television, he decided to leave his drug past behind and start fresh, finding a way to silence the voice in his head. In case you don’t know Dan Harris, you get quite a good introduction of him and his personality that got him to ABC news at just 29 years, covering some of the biggest news stories both in the US and abroad (except 9/11). He is not a believer, he is most certainly a sceptic.

“Make the present moment your friend rather than your enemy. Because many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment. And imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”

It takes more than just happy thoughts to change the world and there is just a type of person who can get a better and healthier life by doing yoga or sit crossed legged and another type, him – and myself -, whose voices in their heads just won’t shut up and whose brains seem to need prescriptions for ADHD. But it worked for him, with what I call his ADHD-brain.

“I’m thinking: Yes, right—there is a point to sitting around all day with your eyes closed: to gain some control over the mind, to see through the forces that drive us—and drive us nuts.”

After reading about his journey and the steps he took, without actually trusting it to be successful yet, I do believe it is possible to tame that voice in everyone’s head – including mine! If reading the book isn’t enough, and even though not all of us may have the opportunity to go on a 10-day-meditation retreat, the book has an appendix of simple instructions on how to find your way into meditation. It is a plain and simple guide to being happier, not by a professional but by someone who discovered its success without looking for it.

Starting over isn’t just for 20-somethings or the midlife crises. Our world can be turned upside down at any point and we have to make due and find a new life for ourselves.

“Isn’t it amazing in life how one minute you are devastated by some news, but then, a few seconds later, your desperate need to survive at any price kicks in and you can find some way to turn it around in your head?”

Michael Gill wrote How Starbucks Saved My Life, a story about how Starbucks quite literally saved him from losing his friends and family and his life. In his fifties, with his wife and children, a beautiful home and good education, to Michael, “work is dignity”. And he has a successful job in advertising. But within a few years he loses it all – the job, the wife and family – and is diagnosed with a brain tumour. After years of working to provide for a family, he is not ready to quit just yet and takes the only job he can get.

 “I had originally thought that a job at Starbucks might be below my abilities. But now I realized it might be beyond them. This job could be a real challenge for me – mentally, emotionally, and physically.” 

Between the young baristas, Michael has trouble keeping up the speed with the new routines, the different drinks and the daily morning and lunch rushes. His supervisor is younger than him and their backgrounds couldn’t be more different. Soon she is the one teaching him about humility and happiness.

It may, at times, seem like a subjective depiction of Starbucks. But for Michael Gill, it was the business that offered him a chance when he seemed unemployable to most companies. Over time, he finds out he is much more suited for other areas of Starbucks than serving coffee to a busy lunch crowd and with his dignity, the relationship with his children is slowly restored – proof that when everything seems to have gone wrong, there is still a way to start fresh!

“In the first twenty-five years, the brain is undergoing an immense amount of development, and therefore teenagers and young adults must be keenly aware of every decision they make. Evaluating your actions, interactions, thoughts and emotions through the lens of brain science will ensure you move towards your goal with few hindrances.”

Let me say in advance that Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (before 25) has only gotten two stars in my review, which was mainly because, to me, it didn’t seem appropriate for the audience. Jesse Payne wrote a very scientific book on the functioning of our brains, explaining certain teenage and young adult issues in quite plain words. I can’t see it being an appealing read to young people who want to better their brain function and focus in education and use their newly acquired knowledge to improve their health.

However – especially teenagers may need some help on their journey and even though the book is written to speak to the young people, if you can look beyond that, it is a good read to guide your own children or students.

Basic scientific descriptions of the brain aside, the interesting parts of the book start with chapter ten and eleven – empathy; something young people should learn about much earlier than they do.

“When you let people be who they are and stop trying to change them to meet your needs, life becomes more harmonious and enjoyable.”

After learning how the brain functions, it then comes to applying it: How to understand others, sympathise, challenge yourself and live healthily! The positives of the book are that the tests, plans and logs make it easy to apply the ideas and the real-life stories of Payne’s students gives it credibility.

For those of us who have some goals to achieve not just for themselves, but their family, Raising Happiness is a good place to start reading! Christine Carter, Ph, D. entitled her book 10 simple steps for more joyful kids and happier parents.

I read this from the point of view of a seasoned nanny and quite a few points are valid and fairly easy to implement in any family life. Most, if not all techniques outlined, involve communication and reflection, which sets a minimum age to approximately school children and even then, the reflectiveness needs to be practised first. Having children who have left their toddler years behind, the examples – albeit very good and valid – relate to older children and ideas such as teaching toddlers how to calm their body through breathing (rather than using the words Calm down!) aren’t included and aforementioned examples are taken from children who grew up with a sociologist mother; I have only met two children who would reason the way hers do. Having your children “outline their criteria for success” however, seems far-fetched when I look at the average young child.

Some chapters however, are easy ways into a different and more positive way of parenting (or any interaction with children). After Christmas, a lot of parents may want to start by teaching their children gratitude, especially if reactions to some presents weren’t as expected. Other lessons on happy habits and praise have a straightforward layout, step-by-step instructions and tips on how to achieve your goals. Especially noteworthy I found the clear do’s and don’ts throughout the book and the notes giving infinite options to read up further on theories or entire topics.

Taken with a little step back – you may not want to start by teaching a three-year-old to meditate – it is an asset in learning calm and healthy parenting techniques and includes some of the questions we always wonder about when it comes to single-parenting, separation, role models and childcare.

TravelAnd because most of will have travel, exploring, or experiencing new things somewhere in our list of resolutions, Lonely Planet has followed through on the yolo-mentality and published You Only Live Once – A Lifetime of Experiences for the Explorer in all of us. It is the ultimate book to fuel your imagination, any travel ideas you may need to fill your year are included.

It is not just a guide of travel destinations but more a book to spark new interests and includes suggestions for all ages, for the seasoned traveller and the young backpacker and is about living life to the fullest.

On that note, I hope you all find a way to live your life to the fullest in 2015!

10% happier, by Dan Harris; ISBN 0062265423 (ISBN13: 9780062265425); first published 2014.

How Starbucks Saved My Life, by Michael Gates Gill; ISBN 1592402860 (ISBN13: 9781592402861); first published 2007.

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (before 25), by Jesse Payne, Ed.D.; ISBN 0373892926 (ISBN13: 9780373892921); first published 2014.

Raising Happiness, by Christine Carter, Ph.D.; ISBN 0345515617 (ISBN13: 9780345515612); first published 2010.

You Only Live Once, by Lonely Planet; ISBN 1743601646 (ISBN13: 9781743601648); first published 2014.

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