We have a very diverse range of interviews on the general theme of happiness. The psychologist Jonathan Haidt tackles the subject straight on, as does Anthony Seldon with recommendations for books on how to be happy. Jessica Pryce-Jones looks at happiness at work and Vanessa King chooses her best books on happiness for children.
Kieran Setiya discusses the mid-life crisis and Renata Salecl looks at misery in the modern world. Leo Hollis looks at why cities are good for you. The experimental psychologist Elaine Fox discusses optimism and how it can be good for you if grounded in reality, while the journalist Oliver Burkeman chooses books to help you with happiness through negative thinking. He argues that “many of the techniques that claim to enable us to achieve happiness don’t work” and that “happiness is impossible to aim for directly”. Ellen de Bruin chooses her best books on the contentment of Dutch women and happiness, arguing that they enjoy more freedom than their French sisters.
Rabbi Lionel Blue chooses his favourite books, with choices as diverse as Pilgrims Progress and Mills and Boon and explains the importance of love and why he likes a happy ending.
Paul Thagard and Jonathan Haidt both choose The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Haidt and Jessica Pryce-Jones both choose Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Lyubomirsky uses tools of experimental psychology to understand what makes people happy. As Thagard says, her findings “may not be shocking, but they’re very interesting and very useful”. Gilbert’s book looks at how humans make poor choices not only as consumers, but also in other areas of their lives. Pryce-Jones remarks, “the book is a reminder that happiness is complicated and complex and that our brains are flawed.”
What is happiness? Why does happiness matter? Vanessa King, lead psychologist at the charity/non-profit Action for Happiness, discusses how developing ours and our children’s happiness skills can have benefits for our own lives and for society as a whole.
It’s an observable phenomenon that the gap in life satisfaction between the very young and the very old with those in their 40s is equivalent to that associated with getting a divorce. Kieran Setiya, the MIT philosopher and author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide, chooses the best books to counsel you through this difficult period.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
by Lori Gottlieb
Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It
by David Zahl
The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life
by David Brooks
In Search of Silence
by Poorna Bell
This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom
by Martin Hägglund
The self-help genre is sometimes dismissed as simplistic or over-earnest. But, at their best, self-help books offer powerful insights into how to live. Oliver Burkeman, the Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote, recommends five of the best self-help books published in 2019.