I’ve read a lot of books on habits – understanding, making and breaking them – but this is the most useful and effective one I’ve read so far. Gretchen Rubin, following on from her extensive research into happiness, tackles the vexed subject of habits in her latest book, Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits – to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.
We all know how treacherously difficult it is to break a bad habit and form a good new habit. Rubin helps us to understand why this is and also offers us advice on how to work around these problems. She helps us to understand how vital it is to realise the kind of person we are as this directly effects how we develop and maintain habits – there is a lot of help and advice in this area in particular. You will never see yourself in quite the same way again after you’ve read this book.
All in all it is an excellent and unique contribution to the study of habits. And very useful.
It’s well worth a look if you have the time.
On another note, I hope you like the new site – I’ve been making changes and more are coming soon. I’ll be in touch!
Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is one of the biggest selling self-help books of all time – selling over 15 million copies. First published in 1937, with a 75th anniversary edition released in 2012, it has been praised by many for its insight and wisdom and yet maligned by some for its manipulation and calculation. The title of Carnegie’s book has become a well-known phrase throughout our lives, as who among us doesn’t want to achieve what the book’s title offers? Due to its longevity and status, I thought it would be useful to put this influential best-seller under the microscope. In this particular version, Carnegie’s book offers us 30 principles to follow which should help us to ‘win friends and influence people.’ Are these principles full of wisdom and insight or are they based on manipulation, calculation and deceit? Do the principles actually work if you follow them? Every now and then, I thought it would be interesting to put some of his thoughts under the microscope. As we revisit Carnegie’s book and analyse its principles I’d really like to hear your thoughts, views and insights.
Have you read Carnegie’s book? Do you have any general thoughts on it? I really welcome your comments.
A friend Paul, who is the creator of the excellent blog Learning From Dogs, is currently writing a book. He’s about to research and write on the topic of happiness and wondered if I had a few thoughts on it. I decided to share them here in case they are of interest to others.
In looking at what happiness is and how to find it, one of the great starting points is the work of Gretchen Rubin. I reviewed her books here. She is an expert on the topic, runs a popular blog, called The Happiness Project, and has read and researched happiness for many years. Her conclusions are the following: that happiness is found in the enjoyment of ordinary things, in the everyday and in cherishing the small things in our lives. That’s good news for all of us as we all encounter small, everyday things which can enlarge our happiness – if we’re willing to notice them. In this way, happiness is about our own response to our world. This is echoed by Stephanie Dowrick in her excellent book, Choosing Happiness. She highlights throughout her book, and in the title, that happiness is about our own attitude and is something we can choose, or, of course, not choose. A recent book by Dr Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness, takes a more scientific approach. Hanson is a neuropsychologist and brings his research in the growing field of neuroscience into the popular domain. His own work shows how our brain can be changed by the reinforcement of positive experiences which happen to all of us. These can be just fleeting moments where we “take in the good,” such as enjoying a cup of coffee, seeing a beautiful plant and so on. He has distilled his research into four simple steps and his book explores these steps and explains how we can transform our neural pathways in a positive way. In a similar vein, neuroscientist Elaine Fox, in Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, also offers research on a range of techniques that can alter the brain’s circuitry and even help pessimists become optimists and find greater happiness. All very interesting avenues of research. Finally, one of the oldest dedicated books on happiness, The Conquest of Happiness, by the great English philosopher Bertrand Russell, offers a unique read. First published in 1930, before science and research had offered so many opinions, he offers some wise and thoughtful insights. He concludes that happiness comes mostly from within, but external events do impact on it. It’s hard to argue with this as however much we attend to our own internal self, and our own responses, our happiness can undoubtedly be enhanced or diminished by external events or circumstances.
These are just a few of my thoughts for your research, Paul, on this vast subject. I hope they are useful. Good luck with your studies on this topic and on the book as a whole! All the best, Ruth
We live in times where many people want their emotional pain and sadness taken away from them. They either want someone else to do this for them or they want to do it for themselves. Self-help books are full of quick-fixes to be happy, to cast aside negativity and to live positively. We all know that it’s difficult to feel in pain emotionally, feel in despair, lost and alone. Perhaps guilty, or in shame or in grief. It’s the most natural thing in the world to want to escape, to want the pain to stop. And we find many ways to make the pain stop: drinking, drug-taking, working too hard, overeating and other damaging behaviours. We numb ourselves from pain so that we can’t feel its distress. The problem is that when we numb ourselves to pain we also numb ourselves to good and positive emotions like happiness and joy. And if we constantly deny our pain we are burying these difficult emotions. This acts rather like a pressure cooker. As we put more and more into the pot and keep the lid closed, eventually, it will explode.
Here are a few of my thoughts on dealing with emotional pain:
Acknowledge And Accept Our Pain
This seems like an easy thing to do but it’s surprising how many of us find this first step the most difficult. We hide from our pain, we say “we are fine.” We carry on with life, “we soldier on.” We distract ourselves. We look for company. Anything, rather than being alone and being faced with our pain and sadness. We fear telling people we are struggling for then they might think we are weak. Or, worse, they may show no understanding of our situation, which leaves us feeling even more alone and isolated. And the reason we struggle with this is that once we acknowledge to ourselves that we are in pain then we have to confront it directly – no hiding, no denying.
Share And Process Our Pain
Having acknowledged we are in pain, sharing and processing is the most important part of handling our emotional pain. This acts directly against denial and stops us burying our emotions. This in turns prevents a pressure cooker effect whereby we explode or implode emotionally. Talking to a trusted person, someone who will understand, is often helpful. But there are many other ways to share our pain, be open to our pain and so willing to acknowledge it. A personal journal is an excellent way to release our emotions. Creative pursuits in the form of writing, art or making music, allow us to explore our feelings. Any place where we can get our pain out in a safe way is valuable. We can also just spend time thinking and contemplating what has happened to us. Contemplating – looking to understand our situation – is not the same as the damaging practice of ruminating and running a negative script over and over in our head. Anything that enables us to process our pain and work with it, rather than hiding from it, is a positive way of processing our pain.
Learn To Live With Our Pain
This may not be the news we want. We may not want to have to learn to live with our pain – we may think that we want rid of it altogether. Well, sometimes, we can move from one experience of emotional pain and sadness and be released from it. But at other times our pain remains with us at some level. It may not be at the hottest and sharpest end but we may carry it with us always. Living with pain, allowing ourselves to feel it, seeing it as a part of a full and healthy life, is a positive way forward. At some level, if we have empathy for our fellow travellers in this world, we will have feelings of emotional pain and sadness. For even if we are feeling happy, we know that, somewhere, another person is experiencing hardship. We may just have got our dream job, but out there, someone, somewhere, has just been made redundant and is in despair about how they will cope. And even on a day when we are at our happiest, it is likely that there is something, some part of our life, that holds sadness for us. Perhaps there is a person who is no longer with us, no longer able to share our successes. Maybe while one of our children is doing well, another is struggling. This is the complexity of our lives as fully rounded human beings. There is rarely an unalloyed, happy emotional experience that is not tainted by another one that has some sadness. And this is why we need to learn to live with our entire range of emotional life, including our pain. We need to accept the full range of our human condition and acknowledge it head on – not try to continually hide from the things that are difficult.
So would you really want someone to take away your emotional pain? For who would you be without it? A person who has never lived or loved or lost? A person who has no empathy or thought for other beings on our planet? Emotional pain and sadness is not something to hide from or to be afraid of. It is what makes us know that we are alive and it makes us the deep, empathic people that we are. It’s what shows us what matters. Why would we want to hide from who we truly are, the depths we have travelled, the experiences that show us what life has meant to us? Sadness needs to be seen as a part of the experience of our lives. In embracing pain and sadness, in allowing ourselves to look at it, feel it, be open with it, far from dragging us under, it releases us and allows us to actually cope more positively with our lives.
It is hard to recall a more beautiful and yet ultimately harrowing image than that of two ten-year old missing girls, in Manchester United T-Shirts, smiling to camera. This image became known worldwide, on 4th August 2002, twelve years ago today. The photo was of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman – the two children from Soham who were murdered by Ian Huntley. Kevin Wells’ memoir of this tragedy makes powerful reading. Goodbye Dearest Holly: Ten Years On, released in 2012, is an updated account of this most public of family tragedies. It details how this one father and his family have coped with the worst of all imaginable things – the murder of Holly – a beautiful daughter/sister/niece/grandchild and friend.
The enormous publicity surrounding this crime meant that the family had more than pure grief to endure. Alongside some uplifting stories of help and support they also had to deal with a mass media who were daily, often hourly, intent on revealing news which the family was sometimes not privy to. They endured lack of information from the Police. Ongoing rules were placed on their own behaviour as the family were warned not to show too much emotion in court lest it help the defence case. Even when, without warning, they were shockingly faced with Huntley’s explanation/fabrication of what had happened to the two young children on the night they were murdered, they had to try to contain their emotion. It all feels unendurable. Hate mail, people riding on the publicity of the case, joke T-Shirts being sold on Ebay, and so it goes on. As you read of these things, of the parents looking at the post-mortem report, visiting Holly’s body, listening in court to lies and manipulations, living in fear that Huntley would be acquitted, knowing damning things that the jury could not be told, it is impossible to comprehend how such things could be borne.
Ultimately, though, Kevin Wells describes a family who have found a way to bear this, to live with their loss and not allow it to destroy them. Writing this memoir was a tribute to Holly and also, in part, therapeutic. As he explores and explains a loss that few of us will ever be forced to cope with, this updated memoir, ten years on from Holly’s death, sees Kevin talk of the things people still say to him. He describes how little bereavement and loss is understood and shines a light on his work with the charity Grief Encounter, which has enriched his own life and the lives of others. It is here that we see the value of travelling for a few moments with him in this darkest of journeys. By reading, we stretch our hands out and are willing to listen and imagine some tiny shadow of this family’s pain. We learn things which can impact on our own lives and the lives of those we encounter. For alongside our own experiences, this is how we learn about grief. We learn how different people can, and do, cope with loss and find a meaningful life alongside their pain and tragedy. We can also take some time to contemplate how we treat those who have suffered loss, what words we use, and the value of the things we say to them.
It is often something that people find hard to understand – the parallel world of stark grief with happy moments, and even plans for the future. Kevin explains that there is not a day that passes when Holly is not with them, all the joy she brought to their lives, all that has been lost, and all that can now never be. Yet amidst this most tragic of events we see the spirit of a family who survives, who thrives, and who is determined to still find good in life. This is a most moving memoir about love and its power. If you are able to read it, you will see both the worst and the best of what human beings are capable of.