10 Books on Purpose and Meaning in Life and Work

Esfahani_MeaningI don´t know if it´s my age (…the 40s are clearly in sight…), or the fact that I will become a father for the second time over the upcoming weeks (Yeah…!), or if it´s just in the air anyway (I believe so…) – but my mind is preoccupied with the topic of meaning and purpose at work and in life in general most of the time.

If you also would like to dig deeper into that subject-matter: Here´s a neat book list for you. Some books are brand-new (e.g., Dan Pontefract´s) or haven’t even been published yet (as in the case of Emily Esfahani Smith´s, a fellow Penn Mappster), some have been published over the last two years (e.g., Aaron Hurst´s book), some are a bit older (e.g., Rick Warren´s bestseller), and with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and Viktor Frankl I´ve also included some classics. Some books are based on solid science through and through (e.g., Vic Strecher), some are more self-help style (e.g. Marsha Beck), some are scholarly books (Dik et al.), most are clearly written for the layman.

Share and enjoy!

U.S. Researchers are lucky – as the top-tier Universities are very strong Brands

This is a little off-topic – but over the last days, I came to realize how much easier it appears to be for top (psychology) researchers in the U.S. to “create buzz” around their research and/or book publications compared to their German colleagues.

Over the last weeks, a couple of researchers in the field of Positive Psychology and adjacent whom I am loosely acquainted with (e.g., Adam Grant, Scott Barry Kaufman, and Emma Seppälä) or whom I would like to be loosely acquainted with (e.g., Amy Cuddy – we´re following each other on Twitter; I guess that doesn´t count…) have published new books (Congratulations to all of you!):

Because a) these are all fabulous books; b) they all probably have more than decent PR agents; and c) I follow a heck of a lot of Positive Psychology people on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn my timelines are bursting with posts about their books (reviews, excerpts, and interviews). Now here´s the interesting thing – look at these headlines:

This is a random sample. Even though – from my perspective – Adam Grant has become a sort of personal brand, and Amy Cuddy is well on her way to becoming one (there´s not too many social psychologists who get air time on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert), very often the research is marketed via the university they are affiliated with.

So, it´s clear that these institutions over time have managed to become strong brands. Their names validate and even amplify the messages publicized by their faculties. That’s a really cool thing!

Now, if you are from the U.S. you might say: Duh, tell me something new. But seen from a German perspective, this is really remarkable – because (currently) this would never work over here. You just won’t see a headline along the lines of “A Humboldt University of Berlin Researcher says X” – because the names of the universities do not really add any credibility to the message (at least not in the realm of psychology; with, e.g., engineering, it might be a slightly different story).

As a side note: I have not seen that many headlines featuring my MAPP alma mater, UPenn (with Wharton Business School being the exception). Maybe, it’s time for some more brand-building here?

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Hopes and Dreams: What the top-tier Positive Psychology Researchers wish for 2016

One day before New Year’s Eve, I sent an e-mail to some of the foremost researchers and experts in Positive Psychology and adjacent. I asked them to answer one of the following questions.

  • What do you hope for Positive Psychology in 2016?

  • What are your expectations of Positive Psychology in 2016?

  • What would be a breakthrough for Positive Psychology in 2016?

Positive Psychology Researchers - Mappalicious

While there obviously is a lot of variation in their answers, one common topic is the notion that Positive Psychology needs to shift its attention from individual wellbeing to a broader perspective: systemic or holistic wellbeing, so to say. The answers are displayed below in alphabetical order.

Shawn Achor, CEO of GoodThink Inc. and author of The Happiness Advantage:

I hope positive psychology continues to attract top talent inside and outside of academia, while re-embracing concepts like “happiness” which appeal to the non-academic population rather than going for jargon. I expect that positive psychology will take firmer hold inside of companies as more research comes out. We need a top company or celebrity to credit “positive psychology” (rather than individual interventions) for their success. I’d like to see a celebrity say positive psychology is so important they are donating money to spark the movement.

Robert Biswas-Diener, “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology” and co-author of Upside of Your Dark Side:

What trends do I expect? 1) An increasing push to brand “positive” with different specialties (positive education, positive real estate, positive boxing, etc.). I think positive education has the greatest momentum so we will see more and more of this. 2) An increasingly “life hack” approach to disseminating positive psychology. For example, many bloggers, etc. will harp on single published studies or offer simplistic advice as a sort of low-cost cheat with big payoffs. I see this as akin to promoting effective communication by saying “use 3 hand gestures every minute.” Artificial, simplistic, dubious. I think this is a by-product of market forces on positive psychology. I think the real action– the important action– will happen in research (see below).

What I hope for: 1) This will take time but there are at least two labs that are undertaking very sophisticated intervention studies. Using careful methods, longitudinal sampling, careful controls, and consulting with academics such as clinical trial researchers to improve the quality of this research. 2) I think we will see an expansion in topics covered. Grit, resilience and happiness, to name three, have been popular, but I think we will start seeing more topics integrated: interest, friendship, hospitality, intelligence, attention, etc. 

Kim Cameron, professor at University of Michigan and co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations:

My expectation is that the international membership* will double, and that in 18 months we will have as many non-USA members as we do members from The United States.

* This reply somewhat confused me. I conjecture that Professor Cameron is referring to the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA).

Angela Duckworth, professor at University of Pennsylvania and author of Grit:

My hope for Positive Psychology in 2016 is that there continues to be the scientific rigor that elevates this endeavor to something other than feel-good self-help!

Jane Dutton, professor at University of Michigan and co-author of How to be a Positive Leader:

I have one big wish: I hope for more serious research and consideration of how work and organizational contexts matter in limiting or facilitating human flourishing. My expectation (and deep hope) is that there will be an explosion of research in positive organizational psychology and that it will be used to foster humility and carefulness in how to apply positive psychology in work settings.  

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Originals:

I hope for a shift in focus from the mind to behavior. Positive psychologists have paid a great deal of attention to cognitions and emotions, strengths and virtues, but far less to the actions that make our lives better.

Tim Kasser, professor at Knox College and author of The High Price of Materialism:

I hope that Positive Psychology will become less focused on trying to increase peoples’ personal happiness and instead recognize that a good life also includes living one’s life in ways that promote the well-being of other people and the ecological sustainability of the planet.

Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute, researcher and lecturer at Penn, and author of Wired to Create:

I’d like to see more research on Positive Communities, and deepen our understanding of their development and benefits. There’s so much of a focus on individual flourishing measured through self-report questionnaires. I’d like to see much more research on meaning as measured by the functioning of larger systems of people and community structures.

Dacher Keltner, professor at Berkeley and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center:

I hope that positive psychology will use its wisdom to tackle the costs of inequality and poverty.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor at University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness:

I hope for the label “positive psychology” to be retired. We don’t need it anymore!

Ryan Niemiec, Education Director of the VIA Institute on Character and author of Positive Psychology at the Movies:

I expect there to be an array of important published and forthcoming studies on positive psychology interventions with problems (e.g., conflicts, disorders, stressors, dark side).

Martin Seligman, co-founder and spiritus rector of Positive Psychology:

I hope that more exoplanets suitable to life will be discovered* and that David Mitchell will publish another novel.

* I guess Marty has answered my question in a more comprehensive way. Always dreaming big, I daresay.

Amy Wrzesniewski, professor at Yale and one of the world´s foremost experts on meaning at/in work:

I hope that we see more top tier peer-reviewed research that sheds helpful light on the antecedents and outcomes of people finding a sense of meaning in their lives! Am doing my best to help!

What´s your Favorite Positive Psychology Book? (Poll)

Today, I´d like to know which Positive Psychology Book you like best. I´ve provided a list with 10 of the most popular books (from my point of view). You can pick up to 3 books – or list other books that you prefer. Thanks a lot for your participation. Please share this post so others will vote, too!

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From Penn with Love: The 3 Positive Psychology-Infused Books you need to read in 2016

Nico Rose - Angela Duckworth - Adam Grant2016 is going to be a really nice year for non-fiction aficionados. Below, you´ll find three upcoming books that were all written by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania: Angela Duckworth, Adam Grant, and Scott Barry Kaufman.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

by Adam Grant will be out on February 2, 2016. About the content:

How can we originate new ideas, policies and practices without risking it all? Adam Grant shows how to improve the world by championing novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battling conformity, and bucking outdated traditions. Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt. Parents will learn how to nurture originality in children, and leaders will discover how to fight groupthink to build cultures that welcome dissent.

Here´s what Malcolm Gladwell has to say about the book: “Reading Originals made me feel like I was seated across from Adam Grant at a dinner party, as one of my favorite thinkers thrilled me with his insights and his wonderfully new take on the world.”

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

by Angela Duckworth will be out on May 3, 2016. About the content:

Penn - Books - 2016Why do some people succeed and others fail? Sharing new insights from her landmark research on grit, MacArthur “genius” Angela Duckworth explains why talent is hardly a guarantor of success. Rather, other factors can be even more crucial such as identifying our passions and following through on our commitments. Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently bemoaned her lack of smarts, Duckworth describes her winding path through teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a special blend of passion and long-term perseverance. She takes readers into the field to visit teachers working in some of the toughest schools, cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance.

This is what Arianna Huffington thinks about the book: “At a time when our collective notion of success has shrunk to the point of being unrecognizable, Angela Duckworth arrives to restore it. With a mix of masterful storytelling and the latest science, she shows that perseverance and passion matter at least as much as talent and intelligence. And far from simply urging us to work harder for the sake of working harder, Grit offers a truly sane perspective: that true success comes when we devote ourselves to endeavors that give us joy and purpose.”

Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind

by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire will be out two days from now, on December 29, 2015. About the content:

The book offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people. Revealing the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology, along with engaging examples of artists and innovators throughout history, the book shines a light on the practices and habits of mind that promote creative thinking. Kaufman and Gregoire untangle a series of paradoxes – like mindfulness and daydreaming, seriousness and play, openness and sensitivity, and solitude and collaboration – to show that it is by embracing our own contradictions that we are able to tap into our deepest creativity.

What Martin Seligman has to say about the book: “Scott Barry Kaufman has just written the go-to book on creativity and genius. With Carolyn Gregoire, he puts together the newest scientific findings from the brain, from mental life and from the messy world of emotion to whiz us to the cutting edge of the highest human accomplishments.”

Another 3 Positive Psychology-infused Books I´m really looking forward to

This is the magic of books: One can never have enough of them. After publishing two lists of recent and upcoming books that are infused by Positive Psychology over the last days (list one, list two) people kept pointing my attention towards more exciting stuff. So here´s another list of three books that you should definitely put on your reading list.

Scott Barry Kaufman & Carolyn Gregoire: Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. Scott Barry Kaufman is the scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center and author of “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined”. About the book:

“Based on psychologist Kaufman’s groundbreaking research and Gregoire’s popular article in the Huffington Post, Wired to Create offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people. Revealing the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology, along with engaging examples of artists and innovators throughout history, the book shines a light on the practices and habits of mind that promote creative thinking.”

Jane McGonigal: SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient–Powered by the Science of Games. Jane McGonigal is a senior researcher at the Institute for the Future and the author of The New York Times bestseller “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.” About the book:

“McGonigal reveals a decade’s worth of scientific research into the ways all games—including videogames, sports, and puzzles—change how we respond to stress, challenge, and pain. She explains how we can cultivate new powers of recovery and resilience in everyday life simply by adopting a more “gameful” mind-set.”

D. J. Moores, James O. Pawelski & others (Eds.): On Human Flourishing: A Poetry Anthology. James Pawelski is the Director of Education and Senior Scholar in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as the founding director of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program. About the book:

This collection of verse brings together poems of felicity, capturing what it means to be well in the fullest sense. Presented in 14 thematic sections, these works offer inspiring readings on wisdom, self-love, ecstasy, growth, righteousness, love and lust, inspiration, oneness with nature, hope, irreverence, awe, the delights of the senses, gratitude and compassion, relation to the sacred, justice, and unity.

Positive Psychology Books - 3

7 more essential Books on Positive Psychology for 2015/16

After publishing a list of 5 essential upcoming books on Positive Psychology a couple of days ago, several friendly people approached me (Thank you!) to point me towards further noteworthy books that have just been published or are already appearing on the publishing horizon (a.k.a. on Amazon for pre-order). So, if you´re looking for further entertainment, enlightenment, or just plain Positive Psychology science, here you go. There´s books on women´s careers, rising strong after setbacks, good work and great organizations, world-changing individuals, and much more (click to enlarge the image). Enjoy – and share the good news!

Positive Psychology Books 2015 & 2016

Positive Psychology books that have already been published

Brené Brown: Rising Strong. Brené Brown is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller “The Gifts of Imperfection”. About the book:

“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people — from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents — shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.” 

Beth Cabrera: Beyond happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being. Beth Cabrera is a senior scholar at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University and works with companies to help them create positive work environments. About the book:

“Over the course of a decade, Beth Cabrera has surveyed and interviewed more than a thousand women to gather insight into how to effectively balance career and family responsibilities. Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being gathers essential findings and offers women proven strategies for living more authentic, meaningful lives. Through the lens of shared experience, Cabrera thoughtfully examines the challenges women face and presents a simple yet powerful model for enhancing well-being that can both improve and transform lives.”

Tom Rath: Are you fully charged? Tom Rath is a Penn MAPP alum, now a regular guest lecturer in that program, and otherwise, regularly to be found at No. 1 spots on the New York Times bestseller lists with his heavily Positive Psychology-infused masterpieces. About the book:

The book “reveals the three keys that matter most for our daily well-being, as well as our engagement in our work. Drawing on the latest and most practical research from business, psychology, and economics, this book focuses on changes we can make to create better days for ourselves and others. Are You Fully Charged? will challenge you to stop pursuing happiness and start creating meaning instead, lead you to rethink your daily interactions with the people who matter most, and show you how to put your own health first in order to be your best every day.”

Barry Schwartz: Why we work. Barry Schwartz is a professor at Swarthmore College, author of the highly-acclaimed The Paradox of Choice and a regular New York Times contributor, and a regular guest lecturer in the Penn MAPP program. About the book:

“We’ve long been taught that the reason we work is primarily for a paycheck. In fact, we’ve shaped much of the infrastructure of our society to accommodate this belief. Then why are so many people dissatisfied with their work, despite healthy compensation? And why do so many people find immense fulfillment and satisfaction through “menial” jobs? Schwartz explores why so many believe that the goal for working should be to earn money, how we arrived to believe that paying workers more leads to better work, and why this has made our society confused, unhappy, and has established a dangerously misguided system.”

Robert E. Quinn: The Positive Organization: Breaking Free from Conventional Cultures, Constraints, and Beliefs. Robert E. Quinn is a professor at University of Michigan´s School of Business and author of “Deep Change”. About the book:

“Beholden to accepted assumptions about people and organizations, too many enterprises waste human potential. Robert Quinn shows how to defy convention and create organizations where people feel fully engaged and continually rewarded, where both individually and collectively they flourish and exceed expectations.”

Upcoming books on Positive Psychology

Amy CuddyPresence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Amy Cuddy is a professor at Harvard and best known for her research on body language and “power-posing” (watch her TED Talk here). About the book:

The book “shows us we need to stop worrying about the impression we’re making on others, and instead change the impression we’re making on ourselves. Cutting-edge science reveals that if we adopt behaviors reflecting power and strength, we liberate ourselves from the fears and doubts that obstruct us. By redirecting our thoughts, actions, and even physiology, we free ourselves to be our best.”

Adam M. Grant: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton Business School, author of the immensely successful book Give and Take, and regular guest lecturer in the Penn MAPP program. About the book:

“Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can fight groupthink to build cultures that welcome dissent.”