Saturday, July 29, 2017

100 Ways to Happiness by Timothy Sharp

What if happiness is something you could practice? You co do certain things and those actions would lead to and support happiness. I’m simplifying, but that is the basic premise of psychologist Timothy J. Sharp in 100 Ways to Happiness.

Practice and doing are the aim of the book, so Sharp does not dwell on theory. Of course, many people want to bring more happiness into the lives they have. Only a few of them want to delve into psychology, and there are plenty of other books they can read.

The book is divided into five main sections. It seems to me that this is intended to help people get to the area where they want to increase happiness most and pick up the others later. You can read this book out of sequence. Each section stands on its own and so do many of the short chapters.

I do not mean to imply that the book is shallow. It is not easy to condense a topic into a few pages; most of the chapters are two pages long. I was impressed that Sharp could provide clear, action-oriented summaries of subjects that other books would take many pages to explain. The point is to do something. Instead of thinking about how to be happy, pick a tip that resonates with you and do it. Work on it until it becomes a habit and then work on another.

Some of Sharps tips that resonated with me are:
-Make time to regularly do something you enjoy.
-Make small changes. When you make a small change stick, you can start another. They add up to big changes.
-Practice gratitude. I’m convinced that a grateful attitude is immensely important for a joyful life.
-Move more and take care of your body. Feeling good, rested and healthy contributes to feeling happy.
-Build good relationships. That means making the best of the intimate relationships you have and making friends with positive people who can encourage you to live a happier life.
-Know your values and take action consistent with them.
-Challenge your thoughts and feelings. Are they true? Are they helpful?
-Use your imagination. Sharp suggest several simple ways you can visualize the life you want.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Sharp, Timothy J. 100 Ways to Happiness: A Guide for Busy People. New York: MJF Books, 2008.

New & Interesting Stuff July 29, 2017

The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

Spiritual growth is the heart of mental health as described by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled. The path of growth Peck describes is not often taken because it involves pain, discipline and stretching. The rewards of this life are great, but they are obtained through effort.

People forgo growth, and sometime develop mental problems, because they refuse to accept a difficult fact: life is hard. Unfortunately, they often put themselves through a lot of extra pain for a longer period than they might have suffered if they would accept and deal with challenges in the first place.

Later in the book, Peck characterizes this as a kind of laziness. It is refusal to extend oneself and put effort into mastering life. The extension of oneself for the purpose of spiritual growth (your own or another’s) is the essence of love in Peck’s view. Laziness is the opposite of love.

Love is one of the main elements of spiritual growth. This love is not primarily emotion. It is commitment. It is respect for others and the distinction of others as unique individuals. It it is the effort one puts into growing and helping others to grow.

Emotions are important. They are fuel for action. To be effective in supporting growth, emotions must be disciplined.

“Passion is feeling of great depth. The fact that a feeling is uncontrolled is no indication that it is in any way deeper than a feeling that is disciplined.” M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Discipline is another major practice for growth. Discipline is not beating up on yourself. It is accepting responsibility for your life and dealing with reality. It is the practice of giving up things for the purpose of taking hold of more valuable things. Proper discipline is not rigid but it helps us to be flexible and enlarge ourselves.

Love and discipline work together. As Peck frames it, successful psychotherapy occurs when a patient is ready to discipline himself and a therapist can create a relationship of love that supports that discipline.

This is just the beginning of growth. In the latter chapter of the book, Peck shifts to other elements, particularly religion. For Peck, religion is your conception is your conception of how the world works. Even a scientific worldview is a religion.

Religion is also where we can grapple with mystery, especially the mystery of grace, which is important to growth. Peck sees grace in many areas, such as serendipity and the strange knowingness of our unconscious minds.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Peck, M. Scott. The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. New York: Touchstone, 1978.

Move by Rosabeth Moss Canter

The major elements of America’s transportation infrastructure and policy frameworks are six decades old (or older in the case rail). We haven’t even kept up with the maintenance since then. In addition to taking care of what we have, we need to adapt to the changes in technology, culture and the economy that have occurred. Our policies haven’t been keeping up.

In Move, Harvard business professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter explores how we got here and how we can move forward. We got here by adopting a defense-oriented policy that emphasized cars (especially interstate highways) and air travel, largely ignoring rail, public transit and intermodal development.

The path forward has several elements. First is a focus on mobility. Transportation infrastructure is a technical, bureaucratic realm of deep silos. Mobility changes the focus to moving people and products around communities and the nation in whatever ways make sense. Physical mobility and economic mobility are tied, and if we want to strengthen our economic leadership on the world stage, we need to break down internal policy barriers to advancing the way people move.

That means developing a national strategy. Of course, a rigid approach won’t work because we have varied nation. However, national priorities and frameworks can make room for regional priorities, adaption and leadership.

Money is always in issue. There are potentials in public-private partnership (PPP), and that can be arranged in many ways. America has a world-leading freight rail system that has very limited public investment. Airports are generally owned by governments, and attempts to privatize them have meet a cool response from possible investors. However, there are examples of successful PPPs in which there is something for everybody.

I already mentioned that technology has come a long way in the past several decades, especially in the realm of communication and data analysis. Some transportation industries, such as airlines, are taking advantage of the opportunities in new technology, while other are lagging. There are many ways our transportation system can be smarter, and we need sensible ways of incorporating technology in ways that are safe without losing out on the benefits through unnecessary delays.

This requires leadership and vision, especially in government. Politicians are often motivated by short-term wins, but mobility is a long-term investment. We need leaders who can see passed the next election and the boundaries of party.

Finally, citizen engagement is important. Plans can quickly fail if the people who are going to use, pay for and otherwise feel the ultimate effects of new transportation policies and infrastructure are not informed, involved and empowered to take action that works for them.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Reposition Yourself by T. D. Jakes

We’re not always where we want to be in life, but we can make it better if we’re willing to change. Megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes offers advice on making positive change in his book Reposition Yourself.

To make a change, you need to face the truth. For most of us, a hard truth is that we have a lot to do with our problems. We bring ourselves to an unhappy, unfulfilled state through our own apathy, lack of passion, settling for less than our best, passivity, poor money management and lukewarm relationship with God.

Another hard truth is that life is unfair. Bad stuff happens to all of us, and to some more than others. Success demands perseverance and flexibility.

People who successfully change take effective action. They are attentive to their situation and to themselves, developing a strong sense of their gifts and purpose. They are intentional, setting definite goals and putting themselves in environments and around people who support what they want to achieve. Thee have a plan, recognizing that it is inevitable that things will that they will face setbacks, but a delay in achieving their goals does not mean they will be denied success.

Humility is another key to successful change, though I don’t recall Jakes putting it so bluntly. Humility begins with recognition that we need God; we need the cleansing and power we can only receive through Jesus Christ. Our humility is grown through gratitude. In thanksgiving we appreciate what we have, learn contentment, and gain strength from our struggles. Humility also protects us from the pitfalls of success such as excessive self-reliance, neglect of important relationships or becoming coopted for the agendas of others.

Along the way to way, it is good to make some money. Money gives you options. Jakes offers some advice on managing money so you can make yours grow and have more freedom.

Jakes, T. D. Reposition Yourself: Living Life without Limits. New York: Atria, 2007.

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins

The body of a young woman, Elma Sands, was found in a well outside of Manhattan on the second day of 1800. A carpenter who boarded in her family’s house, some suggested he was her secret lover, was immediately accused. The case led to one of the first sensationalized, broadly followed murder trials in the young United States. Paul Collins recounts the events in Duel with the Devil.

The carpenter, Levi Weeks, might well have been convicted of the crime had he not had a legal dream team with the competence to show the weakness of the prosecution case and suggest an alternate explanation for Sand’s death. That is one of the interesting things about his trial. His defense team consisted of political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr along with their fellow Revolutionary War veteran Brockhurst Livingston.

The political and legal elite of New York state, and especially Manhattan, of those days was close knit and often resulted in odd combinations. Hamilton and Burr were both in debt to Weeks’ brother Ezra, a prominent builder, which may explain their participation.

Weeks was found not guilty after what was considered a very long trial for the time, mainly due to the great number of prosecution witnesses. Sands’ murder was never properly solved.

She was probably killed by another roomer in her house, Richard Croucher. He had fled England to escape the insane asylum after his behavior led him trouble and criminal charges. Shortly after Weeks’ trial, he was convicted of raping his 13-year old stepdaughter. He was released after three years on the agreement that he would leave the country. He went to Virginia instead, where he fleeced the merchants of Richmond. It appears he eventually made his way back to England, where he continued criminality led to his execution.

Hamilton and Burr famously faced declines. They dueled and Hamilton died from the wound he received. Their co-counsel fared better; Livingston went on to serve as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Weeks left Manhattan. We worked his way west and became a successful builder in Natchez.

Collins’ book reads almost like a novel. It is interesting, quick-reading history.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Collins, Paul. Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery. New York: Crown, 2013.

Learn Better by Ulrich Boser

Learning is not easy. It takes effort. Too often, people squander their effort on ineffective activities. Ulrich Boser seeks to correct this by describing effective, research-based learning techniques in Learn Better.

Learning begins with value. You won’t put effort into learning something you don’t care about. When I was in third grade, I found very little value in memorizing how to spell words or recite multiplication tables. When my teacher tied my performance on multiplication tables to my attendance of recess, something I valued quite a bit, I found the will to exert myself.

“Motivation is the first step in acquiring any sort of skill,” Ulrich Boser, Learn Better

Once you’ve squared away the motivation, you can get on with the doing of learing. Learing is at heart doing. It is a mental activity, though it is often paired with, supported by, or supportive of physical activity. If you’re actually learning, you’re probably experience some struggle and feel like your pushing yourself a little, but not so much that you’re lost.

In a sense, Boser’s book is organized around different types of doing appropriate for different stages of learning. In the early stages of learning, you decide what you want to learn and plan you learning process. When you have a foundation, you can concentrate on improvement. As your skills improve, you can shift to deepening your knowledge and exploring more complex applications. The best experts add to this a strong sense of the patterns and connections. From beginning to end, learning requires humility, and the people who sustain and grow mastery over time evaluate their knowledge and reflect on what they are doing.

The book is full of ideas you can use. For instance, I created for myself a simple process of spaced-out learning to polish some skills I wanted to improve at work. When I started writing reviews and summaries of books, even before I started this blog, it was because I found I could remember the major points better if I summarized them in my own words, even if I did not return to my notes. I was using form of retrieval practice, which is one of several techniques Boser describes.

Though Boser draws on research, the book is intended for a broad audience. If you’re looking to improve your own learning or for ways your children or employees can get more out of their learning efforts, you’re likely to find something you can understand and use in Learn Better.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Boser, Ulrich. Learn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything. New York: Rodale, 2017.

The Holy Bible

It is hard to do the Bible justice in a few pages. In this review, I’ll only attempt to provide an outline. In particular I’ll discuss
-the major themes of the book,
-its major division, and
-the types of literature you’ll find in it.


The primary theme of the Bible is the relationship between God and man. It’s a broken relationship. The authors of the various books address this in many ways. A couple of metaphors they use that I find particularly compelling are that of a marriage or a parent-child relationship. In these analogies, mankind is depicted as a cheating wife or a child who has run away to a destructive life. God is depicted as the faithful, loving husband or father who is reaching out to redeem, rescue and reconcile the one he loves.

God’s character is on display throughout the Bible. He is just and righteous, and his character is the foundation of morality. He also has great love and mercy. Fortunately, all of these traits are perfectly harmonized in God and shown to man in Jesus Christ. For those who have faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit works from within to recreate this character in them.


The major divisions of the Bible are the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament was written before the coming of Christ. It describes the fall of mankind into sin and God’s work to reconcile mankind to Himself with a focus on how this occurs in the formation (and eventual fall) of ancient Israel. The New Testament describes the coming of Christ and the establishment of the church, which is a fulfillment of the promises of God described in the Old Testament.

The major division of the Old Testament are
-writings, and
The historical books describe the history of man as a moral being, beginning with the fall into sin, and the God’s plan to save man worked out over time. As this plan unfolds, the history increasingly focuses on the Israelite kingdom. The writing are a set of poetic books. The prophets focus on a period of time leading to the ultimate decline of ancient Israel and predict the coming for Christ.

The New Testament can be roughly divided into
-the gospels, and
-the epistles.
The gospels describe the life of Christ and (in the related book of Acts) the establishment of the church. The epistles are message to the church that often deal with the practicalities of living the life Christ called his believers to live.


The Bible is an assembly of many books, and there are many types of literature in each book. While the highly symbolic language of parts of the Bible get a lot of attention in some circles, most of it is written in a straightforward style. For instance, a lot of the Old Testament is historical narrative and a lot of the New Testament is letters from the apostles to the churches. Poetry is also commonly used. When reading the Bible, it’s important to know if the part your reading is a narration of events, a parable, a poem, or some other literary form.

The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Take the Leap by Heather McCloskey Beck

According to Heather McCloskey Beck, you were meant for a unique life of creativity and meaning. Many of us are pushed away from that life for various reasons and become disappointed and dissatisfied. In her book Take the Leap, Beck describes a path for reconnecting to your calling.

The first and last parts of the book are pretty woo-woo (to borrow a term from Jen Sincero). I admit I mostly skimmed these sections and I think other readers can without missing much of the meat of the book. The middle section contains advice and practices for getting back in touch with your calling, the creative meaningful life you’re meant to enjoy.

The key practice is to set aside 15 minutes a day to do something you enjoy—make no exceptions.  Beck suggests some exercises you can do to get some ideas if you feel at a loss for what this might be. I suspect that your first guess doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do it 15 minutes a day for a month, taking time to reflect on it as Beck suggests, and you’ll learn things that help you get closer on the next round.

The book contains several other practices to support your new path. Beck recommends using affirmations to counteract the negative messages you’ve picked up and open yourself to the possibility of a deeply meaningful life. Her book includes several suggestions for meditation. Many of us have too much stuff and do too many things;  we need to reduce the clutter, say no, and set boundaries in our relationships. Good health is important, too.

I was surprised to find that I’m already using some of Beck’s suggestions. I’ve read many self-help books, so I should have learned something.

One of the suggestions I’m just starting to practicing is the intentional reflection on the connection between how I feel and what I do. This also includes reflecting on how I feel when I don’t do things. This is a method for discovering your calling because when you do things associated with your calling it will tend to produce feelings of flow, peace, excitement and passion. When you’re not doing things you love, you miss them. (This type of reflection reminds me of the metacognition discussed by Ulrich Boser in Learn Better, which is important for learning.)

Beck, Heather McCloskey. Take the Leap: Do What You Love 15 Minutes a Day and Create the Life of Your Dreams. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2013.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Get Smart! by Brian Tracy

Results matter. According to Brian Tracy, results batter most; if you’re getting bad results it doesn’t matter much what your intentions were. If you want to change your results, you need to change your behavior. Changes in behavior start with changes in thinking. In Get Smart!, Tracy outlines the thinking habits and practices of successful people.

In general successful people have these thinking habits:
-they take a long-term view,
-they make time to think without distractions,
-they gather information and learn constantly,
-they have written goals,
-they focus on results,
-they stay positive,
-they are flexible and willing to stop activities that are no longer working,
-they are creative,
-the focus on what their customers really want, and
-they emulate the habits of other successful people.
Of course, Tracy elaborates on each of these items with additional details and suggestions.

Successful people also have habits that cut across many thinking practices. For instance, they take action; a great thought deserves to be put to use. The put most of their time and effort into the most valuable things they can do and try to eliminate activities that have low value. They take responsibility for themselves. They practice thinking and acting in ways that contribute to their success until it becomes a habit.

You can find these ideas in other places. However, Get Smart! has an advantage in that it is short an written in a style that is very easy to read. If you want thicker tomes to read, Tracy mentions several in the chapters of his book. If you want something you can read, digest, and put to use quickly, this is a good place to start.

Brian Tracy also wrote No Excuses.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Tracy, Brian. Get Smart! How to Think and Act Like the Most Successful and Highest-Paid People in Every Field. New York: Tarcher, 2016.

New & Interesting Stuff June 10, 2017

You are a Badass at Making Money by Jen Sincero

Making money starts in your mind according to Jen Sincero, author of You are a Badass at Making Money. Your wealth, or lack of it, has a lot to do with your mindset.

The things we think and say, even and maybe especially in your subconscious mind, affect our behavior related to money. If you’re making less than you want, you probably have beliefs and thoughts that are holding you back.

Fortunately, you can change your mind. Much of Sincero’s book is focused on ways you can get a new perspective on money and change your habits of thought. New behaviors and more money should follow.

Of course, changing deeply ingrained beliefs and habits that you’ve practice for years can be difficult. It requires persistence and determination.

It also requires action. At first, you’re unlikely to know how you’re going to make more money. You’ll have some ideas, and you should act on them. You’ll have questions and you should seek out answers.

Sincero suggests you’ll have help along the way. This is where things get a little far out. She says there is a universal intelligence trying to give you what you want. Our consistent thoughts tell the universe what we want and how much we want it. If we want positive things, like being rich enough to do a lot of cool stuff, we should have strong positive emotions as much as we can right now.

This notion of universal intelligence is common to self-help literature, especially related to wealth. Sometimes the power is ascribed to the subconscious mind, as in the case of Maxwell Maltz, but often this power is seen to rest in some outside or all permeating force, which is some people’s conception of God.

Actually, a lot of the ideas you’ll find in Sincero’s book are common to the genre. The humorous and entertaining way she presents the material is unique. Books like this are sometimes dense, brow-beating or far out there, but Sincero’s humorous, easy-going tone and straightforward style makes for easy reading.

Jen Sincero also wrote You are a Badass.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Sincero, Jen. You are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth. New York: Viking, 2017.

Minor Prophets

The minor prophets are the final books that appear in the Old Testament. They are minor in the sense of being small books in comparison to the longer works of a few of the other prophets; the longer books are referred to as major prophets.

Collectively, these books cover a long period of time. The earliest of these prophets preached during the reigns of the latter kings of Israel and Judah. Some of them preached during the period of captivity and occupation that followed the fall of the Jewish kingdoms. Finally, a few of these prophets were active after the Jewish people were released form captivity and allowed to return to Israel.

Several themes run through all of these books. Sadly, a major them that occurs both before and after the period of captivity is the people’s indifference toward God. In the period before the captivity, idolatry was rampant and the people sought alliances with foreign powers rather than protection from God. Foreign alliances were an issue after the captivity, too, and religious practice for many was perfunctory, devoid of devotion to God, righteousness or justice.

Many of these prophets also foresaw the coming of Jesus Christ. Some foresaw his first coming in the incarnation with a mission of salvation. Others saw further into the time of His eternal reign. The problem of sin, the call for redemption and our hope for salvation (in Christ) are still with us today.

Though the Jewish people of the time were the immediate audience for most of the prophets, some bore messages to foreign neighbors. These books have value to Christians even today.

The minor prophets are

I Can Make You Happy by Paul McKenna

The notion that we can intentionally make ourselves happier by the behavior we choose is not new to psychology. It has been around since at least William James. Paul McKenna picks up the theme in I Can Make You Happy.

McKenna’s focus is extremely practical. Much of the book is a description of specific exercises or behaviors that are aimed at improving mood, changing habits of thought and reducing the intensity of negative emotions attached to memories.

Many of these exercises involve visualizations. Some involve physical actions or stances (even something as simple as standing up straight can improve your mood). In each case, McKenna provides detailed step-by-step instructions.

Because of the practical focus of the book, there is limited explanation of how these actions work. McKenna mentions the sources of the exercises and many have roots in scientific studies. He assumes, no doubt rightly, that his readers are most interested in what they can do.

The book includes a hypnosis CD that McKenna recommends using along with the other exercises. It is intended to reinforce habits that create and support happiness.

McKenna does not guarantee constant happiness. He suggests it wouldn’t be a good thing. He describes our emotions—all of them—as “part of our intelligence.” They are there to tell us something  important. We should not avoid our painful or uncomfortable emotions. It is appropriate to feel pain in response to losses and hurts.

Much of what you’ll find in this book is something you can find elsewhere. However, I Can Make You Happy is compact, practical and easy to read. It gets right to showing readers they can do something, often simple things, to be happier now. Making them habits could lead to generally higher levels of happiness.

Paul McKenna also wrote I Can Make You Thin.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

McKenna, Paul. I Can Make You Happy. New York: Sterling, 2011.

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

The prevailing myth of invention is that it is the product of a solitary genius. Steven Johnson takes on this myth in How We Got to Now.

Johnson’s book is a history of invention with a focus on six particular innovations. He demonstrates that simultaneous invention is common, suggesting that societal knowledge, norms and expectations play a part in invention—at least in providing an environment in which certain types of inventions can be created and flourish.

Thomas Edison and the light bulb is the classic myth challenged by simultaneous invention. Humphrey Davy demonstrated an incandescent electric light in 1802 and Frederick de Moleyns received the first patent for a light bulb in 1841. By the time Edison got involve, people had been working on light bulbs for 30 years, and the potential for electric light had been now for 70 years. Edison and his team of collaborators deserve a lot of credit for creating a commercially successful electric lighting system, inventing solutions to many problems along the way, but is a story of systematic hard work.

Edison’s electric lighting system depended on a lot of prior technology, which relates to another of Johnson’s points: clusters of inventions. An invention can illuminate a previously unnoticed problem (or create a new one). For instance, the availability of affordable books that follow Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press revealed that many people were farsighted. This sparked a demand for reading glasses. The tinkering with lenses led to the invention of telescopes and microscopes. Galileo took up the telescope and made discoveries in astronomy that reshaped how people saw the world. Robert Hooke used the microscope to explore a seemingly alien world of the very tiny thing all around us, though the revolution he inspired took longer to bloom.

Johnson explores other aspects of invention and society. I think it is fair to say that his view of how invention works is a lot messier than the myth. Inventors are at the right place at the right time, with open minds that are prepared (likely by accident) to make a connection and a willingness to do the work of thinking, testing and making something new. They probe the boundaries of their fields, tinker and throw themselves into hobbies that bring them, often with companions, to crossroads that challenge their notions of where they can go and how they can get there.

On the whole, Johnson presents a vision of hope in our history. We are not dependent on genius or serendipity; human creativity is both a social and an individual process in which the collision of ideas leads to new ideas. We live in an era where the collision of ideas may be more possible than ever.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Steven Johnson also wrote

Johnson, Steven. How We Got To Now: Six Innovations that Make the Modern World. New York: Riverhead, 2014.