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Three good books: “Positivity”, “The Compassionate Mind” & “The Spirit Level”

Here are three good, recently published books that are all highly relevant to the fields of stress, health & wellbeing.

"Positivity" by Barbara Fredrickson (see below) is subtitled, a little breathlessly - "Groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive."  Actually Professor Fredrickson is good news.  I've written about her work on a number of occasions on this website.  See for example posts on "Nourishing positive states", on "Loving kindness meditation" and on the page listing handouts about "Emotions, feelings & personality".       

Fredrickson's "broaden-and-build" theory of positive emotions is ground-breaking.  Martin Seligman, the so-called "father of positive psychology", has said of her and this book - "The first time I heard Barb Fredrickson speak, the famous psychologist sitting next to me said, "That's the real thing!" This book, like Barb, is the "Real Thing:" It's the perfect blend of sound science and wise advice on how to become happier. Barbara Fredrickson is the genius of the positive psychology movement."  Frederickson has also strongly argued that one's ratio of experienced positive to negative emotions should be in the range between about 3:1 to 11:1 for optimal stress resilience and enhanced flourishing.  Her research suggests that only about 20% of people operate in this range.  See her website on the Positivity Ratio (below) to take the test!

"The compassionate mind" by Paul Gilbert (below) is described as - "Compassion and particularly compassion towards oneself can have a significant impact on our wellbeing and mental health. Developing our sense of compassion can affect many areas of our lives, in particular our relationships with other people. In this book, Professor Paul Gilbert explores how our minds have developed to survive in dangerous and threatening environments by becoming sensitive and quick to react to perceived threats. This can sometimes lead to problems in how we respond to life's challenges and scientific evidence has demonstrated that compassion towards oneself and others can lead to an increased sense of happiness and wellbeing - particularly valuable when we are feeling stressed.  Based on evolutionary research and scientific studies of how the brain processes emotional information, this compassionate approach offers an appealing alternative to the traditional western view of compassion, which sometimes sees it as a sign of weakness and can encourage self-criticism and a hard-nosed drive to achieve."  Paul has been a major figure internationally in the movement to explore compassion more scientifically and incorporate the findings into improved ways to help people.  See too the Compassionate Mind Foundation website (below) with it's additional helpful information and links.  I've mentioned the importance of compassion fairly regularly on this website.  To link to the relevant tag and bring up other entries on compassion, click here

Professor Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, the authors of the third book I'm recommending - "The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better." (see below) - write in their preface "Just as the term ‘evidence-based medicine' is used to describe current efforts to ensure that medical treatment is based on the best scientific evidence of what works and what does not work, we thought of calling this book ‘Evidence-based Politics'."  They go on to state "The reason why the picture we present has not been put together until now is probably that much of the data has only become available in recent years.  With internationally comparable information not only on incomes and income distribution but also on different health and social problems, it could only have been a matter of time before someone came up with findings like ours."  And later in the book they comment "Across whole populations, rates of mental illness are five times higher in the most unequal compared to the least unequal societies.  Similarly, in more unequal societies people are five times as likely to be imprisoned, six times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher.  The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined just the least well-off: instead they affect the vast majority of the population."  As Professor Richard Layard, the well known economist, comments "A profoundly important book."  A related World Health Organization report this year emphasises "Relatively small differences in levels of inequality can have very significant effects on health."  Link through to the excellent Equality Trust website (below) to get direct access to the arguments and evidence, and see too the downloadable Guardian newspaper PDF (below).

So compassion operates crucially at multiple levels - for ourselves, for those we know, and too for societies and the world.

Fredrickson, B. (2009).  "Positivity."  New York: Crown Publishers. [AbeBooks]  [Amazon
Fredrickson, B. "Positive Emotion and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab." http://www.unc.edu/peplab/home.html  Accessed May 3, 2009.
Fredrickson, B.  "Positivity Ratio." http://www.positivityratio.com/index.php  Accessed May 3, 2009.

Gilbert, P. (2009).  "The compassionate mind."  London: Constable.  [AbeBooks]  [Amazon]   
"Compassionate Mind Foundation"  http://www.compassionatemind.co.uk/   Accessed May 3, 2009.

Wilkinson, R. & K. Pickett. (2009).  "The spirit level: Why more equal societies almost always do better."  London: Allen Lane. [AbeBooks]  [Amazon
"The Equality Trust"  http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/  Accessed May 21, 2009.
Guardian newspaper double page spread PDF of data charts from "The spirit level" 
World Health Organization. "Mental health, resilience and inequalities: how individuals and communities are affected."  http://www.euro.who.int/mentalhealth/topics/20090309_1  Accessed May 21, 2009


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