The most meaningful insights from 15 books on happiness, productivity and success

Without a doubt, the books that moved me most this year focused on psychology and behavioral science.

Article by Shana Lebowitz on

The good thing about getting to read a lot of books for work is that I’m constantly challenged to rethink my conceptions of happiness, productivity, and success.

The bad thing is that one time a stack of said books collapsed on my desk neighbor.

Without a doubt, the books that moved me most this year focused on psychology and behavioral science — and as 2016 draws to a close, I’m reflecting on everything I learned.

Below, I’ve rounded up the most meaningful insights from all that reading.

Money isn’t enough to motivate us to do good work

In “Payoff,” Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely argues that human motivation is a lot more complex than we might be inclined to believe. Case in point: Pizza motivates employees to perform better in the long term than money.

Managers especially should look to harness the power of intrinsic motivation — or the desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job.


Emotions always matter

Harvard psychologist Susan David wrote “Emotional Agility” to help people reckon with — not suppress or pass judgment on — their most difficult emotions.

Instead of looking askance at feelings as fluffy, David says it’s important to recognize that our feelings hold important information about our values and our

potential. We can draw on that information to make important decisions related to our career and relationships.



Plain old practice doesn’t make perfect


The concept of deliberate practice — working with a teacher on specific goals and constantl

y pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone — has sparked a ton of controversy within the scientific community.

In “Peak,” Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson and journalist Robert Pool argue that this process is the only sure path to expertise, whether in chess, ice skating, or anything else. (Some psychologists disagree.)


To be sure, Ericsson says, deliberate practice involves mistakes and failure and pain, but if you truly want to be the best in your field, it’s worth it.


Tricking yourself into doing something isn’t much different than tricking someone else

Pre-Suasion” is a follow-up to psychologist and “Influence at Wor

k” president Robert Cialdini’s 2006 book “Influence,” often considered a must-read for business students and for anyone interested in the psychology of persuasion.

In his latest book, Cialdini shows readers how to set the stage for getting what they want — from themselves and others. For example, if you want to stop eating dessert, you can make an “if/when/then” plan: If/when the waiter asks if I’d like dessert, then I will order mint tea.”

“We become prepared, first, to notice the favorable time or circumstance and, second, to associate it automatically and directly with desired conduct,” Cialdini writes.


A loving relationship takes work — a lot of work

Journalist Jonah Lehrer took a scientific look at the development of romantic love and concluded that it’s less about fireworks and

more about day-to-day maintenance. Love can grow and change — it’s not something we can sit back and let happen to us. And that may be the most exciting thing about it.

A Book About Love” also includes beautifully written accounts of other kinds of love, like that between a parent and child, which can influence the development of other loving relationships in a person’s life.


Your worst traits are still waiting to sabotage you

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” is geared toward people hoping to

progress to the next stage in their career. Psychologist and executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, along with co-author Mark Reiter, argues that the negative behaviors you’ve displayed up until now probably didn’t help you succeed — and they might hurt you as you ascend the corporate ladder.

That’s why Goldsmith says it’s beneficial to gather feedback from coworkers (and non-coworkers) about your daily behavior, identify what you want to fix, and fix it. No dilly-dallying and no excuses.


Empathy is the key to effective leadership and meaningful relationships

Power trips don’t last long, University of California, Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner argues in “Th

e Power Paradox.” Keltner has spent years studying power dynamics in different relationship contexts, and he says the key to lasting influence is showing empathy for other people — listening to their ideas and incorporating those ideas into your plan.

And that’s as true in business as it is in middle school.



Read the suggestions for the other 8 books in the original article.


About Gea Peper (16 Articles)
Ik ben oprichter en eigenaar van het HappinessBureau en help organisaties (nog) succesvoller te worden door het geluk van werknemers te vergroten. Het HappinessBureau doet dit door middel van het geven van advies, training, coaching, het doen van onderzoek en het publiceren van artikelen en het organiseren van events (zie

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