Enriched Living

Three books propose ways we can enhance how we think and feel.

Self-improvement books often claim that only by changing the way you think—perhaps by picturing yourself in the ideal job, say, or with the perfect mate—will you be able to make your life better. Not so, says psychologist Richard Wiseman. In The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life (Free Press, 2013), Wiseman argues that people need to modify their actions to change how they feel. Research shows, for example, that clenching your fist can motivate you to stay away from unhealthy snacks. He also suggests simple tips for readers, such as smiling to improve their mental state.

Want a smarter, healthier brain? You'll have to exercise it, according to neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman. Chapman, director of the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas, with Shelly Kirkland, public relations director there, explain that although the brain has the capacity to strengthen itself, as with any muscle, it requires training to stay strong. In Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Brain's Creativity, Energy, and Focus (Free Press, 2012), they delineate a fitness plan for your brain—such as learning how to use your new iPhone or teaching a friend how to play Sudoku—to help you think more insightfully and strategically.

Asking a person out to dinner or auditioning for the school play can leave you feeling judged or rejected. Yet putting ourselves in vulnerable positions, no matter how difficult, is essential for our well-being and personal development, says Brené Brown, a research professor who studies emotions. In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Gotham, 2012), Brown explores our need to expose ourselves emotionally so as to form meaningful bonds, fall in love or push for a promotion.