Situations Matter

Heads up, psychology fans: award-winning professor of social psychology at Tufts University, Sam Sommers, has written a book that is available for pre-order now at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1594488185/ref=cm_sw_r_fa_alp_IlMNnb0C4315B! It’s called Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. Here’s a synopsis:

“The world around you is pulling your strings, shaping your innermost instincts and your most private thoughts. And you don’t even realize it.

Every day and in all walks of life, we overlook the enormous power of situations, of context in our lives. That’s a mistake, says Sam Sommers in his provocative new book, SITUATIONS MATTER (Riverhead Books, 12/29/11). Just as a viewer overlooks the frames around paintings, so do people overlook the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames – situations – do matter. Your experience viewing the painting wouldn’t be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.

In SITUATIONS MATTER, Sommers argues that understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using these insights to rethink how we see the world makes us more effective at work, at home, and with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.”

 

Not only does the book sound cool, but the author is a great guy. Dr. Sommers is intelligent, witty, and great at softball (let’s hope the psychology department can beat the chemistry department again this year!). He’s also tech-savvy, so you can “LIKE” his author page on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/?q=#/sam.sommers.author?ref=ts or follow him on Twitter (@SamSommers). Did you know he also writes a popular blog for Psychology Today called “Science of Small Talk”? It’s true! Get a preview of his writing skillz here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-small-talk (his blog posts are always entertaining as well as interesting and informative, so, after a little perusing, you’ll definitely want to pre-order Situations Matter).

As soon as I get my copy, I’ll add a review to the Bookshelf. But don’t wait on me…pre-order today!

More Must-Read Books

Check out the new Bookshelf shelf (ha, awkward), stocked with miscellaneous book recommendations from yours truly. 🙂

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but I’ve been disappointed with some of my latest YA fantasy selections. So, for a change of pace, I picked up a few books outside of my typical niche, and I was very pleased to find that both Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen were great reads. They both made me want to sit around in my pajamas reading the day away, which, to me, is the mark of a “must-read.”

Take a peek at their synopses on the Misc. shelf!

The Happiness Advantage

I’m reading a book entitled The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, a professor of Harvard’s famed course “Positive Psychology” and the founder of Good Think, Inc, a company that speaks to major organizations around the world on how they can improve their productivity through an emphasis on employee happiness (www.shawnachor.com).

The Happiness Advantage describes “the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work.” Its main message? Happiness is a predictor of success–not the other way around. In short, we grow up believing that we will be happy when we earn that next good grade or score that next big promotion, and so we always see happiness as something that can be attained down the road–the result of success, a reward for achievement. But scientific research has debunked this myth. Research has shown, time and again, that happiness precedes success, and Achor’s book translates the findings of scholarly articles into an interesting and easy-to-read guide to happiness and productivity for the public. While these principles are especially important for CEOs, managers, supervisors, and anyone else responsible for implementing change in the workplace, they also can be utilized by individuals seeking fulfillment as they strive toward their own personal goals.

Visit the Bookshelf (Psychology page) for a complete description of The Happiness Advantage, as well as a link to buy it at Barnes & Noble (you will not be disappointed!). In the meantime, I just wanted to include a brief excerpt that shows how some of these positive psychology principles relate to creativity:

“Extensive research has found that happiness actually has a very important evolutionary purpose, something Barbara Fredrickson has termed the ‘Broaden and Build Theory.’ Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas. For instance, individuals who are ‘primed’–meaning scientists help evoke a certain mindset or emotion before doing an experiment–to feel either amusement or contentment can think of a larger and wider array of thoughts and ideas than individuals who have been primed to feel either anxiety or anger. And when positive emotions broaden our scope of cognition and behavior in this way, they not only make us more creative, they help us build more intellectual, social, and physical resources we can rely upon in the future.” (pg. 44)

In the pages that follow, Achor describes seven key principles of positive psychology and provides concrete suggestions for capitalizing on this research. I’m about 65 pages in–reading about the second principle–and this book has already filled me with excitement, optimism, and hope. It’s becoming clear to me that Achor’s “happiness work ethic” is a tangible catalyst for huge gains in productivity and satisfaction in the workplace, and, of particular relevance to writers and artists, that this mindset can fuel creativity and originality, as well.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Art & Fear

I recently started reading the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (it will be added to the Psychology page of the Bookshelf in the near future!). Here’s the description on the back of the book:

“What is your art really about?
Where is it going?
What stands in the way of getting it there?

These are questions that matter, questions that recur at each stage of artistic development–and they are the source for this volume of wonderfully incisive commentary.

Art & Fear explores the way art gets made, the reasons it often doesn’t get made, and the nature of the difficulties that cause so many artists to give up along the way.

This is a book about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do. It is about committing your future to your own hands, placing Free Will above predestination, choice above chance. It is about finding your own work.”

 

I know my psychology colleagues would probably have a thing or two to say about the ‘Free Will’ issue, but, personally, I think that believing in Free Will is empowering for individuals, and I refuse to take the behaviorist perspective on the matter (take that, B.F. Skinner).

Regardless, I’m not reading this book to try to figure out whether my choices matter. I know they do. I’m reading this book because I know what it feels like to struggle as an artist, to doubt myself and my abilities, and to get stuck dreaming instead of writing. As Rita Mae Brown says, you should ‘never hope more than you work.’ That’s sage advice, but it’s hard to put into practice sometimes. Why is that?

I think the title is particularly intriguing–Art & Fear. For all of us creative souls, art is love, art is passion, art is self. But fear can still get in the way. Fear of what, you ask? Fear of anything–fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of ourselves and our own potential. Even when we know it’s not rational, our fear can still prevent us from being the best artists we can be.

More on these ideas later, as I continue to read. For now, I’ll leave you with the quote that starts the second chapter: “Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.” ~Stephen DeStaebler 

(Do you agree?)

Update Your Summer Reading List With Spells and Secrets

Check out the Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy page of The Bookshelf for a couple of new additions (or ‘editions’! har har). The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas will be especially appreciated by the younger end of the 9-12 spectrum, while The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins is a darkly satisfying read for older kids, teens, and even discriminating adults! These titles have enriched my summer reading list–entertaining me during my recuperation from two separate neck surgeries–and F. E. Higgins has even earned herself a place on my list of go-to authors.

Next up on my reading list is the (aforementioned) seventh book in the Artemis Fowl series, followed by Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror by Jennifer Boylan. Falcon Quinn may be Jenny Boylan’s first children’s novel, but she is widely known as the bestselling author of the memoirs She’s Not There and I’m Looking Through You, both of which captured my interest with their anecdotes and humor and moved me with their honesty and authenticity. Jenny Boylan resides in my home state of Maine and is an English professor at one of the finest colleges in the country, so I cannot wait to read Falcon Quinn. Stay tuned for these upcoming reviews.

Thanks for reading, as well as for your understanding regarding my lack of research posts this summer. My medical leave will end in September, and then it will be back to the thrilling world of academia for me! So don’t fret–more discussions on the intricacies of the relationship between psychology and creativity will inevitably follow…

Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter: Coming Soon…

…to a bookstore and movie theatre near you! Two exciting releases to look forward to…

 

(1) Eoin Colfer fans are getting ready for The Atlantis Complex, the 7th installment in the popular Artemis Fowl series. It releases on August 3rd, and you can preorder it here: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Artemis-Fowl/Eoin-Colfer/e/9781423128199/?itm=3&USRI=eoin+colfer. (see my Bookshelf page for a little review of the entire action-packed series!)

(2) And, of course, as any lover of children’s fantasy will know, Part I of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be taking cinemas by storm this November. (I, for one, am rereading the entire HP series in preparation :-P)  Visit the official site for the trailer: http://harrypotter.warnerbros.com/harrypotterandthedeathlyhallows/

Kristin Cashore Brings The Heat

Check out the Children’s/Young Adult Fantasy page of The Bookshelf for two new recommendations–Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore.

Seriously–do it now. Cashore has skyrocketed to the top of my Favorite Authors list, and, for any reader of YA Fantasy, these titles are must-reads. YOUR LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.

😛

Alex the Parrot

Check out my newest book recommendation on the Psychology page of the Bookshelf! It’s a New York Times bestseller and a great read–I finished it within a day.

Alex & Me by Irene M. Pepperberg is the true story of “how a scientist and a parrot discovered a hidden world of animal intelligence–and formed a deep bond in the process” (book cover). It’s the amazing, heartwarming, and often comical story of Alex, an African Grey Parrot who challenged the definition of “bird brain,” and his caretaker, Dr. Irene Pepperberg of Brandeis University. More than three decades ago, Dr. Pepperberg entered a pet store to purchase a parrot that she could train in an ambitious–and, at the time, underappreciated–research study investigating language acquisition in birds. She left the pet store with Alex–a little bird with a big personality that would change the way scientists think about animal cognition.

Alex’s accomplishments over his lifespan exceeded even Dr. Pepperberg’s expectations. Not only did he learn object labels, the names of colors, and various types of material (e.g. paper, wood), he was also able to count and understand concepts such as “same vs. different.” What’s more, Alex demonstrated creativity–the ability to combine labels and concepts in novel ways, in the absence of any training–previously thought impossible for a creature with a brain the size of a walnut.

Alex was the most intelligent (not to mention head-strong, bossy, and wry) one-pound ball of feathers that the world has ever seen. This book is a must-read, and if you aren’t convinced yet, watch the clip below. It’s a tribute to Alex that aired on Good Morning America after his premature death at the age of 31:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYk-wE18BTo 

Though Alex is gone, Irene M. Pepperberg’s study of avian cognition is ongoing. To learn more about her work and the ways in which you can help fuel this groundbreaking research, visit The Alex Foundation website: www.thealexfoundation.com

New Book on the Bookshelf

Check out the “Psychology” page on the Bookshelf to see a description of Poets on Prozac, the collection of essays that I referenced in my last post…

Writer’s block?

Check out the two titles I just added to the top of the “Writer’s Reference” page of The Bookshelf. These Pocket Muse books are great for anyone who needs a little help getting started with their next story or poem. Full of writing prompts and other tips and tricks, they can provide just the inspiration you need before you set your pen to the page. Reviews for these neat little companions can be found at:

http://www.monicawood.com/pocketmuse.html

(Also check out the Tips for Writers page on that website!)

Check back soon–I’ll have another post up within the next couple of days…

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The Gulf Coast: You Can Help!

Oops--I guess the grumpy sea turtle swam away.