Christmas always gives us one more gift. After the last present has been opened, after you've found room in your closet for one more bulky-knit sweater, the season gives us a rare and precious gift a fresh start. We get 365 new days, new calendars, new hope. We get to re-envision our lives and make new plans: to dream, to set or redefine our goals, to decide to do things a little differently in the days ahead. If you've made a new year's resolution to better yourself in 2002, here are four wonderful books to keep nearby when your hardened resolve threatens to revert to a bowlful of jelly.

Weekly workbook
If you need a structured approach to self-improvement, Valorie Burton's Rich Minds, Rich Rewards: 52 Ways to Enhance, Enrich, and Empower Your Life offers a year's worth of once-a-week suggestions to achieve more success with less stress. The mini-chapter motif is user-friendly and contains advice and activities for you to contemplate and incorporate into your life at a leisurely pace. The first chapter is titled "Count Your Blessings," and that's exactly what Burton advocates writing them down and counting them each and every day. It's a small book, but with chapters like "Don't Downsize Your Dream," "Take Control of Your Financial Life" and "Make Your Home Your Sanctuary," this little workbook will go a long way toward revitalizing your psyche.

The simple life
If you're still struggling toward the elusive dream of having it all, Organizing the Good Life: A Path to Joyful Simplicity Home to Work & Back by Celia Rocks, offers renewed hope that enjoying a healthy love relationship, being a mother and having a rewarding career are not mutually exclusive activities. The author uses her own journey, which took her from being saddled with an unwieldly, hectic lifestyle, plus $35,000 in debt, to a more peaceful existence. Rocks has come to believe "having it all means only taking what we need from the world and giving back the rest." (A beautiful philosophy any time of year.) There's a recap of suggestions at the end of each chapter for using less but living more.

Accentuate the positive
Following on the heels of her blockbuster success, The Dark Side of the Light Chasers, Debbie Ford provides a guide for stepping outside our own personal stories, even those that are full of sadness or despair, and discovering our "true essence." In The Gifts of the Shadow: Eliminating Negative Beliefs and Illuminating Your Dreams, she declares that "Once outside, you will see that the life of your dreams, and the fulfillment of your deepest desires, is waiting for you." Ford emphasizes the unique "specialty" each individual possesses, but contends that "our individuality is nothing but an illusion," and that "We are a piece in a Divine puzzle." Ford doesn't offer overnight solutions real change takes time but the Healing Action Steps at the end of each chapter challenge the reader to begin taking charge of her life in small, but definite increments.

Magic mantras
Finally there's a little powerhouse of a book co-written by two "powerhouse" writers, Howard Kaminsky, president of three major publishing houses and author of numerous screenplays, novels and articles, and Alexandra Penney, whose credits include four bestsellers. Magic Words: 101 Ways to Talk Your Way Through Life's Challenges, makes life's little stumbling blocks more bearable by providing you with "magic words" phrases you can say like mantras to guide you through tough times. (A couple of examples: "When you draw the line, draw it in cement," or "KMS" as an acronym for "Keep Mouth Shut.") The book is divided into two sections, "Magic Words You Say to Yourself" and "Magic Words You Say to Others." (Need I say more?) So get off the fence, go after your dreams and take your place at life's banquet table. It's a new year.

Linda Stankard resolves to write more for BookPage.

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