Books to light your path to personal growthIs your life like a three-dollar bottle of champagne gone flat? Would you like to expand your sense of personal choice and freedom? Are you unhappy? Unmotivated? Unfulfilled? Do you have a hidden dream that you've hidden so well, you can't remember where you put it, let along find the chutzpah to chase after it? If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, a little getting to know thyself and doing something with your newfound knowledge may be in order. Whether you need a few simple ingredients for a spicier life, or some in-depth analysis, we've identified a few of the best in new personal-growth books to guide you on your way and help ignite that internal flame of change.
Maybe your life needs no more than a little spark to rekindle your sense of adventure. Chucking your job and backpacking in the Himalayas isn't the only way to rediscover the joy and wonder of daily existence. A New Adventure Every Day: 541 Ways to Live With Pizzazz (Sourcebooks, $12.95, 384 pages, ISBN 1570719462) by David Silberkleit is chock-full of ideas to jump-start your joie de vivre. With 540 ideas to choose from, under categories ranging from home life to relationships to the office, you're bound to find a personal ice-breaker in its pages to fit almost any situation, temperament or degree of daring. If No. 503 ("Dance with a tree in the wind") is too outlandish for you or your neighbors (should they be watching), there are more conservative exercises like No. 408 ("Explore a debt-free lifestyle. Strive to pay off everything so that money loses its hold over you").
On the other hand, maybe happiness and success haven't eluded you at all. In fact, maybe you have a great, lucrative career and are deliriously giddy with fame and fortune. And yet. And yet. Something's missing. You know what the rest of the world can't see. You aren't being something you know you were meant to be. (Hello, Nashville! Is that a song lyric?) If you're searching for something more, read Po Bronson's, What Should I Do With My Life? (Random House, $24.95, 400 pages, ISBN 0375507493). Bronson makes a great case for turning your back on the almighty buck and following your star. In fact, he talks about the bad side of success, the temptations of money and an idea so scandalous it could rock the world. But here it is: "Productivity explodes when people love what they do." Hey, he said it, not me.
The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success (Thomas Nelson, $19.99, 224 pages, ISBN 0785264280) by Andy Andrews is an unpretentious little work of fiction that picks up where the Capra heart- warmer It's A Wonderful Life leaves off. Like George Bailey, Andrews' modern-day protagonist, David Ponder, is at a crisis point in his life. Bailey, (c'mon, you know, James Stewart in the Christmas classic) miraculously gets a chance to see what the world would be like without him in it, discovering that his life is not only a precious gift to him, but to countless others as well. Ponder gets a different gift he gets to travel through time, gathering the wisdom of such notable figures as Abraham Lincoln and Anne Frank but his catharsis comes in discovering the power of a single, heartfelt decision. "There is a thin thread," one of his messengers proclaims, "that weaves only from you to hundreds of thousands of lives. Your example, your actions, and yes, even one decision can literally change the world." That's a lot of pressure! But like Ponder, by the end of this inspirational tale, having learned the "Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success," you will be better equipped to make choices with kindness, confidence and wisdom. This is a wonderful book to put into the hands of some promising young man or woman struggling with the inevitable incongruities, ambiguities and loneliness of modern day life.
From the best-selling author of the Don't Sweat the Small Stuff series, comes What About the BIG Stuff? (Hyperion, $19.95, 294 pages, ISBN 0786868848), in which Richard Carlson addresses how to handle major life dilemmas like an impending divorce or the loss of a loved one without totally coming apart at the seams. Carlson contends that human beings have essentially two modes or mind-sets, and that one of them is "healthy" and one "reactive." "In our healthiest state of mind," he writes, "we dance' with life. We're patient, wise, thoughtful and kind. We make good, sound decisions." But we have a flip side. In our reactive mode "we are less patient . . . we struggle and churn. . . . We are frustrated and hard on ourselves and others. Our problem solving skills are limited." The good news here is that knowing we have the capacity for both states of mind, we can begin to nurture one and let go of the other. "By acknowledging the existence of a healthy state of mind you can learn to trust it," Carlson assures us, "and access it, more often."Not that doing so is an easy task. As psychologist Gary Buffone points out in The Myth of Tomorrow: Seven Essential Keys for Living the Life You Want Today, "Unlike physical aging, spiritual and emotional maturity do not develop automatically; they exist only as a possibility. They must be intentionally and consistently pursued via commitment, effort, and struggle." Using the experiences of patients who have faced life-threatening situations, Buffone offers guidance on how to break out of a "holding pattern" and start reinventing your life today. "Spirituality," he explains, "is about developing the ability to see the sacred in our daily lives and opening the door to a life filled with passion and depth."Finally, The Art of Serenity: The Path to a Joyful Life in the Best and Worst of Times, by T. Byram Karusu, M.D., (Simon ∧ Schuster, $24, 256 pages, ISBN 0743228316) offers a more literary and philosophical slant, an "intellectual bridge" as it were, to get from wanting to knowing a life of passion and depth. Chapter titles alone ("The Love of Others," "The Love of Work," "The Love of Belonging") if simply read and contemplated upon, might lead to higher thought. But the book is full of philosophical and spiritual quotations. "No seed ever sees the flower." Zen saying. Wow. Think about that. Not that a book alone can teach you how to put into practice and live a life full of meaning, purpose and depth. That is something each of us must struggle and churn out for ourselves. But these books can help to ignite the flame. Linda Stankard makes her New Year's resolutions at her home in upstate New York.