“Impermanence mocks us.”

A little something in honor of (sort of), the Day of the Dead.

“Impermanence mocks us. Our efforts — to learn, to acquire, to hold on to what we have — all eventually fail us and come to naught. This is the final and controlling paradox: Only by embracing our mortality can we be happy in the time we have. The intensity of our connections to those we love is a function of our own knowledge that everyone is evanescent. Our ability to experience any pleasure requires either a healthy denial or courageous acceptance of the weight of time and the prospect of ultimate defeat.” — Gordon Livingston, M.D.

“Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart” Offers Tips for a Meaningful Life

For many of us, the start of a new year brings the desire to engage in a little self-reflection, to change for the better, and to be the person we all believe we can be when we look deep down inside. Whether we’re vowing to finally get control of our eating and exercise habits or to make our family and friends a bigger priority in the year ahead, anything seems possible at the outset of a fresh new 12-month period.

Yet, as I’m sure just about all of us can attest, things can so quickly revert back to our old ways and practices of years gone by. Creating lasting and effective change isn’t easy, no matter what the calendar says. Psychology and the role of ingrained habits in our lives loom perhaps larger than we’d like to admit.

Psychiatrist Gordon Livingston’s Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now, would be helpful for nearly everyone in one way or another just about any time of the year. But read now, in the glow of hoped-for new approaches to life in the coming year, it’s an honest look at the challenges we all face.


Livingston’s book combines his many hours as a professional listening to people’s troubles with his own very human heartaches to create 168 pages of straight talk with a compassionate bend. His life, like everyone’s, has not been without struggle. For instance, he served in Vietnam where he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor, but became disenchanted with America’s goals there. He discovered as an adult that he was adopted. And in one 13-month period, his oldest son and his youngest son both died, leaving him with unimaginable grief.

Livingston writes about the many common problems he sees people having in their relationships with their spouses, their children, and their parents. He also addresses, for example, the ways in which some of us abdicate responsibility for ourselves and our actions, either by blaming traumas from long ago or by believing that fate is somehow against us.

Reading his book feels a bit like listening to an opinionated, well-educated friend as he passes along wisdom he’s gathered. His comments never feel like platitudes. He doesn’t offer or tolerate excuses. Further, when he uses experiences from his own life to illustrate his points, you can trust that he’s being just as hard on himself as on you. If you’re hoping to truly change in 2016, this book offers lots to think about.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2016/01/bookbiz-a-seasoned-therapists-advice-for-a-meaningful-life/)

Explore Morality’s Beginnings With “Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil”

Where does our sense of right and wrong come from? Do we develop our morality from our specific culture or religious teachings, or are there some universal facets to it that all of us, as humans, possess? And what do we even mean by the word “morality?” How can we define it in way that everyone can relate to when it’s so fraught with emotion and opinion?

Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom explores these questions and more in his book Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. He combines studies and research from multiple disciplines including anthropology, philosophy, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, as well as his own field of developmental psychology. In the book, he puts forth his own theory about how some important early beacons of morality are embedded in us from the very beginning.


As part of his research at Yale, Bloom conducted lots of studies involving babies and small children, trying to gauge whether or not they had any innate sense of right and wrong. Specifically, he was looking for evidence of babies knowing when something was fair or not, whether an action was cruel or kind, whether a punishment was just, and whether or not babies related to other people’s suffering in a way that showed empathy or compassion.

Sounds like a lot to ask from little ones, right? You’d be amazed at what he found, though. One experiment with babies as young as 6 months or 10 months old showed that they not only realized which character in a scene they watched was a “good guy” and which was not, but they overwhelmingly preferred the good, helpful character to one who was mean and unhelpful. As another example, young children also reacted to perceived pain around them by “soothing” the person in pain.

To be clear, Bloom writes, “The brain, like the rest of the body, takes time to grow, so I am not arguing that morality is present at birth. What I am proposing, though, is that certain moral foundations are not acquired through learning. They do not come from the mother’s knee, or from school or church; they are instead products of biological evolution.”

This book provides a compelling look into something that affects us all: how we treat one another. Bloom is careful, though, to point out that because not all aspects of morality are apparent at an early age, our development in society and our ability to logically reason are also important. Still, it was interesting to learn that some sense of morality appears instinctual.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/05/bookbiz-do-we-contain-the-seeds-of-morality-at-birth/)

“Stumbling on Happiness” Highlights its Elusive Nature

What makes you happy? What’s likely to make you happy in the future? The answers may seem obvious to you, but Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness will show you that they’re actually anything but.


This lively book is not a self-help manual, but a work of psychology written for a popular audience. It’s a book I’ve read more than once, recommended to countless friends, and have continued to think about and reference for years. It will change the way you think – and, more importantly, it will change the way you think about the way you think.

Hopefully, too, it will get you closer to an answer for this critical question: “Why do we so often fail to know what will make us happy in the future?” Anyone who has made a decision or choice only to find that it didn’t make us as happy as we thought it would can relate. (I’d wager that’s everyone, at one time or another.)

There’s no one, single solution for this most basic of problems. Instead, the book describes the many ways that our memories and our imagination work together to, in essence, help us make decisions about the future based on faulty information.

For instance, our memories are not generated by some internal recording device, faithfully taking down each and every bit of info. Instead, and by necessity, memory is a “sophisticated editor that clips and saves key elements of an experience and then uses these elements to rewrite the story each time we ask to reread it.”

Think about a time that you experienced something and later shared your memories of it with another person who was also there. While overall you may both remember the event in a similar way, you each have specific memories of it that the other does not. Memory’s subject to suggestion, as well. If the other person points something out from that event that you don’t actually remember, you’re likely to add it to your story of the event anyway, without even realizing it.

The catch for predicting future happiness, then, is that our imagination relies on memory to consider how we’re likely to feel about something down the road, assuming that how we felt about something in the past is how we’ll feel in the future. But for many reasons, we often misremember how we actually felt. Our imaginations also assume, often incorrectly, that our future selves will feel the same as our current selves.

It’s a fascinating subject, and one that will make you reexamine how you make decisions.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/blog/2014/07/18/book-biz-digging-reasons-happy/)