Have you read a good book lately? Even without a powerful message, books can affect our emotions. Some books, however, change us forever. The following five books help readers become aware of choices that lead to a healthy and productive life.
1 Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Above the sea, seagulls circle, waiting to catch fish that swim to the surface. Other seagulls delight in scavenging edible trash from fishing boats or parking lots. Most of a seagull’s life revolves around finding food. These simple birds spend their whole existences without stopping to wonder if this life is all there is.
While other birds are content to pass their whole lives doing the same things over and over, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a bird with greater ambitions. He chooses not to give in to the inner voice that tempts him to live life with “no more failure” because it comes at the cost of “no more challenge.” Challenge himself, he does! Falcons dive fast from high distances. Why not seagulls? Experimenting with wing position, dive angle, and height, Jonathan is soon performing aerobatic feats such as have never been done by a gull. He smashes records for dive speed and height.
Rather than applaud his efforts, his fellow seagulls shun him. Alone, he continues to test his limits. In the end, he comes to a conclusion: “We can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill” if we overcome ignorance. In Jonathan’s experience, “boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with those gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.”
2 On Writing Well by William Zinsser
From the first chapter onward, Zinsser encourages the aspiring writer to break with limiting conventions. Writing is an expression of the author’s passions. Jonathan Seagull was passionate about flying; writers should be excited about and connected to their subject matter. Writers are constantly admonished to consider their audience, yet Zinsser counsels against envisioning “the great mass audience.” Instead, writers should write to please themselves. “Any method that helps people say what they want to say is the right method.”
Zinsser wasn’t advising against literary devices or good grammar. He addresses word choice, simplicity, style, and usage. However, one point is clear: not everyone will become a great author, but we can all learn to express ourselves well with words.
3 Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman
Studies show that optimism has a positive impact on health and length of life. Optimists persevere toward their goals longer than pessimists do. As a result, optimists have a higher probability of succeeding at personal, career, or health goals. Optimists believe that setbacks are temporary and limited to only one specific area. An optimistic writer might look at a rejection letter as merely a temporary setback on the road to publication. He would not feel like a failure because he knows he has success in other areas of his life. The book contains a series of exercises designed to reform pessimistic thinking.
4 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
If optimism is your goal, you must make it a habit. According to the author, “a habit is the intersection of knowledge (what to do), skill (how to do), and desire (want to do).” The seven habits of effective people can help you to attain any objective:
1. Be proactive. Rather than thinking a given event is inevitable, proactive people take responsibility for their future. 2. Begin with the end in mind. Effective people envision a positive ending. They make choices that will most likely lead to this outcome. 3. Prioritize. Effective people concentrate on tasks in order of priority. In this way, the more important things are accomplished first. 4. Create win-win situations. Creating situations that benefit others strengthens interdependent relationships. People are more willing to help when the situation is mutually beneficial. 5. Before you try to share your viewpoint, endeavor to understand the problem. Listen to others and try to empathize. Once you fully understand, you can offer valuable advice. 6. Tap into the power of synergy. Synergy happens when a group works together to produce better results than any of the group members could have produced by working individually. Group brainstorming sessions, for example, foster synergy. Creative concepts develop as participants bounce ideas off one another. 7. Renew yourself. To practice the other six habits, you must constantly feed yourself spiritually, mentally, socially, and physically.
5 Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom Based on a true story, this book relates the lessons of sociologist Morrie Schwartz and his former student Mitch Albom. Mitch is a struggling musician, but he begins to experience real career success in the field of journalism. He has promised his wife that they will have children, but his workaholic ways send him traveling around the country. He has a good life in many ways, but something is missing.
By chance, Mitch sees Morrie, his former professor, on television. Morrie has a terminal illness. They were close at school, so Mitch decides to pay Morrie a visit. The visits turn into a habit; Mitch spends Tuesdays absorbing the wisdom of Morrie. Morrie emphasizes the dangers of being swept up in popular culture, full of greed and self-centeredness. Instead, he suggests creating your own way of living. Life, according to Morrie, should be full of love, acceptance, and human goodness.
Morrie eventually dies, but not before Mitch changes profoundly. He realizes what is really important to him. He is motivated to contact his estranged brother and tell him that he loves him.
The author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull dedicated his book to “the real Jonathan Seagull who lives within us all.” When Jonathan ignored critics and challenged his limits, he experienced exhilarating success. Of the people who want to write, many don’t even try because of the limits they impose on themselves. William Zinsser claims that anyone can write. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Learned Optimism can help you to develop the habits to reach any goal—writing or otherwise. And Tuesdays with Morrie lets you know that it is never too late to start. Does ignorance, boredom, fear, or anger cut your creative life short? How many of these barriers do you impose on yourself? If you remove them, you might be astounded at how high you can soar.