Review: Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think

Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think
Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think by Paul Dolan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

HAPPINESS BY DESIGN seeks to take Paul Dolan’s training in economics and behavioral science and offer a unique approach to overall happiness not found in other of its same-shelf counterparts. This is an interesting approach, considering Dolan is working with Daniel Kahneman, who won the Nobel Prize in economics as a psychologist. (It must be nice to refer to a Nobel Prize winner as “Danny”.)

Dolan claims to make two distinguishing factors on the path to happiness: relatability and definition. Dolan speaks to his lower class upbringing and his current group of friends that are both college educated and those who are not. After reading this book, I’m not sure if he creates a completely relatable experience or not, but more on that later. As for the definition, Dolan states other books on happiness have never offered a definition of happiness. His definition is, “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time.” He later calls this a life “that contains lots of positive sentiments of pleasure and of purpose”, labeling it as “sentimental hedonism”.

My two favorite quotes in this book are: “Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention.” and, “If you are not as happy as you could be then you must be misallocating your attention.” Dolan’s method of bringing about happiness is a balance of pleasure and purpose, for as he writes, “If you are not as happy as you could be then you must be misallocating your attention.” The problem is that we “generally pay attention to what we think should make us happy rather than focusing on what actually does.”

I appreciate Dolan’s scientific-like approach, which is my main contention with books such as THE HAPPINESS PROJECT that feature more “feel good” statements and “it worked for me” statements. A lot of what Dolan offers resembles Rick Hanson’s book HARDWIRING HAPPINESS, which is one of the best I’ve read of the subject. Both this book and that book feature focused attention on everyday events.

There are hundreds of footnoted studies that Dolan uses to effect. By the time he wraps up, he presents ways to “decide, design, and do” that will organize your life around long standing happiness. In particular, Dolan shows how current happiness surveys capture a moment of response, such as posing for a camera, versus a more accurate capturing of happiness over time, such as video recording someone that isn’t posed and gives a more life-like representation.

The parts I would like more clearer or more defined research are the effects of: mindfulness, sleep, and happiness for the unemployed. Dolan believes, though not explicitly pointing to, books like THE POWER OF NOW by Eckhart Tolle offer obtainable happiness by at a cost of the mind’s System 2 effort (taken from Daniel Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW). Dolan writes that it is “easier and more effective to nudge system 1 than it is to shove system 2.” Dolan’s messages are interesting and remind me a lot of Daniel J. Levitin’s recent THE ORGANIZED MIND.

As for sleep, Dolan shows an interesting study comparing spiked happiness of those who stay up late versus the continuous overall happiness of those that forgo late-night television in order to get a full night’s sleep. As for unemployment, Dolan continuously shows studies how working and money both directly and indirectly affect happiness. On one hand Dolan speaks of the advantage of finding work via happiness, but on the other speaks of the depressiveness of unemployment. This shows me a slippery slope that needs more resolution (which I believe mindfulness or Hanson’s HARDWIRING HAPPINESS addresses).

Overall, HAPPINESS BY DESIGN is an excellent scientific approach to understanding how to obtain continuous overall happiness through simple organizational techniques. This book provides plenty of new insight through hundreds of studies and relatable material. While I would like more information on some of the presented material, there are plenty of footnotes and end-book references for me to follow-up on.

Thanks to Hudson Street Press and The Penguin Group for providing an electronic copy of this book for me to review.

You can find this book’s preview and soon-to-be other reviews on Amazon: Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think

Review: Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life

Your Family in Pictures: The Parents' Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life
Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life by Koh, Me Ra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two things will happen when you read YOUR FAMILY IN PICTURES by Me Ra Koh: you’ll want to buy a better camera (especially if you are a currently relegated to using your cell phone camera), and you’ll want to buy Me Ra Koh’s other two books.

For the better camera: yes, the author gives great tips on how to take better pictures with your phone or point-and-shoot camera. However…you’ll begin to see all these GREAT pictures featured in the book, many taken with perfect lighting and high-end cameras. The author makes mention in her “recipes” for better photos to change the ISO settings and shutter speed, etc. Many lower-end and phone cameras have these features in a limited basis, but you’ll definitely notice the difference between your pictures and the pictures featured in the book.

As for the other books: the author often mentions them. She’ll talk about camera basics, such as the law of thirds or negative space, but it is enough to make you want to read them. Other reviewers of this book (FAMILY IN PICTURES) have also mentioned how great of a companion all three books have been. It’s not a bad thing, just be forewarned.

Regarding the advice itself, you will see improvement in your overall photos. Me Ra Koh gives some great introduction instructions (e.g., finding the right lighting in your home, what cloths to wear, etc.), and then breaks into situational sections (e.g., holidays, outings, etc.). There are numerous tips here that will give you great ideas on how to take a satisfying photo—with or without that $1,000 camera (though you’ll still want that $1,000 camera).

The quality of this book is top-notch. Don’t let the “paperback” throw you off. The cover is glossy and thick, and each page is full color and glossy as well. It is comfortable to read and easy to look-up particular advice. An electronic version on the Kindle Fire or iPad would be okay, but I would stay away from a Kindle Paperwhite version due to the high amount of color used in this book.

Bottom line: great book for beginners, as well as people with some already established picture knowledge seeking improvement. Not just for families, but for any picture taking featuring people.

I received this book for free for review through Blogging for Books.

You can find this book’s previews and other reviews (current over 30 5-star reviews) on Amazon: Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life


Review: Rainbow Magic: The Ultimate Fairy Guide

Rainbow Magic: The Ultimate Fairy Guide
Rainbow Magic: The Ultimate Fairy Guide by Daisy Meadows
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No, I haven’t gone mad. For those following my reviews, you may be wondering why I’m reviewing a book about cute, winged-fairies. Two words: my daughter. She LOVES fairies, especially the Rainbow Magic fairies. I would walk into her room and count the Rainbow Magic books, but I’m fearful of them toppling over on me. I can’t properly mow and trim my backyard for fear of devastating one of her built fairy villages. So, when this ULITMATE FAIRY GUIDE came out, I thought it would be a great book to get her into reviewing.

“I love it.” That’s her review. “Well,” I said, “Amazon needs at least 20 words, and if I put it on my blog, it’ll need around 300 words.” She said, “I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it…” You get the picture.

We sat down and discussed what things would interest people about the book. For starters, it is called THE ULTIMATE FAIRY GUIDE and is written by Daisy Meadows (aka Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, Linda Chapman, and Sue Mongredien). This is a special edition book, meaning it is hardbound, versus the other soft-cover books in the Rainbow series. This book has a nice full-color map of Rainspell Island, not to mention all the pages are full of color—like the rainbow. (Ok, bad pun attempt; I should have let her keep the I love its.)

Various Rainbow Fairies are listed, each broken down into different types, one fairy on each page. There are general types such as holidays, music, etc. and there are unique fairies such as the Christmas Day Fairy and the Bridesmaid Fairy. Every fairy listed has interesting factoids and personalized descriptions. Trust us when we say it really IS the ultimate fairy guide.

On my blog, I’m including some pictures; Amazon has a preview of the book.

One last thing, we would both like to thank Scholastic for providing this book for us to review. This is something fairy fans, even if new to the Rainbow series, will absolutely love.

View all my reviews

Review: The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach: One Man’s Quest to Find a Home For the World’s Forgotten Animals

The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach: One Man's Quest to Find a Home For the World's Forgotten Animals
The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach: One Man’s Quest to Find a Home For the World’s Forgotten Animals by
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a happy book, but rather is a necessary one. The title is emotional, the back-book selection is tear-producing, and the entire book is utterly heart-wrenching. Through descriptive writing, author Steve McGarva highlights the horrid atrocities animals (not just dogs) suffer on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

I couldn’t finish this: my heart was broken too many times. The things the author describes are beyond abuse: they are straight-up evil. Horses being pulled apart by trucks, dogs skinned… I would flip to another chapter, and more pain was revealed. Even as I read about the author’s concluded journey on the island, I could feel the agony about his descriptions of recent history of government-sponsored groups throwing dogs from high bridges. I could not bear it.

Though many courageous workers are offering their services on the island, the author can be noted for raising the standard through key media outlets, such as PEOPLE Magazine and the Ellen Show. Through his empathetic hurt and burden, and now through his book, the message is spreading. Hope and light are being made available for these precious dogs.

Another reviewer has noted several organizations fighting for this cause: Amigos de Los Animales, Manos Por Patas, The Sato Project, All Sato Rescue (author’s affiliation), Island Dog, Save a Sato, ARF Rincon, Culebra Animal Welfare, Second Chance Animal Rescue.

I want to thank Dey Street (formally It Books) for sending this book to me for review, as well as publishing it for people’s awareness.

You can find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: The Rescue at Dead Dog Beach: One Man’s Quest to Find a Home For the World’s Forgotten Animals


Review: Fives and Twenty-Fives

Fives and Twenty-Fives
Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book nails it: both the feeling of conflict and the conclusion of duty back home. I’m impressed at the realistic inclusion of both officer and enlisted, especially both sexes, male and female. The repeated exposure to war, though not completely understandable or always justified, has both physical and psychological consequences to everyone involved. Though each service member has bonding similarities, everyone is affected uniquely. Author Michael Pitre expresses this perfectly. For that, I want to thank my military brother.

I am a former Marine and currently work helping my fellow Veterans. FIVES AND TWENTY-FIVES captures what many civilians want to know, but so few returning military members wish to express. Thankfully Pitre, was trained in writing before he signed up for training in combat. He took that writing expertise to war—twice—returning with the capturing of unequivocal knowledge. As a writer and a Marine, Pitre relays experiences unparalleled to many of this written genre.

I’d like to pause and highlight a fantastic review from someone who served in the Marines with Pitre:

In particular, this book focuses on several different people involved in the conflict of Iraq: officer, enlisted, Navy Corpsman, and Iraqi interpreter. Initially, it felt like separate stories, which I would have appreciated as well, but then the stories began weaving more and more together. Pitre’s method brought about the intricate relationship every member has with one another, whether in peace-time uniform, in shoulder-to-shoulder combat, or discharged back home.

If you were never in the military and want to know more about our men and women coming home and still serving overseas, this is the book to read. If you were in the military and want to understand more about modern-day effects of multiple combat tours: read this book.

I want to thank Bloomsbury for providing this book electronically for me to review. And for the author, Semper Fi, brother.

You can find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: Fives and Twenty-Fives


Review: Mr. Tall: Stories

Mr. Tall: Stories
Mr. Tall: Stories by Tony Earley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ah, MR. TALL. It started out nice enough: stories that were personal, sometimes tragic, and at times strange. I’m reminded of other short story collections I’ve read this year such as ACTS OF GOD, but probably more like BLACK VODKA. Regular life, but with an added twist. Mostly.

Tony Earley has an author’s talent for capturing life’s finer details (probably the reason I love short stories so much). As other reviewers have noted, Earley seems especially adept at bringing out the joys, tribulations, loves, and trials of the married life. He also seems skilled at taking societal reactions to legends, myths, and rumors and then playing them out into interesting and plausible reactions.

Then Earley brings out the grand finale: Jack the giant slayer.

I really loved Jack’s story—my favorite short story of the year, so far. WARNING: it may not be for everyone. For odd and quirky folks like me, you’ll probably love it. Jack’s story makes reading this whole book all the more worthwhile.

Things start okay with Jack. He may be suffering some post-giant-slaying boredom and wants to have paid sex with the farmer’s wife. He appears to be a drunk, too. I won’t ruin all the surprises for you, but just know that things turn really bizarre. At first, I thought this was something from the pages of a Neil Gaiman novel. Then Jack started to break through the fourth wall, talking to me about narrative technique. Then a dog—not a troll—came up from under the bridge. Then wheat turned to blossomed damsels. Yeah, it was an awesome trip.

Here’s what really nailed it, though: the grand summary at the end. The tale ended up being a testament to why we read, the importance of imagination, and the value of continued story. What more delights a reader’s heart than the validation of reading and imagination?

Thanks Little, Brown for providing this book electronically for me to review. I loved it.

You can find this book’s preview and other reviews on Amazon: Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories

Or, you can support the indie bookstore Powell’s:


Review: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

10% HAPPIER came at the right time for me. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply compelling. Author Dan Harris writes intelligently, yet without any snobbery. His self-effacing, realistic style is relatable and interesting. I started reading this months ago when I first started studying mindfulness; I just finished this after reading several similarly-themed books in between. Harris’s book stands on its own as a great resource, as well as an excellent memoir.

The first few chapters provide shockingly real views behind the news desk. Harris does not mince words when described himself and fellow newsroom superstars, such as Peter Jennings. Harris dives deeper into his rise and his catastrophic fall. The video we see captured on YouTube of Harris stumbling is nothing compared to what he reveals about himself during these chapters.

Here is the video of Harris’s on-air panic attack:

Coming from a similarly-discussed religious organization, I was surprised to see Harris’s early involvement with such church groups—and what lies behind the scenes. As his chronologic journey progressed, he talks about meeting with Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. I am a fan of both these gentlemen, especially Tolle, but I could readily laugh at Harris’s candid opinion of both. His opinions are real, but not totally disrespectful (no one goes under his comment-radar).

About halfway through the book, Harris starts to explore Buddhist philosophy and traditional mindful meditation techniques. He finds a way to engage in his life while being in the moment and feeling connected. Through his efforts he has become a successful advocate for mindfulness and meditation.

The book concludes with some great recommended reading selections and FAQs on meditation. This may be new for people just seeking the behind-the-news look (and it is captivating) or it may be some nice continued lessons for those already immersed. Either way, this book is a win.

Here is a recent video of Harris talking about “hacking” the brain via meditation:

Here’s a nice video on ABC:

You can see this book’s preview and other highly-rated reviews on Amazon: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story