Want to be happy? Think like a monk, live by the moon, avoid face wipes — but most of all… Do more NOTHING
- Christopher Stevens picks out the best books on mind, body and soul from 2020
- British literary critic picked out tomes to suit all budgets this Christmas
- Among the picks were Skincare by Caroline Hirons and Open by Frankie Bridge
SKINCARE by Caroline Hirons (HarperCollins £20, 304pp)
Mind, body, soul
by Caroline Hirons (HarperCollins £20, 304pp)
Beauty therapist Caroline Hirons’s blog about basic skin routines — how to wash, cleanse and moisturise — is the skincare equivalent of Delia Smith’s straightforward cookery books.
Just as countless people have been grateful for advice on how long to boil an egg, Caroline’s Facebook blog has helped millions to get the simple things right.
Her tips manage to be clear and obvious without talking down to readers: sunscreen should always be the last layer to go on top of make-up, for instance — and if you’re not on an aircraft or at a pop festival, don’t use a face wipe.
Happiness, she believes, is not skin deep … but that’s where it starts.
Christopher Stevens picks out the best books on mind, body and soul from 2020 (stock image)
by Frankie Bridge (Octopus £18.99, 256pp)
Pop star Frankie Bridge was at the height of her career with The Saturdays when she suffered a breakdown aged 23 and was hospitalised in 2012.
For years she tried to cover up her mood swings and panic attacks, ashamed of being paralysed by depression when to the outside world she appeared to have everything.
Her book is part-memoir, part-self-help manual, tracing the roots of her mental illness to her undiagnosed anxiety during childhood, but focusing on the positive steps anyone can take towards healing. This is no celebrity wallow in gloom — Frankie’s coping mechanisms have worked well for her and she earnestly wants to share them.
THE GIFT by Edith Eger (Rider £14.99, 224pp)
by Edith Eger (Rider £14.99, 224pp)
‘I’ve never stopped choosing love and hope,’ writes the 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Dr Edith Eger. ‘For me, the ability to choose, even in the midst of so much suffering and powerlessness, is the true gift that came out of my time at Auschwitz.’
That she is able to feel gratitude for any part of her experience in the wartime Nazi death camp seems extraordinary, but Dr Eger’s motto is that ‘even in hell, hope can flower’. Her story, with the 12 lessons she has distilled during a long life, is simply inspirational.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS by Julia Samuel (Penguin £14.99, 352pp)
THIS TOO SHALL PASS
by Julia Samuel (Penguin £14.99, 352pp)
Nothing is certain in life, says the cynic, except death and taxes. British psychotherapist Julia Samuel believes in a different constant — the one thing we can be sure of is change.
How we deal with it, whether we accept and adapt or put up a futile fight, determines whether we can find happiness. In a series of case studies, she sketches the big changes that can rock our world, from bereavement to divorce, illness to redundancy.
A refugee is forced to reinvent her whole existence, a gay man copes with the aftermath of coming out, a woman falls in love in her 70s: these stories might seem to have little in common, but the author reveals the pattern beneath them — and the techniques that make each change easier to bear.
NIKSEN: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing by Olga Mecking (Piatkus £12.99, 240pp)
NIKSEN: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing
by Olga Mecking (Piatkus £12.99, 240pp)
Nil. Nada. Nothing. Nix. Or, in Holland, simply Niksen. It might look like a waste of time, but doing nothing at all can boost your creativity and regenerate your energy levels, according to Olga Mecking.
It’s the antidote to stress and burnout — providing you stay mindfully aware of your relaxed state. Staring at your phone for three hours on the sofa while eating an entire tin of Quality Street is not niksen, even if it is how you’re planning to spend Boxing Day.
The concept is closer to trends such as the Danish hygge (getting cosy) and KonMari (clearing out your clutter) — it’s a state of mind. Letting go and doing nothing is deeply peaceful, if you do it right.
LUNA by Tamara Driessen (Penguin £12.99, 288pp)
by Tamara Driessen (Penguin £12.99, 288pp)
Tamara Driessen is a witch. Some of her beliefs are thoroughly modern — she recommends organising a witches’ coven on WhatsApp and conducting ceremonies via video conference calls. But the roots of her religion are as old as the earliest human civilisation. She lives her life by the phases of the moon, and this is a handbook to help readers attune themselves to its waxing and waning.
Her lore is steeped in astrology, but doesn’t requires a degree in maths. There are lots of tips on herbs and relaxing meditations.
THE ORGANISED TIME TECHNIQUE by Gemma Bray (Piatkus £12.99, 208pp)
THE ORGANISED TIME TECHNIQUE
by Gemma Bray (Piatkus £12.99, 208pp)
Think of your time as money, urges supermum Gemma Bray. You wouldn’t squander your hard-earned cash, so why waste precious hours every day on tasks that can be delegated, compressed or just ignored?
Time is even more valuable than money, after all… because you can never make more.
She starts by making us tot up where the minutes go every day, from the school run or time spent in the bathroom, to the black hole of social media.
Then she teaches techniques to break old habits and start new ones. Practical and inspirational.
ANXIOUS MAN by Josh Roberts (Yellow Kite £12.99, 208pp)
by Josh Roberts (Yellow Kite £12.99, 208pp)
A Bright, sociable, graduate working his way up the career ladder, Josh Roberts seemed to have an enviable life. Then one night he went to a party and woke up a ragged mess.
What triggered his breakdown, he has never known for sure. But it had been building up for years, throughout a succession of jobs he didn’t enjoy.
Panic attacks, insomnia and crippling depression followed.
He details the physical and mental exercises that have helped him regain stability, but the great value of this book is the way it talks about male anxiety with a frankness that, even in 2020, is rare.
THINK LIKE A MONK by Jay Shetty (HarperCollins £16.99, 352pp)
THINK LIKE A MONK
by Jay Shetty (HarperCollins £16.99, 352pp)
Jay Shetty comes from a family of high achievers, and was expected to train as a doctor or a lawyer. Anything less was failure.
Instead, he spent years at an Indian ashram, meditating and absorbing the lessons of the monks — before returning to London and setting up the world’s most successful spiritual podcast. His central lesson is that material wealth can’t bring happiness — that comes from within.
This selfless wisdom is tempered by the suggestion that a salary of about £60,000 will also ‘contribute to overall life satisfaction’.
It helps to think like quite a business-like monk, then.
THINGS THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW by Ben Brooks (Quercus £11.99, 304pp)
THINGS THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW
by Ben Brooks (Quercus £11.99, 304pp)
The generation gap between today’s parents and adolescents is probably wider than it has been at any time since the Sixties. That’s partly because couples are having children later in life, but it’s also a result of radical cultural changes fed by the internet.
Children now grow up in a world of social media, with intense concerns about climate change, often barely watching television but constantly aware of ‘online influencers’.
‘I want to help you understand what it’s like to be a teenager in an age of self-harm, selfies and sexting,’ writes 28-year-old Ben Brooks, who talks candidly about his experiences with drugs and porn.
FINDING JOY by Gary Andrews (John Murray £16.99, 192pp)
by Gary Andrews (John Murray £16.99, 192pp)
Perhaps the sweetest and most poignant book of the year, this collection of Gary Andrews’ charming drawings charts his grief after his wife Joy suddenly died.
Overwhelmed by shock and pain at first, he was given a reason to carry on by his deep love for his children.
He feels his wife’s presence often and she appears in many of the drawings, but her absence is also almost palpable. It’s often said that men don’t talk about their feelings enough: this widowed father has doodled about them instead, and the result is more eloquent than any words.
GLORIOUS ROCK BOTTOM by Bryony Gordon (Headline £16.99, 288pp)
GLORIOUS ROCK BOTTOM
by Bryony Gordon (Headline £16.99, 288pp)
Anything the teenage Ben Brooks experienced with drugs and porn pales into insignificance beside the self-destructive excesses that journalist Bryony Gordon has inflicted on her body — and on her family.
An alcoholic who was trapped in a cycle of recovery and relapses, she opens her confession with a description of a cocaine bender that would make the Marquis de Sade blanche.
She’s disgusted by what she has done and wants the reader to feel disgusted, too.
It’s hard to see how this could inspire anyone to quit drinking in moderation, but it might well give encouragement to fellow alcoholics who have managed to stop.
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