You don’t have to be miserable, because SCIENCE!

Book Review:How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything!” by Albert Ellis, Ph. D.

My Rating: 4 Stars


Well if that’s not a catchy title, I don’t know what is! I found this gem one day while researching cognitive psychology online. I lit up with excitement because, when studying for my Bachelor’s degree in psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy was one of my favorite topics to study.

In fact, the author of this book, Albert Ellis, is pretty much considered the “father” of cognitive-behavioral therapies. Way back in 1955, he developed what is known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Okay, okay, so this is getting dry and boring already, I get it!

However, when you take a peek behind all the jargon, you get a remarkably fresh, exciting, and most importantly – easy to implement – way to deal with any kind of misery or emotional upset.

Delving into REBT could take months of intense study, however, Ellis knows how to get the prime bits delivered in a quick, no-nonsense style.

According to Ellis, it boils down to “rational coping,” and it consists of three main strategies:

  • Unconditional Self-Acceptance (rather than conditional self-esteem).
  • Unconditional Other-Acceptance (rather than judging others)
  • Unconditional Life-Acceptance (rather than judging it as “good” vs. “bad”)

It is made very clear in the book that Ellis does not advocate a “Pollyannish” positive-thinking-all-the-damn-time-no-matter-what-even-if-it-kills-me type attitude. Far from that.

In fact, this book turns the entire “positive thinking” ethos on its head. To quote from his introduction, regarding goals of the book:

“It (the book) rigorously stays with and promotes scientific thinking, reason, and reality, and it strictly avoids what many self-help books carelessly counsel today – huge amounts of mysticism and utopianism.”

That’s certainly refreshing, right?

I recommend actually reading the introduction to this book. I usually skip them to get to the “good parts.” But in this book, every part is good!

Ellis takes the reader through an explanation of how his book differs from other self-help books, then proceeds to teach you how to approach life conditions scientifically. I don’t like that word, “scientifically” – it makes me think, oh good grief – I’m going to fall asleep now.

However, Ellis makes it easy for us, the dear readers. He writes in an engaging and very often humorous style that is easy to digest.

The book then goes on to detail 14 REBT “insights” – chapters that give you tons of ammo to deal with pretty much any problem you can think of.

To wrap it all up, there is an appendix entitled “The Biological Basis of Human Rationality” (which sounds a lot drier than it actually is).

This is the kind of book I keep where I can refer to it at a moment’s notice, because my only complaint (and it’s a valid one) is that while the strategies are extremely effective, and have helped me immensely – well, they don’t “stick” very well. Meaning, I have to review the insights regularly to keep the ideas fresh and applicable to my life.

Still, it is a book I highly recommend. This is not a “check it out from the library” type read – you’ll definitely want to keep it on your shelf for reference.

Don’t take my word for it, get a copy of it for yourself to find out how you can refuse to make yourself miserable about anything – yes, anything!




Is Positive Thinking Dead?

Book Review:The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” by Oliver Burkeman

My Rating: 1 Star



“I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, ‘What the hell good would that do?’” – Ronnie Shakes

That admittedly funny quote precedes the Table of Contents for this book, and it’s quite appropriate given the title. I love it!

Burkeman theorizes that many well-known self-help techniques, such as positive thinking and visualizing your goals, ultimately backfire. His assertion is that when one is trying to think positively, the mind is then constantly “scanning” for negative thoughts, in order to judge the success of the task (of thinking positively, that is).

That scanning, he insists, only highlights any negative thoughts that might be lurking around the mind.

He then makes the case for Stoicism, a philosophy born in Athens way back in 3rd century B.C.  I immediately recoiled at the thought, because I’m not very fond of the term – it seems so…grim.

However, Burkeman insists that true Stoicism doesn’t mean what we think it means, that it is not about “weary resignation,” but instead, a “tough-minded calm in the face of trying circumstances.”

Well, that certainly seems more palatable to me. I’d never be the kind of person to say “Hey, why don’t ya turn that frown upside down!” cheerily to someone in the midst of a painful life circumstance. I’d risk getting slapped (and I’d deserve it).

Unfortunately, after that quick explanation of why Stoicism isn’t so bad, the chapter went on and on (and ON) in dreary prose, so dreadfully boring I could only skim through it.

The next part of the book caught my interest, as it was about Buddhism and how it relates to rejecting the positive thinking mindset. Unfortunately, if you have a basic working  knowledge of the tenets of Buddhism (“the root of all suffering is attachment,” for example), you will find nothing new here.

This chapter was another disappointment to me. It had too many words but said very little.

The last few chapters covered:


  • Why making goals can be counter-productive
  • How to get over yourself
  • Hidden benefits of insecurity


It wrapped up with chapters called “the case for embracing your errors,” which seems sensible enough, and “death as a way of life,” which does not seem sensible or desirable in the least.

I really wanted to like this book. I too, struggle with tiring of the cheesy, worn out mantra of “think positive!” I too, think that it is a throwaway term that is essentially hollow from overuse.

However, I just could not keep my attention engaged. I slowly plodded my way through this book, but found nothing worth highlighting, nothing that gave me an “A-HA!” moment of clarity.

I think that this author, while clearly very intelligent and also with a good premise, just wasn’t able to express his ideas in a way that catches the reader’s attention.

I wish I had not purchased this book. It will be going to Goodwill with my next donation box.



Does your life “suck?”

Book Review:Why Your Life Sucks…And What You Can do About It,” by Alan H. Cohen

My Rating: 5 Stars



This is one of my all-time, well-worn favorites. Admittedly, the title is a bit off-putting, at least to me. I almost didn’t purchase it, but I had the time to browse it many years ago on a weekly visit to my local Barnes & Noble, and I was hooked.

The main thrust of this book is learning the signs and red flags in your life that you probably didn’t even realize were there. Signs that indicate you are in peril of allowing yourself to become a victim of your own mindset.

As Cohen states, if your life sucks in any way, shape or form, even just a bit, it is a huge wake up call, yelling at you to DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

This book explains how, in easy, engaging and conversational style. I felt like he was my personal coach when I first read this book, and for years I’ve been referring to it regularly, sort of like a personal tune-up!

What are some of the things we do that chip away at our chance at a happy, fulfilled life?

Well, to start with, many of us give our power away.

We simply hand it over to others without a second thought. I found this part of the book to be incredibly empowering – it was a real A-HA moment for me, and it enabled me to pinpoint exactly who and what I was relinquishing my power to, and how to stop.

Other things that hurt us (and hence, can make our lives suck) include:

  • Getting fooled by appearances
  • Trying too hard to prove ourselves
  • Saying yes when we mean no (or even “maybe”)
  • Trying to “fix” other people
  • Wasting our precious time/energy on things and people that, frankly, suck.

Cohen goes into great detail about these things, with engaging personal anecdotes, and of course, solutions to resolve them. I mean real, usable, realistic solutions, not some “pie in the sky” navel-gazing tips.

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, conversational read with real-life, immediate solutions to improving our lives. Even if it just sucks a little.




Wishful thinking, or a wish come true?

Book Review: “Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want,” by Barbara Sher and Annie Gottlieb



My Rating: 5 Stars

This is the book that started it all for me – that is, my love of all things “self-improvement.”  Written in 1979, when I was eight years old, the book “Wishcraft” has sold over a million copies in more than a dozen translations.

Although it was clearly a hit – I still consider it a “cult following” kind of book because very few people I know have even heard of it.

First of all, they think I’m saying WITCHcraft – so that conversation gets kind of awkward. In any case, you can find thousands of cult-like followers of this book on the web. And I am a proud, card-carrying member of that cult.

This book, more than all the other ones I’ve read combined,  gave me a new outlook on my dreams, and it does so every single time I’ve read it.

I found it at a Half-Priced Book Store back in the early nineties when I was still in college. The day I bought it, I stayed up all night long reading it. I felt like I’d found the Holy Grail of dreams, and in a way, I did.

I’ve always been a daydreamer – and always will be – but the whole “follow through” part was my stumbling block. Oh, I can come up with a hundred fantastic ideas – but they remain just that, ideas. That is, unless I go back to this book and follow all the steps. Step, by step, by step – whatever dream or goal I’ve accomplished, I have done so because of this book.

Because of “Wishcraft,” I got my very first paid freelance writing assignment while still in college. It had been my dream for years to be a (paid) writer, and because of this book – I made it happen. And because of this book, I’m still a writer. Get this: I get PAID MONEY to sit at home and do what I love more than anything in the world!

Thank you, Barbara Sher.

If anyone knows me, they know that I’m a procrastinator, and I tend to be lazy – I’ll take a day on the couch reading a novel or biography over doing almost anything else. But this book takes you by the hand and leads you with baby steps, right to the completion of your goal.

It’s not hard, I assure you. I immediately zone out with any self-help book that looks too complicated, and I immediately get irritated with any that are too “fakey cheerful rah rah” – those just don’t do it for me. I’m all about positive thinking, but it has to be authentic – not cheesy and fake.

Now, back to the book. It is divided into four sections:


  • The Care and Feeding of Human Genius


  • Wishing


  • Crafting 1 – Plotting the Path to Your Goal


  • Crafting 2 – Moving and Shaking




The first two sections go over some material that you are probably already familiar with, for example:


  • Finding out who you really are
  • Finding your personal style (no, this does not mean clothing – though it can certainly be a part of it)
  • Finding out what your main goals are
  • Dealing with hardships and fear or anxiety during the dreaming and brainstorming phase.

The last two sections are the real heart of the book – helping you create uniquely tailored and very specific steps to reach your goal.

The only caveat I’d give about this book is that you have to be willing to get a notebook and actually DO the exercises and goal planning she recommends. Or, since it’s no longer 1979, open up a Word or Google doc and do it. Doesn’t matter – the point is, if you don’t like doing things like this, then this book will not help you.

If you have a dream that just won’t get out of your heart and mind no matter how hard you try, a dream that you think is silly, impractical, impossible – for whatever reason – do yourself a huge favor and get this book. It could change your mind, and your life.



Follow improve-o-matic on

Follow me on Twitter