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As you begin a new year in a still-youthful century, you may be interested in resources to strengthen yourself and your family. As the quality of research has improved, so the conclusions have gotten closer and closer to God’s recommendations. There are remarkable books available today to help us flourish in our relationships with ourselves and our loved ones.

But there is also a lot of nonsense published. How can you find the best of the best books? How do you know which books are nonsense and which are good sense?

To find out you could consult the Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health – which is an excellent resource book. It covers 36 different areas of self-help from abuse to violent youth. Maybe your local library has a copy.

You could ask a staff member at a local bookstore or library for guidance in picking a good book. Unfortunately, most of them do not have expertise on family subjects. They may recommend the most popular book, which is no assurance of quality.

You could look at the shelves and see which books seem most promising. Unfortunately, the quality of design and marketing is often not related to quality of content.

May I recommend to you those books that I respect most highly – and which seem to command the respect of my professional colleagues? I have organized my recommendations into three categories:

  1. How to be a flourishing person.
  2. How to have a better marriage.
  3. How to parent effectively.

Also, I invite you to discuss these and other books at my blog, www.DrWally.org

How to Be a Flourishing Person

Let’s start with this acknowledgment:

The single best source for guidance of our lives is from heaven – whether delivered by scripture, priesthood messengers, or the still, small voice. Yet God has repeatedly encouraged us to use all available resources. So, while acknowledging that His resources are best by far, we may profitably draw on the very best thinking available in “the best books” (D&C 109:7).

The best book for creating a productive life may be Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness. He shows that the surest way to be happy is to have a life filled with noticing blessings, using our talents, and finding ways to serve. I think this scholarly book agrees beautifully with the Lord’s counsel on the subject. I recommend it highly.

If you are a deep thinker and a serious reader, you might enjoy Jonathan Haidt’s excellent Happiness Hypothesis. He shows many ways that we humans think and act irrationally. This is in accord with the Lord’s statement that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Haidt offers deep insight and sensible recommendations – such as humility.

If you are interested in understanding and managing anger, Redford and Virginia Williams have written a fine book titled Anger Kills. The book provides 17 strategies for controlling the anger that damages our hearts and relationships.

If you find yourself dealing with self-defeating ways of thinking and acting, you may find David Burns’ books ( Feeling Good; Feeling Good Handbook ) useful.

There are other great books that are deep and philosophical. If you’re a very committed learner, you might enjoy Roy Baumeister’s Meanings of Life and Mark Leary’s Curse of the Self or the edited Positive Psychology in Practice. But these are not books for the casual student of well-being.

There is also the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey that teaches us how to be more effective.

Unequivocal Recommendation:

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

Special purpose books :

Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
Anger Kills
by Redford and Virginia Williams
Feeling Good by David Burns
Meanings of Life
by Roy Baumeister
Curse of the Self
by Mark Leary
Positive Psychology in Practice
edited

Additional good books:

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
Finding Flow
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What You Can Change and What You Can’t
by Martin E. P. Seligman
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen R. Covey

How to Have a Better Marriage

In the scholarly arena, there is one name associated with marriage that is above all others: John Gottman. His decades of careful research have upended traditional thinking about marriage. According to Gottman, the key to a happy marriage is not the ability to share with each other our discontents in fair ways; the key is positivity. We can emphasize the good over the bad. I think this agrees with the Lord’s timeless counsel about relationships. I don’t find God encouraging us to correct each other. I do find Him encouraging us to love and cherish each other.

Gottman has many excellent books for the general population. The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work may be the mainstay. It is excellent. But his Why Marriages Succeed or Fail provides insight into the types of relationships (volatile, avoidant, and validating) and their relative advantages. Gottman’s Relationship Cure focuses on bids for connection – the common and often neglected ways that we try to connect with our partners. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage illustrates Gottman’s principles with ten case studies. Each is valuable.

In my view, one of the best marriage programs is Marriage Garden , which James Marshall and I have created for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. (Free lesson guides at: http://www.arfamilies.org/family_life/marriage/default.htm )

Another noteworthy marriage resource is Reconcilable Differences in which Christensen and Jacobson show that changing each other may not be nearly as important as accepting and enjoying each other. They also describe the ways our minds conspire to undermine our relationships. Excellent.

I also recommend Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. Even though I find his categories of affection to be awkward, the book effectively teaches the value of tuning our message of love to our partners’ preferences.

There is a new book that attempts to describe the way gospel principles and covenants are the key to successful marriage. It is filled with spiritual principles and practical applications. I recommend Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage – even if I did write it. (Available only through Meridian.)

There are two LDS books that make a remarkable contribution to marriage by helping us to see the connection between mercy received from heaven and mercy granted in earthly relationships. Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ is, in my view, one of the most important books in the Church. It clearly shows us the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. It opens the doors of hope and invites us to follow His example of goodness. I think this book should be read and re-read by every Latter-day Saint.

James Farrell has written a book The Peacegiver, which very clearly shows the presumption of believing that we are okay while condemning our spouses. Although some of the atmospherics in the book were distracting for me, the message is very powerful.

For those who have followed the work of the Arbinger Institute, Leadership and Self-Deception is a useful book.

Unequivocal recommendations:

7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
How to Make Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman
Relationship Cure
by John Gottman
10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage
by John Gottman
The Marriage Garden
by Wally Goddard and James Marshall
Reconcilable Differences
by Andy Christensen and Neil Jacobson
The Five Love Languages
by Gary Chapman
Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage
by Wally Goddard (LDS)
Believing Christ
by Stephen Robinson (LDS)
The Peacegiver
by James Farrell (LDS)

Special purpose books :

Not “Just Friends” by Shirley P. Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli (about dealing with affairs)
The Sex-Starved Marriage
by Michele Weiner Davis
How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk
by John Van Epp

Additional good books:

Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness by Blaine J. Fowers
Leadership and Self-Deception
by Arbinger Institute
The Intentional Family
by William J. Doherty
Take Back Your Marriage
by William J. Doherty
The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage
by Michele Weiner Davis

How to Parent Effectively

There are two broad essentials for effective parenting – building a relationship and teaching good behavior. It is a rare book that deals with both. In fact, most books seem to focus on controlling children while neglecting the building of a relationship. There are a few books that do a reasonable job of discussing relationship.

The highest-rated general parenting book in the editions of The Authoritative Guide is Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child . This book is a classic. It was revised in 2003, and continues to teach parents how to set limits while showing compassion. This is the most important parenting book I have read (outside of scripture). Although some of Ginott’s counsel about sex education does not fit perfectly with LDS standards, the book effectively teaches the central role of compassion. (Disclaimer: I revised the original book along with Haim’s widow.)

John Gottman, the famous relationship guru, has written a parenting book in which he puts the science to Ginott’s message. Gottman shows that parents commonly respond to children’s strong feelings by being dismissive, disapproving, or laissez-faire. None of those ways is effective. He recommends emotion coaching. I recommend Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

The books of Ginott’s students, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, are also wise and sensible. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is the classic.

I also recommend The Soft-Spoken Parent: More than 50 Strategies for Turning Away Wrath (and its secular cousin, Soft-Spoken Parenting .) This book provides the background on the damaging effects of anger and then suggests 55 alternatives to the usual angry outburst. Each mini-chapter provides a practical idea and generally a story to illustrate the principle. This allows a parent to find the approach that uniquely fits him or her. (Disclaimer: I wrote the book.)

My favorite parenting programs are two that I helped write for Extension Service. In both programs we attempt to turn solid research into practical advice. Principles of Parenting can be found at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System web site. The Parenting Journey materials we have developed in Arkansas can be found here http://www.arfamilies.org/family_life.htm. All online materials are free.

Arbinger’s book that has a parenting sub theme is The Anatomy of Peace.

For the serious student of parenting, there are innumerable guides (such as Handbook of Marriage and the Family and Handbook of Child Psychology), but these are lengthy, expensive, and very complex. A more accessible work is Grolnick’s The Psychology of Parental Control.

I wish there were more excellent parenting books. I have started work on a book tentatively titled The Complete Parent in which I describe the four foundational elements of effective parenting. Stay tuned.

Unequivocal recommendations:

Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child
by John Gottman
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Soft-Spoken Parent
by Wally Goddard (LDS)
Soft-Spoken Parenting
by Wally Goddard
Principles of Parenting
by Wally Goddard, et al.
The Parenting Journey
by Wally Goddard & Steve Dennis

Special purpose books :

Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
Anger Kills
by Redford and Virginia Williams
Feeling Good
by David Burns
Meanings of Life
by Roy Baumeister
Curse of the Self
by Mark Leary
Positive Psychology in Practice
edited
The Psychology of Parental Control
by Wendy Grolnick

Additional good books:

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute
What Kids Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Raise Good Kids
by Peter L. Benson, Judy Galbraith, Pamela Espeland

For guidance on best books:

The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health by Norcross, Santrock, Campbell, Smith, Sommer, & Zuckerman

To search for answers to family questions:

Children, Youth, and Families Education and Research Network (CYFERnet) at www.cyfernet.org includes has practical, research-based information from the nation’s leading universities. Includes hundreds of articles on early childhood, school-age children, teens, parent and family, as well as community.

I invite you to discuss these and other books at my blog, www.DrWally.org.

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