L’Engle, Sahara, and highly-recommended Thanks!

Finished reading:

The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeleine L’Engle – After finding out about L’Engle’s death, I wanted to read some of her books that I either hadn’t read yet or hadn’t read for a long time. This short, illustrated children’s book (more story than pictures) is one that features the Austin family, with a ten-year-old Vicky as the usual protagonist. Vicky has been chosen to be the angel in the Christmas pageant but is miserably aware that she is awkward and un-angel like. Meanwhile, she worries that her mother won’t be home for Christmas because the baby is due in early January. Vicky wrestles with these issues with the help of her family, while celebrating the 24 days before Christmas, when the Austin family does a Christmas “surprise” every day — whether it’s cutting down a Christmas tree, making a special Christmas decoration, or using fun Santa mugs during dinner. I loved the idea of the 24-day tradition and the picture of a loving family that this book presented.

Sahara by Clive Cussler – This is my first DIRK PITT® Clive Cussler novel (pulled from our housemates’ library), and I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. I haven’t read anything in the action genre for a while and was a bit shocked by the cavalier attitude towards killing and death that the main characters had. The book was definitely very action-packed and thrilling — after preventing the assassination of a conveniently-beautiful scientist who is looking into strange cannibalistic behavior that has come up in Africa, Dirk Pitt is sent to investigate an environmental crisis threatens to overwhelm the world’s oceans. This puts him up against evil dictators, lots of firepower, and the dangerous Sahara desert. It’s up to his quick wits and iron determination to get out of this one alive. Warning: Lots of people die.

Thanks! by Robert Emmons – Robert Emmons is a professor of psychology at UC Davis whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and listening to and is known as the “world’s leading authority on gratitude.” His new book, subtitled How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, is one that I’ve been looking forward to reading as I’ve heard him lecture about his research in the area of gratitude and its effect on people’s lives. It was from his talk that I was inspired to start keeping a “gratitude journal” — a simple daily listing (3-5 things) of things that I am truly grateful for — a habit that I’ve mostly kept (with occasional breaks) for the past ten years.

If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.

In Thanks, Emmons shares some of the findings of his research. Some of the results contradict the current psychological theory that each person has a “set point” of happiness determined by genetics — that no matter what happens to you, you always return to the same level of happiness. Emmons found that people who kept a consistent gratitude journal were actually able to raise their level of happiness over time. Interestingly, he also found that in contrast to people who wrote down five things they felt hassled by, the people who wrote down blessings they were thankful for slept better, had more energy, suffered less illness, exercised more, were more optimistic about their future, and felt better about their lives. In another study that examined the autobiographies of nun novitiates, it was found that the nuns whose autobiographies expressed more positive emotions outlived the least happy nuns by seven years!

Emmons ties together scientific research and the writings of philosophers and theologians throughout history to present a very compelling case that gratitude may be one of the biggest keys to living a happier and fulfilling life. He also addresses hard questions and topics, such as “how can you be grateful when bad things happen to you?” and “does being grateful lead to complacency because you’re content with the way things are?” The last chapter of the book presents ten exercises and habits that you can develop to encourage a grateful attitude.

Thanks! is an easy read while providing a lot of information that you won’t want to just skim over. Emmons has a dry sense of humor which can’t be suppressed by “science” and “research.” I found this a personally uplifting challenge to continue to try to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. This is a book I would recommend for any personal library — and as an added bonus, the book has a nice cover. 🙂

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

Library book box:

  • An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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