Our 8 Favorite Books in 2021 for Healthy Living – The New York Times

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This year’s Well Book List includes advice on how to change behavior, lower anxiety, cope with hardship and heal with poetry.
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Welcome to the Well Book List! To make this list, a book needed to appear on Well during 2021. While we’ve cited a number of books in Well stories this year, we’ve narrowed our list down to eight of our favorites, covering a variety of topics including behavior change, parenting, anxiety and poetry. Browse the list, pick a few to give to others and don’t forget to give yourself the gift of healthy reading this holiday season. Enjoy!
The Science of Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be
By Katy Milkman
If you buy one self-help book this year, pick this one. While bookstores are crowded with titles about forming new habits, “How to Change” takes a broader view and focuses on the internal barriers — impulsivity, forgetfulness and even confidence — that are standing in the way of reaching our goals. Dr. Milkman is a pioneering Wharton professor whose research on the “fresh start effect” helped identify the best timing for achieving behavior change. In this accessible book, Dr. Milkman takes on the role of personal coach and friend, sharing real-world stories, fascinating research and simple strategies for making your life better.
How to Raise Compassionate, Anti-Racist, Justice-Minded Kids in an Unjust World
By Traci Baxley
“Social Justice Parenting” is steps above the typical parenting book, and it is a must-read guide for a new generation of parents who want to raise better, kinder and more compassionate kids. Dr. Baxley is an educator and mother of five biracial children who knows that parenting is not just about diaper changes and getting kids to sleep. Her transformative idea is that parenting is a form of activism. What better way to change the world than through our kids? Social justice parenting, she says, means raising children “who can ultimately self-advocate, empathize with others, recognize injustice and become proactive in changing it.” Jane Brody said she found this book “hard to put down.”
How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity
By Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber
If we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that clean indoor air is essential to healthy living. But it’s not just about getting rid of viral particles. Dr. Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard, has led research showing that poor indoor air quality dulls your brain, dampening creativity and cognitive function. For better or worse, humans have become an indoor species. If we live to be 80, we’ve spent 72 of those years indoors. It’s time to educate yourself about ventilation and terms like “MERV 13 filters” and “adjusting outdoor air dampers.” This book is a call to action for every developer, building owner, shareholder, chief executive, manager, teacher, worker and parent to start demanding healthy buildings with cleaner indoor air.
A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong
By Steven Petrow (with Roseann Foley Henry)
Soon after his 50th birthday, Mr. Petrow began assembling a list of “things I won’t do when I get old.” The list was an accounting of all the things he thought his aging parents were doing wrong, something he wrote about in an essay for Well in 2017, which later became the basis for this book. Refusing hearing aids and rejecting concerns about driving ability are on the list. So is stubbornness, and resisting helpful tools, like a walker or adult incontinence pads. Mr. Petrow approaches an otherwise depressing topic with humor and honesty, advocates for indulgences like manicured nails and whiter teeth, and, in the end, gives us a blueprint for aging gracefully.
How 50 Inspiring Poems Can Heal and Bring Joy to Your Life
By Dr. Norman Rosenthal
Dr. Rosenthal is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine and is best known for pioneering the use of light therapy for seasonal affective disorder. He also believes that in a year of crisis and unrest, poetry can be a great source of comfort and healing. “Poetry opens up spaces in the mind in which other things can enter, whether it’s about just seeing good in the world or finding someone who understands,” he told me this year. “I prescribe medicines when needed. I prescribe therapy, empathy, exercise and meditation and light in winter. I prescribe a lot of things. And yes, I prescribe poetry as well.”
A Roadmap to Resilience in the Pandemic Era
By Dr. Jennifer Ashton (with Sarah Toland)
Dr. Ashton, an obstetrician-gynecologist and chief medical correspondent for ABC News, explores the psychological toll of the pandemic and shows us how thinking like a doctor may help us to build resilience and strengthen our overall health. “The approach that I’ve taken to covering this pandemic has been that of viewing the country as one big patient, and the first step in healing or recovery from any illness is accepting the current situation,” Dr. Ashton said. “When you stop looking back and start focusing on the present and the future, you can have an incredible healing and recovery.”
Adventures in Downward Mobility
By Annabelle Gurwitch
In this surprisingly upbeat memoir, Annabelle Gurwitch writes about the financial curveballs that can hit you in midlife. For Ms. Gurwitch, it was a series of unfortunate events — losing her insurance, a divorce, the death of her parents, a child in rehab and getting dropped by her tennis teacher for lack of progress — that made her reckon with the fact that despite years of hard work, life had taken a wrong turn. Anyone coping with financial insecurity, rising health costs, aging parents or the “gray ceiling” at work will relate. Somehow, Ms. Gurwitch manages to find humor in these setbacks. Ultimately, this is a story about harnessing resilience and learning how life’s disappointments can teach you about the things that matter most. “There is no upside to downward financial mobility,” she writes, “But there is value in reassessing priorities.”
New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind
By Dr. Judson Brewer
Dr. Brewer, the director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown, is my go-to source for insights about anxiety and stress because he always has simple, science-based hacks to help calm the mind. When you feel anxiety rising, for instance, take a moment and focus on your feet by wiggling your toes, and feeling the ground beneath your soles and heels. It’s a simple way to ground yourself. Dr. Brewer’s innovative approach in his new book is to view anxiety as a habit that can be broken — or at least interrupted, and he offers a step-by-step plan for how to do it. “It has been critical for helping my patients understand and work with their own anxiety,” he says.
Here are some stories you don’t want to miss:
Christina Caron helps you cope with the uncertainty of the Omicron variant.
Gretchen Reynolds has advice on exercise and the aging brain.
Apoorva Mandavilli has an important update on booster shots.
And of course, we’ve got the Weekly Health Quiz.
Let’s keep the conversation going. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter for daily check-ins, or write to me at well_newsletter@nytimes.com.
Stay well!


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