Ok, so that title is a bit of a clickbait, but well…it’s February (aka Valentines Day month) and the 15th (which is apparently Singles Awareness Day), so I thought I’d share different books that focus on as many kinds of healthy relationships as I can.
Coming from someone who kinda finds self-help books cringey as a concept, this was also a challenge I set for myself to find titles I would actually read publicly. This is not to say I’m judging anyone else for reading or liking such books! I just don’t like admitting to needing help, pretty much ever.
(…Feel free to recommend me a self-help book to get over this.)
With that introduction out of the way, let’s dive in!
The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook by Tim Desmond
I will admit that I frequently and freely judge books by their covers, and this ’14-Day Plan to Transform Your Relationship With Yourself’ by Tim Desmond caught my eye because 1) it’s pretty and 2) it screams workbook first and self-help book second. Also, I think many people’s unhappiness with themselves stems much of the time from being far too hard on themselves about things that are normal and natural to the human condition. We are people, we are messy. But we don’t have to be miserable messes, and here’s an actionable guide to getting on the road to being kind to ourselves!
Desmond’s aim with this book is to improve your ability to motivate yourself; regulate your emotions; learn resilience; lessen self-criticism and destructive behavior; heal painful experiences; and be more present and compassionate with others. It also contains downloadable audio recordings!
A Walk In The Wood by Joseph and Nancy Parent
At first glance, this looks like an exploration of the Winnie the Pooh books or perhaps a biography on A. A. Milne, which means that if you grab it you won’t have to grapple with the mortifying ordeal of being known by anyone who sees you reading it. What it actually is, is a ‘meditation on mindfulness with a bear named Pooh’. The aim is to guide readers through life lessons grounded in the act of slowing down, observing what is around, and being present in the moment.
In other words, find your inner Pooh bear and live idyllically in this sometimes less-than-idyllic world.
Wired for Love by Stephanie Cacioppo
This debut, which is part memoir, part scientific study, and part introspective guide on love and romantic relationships, explores such topics as the potential origins of pair bonds, the human drive to connect with others and what it means for community building, the chemicals of love (literally what goes on in your brain’s neurochemistry), grief, and pain. While not strictly a self-help book, I think it’s a fascinating view of love as a scientific phenomena, and might provide a new way to understand just what these mysterious, complex feelings are all about.
Love 2.0 by Barbara L. Fredrickson
Like Wired for Love, this book is an exploration of love as a concept, as a scientific phenomena, and as the grounds for a flourishing community and, thus, society. It is less personal, however, investigating the impact of love on physical and mental health, examining the impact of ‘micro-moments’ as opposed to grand gestures, and demonstrating that love is something that is nurtured, that grows, that deepens with effort and is founded on effort, rather than a striking, incomprehensible moment (aka instant infatuation).
Friendship by Lydia Denworth
Continuing on our scientific bent, Friendship explores the history of platonic relationships, from a biological, psychological, and evolutionary perspective. Denworth examines why people seek fulfillment outside of lovers and family members, even when those relationships are healthy and enriching in themselves, what effect loneliness can have on the pysche and also on a society where loneliness is apparently endemic, and what affects social media has on friendship and connection in general.
Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Hosts of the hit podcast ‘Call Your Girlfriend’, Sow and Friedman argue that the most important relationships in your life are the platonic ones. I’m not sure about most, but I do think making and keeping friends—true friends, ‘see you through everything life has to throw at you’ friends—is really, really hard. And that even if you have family and a romantic partner, being without a good friend can make life feel lonelier and more difficult to deal with.
Friends fit a very specific social niche that no one else can quite fill, though of course there can be some overlap. Big Friendship explores that and more, providing insight into 1) how to be a good friend; 2) what makes a good friend; and 3) why cultivating these relationships matters in this humurous yet insightful memoir & manifesto.
Food, Family, Self
The Family Dinner by Laurie David
I’m combining these categories because The Family Dinner is all about having a good relationship with both (plus recipes), and because I’m very lucky to have been raised in a ‘we eat most meals together’ household. I didn’t realize how sacred I found this until I moved out, and though I still lived with family…no longer shared meals with them. It turns out this is a sort of love language of mine, and I felt less loved without it. While David’s impetus for this book was to encourage families to connect despite the barrier of screens and tech, I think the act of feeding or being fed with those you love is one of the best ways to demonstrate and engender love. To quote Christopher Citro, “I love you. I want us both to eat well.”
I also think our relationship with food starts with our family, as they are often the first to feed us. It stands to reason then, that an unhealthy relationship with food may stem from a toxic relationship with family. Healing one relationship may mean healing the other. (Note: healing does not always mean reconciling or forgiving. Take care of yourselves.)
This is Your Brain On Food by Uma Naidoo
Now this is my kind of medicine! Did you know we could all eat our way to being healthier? In this book, Naidoo delves into all the benefits, impacts, and affects of our nutrition on our wellbeing, and encourages us to not only be careful what we consume, but to be mindful and informed on how what we eat can help us manage how we think!
Packed with fascinating science, actionable nutritional recommendations, and 40 delicious, brain-healthy recipes, This Is Your Brain on Food is the go-to guide to optimizing your mental health with food.
No Hard Feelings by Liz Fosslien and Molly West Duffey
If you work 9-to-5 or any other variation of hours that amounts to a very high percentage of your life spent in the office (or other equivalent) rather than anywhere else, then you are probably spending all that time with coworkers. I’m sure everyone’s heard the adage ‘we’re like your family’ from your manager, and that’s true, in the sense that you may be spending more time with people at work than people at home, and getting along with them is necessary for your wellbeing (financial and otherwise).
Which makes this guide to dealing with this specific ‘family’ indispensable! That it’s graphic heavy and funny is only a bonus. Read it and master emotional intelligence in order to thrive and not just cope in your workplace, set healthy boundaries, and live your best life even if you are chained to your desk way more often than you want to be.
Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee
Sometimes, having a good relationship with work means…working less. As the subtitle explains, this is a guide to help you break away from overworking, overdoing, and underliving. We’re pretty constantly bombarded with a hustle culture, rise-and-grind, ‘hack your way to greater efficiency’ messages, because it benefits those profiting off of our labour more than it really benefits us (did you know we work more than the average medieval peasant?).
Headlee’s guide is here to help you unlearn those painful messages, strike a healthy work-life balance, and be at ease with just…being.
The Wealthy Gardener by John Soforic
Sprouting from a father’s desire to teach his son about wealth without preaching at him, this compilation of parables is devoted to conveying lessons without overwhelming the reader or devolving into a spreadsheet of figures and decimal points and percentages. I’d recommend it especially for fans of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Think and Grow Rich, and for those readers who find money talk daunting or boring or both!
Naked Money by Charles Wheelan
What even is money? How can paper have value? Why is a dollar not worth a dollar? How can debt exist when money can just be printed? Wheelan answers these questions and more in a whimsical but clear sort of way that is sure to hook your attention and convey all the information you need to have a better grasp of the financial world (internationally, for comparison and contrast!). After all, with knowledge comes power, the power to make wiser, better financial decisions.
I hope these items help you thrive in your relationships, whatever they may be! Don’t forget to check out some of VPL’s Valentine-relevant programs, like the Romance Book club, and the Kitchen STEAM: Cocoa & Marshmallow event!