4 Favorite Reads of 2015

To say that I was a bookworm as a child would be an understatement.

I not only spent almost all of my discretionary time reading, I modeled my life after the heroines in my favorite novels. I wore bonnets and pinafores to school, insisted on drinking out of tin cups at meals, made molasses candy whenever it snowed, convinced my parents to put my desk in our unfinished attic (to simulate Jo's garret in Little Women), and founded a babysitters club and detective agency.

Everyone's pleasure reading tapers off a bit in college because there is so much required reading for class. I accepted that as a matter of course, but I expected my nightly reading habit to recommence once I graduated. After a few years in the workforce, I still wasn't reading as much as I would have liked. This was partly due to the long hours that go along with campaign jobs, but another part was that social drinking got in the way. I realized that even after one or two drinks, I couldn't really focus well enough to read before bed. One of my main motivations for drinking better was reading more.

A few years later, I am happy to report that my reading is back on track. One of the delights of 2015 was that I spent a lot of time reading as research for the Fresh Drinks Project. Here are my three favorite reads from the year on the subject of healthy habit formation. In addition to helping my research, they’ve fundamentally changed my approach to sleep, exercise, diet and stress.

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Thrive by Arianna Huffington was a surprise favorite of the year! In Thrive, Huffington makes a strong case that American workplace culture is fueled by unsustainable stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout which has far-reaching consequences for individuals, companies and the country. The story begins in 2007, when Huffington collapsed from exhaustion, cutting her eye and breaking her cheekbone. The moment was a wake-up call that prompted her to reexamine the sustainability and desirability of the lifestyle she was living. While her life scored well on the two classic metrics of success - power and money - she (and many of her peers) felt there was something missing. She argues that we need a Third Metric of success that is built on four pillars: wellbeing, wisdom, wonder, and giving. For anyone who feels overwhelmed, the book provides a deep-dive into a variety of stress reduction strategies from optimizing sleep to meditation to digital detox to cultivating a sense of awe. I found this book really relevant to my research because alcohol is often used as a quick fix for serious stress; Huffington's deconstruction of the drivers of stress and emphasis on stress-reducers go hand-in-hand with developing a healthier relationship with alcohol.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin is a delightful read that is chock full of strategies and real life experiments on forming better habits (many of which can be applied to healthier drinking). The most thought-provoking section for me was on the "Four Tendencies," in which Rubin argues that people can be categorized based on how they respond to two sets of expectations: internal (like New Year's resolutions) and external (like work deadlines). The four categories are as follows:

Upholders, who uphold both outer and inner expectations

Questioners, who question all expectations but meet expectations they deem important

Obligers, who meet other people's expectations but struggle to meet their own

Rebels, who fight against internal and external expectations.



I'm undoubtedly a Questioner, and this framework has been useful in understanding why I need lots of compelling information, like studies and data, in order to motivate myself to do things. Curious what your tendency is? You can take the Four Tendency Quiz on Rubin's blog.

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Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink is the best book on eating I’ve ever read. Wansink is a Professor at Cornell and the Director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. The book is full of stories that illustrate how vulnerable the majority of us are to mindless consumption, and features practical changes to painlessly reduce caloric intake. His recommendations are deceptively simple: use smaller plates and bowls, move healthy foods to eye-level in the cupboard and fridge, and never eat directly out of the package. I might have been skeptical about the efficacy of such simple changes, but his cleverly designed experiments make a convincing case. In one, he showed that movie-goers consumed 34% to 45% more popcorn when it was served in a large rather than medium bucket. This was despite the fact that the movie took place right after lunch and the popcorn was engineered to be stale (one movie-goer said it tasted like packing peanuts). In another, he showed that people (even experienced bartenders) pour about 37% more liquid into short, wide glasses than tall skinny ones. If weight loss or management is on your radar for 2016, this is definitely worth a read!

And last but not least, my top pleasure read of the year…

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This book came out in the 1940s but was new to me. The story centers around Francie Nolan and her impoverished Irish-American family living in Williamsburg in the early 20th century. If you love vividly written books with bookish female heroines, this is the perfect book to curl up with this winter. Francie spends a fair amount of the book reading under a tree on the fire escape of her apartment which I plan to try as soon as the weather turns nice again.

What were your favorite reads this year? I've tentatively declared 2016 the "Year of the Biography" so would love your recommendations!