Thursday , February 29 2024
Short Cuts

Book Review: ‘Short Cuts to Happiness’ by Tal Ben-Shahar

Short Cuts to Happiness: Life-Changing Lessons from My Barber, by international happiness expert and renowned Harvard positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, poses a timely question: In our hurried, go-go-go world, are we moving so fast that we’re missing out on our own happiness?

Ben-Shahar explored this idea in the one place he was forced to stop and slow down himself: in the seat of his barber’s chair. In Short Cuts to Happiness, Ben-Shahar chronicles two years of heartfelt conversations with his friend and barber, Avi Peretz. The two men swap and share stories and epiphanies on love, business, and family that reveal the life-changing wisdom—and happiness—that’s all around us.

But the book is more than feel-good takes. Ben-Shahar weaves in volumes of research that back the life lessons he shares. For example, in one conversation the two men have about parenting, Avi poses the idea of demanding one-on-one time with your children — separate from the draining chores of providing meals and shuttling the kids to and from school.

In Avi’s view, carving out this time provides a source of joy, and it counterbalances the demands of parenting. From Ben-Shahar’s perspective, Avi’s lesson makes sense. Research by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, reveals that parents, generally, don’t enjoy spending time with their children.

When parents are being pulled in every direction, experiences with their children can become strenuous and draining. In contrast, as Ben-Shahar emphasizes, “when parents spend exclusive time with their children, without conflicting demands, they are more likely to find the time they spend together enjoyable, even energizing.”

In another anecdote, Avi talks about his antidote to anger. When someone cuts him off in traffic, he imagines a cow — not a person in an SUV — just cut him off. In that moment, who wouldn’t laugh?

Yet Avi’s wisdom has scientific backing. As Ben-Shahar explains, there’s ample research in psychology on substituting emotions — replacing anger with empathy or stress with excitement. He gives the example of psychologist Joe Tomaka, who helped students riddled with text anxiety see an exam as challenging rather than the end of the world.

As a result, they became calmer, more creative, and performed better. As Ben-Shahar writes: “Substituting a word (threat with challenge) or an image (evil SUV with holy cow) can help us reframe a situation and experience it very differently.”

It’s this blend of insights and science that make Short Cuts to Happiness a standout in its category. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, given that Ben-Shahar is a New York Times–bestselling author who also happened to teach the most popular course at Harvard.

Short Cuts to Happiness presents its wisdom as 40 brief chapters that readers will come back to again and again. It provides a break from today’s harried society and a reminder to look around us for our own shortcuts to happiness.

To learn more about Tal Ben-Shahar and his new book, visit his website.

About Patricia Gale

Patricia Gale has written and ghostwritten hundreds of blogs and articles that have appeared on sites such as Psychology Today, Forbes, and Huffington Post, and in countless national newspapers and magazines. Her "beat" is health, business, career, self-help, parenting, and relationships.

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