STARRED REVIEW
January 2015

Examining human nature

By Vincent Deary
We humans tend to like our maps, our GPS devices, explicit directions and clear instructions. We want the how-tos: how to get there, how to cook, build, decorate and repair things. We need to know how to do it—and that we can do it. How We Are, the first book of Vincent Deary’s forthcoming How We Live trilogy, is such a handbook for the questing spirit.
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We humans tend to like our maps, our GPS devices, explicit directions and clear instructions. We want the how-tos: how to get there, how to cook, build, decorate and repair things. We need to know how to do it—and that we can do it. How We Are, the first book of Vincent Deary’s forthcoming How We Live trilogy, is such a handbook for the questing spirit.

With the patience and assurance of an articulate guide, Deary invites us to consider intriguing ideas about human behavior. Drawing on his experience as a health psychologist and using a wealth of cultural, historical and literary references that range from the Buddha, to Nazi concentration camps, to Dorothy in the land of Oz, he leads us to examine ourselves. He shows us how, in the “grooves of the heart” and the pathways of the brain, we are conditioned to seek comfort in the status quo.

Human beings are creatures of habit. Change makes us uneasy, whether we seek it (as in a new opportunity at work or in love) or find it thrust upon us (as in grief, sudden illness or the classic midlife crisis). Yet this process of adapting is what elevates us from the automatic responses of a life hardly lived. Change, he tells us with wit and contagious energy, frees us from the stifling weight—and security—of the same-old, same-old.

Deary knows about change. At the age of 40, he moved to Edinburgh and began a new life there as an aspiring writer and, eventually, a single parent of a teenager. He is transformed by the experience. By the time he has helped us examine our innate struggle to accept change and even find comfort there, we too are ready to welcome and appreciate what he calls a new “conscious competence.” Such mindfulness is the higher calling we deserve, Deary says—and with a better understanding of human nature, we’ll be far more likely to achieve it.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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How We Are

How We Are

By Vincent Deary
FSG
ISBN 9780374172107

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