Six self-help books publishing in January 2023
STARRED REVIEW

January 13, 2023

6 self-help books to transform your 2023

Start the year off right with life-affirming lessons from six insightful self-help books.

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What if perfectionism isn’t a curse or a character flaw but rather a common state of being that can be harnessed for good? In her eye-opening book, The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power, psychotherapist and former on-site Google therapist Katherine Morgan Schafler posits that perfectionists can live a life of joy rather than feeling perpetually disappointed by imperfection.

Schafler begins by describing the five types of perfectionists, including the classic (not spontaneous, a planner, always ready with a backup plan) and the intense (expresses anger when feeling overwhelmed, imposes standards on those around them). Indeed, this book is like a mirror for anyone who has struggled with perfectionism in any form. This reviewer identified a little uncomfortably closely with the Parisian perfectionist (wants to be liked, hides their deepest ambitions).

Schafler has treated hundreds of perfectionists in her private practice and recognizes that for many, perfectionism is rooted in a childhood of abuse, neglect or conditional love. It’s not as simple as just advising someone to lighten up. “Managing perfectionism by telling perfectionists to stop being perfectionists is like managing anger by telling people to ‘calm down,’” she writes. But the good news, according to Schafler, is that we can make perfectionism a tool in our lives by easing up on self-punishment, which she defines as hurting or denying yourself. We may think we are punishing ourselves to learn or grow, but we are actually just creating more fear and demoralization.

Schafler offers workable strategies to help perfectionists stop overthinking and overdoing and move to a joyful place. She also weaves research and suggestions with insightful vignettes from her clients’ experiences. All of it exudes warmth and empathy. “Until you can meet yourself with some compassion, you’ll reject the good in your life,” she advises.

In addition to being a fascinating look at the many influences that make a perfectionist, The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control is a welcome antidote that will help readers reframe and refocus.

The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control is a warm and welcome antidote to perfectionism that will help readers reframe and refocus.

Throughout our lives, we encounter fraught decisions around love and money: whether to take a better job across the country when our partner wants to stay put; when and whether to marry, buy a house, have a child; if we should work full time with children in the picture. Money and love “are profoundly intertwined, and both are fundamental to living a life of purpose and meaning, health, and well-being,” write Myra Strober and Abby Davisson, co-authors of Money and Love: An Intelligent Roadmap for Life’s Biggest Decisions.

Strober, who was the first female faculty member at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, created a groundbreaking class on work and family and has led thousands of students through it over the years. As a business school student, Davisson took Strober’s class with her then-boyfriend, and for their final paper, the couple chose the topic of living together before marriage. (Now married, the two have returned to the class as guest speakers for a decade.) Money and Love is informed by this popular class.

Organized around issues such as dating, marriage, deciding where to live and dividing household chores, the book’s chapters offer anecdotes, background research and thoughtful commentary, as well as questions and exercises. The authors call their decision-making framework the 5Cs: clarify (define your deep-down preferences), communicate, choices (generate a broad range of choices), check in (consult with friends, family, research) and consequences (categorize possible outcomes over time). This framework may sound simplistic, but the authors emphasize the complexity of each step toward making life decisions. Good communication, for instance, “isn’t always polite and calm. Sometimes it’s incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes it involves raised voices and, later, apologies for what was said in the heat of the moment.”

Money and Love offers a readable approach with nuggets of wisdom throughout. “Remember that each new agreement is essentially temporary, changing as different parts of life ebb and flow,” Strober and Davisson note in the chapter on sorting out housework and caregiving. The authors supplement anecdotes from former students and colleagues with their own, and Strober’s stories about the end of her first marriage and her second husband’s Parkinson’s disease, and Davisson’s story of her mother’s devastating brain injury at 68, add depth to the book. Money and Love is a useful guide, particularly for young couples on the verge of big decisions.


This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

Organized around issues such as dating, marriage and deciding where to live, Money and Love is a useful, logical guide for couples on the verge of big life decisions.

After a decade of analyzing the internet’s worst apologies on their blog, SorryWatch, Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy have written the definitive book on how to apologize with Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies

The message of Sorry, Sorry, Sorry is a simple one: Accept responsibility for your actions, listen to the grievances of those involved and try to offer recompense based on their needs. However, if following these steps were simple, good apologies would be fairly common, right? Yet they remain elusive. Humans are highly intelligent creatures, smart enough to know that it’s easier to shift blame, procrastinate and politic than to face the consequences of our misdeeds. In fact, most of the book is devoted to examining the ways in which people—from celebrities to politicians to children—often maneuver around the core of an issue and how this avoidance causes more harm than good.

For example, in Chapter 6, Ingall and McCarthy consider the ways that doctors apologize—or, more commonly, the ways they slyly avoid doing so. Ingall recounts the time she went to a doctor’s appointment and had to wait over three hours to be seen. Every time Ingall pursued the issue, both in person and through email correspondence afterward, the doctor and his staff would essentially remix a “that’s just how it is” excuse. She is not alone in this experience, and people who have experienced more serious mishaps than an inconvenient wait have received little more than a pitiless “We regret . . .” statement from a medical professional in response. On the other hand, Ingall also demonstrates the ways that a good apology can prevent many of the legal repercussions that motivate doctors to dodge apologies in the first place. It turns out that when you earnestly take responsibility for your actions, people tend to respect you more than when you avoid the problem.

Good apologies are becoming rarer as disingenuous sorrys become the norm of internet discourse, like a kind of form to fill out after breaking unwritten rules. To avoid falling into this trap in your private or public life, read Sorry, Sorry, Sorry. The writing style is distinctive, if sometimes taxing, with parenthetical statements making up entire paragraphs and more references than your average “Family Guy” episode. That said, Sorry, Sorry, Sorry remains a very well-researched, insightful and useful book.

After a decade of analyzing the internet’s worst apologies, Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy have written the definitive book on how to apologize.

If the viewer count for Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk “What Makes a Good Life” is any indication, a lot of us (43 million and counting) are interested in finding out how to live meaningful and happy lives. In The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, Waldinger and co-author Mark Schulz help readers do just that by sharing with enthusiasm and warm encouragement what they’ve learned as stewards of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, “the longest in-depth longitudinal study of human life ever done.”

The study, which began in 1938 with 724 men and has since grown to include three generations of the original participants’ families, has obtained blood and DNA samples, brain imaging, et al., from its subjects, who have also answered countless questions over the decades. Waldinger is currently the study’s fourth director and Schulz its associate director. In 10 illuminating and wide-ranging chapters, they assert that a truly good life is well within reach if we will acknowledge one straightforward yet profound conclusion: “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.”

Chapters like “The Person Beside You” and “Family Matters” explore how romantic and familial connections shape and strengthen us. In “The Good Life at Work,” survey participant Loren exemplifies the benefits of developing office allies: Her stress level lowered and her interactions at home improved thanks to a newly boosted sense of belonging. And “All Friends Have Benefits” argues that we shouldn’t underestimate casual friendships. After all, even if someone isn’t a ride-or-die friend, positive-yet-fleeting interactions still “provide us with jolts of good feeling or energy.” What’s not to like about that? 

Those looking for concrete how-tos will appreciate the authors’ W.I.S.E.R. (Watch, Interpret, Select, Engage, Reflect) model for breaking out of confounding relationship patterns. Self-assessment questions such as “Was I willing to acknowledge my role in the situation?” will help readers assess and improve on their roles in interpersonal conflicts.

To do that requires flexibility, of course, and that’s another key lesson of The Good Life: A willingness to consider new perspectives is proven to protect our physical and mental health. So, too, will remembering the authors’ uplifting discovery that “it doesn’t matter how old you are . . . everyone can make positive turns in their life.”

Findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development reveal that a truly good life is well within reach, and The Good Life will show you how to grasp it.

When was the last time you truly had fun? If you’re like most adults, it’s probably been longer than you care to admit. In the lighthearted and entertaining The Fun Habit: How the Pursuit of Joy and Wonder Can Change Your Life, psychologist Mike Rucker suggests that fun is as important to human welfare as relationships and exercise—and therefore that we should all take fun a little more seriously.

Rucker argues that we are not experiencing nearly enough fun in our lives due to modern hindrances such as social media addiction, overwork and negative societal views about leisure (always be hustling). According to Rucker, the importance of fun cannot be overstated because it is not only good for us but also one of the most fundamental ways we interact with the world. However, as we age, we forget to make time for playtime, and this is having a detrimental effect on our collective well-being, resulting in widespread worker burnout.

Fun, to be clear, can be anything from dancing to helping others to learning a new language to rock climbing: essentially, any activity that sustains engagement and leaves you feeling like you’ve experienced something positive. But this isn’t a book that promotes “toxic positivity”—the sort of relentless positivity that drives people to ignore the actual problems in their lives. Rucker’s main concern is teaching us to examine how we spend our time so we can be more deliberate in our choices instead of living on autopilot.

Rucker provides a scientific approach to incorporating more fun, satisfaction and spontaneity into daily life, including practical ideas and strategies. For example, he suggests that people schedule fun into their day ahead of time, and that they take photos while they’re having fun so they can be reminded often of a fun moment. Rucker also recommends that, when possible, people prioritize their time over money. After all, time is a resource you can’t get back.

With expertise and a personal, intimate understanding of the subject matter, Rucker backs up his suggestions with scientific research regarding happiness, fun and, most interestingly, how our brains interpret stimuli. This well-researched and impressive guide to finding more meaning in your day-to-day life will offer readers endless rewards.

Psychologist Mike Rucker suggests that fun is as important to human welfare as relationships and exercise—and therefore that we should all take fun more seriously.
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There’s only so much of the sweet stuff to go around, and in The Sugar Jar: Create Boundaries, Embrace Self-Healing, and Enjoy the Sweet Things in Life, wellness expert Yasmine Cheyenne helps readers consider their own sugar reserves. Sugar is “all the sweet parts of you—your time, your energy, your attention, your money, your expertise/education, and every single part of you that can be given or exchanged.” Paying attention to one’s own sugar jar entails thinking carefully about where the sugar is going—and how you might better guard it in order to enjoy life.

Cheyenne’s guiding metaphor, the sugar jar, is immediately understandable. Some jars might have cracks. Other jars might not have lids and are therefore susceptible to anyone helping themselves. Cheyenne shows how a lack of boundaries may be holding readers back from understanding and pursuing what really matters to them, and she offers many questions to transform idle observations into deeper reflection and action.

Cheyenne also devotes several chapters to how aspects of identity—such as race, class and family structure—impact our sugar jars. In the chapter “Black Healing,” Cheyenne offers insights specifically for Black readers, noting that the wellness field is often not a welcoming space for people of color. In “Healing as the Parent and as the Child,” Cheyenne acknowledges that parents are, in a sense, continually monitoring the sugar jars of their kids, which can be a unique and draining job. Throughout the book, Cheyenne offers personal stories to bring principles to life and connect with the reader. In all, The Sugar Jar is an accessible and thoughtful discussion of boundaries from a wellness advocate who has both talked the talk and walked the walk.


This book was published by an imprint of HarperCollins. More than 250 union employees at HarperCollins have been on strike since November 10, 2022. Click here to learn more about the contract that the HarperCollins Union is seeking or to find out how you can support the strike.

The Sugar Jar offers an accessible and thoughtful discussion of boundaries from a wellness advocate who has both talked the talk and walked the walk.

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