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Seek Ye Out of the Best Books Words of Wisdom (D&C 109:7)



As you begin a new year in a still-youthful century, you may be interested in resources to strengthen yourself and your family. As the quality of research has improved, so the conclusions have gotten closer and closer to God’s recommendations. There are remarkable books available today to help us flourish in our relationships with ourselves and our loved ones.

But there is also a lot of nonsense published. How can you find the best of the best books? How do you know which books are nonsense and which are good sense?

To find out you could consult the Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health–which is an excellent resource book. It covers 36 different areas of self-help from abuse to violent youth. Maybe your local library has a copy.

You could ask a staff member at a local bookstore or library for guidance in picking a good book. Unfortunately most of them do not have expertise on family subjects. They may recommend the most popular book which is no assurance of quality.

You could look at the shelves and see which books seem most promising. Unfortunately the quality of design and marketing is often not related to quality of content.

May I recommend to you those books that I respect most highly–and which seem to command the respect of my professional colleagues? I have organized my recommendations into three categories: 1. How to be a flourishing person. 2. How to have a better marriage. 3. How to parent effectively. Also, I invite you to discuss these and other books at my blog, www.DrWally.org

How to be a flourishing person

Let’s start with this acknowledgment: The single best source for guidance of our lives is from heaven–whether delivered by scripture, priesthood messengers, or the still, small voice. Yet God has repeatedly encouraged us to use all available resources. So, while acknowledging that His resources are best by far, we may profitably draw on the very best thinking available in “the best books” (D&C 109:7).

The best book for creating a productive life may be Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness. He shows that the surest way to be happy is to have a life filled with noticing blessings, using our talents, and finding ways to serve. I think this scholarly book agrees beautifully with the Lord’s counsel on the subject. I recommend it highly.

If you are a deep thinker and a serious reader, you might enjoy Jonathan Haidt’s excellent Happiness Hypothesis. He shows many ways that we humans think and act irrationally. This is in accord with the Lord’s statement that “the natural man is an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). Haidt offers deep insight and sensible recommendations–such as humility.

If you are interested in understanding and managing anger, Redford and Virginia Williams have written a fine book titled Anger Kills. The book provides 17 strategies for controlling the anger that damages our hearts and relationships.

If you find yourself dealing with self-defeating ways of thinking and acting, you may find David Burns’ books ( Feeling Good; Feeling Good Handbook ) useful.

There are other great books that are deep and philosophical. If you’re a very committed learner, you might enjoy Roy Baumeister’s Meanings of Life and Mark Leary’s Curse of the Self or the edited Positive Psychology in Practice. But these are not books for the casual student of well-being.

There is also the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey that teaches us how to be more effective.

Unequivocal recommendation:

Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman

Special purpose books :

Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Anger Kills by Redford and Virginia Williams

Feeling Good by David Burns

Meanings of Life by Roy Baumeister

Curse of the Self by Mark Leary

Positive Psychology in Practice edited

Additional good books:

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

What You Can Change and What You Can’t by Martin E. P. Seligman

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck

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How to have a better marriage

In the scholarly arena, there is one name associated with marriage that is above all others: John Gottman. His decades of careful research have upended traditional thinking about marriage. According to Gottman, the key to a happy marriage is NOT the ability to share with each other our discontents in fair ways; the key is positivity. We can emphasize the good over the bad. I think this agrees with the Lord’s timeless counsel about relationships. I don’t find God encouraging us to correct each other. I do find Him encouraging us to love and cherish each other.

Gottman has many excellent books for the general population. The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work may be the mainstay. It is excellent. But his Why Marriages Succeed or Fail provides insight into the types of relationships (volatile, avoidant, and validating) and their relative advantages. Gottman’s Relationship Cure focuses on bids for connection–the common and often neglected ways that we try to connect with our partners. 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage illustrates Gottman’s principles with ten case studies. Each is valuable.

In my view, one of the best marriage programs is Marriage Garden which James Marshall and I have created for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service . (Free lesson guides at: http://www.arfamilies.org/family_life/marriage/default.htm )

Another noteworthy marriage resource is Reconcilable Differences in which Christensen and Jacobson show that changing each other may not be nearly as important as accepting and enjoying each other. They also describe the ways our minds conspire to undermine our relationships. Excellent.

I also recommend Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. Even though I find his categories of affection to be awkward, the book effectively teaches the value of tuning our message of love to our partners’ preferences.

There is a new book that attempts to describe the way gospel principles and covenants are the key to successful marriage. It is filled with spiritual principles and practical applications. I recommend Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage even if I did write it. (Available only at www.meridianmagazine.com )

There are two LDS books that make a remarkable contribution to marriage by helping us to see the connection between mercy received from heaven and mercy granted in earthly relationships. Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ is, in my view, one of the most important books in the Church. It clearly shows us the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. It opens the doors of hope and invites us to follow His example of goodness. I think this book should be read and re-read by every Latter-day Saint.

James Farrell has written a book The Peacegiver that very clearly shows the presumption of believing that we are okay while condemning our spouses. While some of the atmospherics in the book were distracting for me, the message is very powerful.

For those who have followed the work of the Arbinger Institute, Leadership and Self-Deception is a useful book.

Unequivocal recommendations:

7 Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman

How to Make Marriages Succeed or Fail by John Gottman

Relationship Cure by John Gottman

10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage by John Gottman

The Marriage Garden by Wally Goddard and James Marshall

Reconcilable Differences by Andy Christensen and Neil Jacobson

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage by Wally Goddard (LDS)

Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson (LDS)

The Peacegiver by James Farrell (LDS)

Special purpose books :

Not “Just Friends” by Shirley P. Glass and Jean Coppock Staeheli (about dealing with affairs)

The Sex-Starved Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis

How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk by John Van Epp

Additional good books:

Beyond the Myth of Marital Happiness by Blaine J. Fowers

Leadership and Self-Deception by Arbinger Institute

The Intentional Family by William J. Doherty,

Take Back Your Marriage by William J. Doherty

The Divorce Remedy: The Proven 7-Step Program for Saving Your Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis

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How to parent effectively

There are two broad essentials for effective parenting: building a relationship and teaching good behavior. It is a rare book that deals with both. In fact, most books seem to focus on controlling children while neglecting the building of a relationship. There are a few books that do a reasonable job of discussing relationship.

The highest-rated general parenting book in the editions of The Authoritative Guide is Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child . This book is a classic. It was revised in 2003 and continues to teach parents how to set limits while showing compassion. This is the most important parenting book I have read (outside of scripture). While some of Ginott’s counsel about sex education does not fit perfectly with LDS standards, the book effectively teaches the central role of compassion. (Disclaimer: I revised the original book along with Haim’s widow.)

John Gottman, the famous relationship guru, has written a parenting book in which he puts the science to Ginott’s message. Gottman shows that parents commonly respond to children’s strong feelings by being dismissive, disapproving, or laissez-faire. None of those ways is effective. He recommends emotion coaching. I recommend Gottman’s Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.

The books of Ginott’s students, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, are also wise and sensible. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk is the classic.

I also recommend The Soft-Spoken Parent: More than 50 Strategies for Turning Away Wrath (and its secular cousin, Soft-Spoken Parenting .) This book provides the background on the damaging effects of anger and then suggests 55 alternatives to the usual angry outburst. Each mini-chapter provides a practical idea and generally a story to illustrate the principle. This allows a parent to find the approach that uniquely fits him or her. (Disclaimer: I wrote the book.)

My favorite parenting programs are two that I helped write for Extension Service. In both programs we attempt to turn solid research into practical advice. Principles of Parenting can be found at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System web site: http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/indexes/hefcd.tmpl#infants . The Parenting Journey materials we have developed in Arkansas can be found at: http://www.arfamilies.org/family_life.htm . All online materials are free.

Arbinger’s book that has a parenting sub theme is The Anatomy of Peace.

For the serious student of parenting, there are innumerable guides (such as Handbook of Marriage and the Family and Handbook of Child Psychology), but these are lengthy, expensive, and very complex. A more accessible work is Grolnick’s The Psychology of Parental Control.

I wish there were more excellent parenting books. I have started work on a book tentatively titled The Complete Parent in which I describe the four foundational elements of effective parenting. Stay tuned.

Unequivocal recommendations:

Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

The Soft-Spoken Parent by Wally Goddard (LDS)

Soft-Spoken Parenting by Wally Goddard

Principles of Parenting by Wally Goddard, et al.

The Parenting Journey by Wally Goddard & Steve Dennis

Special purpose books :

Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Anger Kills by Redford and Virginia Williams

Feeling Good by David Burns

Meanings of Life by Roy Baumeister

Curse of the Self by Mark Leary

Positive Psychology in Practice edited

The Psychology of Parental Control by Wendy Grolnick

Additional good books:

The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute

What Kids Need to Succeed: Proven, Practical Ways to Raise Good Kids b y Peter L. Benson, Judy Galbraith, Pamela Espeland

For guidance on best books:

The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health by Norcross, Santrock, Campbell, Smith, Sommer, & Zuckerman

To search for answers to family questions:

Children, Youth, and Families Education and Research Network (CYFERnet) at www.cyfernet.org includes has practical, research-based information from the nation’s leading universities. Includes hundreds of articles on early childhood, school-age children, teens, parent and family, as well as community.

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5 replies on “Seek Ye Out of the Best Books Words of Wisdom (D&C 109:7)”

Where we so wholeheartedly on two books, Believing Christ and The Peacegiver I’d better take a look a some of your other recommendations. Having just received Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage in the mail as a gift, I have just commenced it.

For my marriage, a major turning point came when I read the book, How to Hug a Porcupine and made the startling discovery that I was the porcupine in our marriage, not her. I had been struggling to remove the mote in her eye, while afflicted with a beam in my own.

The effort to remove that beam, led me to another great book, He Did Deliver Me From Bondage by Colleen Harrison.

Other favorites of late have been:

My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, one of the all time favorites.

Wonderlust by Vicki Kuyper, recently sent to my wife for review my the author. Exemplary learning from the lessons of life and living through the lens of Christ’s Atonement.

Still, highest on my all time favorites list is the Book of Mormon. If we let it, The Book of Mormon transcends the definition of a book and becomes an ongoing conversation with God.

Hi, I’m a fan of your writing and parenting ideas. I’ve been wondering if you’ve read Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting book? It is secular, but very intriguing as he strongly questions controlling children and advocates respect and not punishment of any sort. I’d be interested to hear your perspective if you’re familiar with it.

Alfie Kohn is always inflammatory. His Unconditional Parenting book has some good ideas but is not fully balanced. There are two keys to
parenting: 1. Help children feel loved while 2. helping them learn to use their agency wisely. Gentle and sensible guidance and limitations
are essential for the second task. This is not the same thing as punishment which makes children suffer in order to teach them. Rather we
recommend guidance with focuses on teaching–and may occasionally entail suffering.

-Wally

I didn’t see Unconditional Parenting as dismissing limits and guidance at all!

By suffering do you mean simply that we can’t always let our kids have or do what they want and sometimes they’re upset by that? Because he’s definitely okay with that, specifically I remember him advocating a parent telling their child, after hearing his argument, that no, sorry, that movie is just too violent. And also requiring them to wash their hands before eating.

I didn’t see him saying no limits or guidance; I thought his views were quite in line with yours, we just need to do these things respectfully, give our children more opportunity to be a part of the decision making, and to work WITH them to make things work for both of you.

So I thought your views were pretty similar, and was mostly wondering about some of the things he says about religion being a reason why we think we need to punish. He specifically brings up how the Bible is full of bribes and threats. I have been thinking about that for years now, trying to figure out how that aspect of Heavenly Father’s parenting plays into MY parenting.

So you can see why I was really excited to find an LDS author advocating not judging and punishing, and using scripture to show that that really is something God can do, but we can’t!

I think that we’re in general agreement. Kohn effectively draws on the work of major figures to outline supportive, nurturing parenting. He
does not speak against limits–he just doesn’t fully develop the law-of-the-harvest side of parenting. So I found his book to be very
intriguing but not fully satisfying. Most parents need help knowing how to set limits while being the nurturing parents Kohn effectively
describes.

I think Kohn is quite right that, for some people, religion motivates punitive behavior for those whom they consider inferior. Consider the
Pharisees. However, the closer we get to Heavenly Father, the more we look on others with compassion (as Joseph observed). I think that God only uses strong tactics when his people are so spiritually mature that they cannot understand any other message; for example, the children of Israel in the wilderness only understood simple messages.

-Wally

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