Monday, May 23, 2011

Well Being: The Five Essential Elements

Well Being: The Five Essential Elements
By Tom Rath and Jim Harter

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

I like this book for many reasons.  Here are ten.  First, it underscores and encourages all of the activities and behaviors that I support — and have supported in my essays.  This book could easily have been titled: IMPROVING YOUR LIFE AND THEN SOME!!!

Second, it is supported by great evidence.  The Gallup organization studied people in more than 150 countries.  “Rath has been with Gallup for 14 years and currently leads Gallup’s workplace research and leadership consulting around the world” (from the back flyleaf).  Rath has degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania — all Big Ten!!!!  (With tongue squarely in my cheek, there needs to be no other reason, of course, than the fact he is a U of M graduate!!!!)

Harter joined Gallup in 1985 and has a Ph.D. in psychological and cultural studies from the University of Nebraska.  Both are insiders in the Gallup organization and with their background and experience not just in polling but in interpreting of polling results, they are clearly experts who can depended upon for their credibility and expertise.

Third, it is written in a comfortable, easy, conversational style which makes reading it both pleasant and fast.  The book is already small (5 1/2-inches by 8 1/4-inches), and they have chosen to print each line almost double-spaced from each other.  This puts only 24-25 lines on a page in the essential first five chapters.

Fourth, it is practical.  Look, for example, at this excerpt from the chapter on “Physical Wellbeing”: “As you walk through a grocery store, one simple way to sort through what foods are best is to look for fruits and vegetables that have darker tones of red, green, and blue.  Look for reds in apples, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, red peppers, radishes, chili peppers, and pomegranates.  Healthy greens include broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, sprouts, lettuce, arugula, collard greens, kale, or Swiss chard.  Blue tones include blueberries, blackberries, cabbage, and grapes” (p. 77).

As you can see from the quoted material above, there aren’t any stunning or surprising findings and outcomes IF you already do all the right things in your life.  The authors simply underscore and encourage you in the same directions.  It’s a little like having a parental voice on your shoulder telling you — in all the right areas — to continue doing what you’re doing because you’re doing a good job!  (If you’re unhealthy and NOT doing the right things: read this book!)

Fifth, I like the authors’ choice to focus on the five main areas (discovered by distilling the results of their worldwide survey): 1) career wellbeing, 2) social wellbeing, 3) financial wellbeing, 4) physical wellbeing, and 5) community wellbeing.  These, and I’m quoting from the front flyleaf here, “five universal, interconnected elements that shape our lives.”  The chapters are arranged in their order of importance for the average person they surveyed.

Sixth, at the end of each of the five opening chapters (covering the universal, interconnected elements listed above), the authors offer “Three Recommendations for Boosting . . . “ that type of wellbeing.  These are simply summaries of what the authors discuss within the chapter, but they serve as excellent summaries and reminders.

Seventh, at the end of the five opening chapters, and after several pages of concluding remarks — which take a total of 112-pages only — the authors offer “Additional Tools and Resources.”  This is where you will find all the charts, graphs, and statistical results (along with discussion), and I have to admit that most people may not want to read all of this information (about 109 pages of information), but it is fascinating and well-presented.  Incidentally, the technical area of the book is written in a smaller font, and the lines are closer together.  (It is clear the authors were aware of which part of the book would get read!)

Eighth, I like the fact that the authors have refrained from including “cute little stories” that capture reader attention and cater to “the least common denominator” in reader knowledge and understanding.  They aren’t necessary in this book.  Instead, the authors talk directly to the reader — or use the third person: “A recent experiment revealed that just 20 minutes of exercise could improve our mood for several hours after we finish working out” (p. 78)” or, “It might seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to combat fatigue is by exercising” (p. 79).

Ninth, the paragraphs are short, and the sections are short as well.  You can read through and gain the essential information of this book in just over an hour or so.  The material is so valuable, the advice so important, and the ideas so critical to boosting your wellbeing that it needs to be short and to the point.  It is.

Tenth, the results from reading this book work!  Yes, you may have a better understanding of what makes life worthwhile (from the front flyleaf), but the important result is that if you follow the instructions, absorb the information, and incorporate it into your daily life, there is no question that you will be a better person.  Not only that, but your friends, family members, colleagues, and others with whom you associate will notice the results.

Buy this book!

This book is available at Well Being: The Five Essential Elements

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