Guides for Better Living From Around the World

Nishant Choksi

Right now, I’m a bit embarrassed to be an American. Not usually. But now. If I see a tourist on the street looking lost, it’s all I can do not to blurt, “I’m sorry about what our president said today and will say tomorrow,” along with directions to the No. 6 train.

I must have a lot of company. How else to explain the staggering pile of self-help books where Americans are offered the path to a better life via the rituals and outlook of other countries? Last year there were lessons in happiness and well-being, via hygge from Denmark. And this year? Japan is teaching us to seize the day (humbly). Sweden is showing us how to find balance and simplify our lives. And France is showing us, well, everything else. Naturellement. Just because they invented Camembert and guilt-free sex, they think they’re soooo perfect.

A FRENCHWOMAN’S GUIDE TO SEX AFTER SIXTY, by the psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel, immediately catches your attention because the cover shows a woman of a certain age glancing coquettishly over the bedsheets. But that age isn’t 40. It’s perhaps 75. So this isn’t the American version of old; it’s the French version, which is to say: old. And that’s what makes this volume uniquely French: It’s deeply un-American in its realism. Aches and pains, medications that reduce libido, a diminution of hormones that mean friction is tougher on our naughty bits and of course the occasional urge to cover all the mirrors in the house: Aging ain’t pretty, Hennezel admits. Yet for many of us, Eros lives, and Eros wants its due. What’s called for, then, is a revolution in the way we look at sexuality: a de-emphasis on orgasms in favor of kissing and caressing, more solo play to connect with our erotic selves and “making affection” as an alternative to making love. Feeling good through exercise and a healthy diet is paramount; looking younger through plastic surgery is mentioned not at all. Reading the stories of septuagenarians and octogenarians who are finding love or intimacy or sometimes just sex, one is reminded that the very French concept of joie de vivre — a sense of joy that comes from curiosity and playfulness, from looking outward instead of inward — is its own form of Botox.

This joie is very much at the heart of Jamie Cat Callan’s lively PARISIAN CHARM SCHOOL: French Secrets for Cultivating Love, Joy and That Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi. Maybe “Parisian Charm School” seems so thorough because Callan, who has written several previous books on various aspects of French life, is an American; she approaches her subject with anthropological rigor. Here that subject is French charm, which is some combination of intellectual curiosity, spontaneity, style and a soupçon of reserve. Charm, she points out, can’t be Googled; it must be cultivated. Yet, at its heart, it’s a tangle of contradictions. As a fashion consultant Callan interviewed put it, “Never be too feminine, too girlie. Never be too complicated. Too obvious. Never look like you’re trying. But you must try!” Being French seems kind of exhausting. Still, we clumsy Americans can worship at this shrine and maybe pick up a few tricks. Who, after all, doesn’t want to be like the woman in this line Callan quotes from Colette: “When she raises her eyelids, it’s as if she were taking off all her clothes.”

Perhaps Sweden was a little jealous of all the lifestyle-giving attention its Danish neighbor received, so this year brings us Linnea Dunne’s LAGOM: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living. Loosely translated, lagom means “not too little, not too much, but just enough,” making Sweden the Goldilocks of nations, one that earned an article on the website of the World Economic Forum called “Why Sweden Beats Other Countries at Just About Everything.” The reason, it seems, is that Sweden makes the concept of “the greater good” practically into a religion. You start with free education and universal health care and end with great pastry (and the regular coffee breaks — fika — to enjoy it). Fairness and moderation are basic cultural values: “Lagom is accepting an invitation to spend the weekend at a friend’s house, but bringing your own bedsheets because it’s fair to share the burden of laundry. … It’s wearing bright-red lipstick, but leaving the rest of your makeup perfectly understated.” There’s a reason Gianni Versace founded his luxury fashion empire in Italy and H & M was born in Sweden: “There’s this inherent celebrating of frugality in Sweden. We like affordable clothes because it’s a bit vulgar to splash out.”

If anything sums up the gestalt of this book — and Sweden — it’s this: Swedes are rated among the world’s top 10 happiest people, but not the happiest. That would be excessive. The aim isn’t ecstasy but “sustainable happiness,” the sort of equilibrium that’s achieved through small moments of calm and bliss in your everyday routine. So, to live the lagom way, invite your friends round for fika, spend time in nature, give away items that don’t add to your pleasure in life — and, most important, help a neighbor.

The primacy of the common good extends to everything in Sweden, including shuffling off this mortal coil. Reading THE GENTLE ART OF SWEDISH DEATH CLEANING: How to Free Yourself and Your Family From a Lifetime of Clutter, I couldn’t help thinking of my own parents, who were mild hoarders. When they were in their 80s and I meekly suggested that maybe they should get their home in order, my father’s response was: “Why? Soon it’ll be your problem.”

Margareta Magnusson is writing for people with families like mine — and maybe yours. Americans are just too much, she gently suggests. Swedes embrace consideration and minimalism, and the practice of “death cleaning” (which can start in your 30s — why wait?) embodies those values. “Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful,” she says, and proceeds to do just that in this short, practical guide to getting rid of stuff. You categorize, normally going from large objects to small; you give things away or sell them, particularly if you have a family you know is going to bicker. And you never, ever start with photos or other items of great sentiment because you’re likely to get stuck. And oh, how right Magnusson is. After my parents passed away, my own death cleaning consisted of looking at old photos, then immediately giving up — taking everything they owned and putting it into a massive storage unit that has sucked up money for seven years. I may have to reread her book.

In Japanese, iki means “to live” and gai means “reason” — in other words, the reason to live and how you define it. Ken Mogi begins AWAKENING YOUR IKIGAI: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day with a story meant to illustrate the importance of this concept to the Japanese. He describes a famed sushi chef whose Tokyo restaurant is visited by President Barack Obama during a state visit and who is told by the president that his sushi was the best he had ever eaten. No big deal. “Ikigai resides in the realm of small things,” Mogi explains. “The morning air, the cup of coffee, the ray of sunshine, the massaging of octopus meat and the American president’s praise are on equal footing.”

Not really! Can I skip No. 4?

Mogi, a celebrity neuroscientist and broadcaster who has written more than 100 books, describes the five pillars of the ikigai way of life: “starting small,” “releasing yourself,” “harmony and sustainability,” “the joy of small things” and “being in the here and now” (what we might call “mindfulness”). And he demonstrates how some of the rituals most important to Japanese culture, from the tea ceremony to sumo wrestling, are based on these tenets. I admit that certain principles he espouses utterly baffled this Westerner, particularly the notion that in Japan finding purpose and joy in work, even work that requires great individuality and creativity, comes from a sublimation of the ego. He cites the example of the great anime artist Hayao Miyazaki, whose work is so repetitive and painstaking. Wait, if we all know who he is, how is he subsuming his ego? In work, Mochi explains, you have to be like a child, because “a child has no definite idea of the past or the future.” Seriously? Tell that to a 5-year-old screaming, “When will we get there?” in the back seat of a car because “there” involves ice cream.

I’m not sure if I could live in Japan for more than a week, what with all the appreciating of teeny porcelain objects and self-abnegation, but “Awakening Your Ikigai” is really quite a delightful look at sometimes mystifying Japanese traditions. (Spoiler alert: There’s a lot more to sumo wrestling than chubby dudes with man buns and diapers.) I can’t resist noting that in 2009, Mogi was charged with violation of Japanese tax laws for failing to report several million dollars in income. See? I guess America does have something to teach the citizens of other nations.

By Judith Newman, Jan. 23, 2018, first appearing in NYT > Books

Editor’s Note:

Judith Newman’s “To Siri With Love: A Mother, Her Autistic Son and the Kindness of Machines” was published in August. Her column appears every eight weeks.


For the Millennials Who Feel Overwhelmed: 15 Books on Adulting

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Being a millennial is not easy. No matter how hard we try (and we try really, really hard), we tend to be looked down upon by older generations and blamed for many of the problems in today’s world. It seems like there’s nothing we can do right.

We’ve heard it all: We’re lazy, entitled narcissists who live with their parents for too long and can’t hold down a real job, right? Wrong. Surely our addiction to our phones and social media is destroying the world! Nope. We’ve been dealt a bad hand from the get-go, and are doing the best we can to survive in a society that’s suffering from actions made by previous generations.

If you’re a millennial and you feel like the world is working against you, have no fear. We know it’s tough out there, and that you haven’t been given a fair go at this whole “adulting” thing. We’ve compiled a list of books that will explain everything you need to know about being an adult, from relationships to buying houses, getting a job and keeping it, and everything in-between.

So crack open one of the books below, get reading, and continue to kick some major ass.

The cover of the book Rich20SomethingRich20Something

Daniel DiPiazza

Daniel DiPiazza, the young founder of the massively popular, was once working long hours at a low-paying job, hoping that one day, he would become something more. Then one day, he had a revelation: He was in charge of his life. Now at twenty-eight, DiPiazza has launched multiple successful businesses with zero startup capital by identifying and monetizing his skills into a career and life he loves. And with this book, so can you.


The cover of the book Assume the WorstAssume the Worst

Carl Hiaasen; Illustrated by Roz Chast

Assume the Worst is Carl Hiaasen’s cynical attempt to prepare young men and women for their future. The illustrated guide is packed with humor and wit, and provides a no-nonsense look at what comes next in life and how to make the best of it. This hilarious book is perfect for recent college graduates that are in need of some straightforward, yet hopeful advice on the future and what it holds.


The cover of the book Am I There Yet?Am I There Yet?

Mari Andrew

In this humorously accurate guide, Instagram sensation Mari Andrew captures the complicated journey to adulthood for millennials, and offers advice to those that want to take the road less traveled. Am I There Yet? details how to climb over hurdles, heighten self-esteem, and follow dreams that might seem out of the ordinary.


The cover of the book You Are a Badass at Making MoneyYou Are a Badass at Making Money

Jen Sincero

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of You Are a Badass brings us a financial guide that will help readers to confront their fears that have been keeping them from achieving their goals, and finally reach the level of financial success that they’ve been striving for. Jen Sincero uses her sass and her wit to explain how to unlock potential , get results, and make some real money.


The cover of the book 50 Ways to Get a Job50 Ways to Get a Job

Dev Aujla

This book is perfect for any millennial who feels trapped in the treacherous job hunt cycle with no luck of actually securing a position. Based on information gained from over 400,000 individuals who have used Dev Aujla’s method for job seekers, 50 Ways to Get a Job serves as a reminder that your resume isn’t everything, and that communication and confidence are the best ways to land your dream career.


The cover of the book Broke MillennialBroke Millennial

Erin Lowry

If you’re in your twenties or thirties and tired of living paycheck to paycheck, or you’re drowning in debt and don’t know what to do next, this book will be your ultimate guide to getting your financial life together. Broke Millennial offers step-by-step advice for investing, budgeting, and tackling tricky money matters and situations.


The cover of the book How to Be a Person in the WorldHow to Be a Person in the World

Heather Havrilesky

In this hilarious New York Times bestseller, Heather Havrilesky of the “Ask Polly” advice column guides readers through the “what if’s” and “I don’t know’s” of modern life with wisdom and tough love. She responds to all kinds of people from all walks of life to remind readers that they’re not alone, and never will be.



The cover of the book How to Be Single and Happy

How to Be Single and Happy

Jennifer L. Taitz, Psy.D., A.B.P.P.

When there’s constant negativity surrounding the idea of being single, it’s hard not to feel “less than” because you haven’t found someone to be with. How to Be Single and Happy is an empowering guide that will help single millennial women to have no regrets or guilt, and be completely content with being on their own. Drawing on her expertise as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Taitz debunks the most common dating myths about women, teaches how to skillfully date, and cultivates the mindset that being happy does not depend on anyone else but yourself.


The cover of the book 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, Fourth Edition100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, Fourth Edition

Ilyce R. Glink

Buying a home is one of the biggest and most important decisions in any person’s life. But for millennials, buying a house seems impossible – with everything from student loans and a wrecked economy, how are we supposed to gather the finances to buy a house? In 100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, Ilyce Glink, one of the most trusted names in real estate, answers every question that exists about home buying, and takes readers on a personal journey through the entire process.


The cover of the book This Naked MindThis Naked Mind

Annie Grace

Many of us like to go out, and at some point or another, we’ve questioned whether or not we drink too much alcohol. But we also often resist changing our lifestyles because we’re afraid that our social lives will suffer if we do. This Naked Mind offers a positive solution to this crucial issue. Annie Grace walks readers through the effects of alcohol on the body using the latest science, and reveals the cultural factors that play a role in how much we consume. Filled with surprising facts about why we drink, this eye-opening book is a must-read for anyone who drinks – it will change your outlook on alcohol, and help you to live a healthier life with less drinking.


The cover of the book My Friend FearMy Friend Fear

Meera Lee Patel

From the bestselling author of Start Where You Are, this artistic and inspirational journal allows users to reflect on the deepest parts of their life. A lovely mix of personal anecdotes, inspirational quotes, questions, and stunning watercolor images, My Friend Fear demonstrates how fear can lead to great change and new opportunities, reminding us to always find magic in the unknown.


The cover of the book Work That MattersWork That Matters

Maia Duerr

So many millennials feel trapped in dead-end jobs just to pay the bills every month. This leads to lack of meaning in our lives, and a sense of worthlessness that cannot be extinguished. Author and meditator Maia Duerr journeyed through several professions before she finally found work that was deeply fulfilling and meaningful to her. In this book, Maia walks readers through the process that can lead to positive change in their careers, and offers the tools needed to create joyful work that embodies who you are.


The cover of the book Work ItWork It

Carrie Kerpen

This uplifting and empowering career guide features advice from 50 high-profile women on how to succeed in the workplace and attain the dream career you’ve always wanted. CEO of Likeable Media and popular podcast host Carrie Kerpen shares the lessons she’s learned from her career, and the lessons of other powerful women, to help young women everywhere make their aspirations a reality.


The cover of the book Text, Don't CallText, Don’t Call


This illustrated guide to the introverted life is humorous, informative, and helpful all at the same time. There are still many misconceptions about introverts: They’re shy, anti-social, single, and are all cat people. INFJoe, the cartoon persona of artist and introvert Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, is here to clear the confusion for introverts everywhere. Filled with comic book style illustrations, this book demonstrates what it really means to be introverted, and provides tips on surviving at parties and in the workplace.


The cover of the book Things Are What You Make of ThemThings Are What You Make of Them

Adam J. Kurtz

This book will inspire anyone who has an artistic heart. From the creative mind of designer Adam J. Kurtz comes this handwritten and heartfelt book that serves to empower all kinds of artists. Tear-and-share pages are perfect for displaying important pages or to pass a bit of advice on to someone else who needs it. This vibrant book will be a life-changer for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who challenges the norm by being creative.


It’s time to get things in order

If spring is for cleaning out all of the dust and clutter that accumulates over winter, then fall should be about trying to get things as neat and tidy as you can in order to keep the inevitable dust and clutter to a minimum.

And if it’s true for your home it should be true for your self as well. Here’s something to help get you sorted, for fall, winter and beyond. Fall

Four Books with Simple Messages that Will Help You to be a Better You

by Chris Schluep, August 23, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

A friend of mine is sending her son off to college this year. We recently talked about books she could give him to help him prepare for college and life.

“I want to give him something other than Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” she told me.

Since he was taking it with him to school, we agreed the book should be short and sweet. And, most importantly, the message had to be simple– something useful that he could absorb quickly. I offered up the first book on this list.

But there are other books to recommend as well. Here’s a short list of books with simple messages that will help your student–or you–to be a better you.

Make Your Bed

Make Your Bed – If you just follow the first rule of this book, which is to do a good job of making your bed well in the morning, you will have succeeded in doing something well each day.


7 Habits

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – If you live by your own habits and principles, and judge yourself accordingly, you’ll be ahead of the game. If you live by how others judge you, you’ll always be bound to the whims of other people’s moods and opinions.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – We all have a lot of crap. If you do a one-time tidying session, in which you only keep that which “sparks joy,” your life will be simpler, more organized, and happier.


Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly – Putting yourself out there–being vulnerable–is a show of courage. And if you’re not putting yourself out there, you can’t be the best you.