mental health, travel, Uncategorized

Audiobooks to Improve Your Brain

Today, I learned that one of my favorite habits – listening to audiobooks – is also on the list of habits that rich people do frequently. I tend to do most of the other habits as well, and a money tree hasn’t sprouted in my yard yet. I think I’ll have to write an angry comment to Entrepreneur.com. Anyhow, audiobooks are great companions on long road trips, much like dogs and beautiful scenery. They’re also, it seems, helpful in improving one’s mental health. As a longtime sufferer of depression, I can definitely use that.

download (1)I listened to two great books on my most recent road trip – both of which deal with the brain. Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow is 7 cds worth of entertaining and, at times, fascinating studies about the role that humans’ unconscious behavior and thoughts plays on everyday life. Told in a conversational tone, with occasional forays into warm humor and dry wit, Mlodinow examines memory, lust, feelings, racism, and more with gentle, thorough insightfulness.  He somehow makes dry and incomprehensible journal articles and scientific research come to life in an easy-to-understand fashion. Although he delves into the history of psychology, he also discusses the role of new technology such as the fMRI, which looks at the blood flow to certain parts of the brain.

Many of the reviewers on Amazon do a vastly better job than I could of assessing the merits and failings of this book, so I will point you there if this little review interests you, but both my husband and I found the entire book engaging and even useful. Basically, if you have a brain, you should listen to or read this book. It will help you understand how the brain functions and why evolution designed it that way. Having such knowledge will allow you to make better use of said brain. Theoretically.

At times, especially in the later cds, I tired a bit of hearing about yet another study. And sometimes said studies didn’t seem to have enough detail, and I was left wondering about why certain rather obvious facets or opinions were not taken into account by the researchers, but these are minor quibbles in an otherwise enjoyable listen.

Mlodinow narrated the book himself and he has a wonderful speaking voice – very professional. I would have pegged him for a radio announcer or even an actor if I didn’t know he was a physics professor and author.

Highly recommended.

downloadHardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Rick Hanson 

This book also explained the structure and functions of the brain – most especially why it’s so easy for us to dwell on bad or traumatic happenings rather than good, pleasant things. You can blame evolution. Basically, it was more important for your survival that you remember and be deeply affected by that tiger taking a chunk out of your leg than when a housecat snuggles into your arms and purrs contentedly. Your near death experience could end your life, so evolution has arranged your brain so that negative things take up more real estate than positive ones. An unfortunate fact. But there’s hope – we can retrain our brains to bring more pleasure and happiness into our lives. And this is the awesome part – it feels good to do so.

I’ve started using some of the techniques recommended in the book and although I’m not a changed woman just yet, I’m definitely going to keep at it. Hanson’s observations make a lot of sense to me, and his status as a psychologist lends weight to his suggestions, as does the fact that he’s used these techniques himself to improve his quality of life.

A negative about the book is that Hanson’s techniques are not all that in-depth that they need to be repeated quite as often as they are, but he does make an effort to present a slightly different take on the information each time.

Hanson narrates the audiobook himself, and he has a pleasant voice that did seem a bit too slow at times. If you’ve ever had therapy of any kind you’ll likely recognize his tone and lack of judgment. Overall a good read through on a very worthwhile book.