Summary of the book Choose the Life You Want: We are constantly faced with choices, at any time we make decisions whose cumulative consequences are as important as those of the key moments of our life, our choices will create how our life turns out, choose is, therefore, create.
Note: This book was reviewed by Barbara Reibel from the personal development blog www.en-1-mot.com.
Review and summary of the book Choose the Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness:
Recent psychological studies prove that 40% of our happiness is driven by the choices we make. Immediately we think about the major decisions we make in our lives, the ones described by Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken”, which take us in a specific direction.
But Tal Ben-Shahar reminds us that these major choices (career direction, romantic relationship) are few and far between, while we constantly make “minor” choices that influence the course of our lives: those that are available to us at any moment (smile, take a deep breath) or those that arise at a specific moment (reaction to failure, compliments, etc.).
In this book, Tal Ben-Shahar focuses on the last two types of choices, with two objectives:
- to help us become aware of the practical choices available to us at every moment of our lives
- help us to act in the most effective way in light of these choices
To sum up these choices, it provides 101 situations, accompanied by a quotation, a brief explanation and an anecdote which can be a real-life situation, a school case, a psychological experiment or the story of someone famous. Then each of us needs to apply the examples given to our own situation.
1. Live your life, nothing more OR Choose to choose
Choose to choose means to get off the beaten track rather than take the most popular path; it means to search for the paths that lead to change.
2. Close your eyes to the beauty of life OR Be open to its wonders
Take time each day to genuinely look at things, their beauty, their mystery. When my mind is elsewhere, when I eat, wash the dishes, drive, etc., I can bring my thoughts back to the here and now.
3. Get angry OR Take a step back
I can be ruled by my emotions and be hot-headed, or I can distance myself and react calm manner. If I categorize an emotion as “hot”, it can help me deal with it in a more rational way.
4. Obsessively replay the same scenario OR Think and behave purposefully
We often tend to dwell on our problems. This only makes the situation worse, it is part of the problem, not part of the solution. By contrast, mindfulness – think out loud or keep a journal – is a better way to deal with psychological difficulties.
5. Neglect your posture OR Look strong and confident
If you walk with confidence it means you will gain in confidence. A firm handshake and an upright, strong posture are messages of strength and confidence.
6. Resign to the status quo OR Become someone who matters
Our initiatives create a domino effect in time and space. I can definitely make a difference when I choose to commit my heart and soul and do something about it.
7. Give in to procrastination OR Take the plunge
The most effective method is called the “first five minutes”. It is simply to start to do the things that you always find an excuse to delay, it is the first step that sets the whole process in motion.
8. Hold grudges OR Forgive
Sanskrit uses one and the same word to mean forgive and untie: when you forgive, you untie an emotional knot and thus free up the whole system.
9. Do your job but with no enthusiasm for it OR Live your job as a vocation
Not all of us are lucky enough to have the perfect job, but we all have the choice to experience it in different ways.
10. Difficult times: turn a blind eye to the lessons to be learned OR Learn to react positively
When something negative happens to me, I can use it as a tool to grow and develop.
11. Be unsettled by others OR Appreciate and learn from those around you
Learn to appreciate the people who bother me, as it helps me to improve my ability for compassion and to learn about myself, because often what bothers me in others is precisely what I don’t like about myself.
12. Impose and disguise OR Expose without pretence.
When we hide behind a facade, it is often because we have a low opinion of ourselves. If I choose to expose myself for who I am, I let my own inner light shine through.
13. Always try to win OR Enjoy win-win solutions
The pleasure of victory over a loser is short-lived, while the joy to reach a compromise that satisfies both parties lasts longer and often creates a solid foundation on which to build even more positive experiences.
14. Live life to the fullest OR Savour life
To be a connoisseur of life, to appreciate its riches, sometimes you have to know how to slow down.
15. Eat mindlessly OR Respect your body
In the “blue zones”, regions of the world where we live in better conditions and for longer, where there are more centenarians than anywhere else, we eat quality food, in moderation.
16. Miss opportunities OR Turn situations to your advantage
Events that seem to be random, but which are relevant to us, can be turned to our advantage. This is what Carl Gustav Jung called synchronicity.
17. Demean yourself OR Don’t forget who you really are
Rather than allow all of the negative messages that we have heard for all our lives to run through our minds ad infinitum, let’s regain control of the messages that control our lives.
18. Stay blind to others’ attributes OR Know how to congratulate, compliment
If you constantly send out positive feedback to the people around you, you will shield your emotional connections from the negative impacts of life. The benefit of “real value of happiness” is priceless.
19. Be someone who “looks for faults” OR Be someone who “sees the positives”.
We can choose to adopt either vision and this decision has major consequences on our health, physical and mental, our life and that of those around us.
20. Be quick to give advice OR Have a sympathetic ear
In order to provide moral and emotional support to those who need it, we must listen to what they say.
21. Pursue something new OR Invest in experience
Long-term happiness does not come from the possession of material goods, but from the pursuit of positive experiences. Their value is not quantifiable, but they are priceless.
22. Be defensive OR Be open to suggestions
Perfectionists get defensive when they receive feedback. They deny themselves opportunities for meaningful growth and truthfulness.
23. Fear of saying no OR Say yes, but purely for the sake of your vision
We need to learn to say no more often, to people as well as to situations that come up, to prioritize, to choose the activities that we really want to do and forego the others.
24. Refuse to face reality OR Accept the obvious and act appropriately
Pain is an integral part of life. There are no shortcuts, no way to cut out the hard work, the daily struggles and efforts. The key to success is to face reality.
25. Treat life seriously OR With humor and sense of perspective
We often take life too seriously. If we can re-discover the sense of humor and light-heartedness that we may have lost when we left childhood, we maintain our psychological and physical health.
26. Take part in the general competition OR Focus on what really matters
“More” does not necessarily mean “better”. The road to emotional fulfilment and long-term happiness relies on your ability to identify the things that really matter to you.
27. Don’t bother to think OR To take the trouble to think
To be the author of my life, my actions must be the product of my reflection. I must think for myself.
28. Worry OR Move forward
Every time I worry, I have to ask myself if it has any benefit. If it is, then I need to take action; if it isn’t, then I’d best move on to more something that deserves my time and attention.
29. See the bleak side of life OR Be optimistic and hopeful
To a large extent, my expectations of myself, of others, and of life define my real life. The future is more likely to be bleak the more pessimistic you are; conversely, if you are optimistic, it is likely to bring you prosperity and success.
30. Show that you are superior OR That you value others
Self-esteem cannot be built at the expense of others; on the contrary, it can only be built if we value others equally to ourselves.
31. Focus on weaknesses and shortfalls OR Focus on skills and strengths
People who focus on their strengths are happier and more successful than others.
32. Hold on no matter what OR Let it go
If you are able to let go, relieve tension, it is, generally, also a good way to reduce anxiety.
33. Only see the finish line OR Focus on the course
Although we control the type of goals we set for ourselves and the lengths we go to in order to achieve them, the ultimate success is not up to us. Therefore, it is crucial to abandon control of the consequences and to focus as much as you can on the process itself.
34. Be fatalistic OR Tell yourself that it won’t go on for ever
When we choose to accept pain in its true light, that is, as a transitory phenomenon, we allow it to follow its normal course. It will go away as it came, in a natural way.
35. Remain inactive OR Be active
If we want to enjoy good physical and mental health over a long period of time, we must be active!
36. Act like a “know-it-all” OR Approach life with an open mind
To know is to have arrived; if you still ask questions it shows you still wish to learn. People whose lives are shaped like question marks, not periods, are generally happier and more creative.
37. Lose sight of what’s important OR Connect with your own values
One can go through life and experience no exhilaration. To rediscover your desire to live, you can focus on what really matters, what makes life worth it.
38. Live life on autopilot OR Make an informed decision
If I systematically model my present behavior on my past responses, I deny myself any kind of fulfilment. If I regain control and act consciously, I will enjoy a much nicer life and make things easier for my loved ones.
39. Grimace OR Smile
“The facial feedback hypothesis” shows that we can affect our state of mind via our facial expressions. A smile elicits positive feelings whereas a grimace makes a bad mood even worse.
40. See the glass as half empty OR See the glass as half full
We are so focused on the empty half of the glass that we miss out on the treasures – large and small – that surround us every day. It often takes a wake-up call to bring about an awareness.
41. Live in the past or in the future OR The present moment
We can choose a life of past fulfilment and enjoy the present rather than allow ourselves to be enslaved by the past or the future.
42. Delay the reward OR Enjoy the moment
It is very important to learn to delay the reward. But if you delay the reward indefinitely, you will never receive it. Therefore, throughout the day, we must offer ourselves small moments, “happiness gas pedals”, to replenish our energy.
43. Do what you think you should do OR Do what you want to do
To change from “I have to” to “I want to”, to no longer comply with expected practices, to freely pursue the ones you have chosen, can transform your life.
44. Don’t try new things so as to not make mistakes OR Learn from your failures
Successful people know that failure is not an obstacle but a step on the road to success. There is no success without risks and failures. So you have to learn to fail or fail to learn.
45. Remain indifferent OR Help and contribute
In general, the best way to help yourself is to help others. If you are able to give and receive with the same generosity, it will create a win-win relationship.
46. Constantly out of breath OR Slow, deep breaths
Shortness of breath is a reaction to the incessant constant stress of modern life. We must re-educate ourselves to take deep breaths in order to create a more serene and better-oxygenated space. Deep breaths are therapeutic.
47. Abuse your loved ones OR Respect those around you
We should not do to our loved ones what we would not do to others, because it is often the case that we are friendly and helpful with strangers and that we are less thoughtful towards those who are close to us.
48. Be swayed by opinions OR Develop the strength of independence
If I can follow my true feelings, my North Star, I assert my independence and gain the approval that is most valuable: my own.
49. Act out of a sense of duty and guilt OR Indulge in one’s passion
When I do things that I am passionate about, not only do I come alive, but I am more likely to give off positive energy to those around me.
50. Take the good things for granted OR Appreciate the good things in life
It may be beneficial if you can keep a “gratitude journal” and make note of the five things you are grateful for in life, each night, before you go to sleep.
51. Constantly look for praise OR Enjoy the silence
When we fill every moment of life with noise, we miss our true potential. We must remove ourselves, for a time, from the ambient noise, as well as from words – our own and those of others.
52. Abandon your values and beliefs OR Stay true to yourself
Once we understand who we are and the direction in which we wish to go, an equally difficult challenge presents itself: to be true to yourself.
53. Ignore Others OR Take notice of those around you
We neglect most of those around us because we only see in them in terms of things that are of use to us. To genuinely try to know others is to uncover the beauty that lies within them.
54. Demand perfection OR Acknowledge what is acceptable
Barry Schwartz distinguishes between “maximizers” and “satisfiers”. Maximizers are always disappointed, frustrated and ultimately unhappy because reality rarely lives up to their expectations. On the contrary, the latter are satisfied with what seems good enough and accept reality as it is; hence they are, generally, happier.
55. Get caught up in the emotion OR Be aware of and accept your own emotions
Active acceptance means that you let yourself be moved by the emotion but don’t ignore it, and then, rather than act impulsively to it, choose the most appropriate course of action.
56. Resign yourself to the routine OR Discover something that excites you
If I make sure that I make myself aware that each moment is unique, that it did not exist before and will never exist again, it allows me to fill my life with value and meaning.
57. Fight against the hurricane OR Watch the storm
We all go through difficult phases in our lives; when this occurs, we can choose to fight or simply to be an observer.
58. To allow nothing, to forgive nothing OR To be kind and generous to oneself
It is time to restore this justified, natural right to love oneself.
59. Run on empty OR Refuel
Throughout our lives, we repeatedly deplete and replenish our energy reserves. This empty/full cycle also exists in our emotional and spiritual life. In a world where technology distances us from natural cycles, we need to be especially careful to find the right balance between “empty” and “full”.
60. Feel permanently overwhelmed OR Think of the big picture, do a little bit at a time
The “butterfly effect” is proof that it is possible to do your own small thing and still make a difference.
61. Be pessimistic OR Carry positive energy with you wherever you go
Emotions are contagious. Our mood influences the mood of others and vice versa.
62. Don’t say anything OR Say what’s on your mind
Life is so much richer, more joyful and dynamic when we dare to say what we feel.
63. Remain a prisoner of the past OR Be the architect of your own future
At any given moment, it is up to me to decide whether to let myself be a prisoner to my past misadventures or to steer my life in the direction I want.
64. Be a cynic OR Be honest and sincere
It takes courage to be frank and sincere because if you lower your defences, it makes you vulnerable. But it’s the price to pay if you wish to create the conditions for intimacy and joy.
65. Act in haste OR Slow down
Even with today’s hectic modern lifestyle, we need to take time to reflect and make informed choices that are in line with our core values.
66. Stay in your comfort zone OR Push your limits
To be successful, you have to venture outside your comfort zone and test your limits.
67. Accept what others think you should be OR Become who you want to be
I am able to implement new messages, repeat them, adjust my behavior to them and, with a fair bit of effort, I can change my perception of myself.
68. Avoid challenges OR Make a commitment to overcome obstacles
I can dictate my future if I show my commitment to it in word and deed. Words create the world.
69. Turn a deaf ear OR Sing, dance and listen to music
In the opinion of the psychologist Abraham Maslow, dance, rhythm and music are “excellent ways to move toward the discovery of identity.”
70. Be intimidated by the difficulty OR Rise to the challenge
The words I use not only describe reality, they create it. I am the co-creator of everything that happens to me, of my life.
71. Avoid confrontation at all costs OR Be a “good enemy”
A “good enemy ” is someone who challenges me, who helps me progress, who lifts me up, but also offers support and affection at the same time.
72. Give in to fear and lack of self-confidence OR Be fearful, but go for it nevertheless.
Courage is not related to fear; it is about the fact that you fear something but that you still go for it.
73. Pay no attention to others OR Be friendly
Our behavior towards others creates concentric circles that, as when you throw a stone into a lake, affect the people we meet and even beyond.
74. Be dark and serious OR Be light and playful
Fun is our fuel, it supplies us with energy and drive. So we need to make our work, our relationships with others, our whole life, fun.
75. Never look beyond the end of your nose OR Step back and observe
I live a better quality of life the more I am able to consciously see things from a different point of view, to step back and observe things from a different perspective.
76. Follow the beaten path OR Be the person who controls your own journey
Do I possess the courage to give up a secure life security to seek a path that others have not investigated? You have to listen to your inner voice to narrate your own journey.
77. See the dark side of everything OR See the bright side
If you can see the good side of things it does not mean that you ignore the problems. On the contrary, it means you are realistic as the positive is as much a part of reality as the negative. At any given moment, I can choose where I will focus my attention.
78. Pay lip service OR Do something about it
We need to nurture the qualities in ourselves that we would like to find in others.
79. Seek the approval of others OR Make yourself known
It is when the focus of the relationship shifts – from the desire for approval to the desire to be known – that a genuine and meaningful connection is created.
80. Resign yourself to boredom OR Discover the freshness in your day-to-day life
If we take a few moments each day to look at things with a different perspective, to see something new in our partners and children, we will feel better physically and psychologically.
81. Prioritize the intellectual side OR Be “wholeheartedly positive”
In addition to the ability to think, to examine, we have been given the ability to feel and it is to our own detriment that we neglect this aspect of ourselves.
82. Give up in the face of difficulty OR Do everything possible to achieve your dreams
Everyone who has accomplished something of note has gone through difficult times, but rather than succumb to the negative remarks, they continued to put in the work to fulfil their dreams and to rise to the challenge.
83. Be satisfied with little OR Show yourself at your best
To bring out the best in me, I can ask myself what the person I most admire would do in my place.
84. Ignore peoples’ potential OR Find the good aspects within each person
If we recognize the potential of others, if we open our eyes to the possibilities, we will help these positive aspects to grow and provide them with the encouragement they need to flourish.
85. Pay lip service and make empty promises OR Have integrity
If I honor my word, I honor myself.
86. Show off OR Be humble
If you are humble it doesn’t mean that you hide away your skills and strengths, it is your knowledge of your abilities as well as your limitations.
87. Bite off more than you can chew OR To simplify your life
Quantity has consequences on quality. At a certain point, the things I add to my life – no matter how attractive – cause me more distress than joy.
88. Fall to bits because you made a mistake OR Learn from your mistakes
Mistakes and errors are inevitable events in life. When you fall down, as a baby, it helps you learn to walk; if you learn from your mistakes, then you make progress. If you don’t always look for perfection, you experience a certain “lightness of being”.
89. Live with introspection OR Look at other things
Our obsession with happiness can make us unhappy. If you become overly introspective about life, you will probably find it bores and, ultimately, depresses you. If you over-analyze yourself, shift your focus to the outside.
90. Take your loved ones at face value OR Know how to appreciate those around you
The first premise of well-being is neither money nor prestige, but the time we spend with the people we love and who love us. Take the time to care for your relationships with your loved ones as it makes you happier and gives you the strength to reach the goals that you have set yourself for the future.
91. Bathe in mediocrity OR Bring spirituality into your life
We are both material and immaterial individuals, creatures of flesh and spirit, and everything we do reflects this duality. Bring spirituality into what you do with a list of your core values. Then do your utmost to live by these values and turn your life into a spiritual odyssey.
92. Follow blindly OR Take the lead
We must choose to open our eyes, to think for ourselves, to take action when we see it’s required.
93. Address people OR Address the issues
When you find yourself in a situation where you need to say something that is painful or difficult, it is important to distinguish between the person and the behaviour that is the cause of the problem.
94. Remain a passive victim OR Take control of your destiny
I can spend my whole life as a victim, blame my misfortunes on others and feel bitter about it. Or I can choose to take control of my destiny and do what I can to make positive changes in my life.
95. Stagnate OR Change your perspective
There are times that all we have to do to overcome, what seems to be, an insurmountable problem. The solution can be found if we choose to view it from another perspective and fix the problem.
96. Dwell on your failures OR Focus on your successes
Our failures teach us the route not to go down again, our successes encourage us in the right direction – their memory is a source of inspiration and energy.
97. Fight off Fears and Tears OR Allow Yourself to be human
All feelings run through the same emotional channel; if I block some, I then, indirectly, block others. To live my life to its full, I must allow myself to feel the full range of human emotions.
98. Don’t be generous OR Be lavish
Too many people believe that they lose out – consciously or unconsciously – when they give something but receive no immediate, tangible return. But generous people are ultimately the most successful. With an approach to life that shows generosity it allows us to “make the world a better place”.
99. Take care of business OR Be patient
An expectation that things will change at a quick pace and without much effort involved is the surest way to be disappointed and frustrated. Patience and consistency are the essential ingredients to any evolution – this is what it takes to change personally, in both relationships and on a business level.
100. Give in to boredom OR Recognize the uniqueness in the ordinary
Wherever I look, I am able to see the miracle… Even in the fact that I can look!
101. Ignore your dreams OR Take your dreams seriously
The pursuit of our dreams is the purpose of life.
Conclusion on the book Choose the Life You Want:
Tal Ben-Shahar concludes his book with these words: I have a choice AND I choose to choose.
And this, in my opinion, is the essential point of the book Choose the Life You Want: to remind us of the extent to which we are, at each moment, the designers of our lives and to show us, with credible examples, that we have more choices than we think. These small decisions that we make every day lead to major consequences that ultimately have a major effect on our lives because “If you make a choice, you unleash the potential of each moment.”
Tal Ben-Shahar provides a no-nonsense approach to happiness; he recognizes that there is no secret to lifelong happiness and that it is not possible to take shortcuts and shirk from the daily grind that is involve to make us better people.
For those who are already on the path of personal development, some passages will feel like déjà vu – or déjà lu. Tal Ben-Shahar is not immune to certain clichés – such as the glass being half-full or half-empty – but he also delivers some pearls of wisdom: “admit the acceptable rather than demand perfection” or “our obsession with happiness can make us unhappy”.
Tal Ben-Shahar has contributed to the widespread dissemination of positive psychology, notably through the courses he has given on this subject at Harvard and the books he has written, which include the bestsellers “Learning Happiness” and “Learning Imperfection”.
- Some pearls of wisdom
- Inspirational quotes
- Anecdotes and real-life situations
- A fast and fun read, nicely separated into relevant sections
- The binary choice (or/and) is sometimes a bit simplistic
- Some banal clichés
- A bit repetitive in places
My rating :
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