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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Summer reading to enhance the mind

After a fall, winter and spring in a country facing the need for economic restructuring, it’s time to reflect and perhaps spend some time this summer reading about the art of being happy. Or simply coping with job losses and personal economic upheaval. Nicola McCaffrey, a clinical psychologist in Stavanger, shares some of her tips for books that may be able to upgrade our minds.


Dr Nicola McCaffrey, a clinical psychologist in Stavanger, can help put a smile back on the faces of employees who are losing their jobs in the oil and other industries. PHOTO: Special to
Dr Nicola McCaffrey is a clinical psychologist in Stavanger who’s especially interested in happiness. PHOTO: Special to

Here in Stavanger, summer is a gift that you earn by enduring nine months of wind, rain and snow. With the skies now clearing and the sunshine making a reluctant appearance, we often find ourselves sitting outside more and enjoying a good book. But what do you find yourselves reading this summer?

The tables in bookstores can be overwhelming: Every book cover looks appealing, every blurb glows with praise. Sometimes we just need a good honest recommendation to inspire us to read. This summer, my recommended reading list has a good dose of books with the science of psychology at their core, but there’s no science to my selection process. The books that I have chosen are simply ones that I loved, made me think in new ways, and kept me up reading long past when I should have gone to sleep. As a result, this is an eclectic list, but I hope you find at least one book here that inspires you to go off the beaten path when you get some time to yourself this summer.

My first recommendation is 10% Happier by Dan Harris. 10% Happier is a story about all the things that happened to the author, ABC News journalist and Good Morning America co-anchor after he suffered a panic attack while on the air. His story explains the journey he embarked on that helped him to tame the voice in his head, reduce stress without losing his edge and find a healthy way of coping with life that actually works. The book is both a deadly serious and seriously funny look at mindfulness and meditation as the next big public health revolution. This is perhaps the best book I’ve read on mindfulness in a long time. It is funny, insightful and honest. If you are looking for a way to kick start your own self-improvement, minus new age waffle and general airy-fairiness, then look no further.

Next on my list is The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin. In this humourous and inspiring book, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the 12 months she spent test-driving the current scientific research and lessons from popular culture on how to be happier. In each chapter, Rubin looks at different aspects of her life and what she changed in that month to make her life better and happier. This book is a very straightforward and easy read and reminds meof the Bridget Jones diaries in its delivery and style. It is also simply a fun read. The simplicity of the book is offset by the depth of Rubin’s writing. Each step towards “happiness” is covered in depth and with a large amount of research to back up what she did.

Third choice: As the mother of two young boys, I have recently picked up the book Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. As a psychologist, I came to this book expecting that I knew a fair bit about this subject. Steve Biddulph has managed, however, in one fell swoop, to make me sit up and really challenge some of my beliefs and assumptions about parenting boys. This book is packed with anecdotes, ideas and a genuine sense of purpose. I found myself sometimes laughing, often nodding in agreement, and a few times crying along with the stories. As a mother I cannot honestly say I know what it is like to be male. This book helped to better equip me to be a mother to my boys and more carefully consider, empathize with, and try to understand my boys at each stage of their development.

One of the subjects that interests me is happiness. This next book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman, is a fascinatingly different way of looking at the philosophy of happiness. Burkeman introduces us to an unusual collection of people – experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers – who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that “positive thinking” and relentless optimism aren’t the solution, but part of the problem. And that there is an alternative, “negative path” to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty – those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counter-intuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

Next on my list is the rather fun and intriguingly titled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes is as popular today as when he was created back in the late 19th century. This may come as no surprise, since there is something about Holmes’ peculiar abilities including his keen observation, clever imagination and incisive reasoning capabilities that is both awe-inspiring and inspirational. We admire Holmes for cutting through the errors of thought that are so common to us, and that are reflected in Holmes’ sidekick, Watson. Yet we also recognize that there is nothing in Holmes’ abilities that is entirely out of reach. Indeed, his qualities are not so much superhuman as human qualities taken to their extreme. Still, human qualities taken to their extreme are intimidating enough, and we may find ourselves doubting whether we could ever really think like Sherlock–even if we put our minds to it. Cognitive psychologist Maria Konnikova puts forward a compelling case. Mastermind is a remarkable and entertaining guide to upgrading the mind.

Dr Nicola McCaffrey, who has written earlier for, is a clinical psychologist who’s been working in private practice in Stavanger since 2012. An expat herself, she has special insight into the challenges faced by those who’ve moved to Norway for professional or personal reasons, and she caters to the English-speaking international community in Norway. McCaffrey has a doctorate in clinical psychology from The University of Glasgow, has been qualified to work in the UK since 2008 and is authorized to practice in Norway through Statens Autorisasjons Kontor (SAK). McCaffrey is also a member of the professional association, Norsk Psykolog Foreningen. Visit her website at



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