Book Review – The Sweet Spot, Christine Carter, Ph.D.

I love to read both fiction and non-fiction books so I thought I’d share with you reviews of those that I think have made a positive difference in how I live my life. I’ve also realised that by writing a review, I actually pay more attention whilst reading and absorb more of the information which has been really helpful.

My first review is on The Sweet Spot – How to Accomplish More by Doing Less by Christine Carter, Ph.D. I can’t remember how I came across this book but I read a lot of other people’s reviews and recommendations on Good Reads, blogs like Whole 30 and Intelligent Change and podcasts like The Tim Ferris Show and I keep a list on my phone ready to find them on Amazon (or at the library now I’m a member!). Anyway, onto the review…

Dr. Christine Carter is a happiness expert at the Greater Good Science Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, a hub for scientific research on increasing happiness and compassion in society.

Author of two books and a blog on happiness, in The Sweet Spot, Christine attempts to provide actionable strategies to ease stress, improve productivity and enhance joy. She argues that this is increasingly important in our “busy” society where stress is often seen as a badge of honour rather than the debilitating illness it really is.

We know that stress releases cortisol designed to provide the body with glucose, and therefore energy, ready for the fight or flight response to the stressor. Not a problem if this occurs infrequently but prolonged stress leading to elevated cortisol can cause increased blood sugar levels and risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, immune system suppression, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease and fertility problems.

Pretty frightening! The Sweet Spot details a huge array of strategies for reducing, eliminating or coping with the everyday stressors we face as well as those bigger and often overwhelming life changing events. Christine makes the science and research behind the strategies easy to understand and makes a lot of insightful and practical suggestions about how to achieve that elusive work-life balance.

I took a lot from this book. Some of the actions I already do regularly but it motivated me to put more into them as well as adding a few new ones. My favourite tips were:

1. Take regular moments to recharge throughout the day. I think this is especially important at work and I’ve found it really impacts my productivity. Something as simple as a lunchtime walk plus breaks to get a cup of herbal tea (I don’t like the regular stuff!) helps get me through even the busiest days.


2. Deliberately practice gratitude. I use the 5 Minute Journal app every day (there’s a physical journal option too) and love how it gently encourages my worst mood into something more positive. Christine’s research shows that practicing gratitude increases enthusiasm and determination, resilience to stress and satisfaction with life as well as reducing minor health complaints. Taking it a step further, Christine suggests sharing this gratitude with others – as a family on the fridge, sending thank you notes to friends or with colleagues on a white board. Recently, my sister stayed in my flat with her husband for the weekend while visiting and she left behind a thank you card and box of chocolates. I was really touched and sent a thank you text in response. Both the giving and receiving of thanks in this situation gave me a little boost of joy.


3. Find sources of inspiration or awe – that sense of something larger. The research suggests this creates less time pressure and impatience. I can be very impatient but witnessing something awe-inspiring does seem to slow me down. I find travel and nature particularly effective for this: the Grand Canyon, Ayer’s Rock, seeing humpback whales feeding off the coast of Nova Scotia (photo below doesn’t do this justice, they were huge and so close to the boat) or more simply a sunset over the sea at the top of my road – all vivid memories of awe inspiring nature.


4. Dream about the future – articulating about our dreams for the future makes us happier and more optimistic. Christine suggests writing about your hopes and dreams for yourself in the next 5 or 10 years. For me, in 10 years time I will be very close to financial independence, maybe thinking about going part time at work and considering what I’m going to spend the rest of my time doing – maybe volunteer work, further study, yoga teacher training, definitely travelling and seeing family and friends on a regular and meaningful basis.

5. Meditation has a well reported long list of benefits including:
⁃ Boosts our immune systems
⁃ Increases happiness
⁃ Decreases stress and depression
⁃ Improves learning, focus and memory
⁃ Regulates our emotions
⁃ Increase ability to empathise
⁃ Improves our relationships
There are so many ways to meditate or be mindful and it doesn’t have to mean sitting in silence for hours on end. I use the Calm app most days for their Daily Calm session – a 10 minute meditation focused on a specific topic such as developing resilience.

6. Exercise also has a well reported list of benefits – it aids learning, improves mood and attention, lowers stress and anxiety and even clears out cortisol. It doesn’t have to mean hours in the gym. Dancing around the house or taking a walk in nature are both great forms of exercise without requiring a gym membership or special equipment. My current favourites are Zumba, yoga and running (that’s not me in the photo!).


7. Curiosity – working on an interesting activity replenishes energy. This blog is my interesting activity. I’ve tried painting and other artistic endeavours but I don’t really enjoy that kind of thing. Learning about and sharing what I’ve learned about financial independence and living a purposeful life is really interesting to me and I can spend endless hours researching and writing for my blog.

8. Focus on building good habits. Our conscious thoughts process information at a rate of 50 bits per second whereas our unconscious thoughts process a huge 11 million bits per second. So our conscious thoughts are smarter but don’t have the stamina to make decisions all day long. This is where our willpower can fail but habits can help. Christine recommends BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Program which I’ll be trying soon. Christine has other tips to help build good habits:
– Write out the routine for your new habit
– What gets measured gets done. I’m developing my own way to measure my progress to financial independence. The Mad Fientist also has some great resources if you don’t enjoy building your own spreadsheets like I do! There’s even apps that can help, Christine recommends The Way of Life which I’ve been trying for a few weeks and love!
– Don’t be too ambitious, make the habit tiny and then when you are used to it, add another tiny habit

9. Decide on your top 5 priorities and say no to everything else. Mine are:
1. Maintain my own health and happiness (stolen from Christine!)
2. Time with family and friends
3. Improving as a leader at work
4. Finishing the house renovations
5. Progress to financial independence

10. Our relationships are important. It is baffling that as a society we seem to be drawn to working more so that we can buy more “stuff” for ourselves and our family. Christine suggests that working less (and buying less “stuff”) in order to spend more time with our families would make us happier and I think members of the financial independence community would agree.


11. Be a giver not a taker. Christine gives a fascinating statistic – Volunteers over 55 are 44% less likely to die. Being kind to others increases our own positive emotions and we feel more connected and surprisingly more accepting of ourselves. We have an annual Act of Kindness Week in my workplace and it’s my favourite week of the year. Everyone is randomly assigned a colleague to show an act of kindness to for each day of that week. It can be something simple like bringing them a cup of tea and a biscuit or a gift like sending them home with a bottle of wine on Friday or a pretty note of gratitude for all the support they provide. Everyone benefits from the positive mood it spreads and the giving is equally satisfying as the receiving if not more so.

The Sweet Spot gave me a lot to think about and some actions to take, mainly I want to focus on building better habits that help me progress my 5 priorities. So my next step will be signing up for BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits Program and developing ways to measure my progress against my priorities.

Have you read The Sweet Spot or tried any of these resources to cultivate a more joyful life? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

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