If you are like me – You want to learn about psychology because it’s cool. You are interested in people and behaviours. You want to understand the why behind people’s actions and thoughts. Yet, you do not want to start with a dry textbook and start memorizing theories and experiments, then I have two great books to recommend.
They are The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Age of Empathy by Frans De Waal.
I have realized that the people who claim to be ‘beginners’ and want to dabble in psychology do not want something superficial. They want to find something that is deeply interesting and applicable. These two books greatly fulfil this role.
I may have a bias because The Power of Habit is the first book about psychology I have read. From the book, I have learned the mechanism of habits – A three-step process called habit loop. The first step, cue, suggests that there is an event that reminds the person about the action. Then, the person has to act on it which is known as the routine. As a result of the routine, the reward is a dopamine rush.
In the book, the author illustrates how powerful habits are and how people had succumbed to its devastating power in the form of gambling addiction. A woman, after losing her husband, decided to seek thrill from gambling. She became addicted to the dopamine rush from the near-wins and later lost all her money, including the money that was for her son’s education.
In the later parts of the book, the author applies the concept to operating a business. He explained how a company, who was on the verge of bankruptcy, managed to turn around the situation by leveraging on the habit of housewives/househusbands who likes to spray a finishing touch after completing a cleanup. We later know this company as Febreeze.
Habits are neutral and you can form a good or bad habit with the same mechanism. With that in mind, if you believe that multiple habits make the lifestyle, then understanding habits will give you the tool to design and architect your life.
Since young, I have found it difficult to fit myself into a typical social situation. It’s as if there is a mysterious layer that everyone else had figured out except me.
The Age of Empathy had opened my eye to a whole new world I wished existed. It is a world where we are all primitively influenced in some sense and that a little empathy would not only make the world a bit better but also make you a better leader.
Perhaps we have been overexposed to media’s portrayal of superiority as something that is cold and cruel that we eventually believed.
Many animals survive not by eliminating each other or keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing.Frans De Waal
The author, Frans De Waal, is a primatologist that studies the behaviour of apes. His observations range from a more controlled setting, such as two monkeys cooperating to complete a task, to something that is closer to nature. One observation he described that really stuck with me was how the male monkey leader was a lot more caring and nurturing than the typical male. In return, his leadership stays for a longer-term and he is better respected than a male leader who dominated physically his way to the top.
I really like how the author never makes any empty claims and all the conclusion are well thought out arguments and backed by scientific research and data.
The author explained from an evolutionist and a behaviourist perspective that we are made to be social and cooperate in a group. We are, at the least, somewhat dependent on each other. Evidently, there are competitions between us and even primates. However, to form tight bonds is when tragedy hits and you become the person to provide comfort and support. And that when we see unjust, we become angry and seek to equal the ground.
In the capitalistic society we live in today, I have heard plenty of sayings that imply nature to be cold-blooded and we need to act that way in order to be the top – ‘Survival of the fittest’ and ‘it’s a dog eat dog world’. Frankly, it’s quite a relief to read this book and find out that the truth is much kinder and warmer than we portray it to be. Perhaps why such cruel sayings are well perpetrated is because there is a little anxious being living inside of us that is always preparing for the worst. What each of us deeply desires is someone to comfort us.