Because personal finance is more personal than it is finance, just about every step we take in our personal development aids us in financial planning, and vice versa.
It is in better understanding ourselves that even the most confounding financial decisions are made simple. Therefore, it’s entirely possible for a seemingly non-financial book to have a meaningful impact on your financial life, while the reverse is also true.
Consider, then, this list of my choices for the top five (mostly) recent books that can improve your life, work and financial serenity in 2017:
5) The Whole 30: The Official 30-Day Guide To Total Health And Food Freedom is not your typical diet book. I don’t do those. But I am fascinated by various “life hacks,” small behavioral changes we can make in our diet, exercise and sleep patterns that make life more livable.
I enjoyed Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Body diet in 2015, and I kicked off 2016 by diving into the Whole 30 for the month of January, holding onto several of its tenets for the remainder of the year. As Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, architects of the Whole 30, warn us, the first two weeks will likely be a lot of work with little reward. But if you can make it to days 15 through 30, I can’t imagine not benefiting from this exercise in discipline.
Most of us spend a few too many calories and dollars in the final weeks of the year, so why not undergo an intentionally healthy purge—physically and fiscally—to start the New Year? I’ll be doing it with you!
HINT: Increase your chances of completing the Whole 30 by doing it as a group. Last year, we had a dozen people doing it together, texting recipes and encouragements back and forth throughout the month. But if no one will do it with you, there is a vast and vibrant online community ready to support you.
4) Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived Joyful Life is an incredible bargain, as Bill Burnett and Dave Evans have translated the Stanford class (a long-time favorite) into book form.
Studies show that more than 80% of financial planning recommendations are not implemented, and I believe that is because clients’ “life plans” are either nonexistent or not incorporated into (and therefore supporting) the financial plan. Burnett and Evans help us by bringing their Silicon Valley design process to life architecture.
HINT: Designing Your Life is really a guidebook with exercises throughout. To make the most of it, I highly recommend doing the exercises as you read the book. Yes, it will increase the effort, but it will also drastically increase the effectiveness.
3) The Road Back To You: An Enneagram Journey To Self-Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, is my favorite Enneagram book yet. If you’re unfamiliar, the Enneagram is often lumped in as a personality typing system, but I believe it provides a great deal more than just a “light-bulb moment” (although it certainly does do that!).
As Cron suggests, its purpose “is to develop self-knowledge and learn how to recognize and dis-identify with the parts of our personalities that limit us so we can be reunited with our truest and best selves.”
And in my experience, it works. A true understanding of your Enneagram type will tell you more about your financial strengths and foibles than you can imagine. (I’m an 8 with a 7 wing, by the way.)
HINT: One of the things that makes the Enneagram especially interesting—but occasionally controversial—is that it is rooted more in ancient spirituality (Sufism, Judaism and Christianity) than science. This volume, like Richard Rohr’s, is written from a Christian worldview. If you’d prefer something more ecumenical, consider The Wisdom of the Enneagram, but I find The Road Back To You to be the most readable and applicable book I’ve read yet on the subject.
2) The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds had little chance to live up to my high expectations. Michael Lewis is one of my favorite writers and Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s work is an occupational fascination of mine.
But it’s almost as if Lewis keeps trying to one-up himself. He’s continually finding topics that should be considered impossible to write stories about—like the birth of behavioral economics in this case—and making them interesting. He succeeds here. Again.
But what really surprised me was how fertile the soil of Kahneman and Tversky’s lives—individually and collectively—were for outright story-telling. A Holocaust survivor and war hero? Indeed, many who read this book are likely to find the personal struggles and successes of these men more inspiring than their scientific discoveries.
HINT: Lewis does, at times, delve into some pretty complex material—but never for too long. Just like that movie that loses you for a few minutes, I recommend you just keep going. It will eventually all make sense!
1) When Breath Becomes Air would likely be my number-one choice regardless of the year in which I read it. A good friend of mine, whose opinion on books and music I trust above most, handed me a copy of this book, almost struggling to release her grasp on it. Rightly so.
Paul Kalanithi’s writing is so fluid that I’m quite sure I could, as Abraham Verghese remarked in the foreword, enjoy reading his writing on any topic. But the subject matter—a brilliant, yet humble, idealist’s search to find meaning in life through a vocation consumed by death, only to face his own terminal diagnosis just as he was “arriving” in life, marriage and work—whew!
Far from morbid, though, Kalanithi shares his journey in a way that is undeniably life-giving. I recommend this book to anyone, whether they are seeking meaning in life or not, and plan to make it required reading for my sons. And I assure you that once you’ve plumbed the depths of soul searching on this level, personal finance decisions will start to look easy.
HINT: You may want to have some Kleenex nearby—but please don’t let that be a reason to avoid this book!
This commentary originally appeared December 30 on Forbes.com
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