It’s axiomatic to say, but life can be kind of hard – don’t you think? Over the course of human history, our daily struggles have evolved from hunting, gathering, and trying to avoid being eaten by a hungry predator, to deciding if we should buy an iPhone or an Android. Indeed, our ancestors would think our existence to be quite privileged. However, with arguably excessive material pleasures, and a much longer life expectancy, modern life mostly poses psychological, purpose-driven difficulties as opposed to physical ones.
Luckily, there are entire academic fields of study dedicated to these difficulties, and one of them that has proven to be especially helpful is psychology. In this article, we’ll recommend three books on psychology that will hopefully help you navigate your existential crisis.
The Paradox of Choice, by Barry Schwartz
In a world of seemingly endless possibility and choices, one finds themselves so overwhelmed by their perceived abundance of direction that they don’t follow any path at all, which leads to much psychological – and sometimes physical – suffering. Schwartz convincingly argues that having too many choices are just as bad as having none, and that, counter-intuitively, we’d all be better off indiscriminately limiting our own options when faced with a multitude of them to feel less overwhelmed. So, if you find yourself overwhelmed and constantly vacillating between the innumerous choices you must make daily, this book might be worth picking up – an extremely consequential read.
Stumbling on Happiness, by Dan Gilbert
Thanks to our frontal lobes, humans are the only animal capable of thinking critically about the future. However, our intuitions about what the future is going to look like are invariably influenced by many biases that lead our predictions of the future (and, indeed, the past) to be largely inaccurate. This, of course, presents a problem that often leads to existential angst. Most consequentially, it makes it awfully hard to know what decisions we should make in our lives, small and large, to maximize the potential for future happiness. Have you ever wondered what your life’s purpose was? Or which romantic partner will bring you the most happiness? Or simply what cuisine will bring you the most pleasure for dinner? Dan Gilbert attempts to answer those questions (and more, of course) in this fascinating book, delving into the psychology and neuroscience of predicting happiness.
Thinking Fast and Slow, by Dr. Daniel Kahneman and Dr. Amos Tversky
Humans are overconfident and irrational. Or so Dr. Daniel Kahneman and Dr. Amos Tversky explain in this bible of a book that goes details the many biases that humans have when it comes to one’s judgements and actions.
At the center of this book Kahneman and Tversky use the concept of two systems: system 1 and system 2. (it’s worth noting that these systems are concepts conceived by Kahneman and Tversky, not actual human anatomy.) System 1 is a highly intuitive and associative, it draws metaphors and gives us a quick perception or model of reality. System 2 is more thoughtful and plodding; it’s deliberate and uses reason. Both systems are useful and necessary, but also give one a window into the oversights and potential pitfalls that come with being human. This book, though at times difficult work to get through, is extremely helpful in showing us the blind spots in our everyday judgements and actions. (Bring your pen and dog-earring skills!) So helpful that it won Dr. Kahneman a Nobel Prize in economic science in 2002 (Tversky sadly passed away in 1996 – otherwise they would have shared it).