7 New Mindfulness Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List

Explore a guide to bittersweet emotions, an ode to everyday beauty, and more recent books and podcasts.

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1. Bittersweet

How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole 

Susan Cain • Crown

Susan Cain wants to know if we can transform the way we love, lead, parent, talk about death, and understand each other by embracing the “hidden riches of sorrow and longing.” In looking for the answer, Cain turns to philosophers (past and present), researchers, songs, poems, and anecdotes and weaves them together in nine chapters. 

We’re never given a single answer to what is possible when we embrace the bitter in bittersweet emotions, partly because each of us gets to choose how and when to let sorrow in. (And if you’re not sure what that means in your life, Cain developed a “Bittersweet Quiz” to gauge whether you inhabit a bittersweet state instinctively.) Instead, we follow Cain on an exploration of the wisdom in sadness throughout history. With a hodgepodge of examples of turning toward difficult emotions laid out for us, we’re able to consider committed action to move from bitter to sweet, from loss to love, without shying away from the former in each of those options. “Bittersweetness shows us how to respond to pain: by acknowledging it, and attempting to turn it into art, the way the musicians do, or healing, or innovation, or anything else that nourishes the soul.” 

The truth, Cain writes, is that pain, sadness, and longing are rooted in care, “therefore the best response to pain is to dive deeper into your caring.” The coda, How to Go Home, shares practical applications of embracing sadness. We’re presented with questions that can help us understand what role sorrow and longing play in our lives with the light encouragement to turn often painful emotions into “a constructive force of your choosing.” – KR

2. Mindful Mixology 

A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails 

Derek Brown • Rizzoli 

“If mindful drinking is about weighing your options,” Derek Brown writes, “then mindful mixology is an extension of that.” In this beautiful book of no- and low-alcohol cocktail recipes, you’ll learn the skills to enjoy a well-crafted drink of your choosing. With over 20 years of experience in mixology, Brown offers a look at the ingredients and flavors commonly found in cocktails and discusses the wide range of non-alcoholic substitutes. He cleverly weaves in the voices of others in the (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) spirits industry to explore why having a cocktail is about much more than a sip of alcohol. It’s about being in the atmosphere where cocktails are served, appreciating good company, and savoring flavors that match your palate. – KR

3. Everything, Beautiful

A Guide to Finding Hidden Beauty in the World

Ella Frances Sanders • Penguin Random House

Our society’s narrow view of beauty often leaves us in what Sanders calls a “beauty drought.” She encourages us to find new definitions of beauty “that allow us to be fully ourselves, powerfully noticing, and expansively human.” Part meditation, part self-help guide, and part interactive journal, Everything, Beautiful explores our evolving ideas about beauty and how to uncover it in our everyday lives. By taking a moment to pause, we might savor the elegance of a dandelion or the earliest blue hours of the morning. Filled with captivating stories, prompts, hand-lettered quotes, and illustrations, Sanders’ book expands our perspective to include those imperfect, messy, and even heartbreaking moments in this new definition of beauty. – OL

4. Work Pray Code

When Work Becomes Religion in Silicon Valley 

Carolyn Chen • Princeton University Press

Work Pray Code is about the relationships between work, religion, mindfulness, and ourselves. It’s a sociological case study in Silicon Valley, where Carolyn Chen, who is associate professor of ethnic studies at UC Berkeley and codirector of the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, finds that for some workers, the sorts of needs traditionally met by religion—for belonging, identity, purpose—are now being met at and by work. Corporate meditation programs, popularized by Google and LinkedIn, are part of what’s “reconfiguring the lives of high-paid skilled workers in late capitalism,” Chen writes. She clearly understands that in a work context, meditation is usually treated as a secular wellness practice. Given that reality, she seeks “to unearth the assumptions about the religious and the secular that become clear when meditation crosses the threshold between them.” 

Silicon Valley is an ideal location to study these assumptions. As 14- to 18-hour workdays and a feverishly competitive environment edge out community and self-care outside work, workplace mindfulness programs do seem to provide well-being and connection to self. Yet, Chen asks, what does it mean for mindfulness to play the kind of role traditionally found in religious communities? Drawing from hundreds of interviews, she unspools the causes and effects of “finding our souls at work.” Is there a difference between cultivating “equanimity, compassion, and a clear mind” because they are virtues and cultivating them “because we want to optimize our performance”? 

However distant Silicon Valley may feel from our own practice, Chen demonstrates how all of us can bring the light touch of beginner’s mind to whatever our context for meditating is. In a workaholic society, where there’s more noise about mindfulness than there is genuinely mindful behavior, there’s an intrinsic (not monetary) value to reclaiming our off-the-clock sources of meaning and wholeness. – AT

5. Cheerfulness

A Literary and Cultural History 

Timothy Hampton • Zone Books

This scholarly examination charts the progress of cheerfulness across five centuries, its meaning becoming more layered as it travels through every sector of human experience. From its earliest medieval understanding of cheer as friendly hospitality, spiritual uplift, and even sustenance, this “modest” emotion, as Hampton styles it, is intrinsically linked with community. Hampton writes: “Cheerful charity was the manifestation of a link between self and other that already existed…what’s mine is yours already, even before I give it to you.” Later, when John Calvin gets his hands on it, cheerfulness becomes a condition of full membership in the community, a sign of “proper spiritual practice.” For medical thinkers in early modern Europe, it is both a legible sign of the inner self and a technique—a tool for self-management. Shakespeare explores it as a political tool in emerging court societies. From Jane Austen to the smileyface emoji, from Erasmus to Louis Armstrong, Hampton says, cheerfulness has shaped and changed the way we relate to ourselves, and to each other, in art, music, society, politics, medicine, and spiritual life. 

He leaves us with a powerful case for this often misunderstood emotion: “Even in its modern iteration, cheerfulness may be one of the forms of emotional power that should not be overlooked. It is not the ‘hope’ of the messianic, or the ‘optimism’ of the cheap politician. It makes more modest promises—to get you through the next few hours, to connect you to a neighbor. You can’t build a politics on it. But you probably can’t rebuild a world without it.” – SD

6. Teaching Self-Compassion to Teens

Lorraine Hobbs and Niina Tamura • Guilford Press 

This science-based guidebook for those who work with teens and want to introduce and include self-compassion practices in that work offers a practical roadmap for counselors, teachers, and even parents looking to help teens and young adults navigate the often-rocky years of adolescence (a period that ends when one has arrived at a “stable, independent role in society”). In addition to basic information about adolescent brain development, Hobbs and Tamura give a solid background in self-compassion practice, with nods to seminal work in the field by Chris Germer and Kristin Neff (Hobbs, along with Karen Bluth, officially adapted Germer and Neff’s Mindful Self-Compassion course to develop the MSC for Teens course). Besides covering some of the trickier aspects of teaching this—or any—material to teens (behavioral disruption, disinterest and disengagement), this book offers advice for teachers to deepen their own self-compassion work, with mini-practices around patience, letting go, lovingkindness for a difficult teen, and compassion for one’s own teenaged self. – SD

7. Mindful Medicine

Jan Chozen Bays, MD • Shambhala 

Healing the burnout epidemic in health care will require systemic change, along with pragmatic, research-backed tools for self-care that can meet healthcare workers where they are now. To that end, physician and meditation teacher Jan Chozen Bays offers a wise, timely, and compassionate book’s worth of simple exercises that healthcare professionals (and all frontline workers) can use to mitigate stress and to restore their sense of presence, purpose, and flow in their chosen career. “Obstructions always arise, of course,” she writes, “but once we have trained ourselves in how to enter the full experience of the present moment, we are able to flow, like water, around or over potential difficulties, and even penetrate straight in to their heart.” Included are techniques for connecting with yourself and with clients throughout the day; guided meditations, with audio online; mini “rescue remedy” practices for high-stress times; and tips for mindfulness practice groups and retreats. – AT 

3 Mindfulness Podcasts to Listen to This Summer

1. Burnout

Episode 1: “We Can’t Live Like This Anymore”

“Close your eyes and think of the word ‘burnout,’” says Connor Franta, host of Burnout. You may picture an office worker exhausted after a full week, a grocery clerk on the second leg of a double shift, or you when you’re feeling burnt out. This debut episode, produced in collaboration with (you guessed it!) Mindful, explores the physiology and history of burnout—and why it creeps into our lives. We hear from experts who break down research, personal experience, and ways to be OK. And when the topic gets heavy, (our very own founding editor) Barry Boyce offers a few moments of practice to check in with yourself. – KR

2. Workwell by Deloitte

Episode: “The Science of Happiness”

Jen Fisher, Chief Well-Being Officer for Deloitte, hosts this buoying conversation with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, a prolific author, professor, and expert on leadership and happiness. They discuss topics as varied as the usefulness of measuring GNH (Gross National Happiness), the hard work of healing perfectionism, and the very practical question of how we “create rituals” that feed our well-being, “whether it’s appreciation, regular exercise, kindness, generosity,” or giving “our undivided attention when we are with other people,” says Ben-Shahar. Prioritizing happiness, he says, can be as simple—and, to be sure, as difficult—as consistently making these choices for ourselves. – AT

3. Speaking of Psychology

Episode: “Ambiguous Loss and ‘the myth of closure’”

Pauline Boss, PhD, author of The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change, joins host Kim Mills to talk about why closure may be an appropriate term for the end of a business deal, but not for thinking about life after loss. Boss coined the term “ambiguous loss”—a loved one who’s missing, or ill with dementia, say—in the 1970s. Here, she extends it to our pandemic losses—loved ones, lost opportunities, jobs, ceremonies, celebrations. Boss makes generous space for the continued attachment we naturally feel for who and what we love. “‘Getting over it’ is an artificial idea put upon the people who are grieving in a culture that has no patience for suffering,” she tells Mills. “We might be that culture.” – SD

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