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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Avoid reality at your peril!, 17 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Learning from Wonderful Lives: Lessons from the Study of Well-being Brought to Life by the Personal Stories of Some Much Admired Individuals (Hardcover)
This book is uplifting and inspiring. Baylis uses autobiographies of successful people (e.g. Hillary Clinton, Richard Branson, Lance Armstrong) to bring to life findings from positive psychology research. The main argument is that when we avoid reality we waste our life and it will not become wonderful. His enemies of reality include: too much TV, drugs, overwork, perfectionism and day dreaming. He frankly and amusingly describes his own wasted life till his mid twenties: watching three hours of TV every night, passing exams without really learning by cramming at the last minute, day dreaming and doing dead-end jobs.

Baylis blames his past rubbish life on avoiding life's challenges (that everyone meets) and retreating into the comfort of reality avoiding behaviour. His theory came out of his own research comparing young offenders, marines and Ox-bridge graduates. He found young offenders reported by far the longest time spent each day dreaming or fantasising with no practical use.

I was really inspired by studies that examine performance (e.g. playing the piano or football) and why one person will be better than another. The simple answer: practice. Quite amazingly research finds it's almost entirely the number of hours practice that explains differences in ability, not born talent. Importantly you need a passion for that skill, to find playful ways to make practice it enjoyable, and to set realistic goals.

Baylis turned his own life around through meeting a partner who did not avoid reality. Teaming up and asking for help is a strong theme throughout the book backed up by lots of research and practical ideas about how to be more social. I love his description of this not being a Self-Help book but a Get-Help book.

I thought it was weak in few places but please don't be put off reading this great book that I got so much out of. The style is much like Baylis having an enthusiastic chat with you. This leads to points being made in an overly long way. He needs to team up with a good critical book editor to condense his arguments so that his writing is tighter and more persuasive (much like Alain de Botton or Julian Baggini who write about similar topics).

I enjoyed the book most when he talks about positive psychology research. I would like to have read more about this. Instead Baylis tries to support research findings using extracts from biographies of the successful. Sometimes it works, but I soon found it annoying as it is done so often. Also, do biographies really give evidence of what causes a wonderful life? When people are asked to explain why there lives are successful what they describe isn't necessarily the real reason. This is revealed in the research described in the excellent book Stumbling on Happiness (Gerard Gilbert) where humans are shown to be very bad at predicting and remembering what actually make us happy.

Baylis' technique of asking people with wonderful lives how they got there is a common mistake made by most popular business books. This effect has been well exposed in the excellent business book The Halo Effect: and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers (Philip M Rosenzweig). "When a company's sales and profits are up, people often conclude that it has a brilliant strategy, a visionary leader, capable employees, and a superb corporate culture. When performance falters, they conclude that the strategy was wrong, the leader became arrogant, the people were complacent, and the culture was stagnant. In fact, little may have changed -- company performance creates a Halo that shapes the way we perceive strategy, leadership, people, culture, and more." (Extract from book description on Amazon)
A similar effect is recognised in medical research where factors that are first found to occur together (like cancer and smoking in the 1950s) cannot be used to prove causation until you run long term follow studies.

To be fair to Baylis I'm not dismissing his theory on reality avoiding leading to an empty life. He openly admits that "It's going to be sometime before studies can confirm or disprove my observations". Also, he clearly does not intend his book to be an academic text about psychology research. For example, he has a very user friendly guide to the research the book uses with many web links but not the actual reference to the academic paper. Ultimately Baylis is being passionate about his topic and has written a really enjoyable personal and inspiring "get help" (not self help) book. A follow up to this book should be written that is more evidence focused and better edited. Maybe Baylis is the man for that? I wish him well.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I had this book 15 years ago, 24 July 2007
This review is from: Learning from Wonderful Lives: Lessons from the Study of Well-being Brought to Life by the Personal Stories of Some Much Admired Individuals (Hardcover)
I am so happy to have found this book and am grateful it has been written. It is full of those insights which should really be commonsense. Since reading it I have found myself citing it as I affirm friends and family in their quests to improve their lives.

Lots of wisdom and interesting to boot. I can't recommend this highly enough.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haynes Manual for Humans, 3 May 2007
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This review is from: Learning from Wonderful Lives: Lessons from the Study of Well-being Brought to Life by the Personal Stories of Some Much Admired Individuals (Hardcover)
If this was a 'set text' for GCSE Engligh we'd have a much healthier, fulfilled and happier UK population. It being to the point, filled with case study examples of admired people and practical direction makes it a delight to read. This tops my list of books for people who wouldn't wish their life on another and for people who want to make the absolute best of themselves.
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10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to thrive and flourish, no matter where life leads, 10 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Learning from Wonderful Lives: Lessons from the Study of Well-being Brought to Life by the Personal Stories of Some Much Admired Individuals (Hardcover)
Professor Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, who was the 2002 President of the American Psychological Association's 150,000 members, wrote of this book:

"Rarely have I experienced a better blend of wit, wisdom and compassion presented in an engagingsly refreshing writing style, as in Nick's fine book. 'Wonderful Lives' is gamely authentic in its positive messages about how to make our lives work well for us. I am sure you will enjoy it and benefit fully from its 'spot-on' relevance to contemporary life."

Claire Rayner, OBE, Britain's best-loved voice on matters of health and well-being, wrote:

"Nick's book provides an enormous amout of commonsense, wisdom, and practical advice, that's as readable as a novel but infinitely more satisfying in the long term. I really do commend it to anyone who seeks for 'a wonderful life'."

Dr Nick Baylis wrote over 100 weekly columns for The Times newspaper as 'DrFeelGood', and has gone on to co-direct The Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge.

This exuberant book celebrates life and is meant for sharing with our loved ones. Having taught for many years in a whole host of settings, Nick has also written this for teachers, team-leaders, home-makers and mentors, just as much as for doctors, counsellors and psychologists. In fact, where ever we find ourselves... in full-time study or the working world, raising a family or taking retirement... the ideas within these pages can help our wings unfold.
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