Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Book Review

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I have social anxiety. Not terrible social anxiety, but bad enough that it’s definitely had a negative impact on my life. I also have periodic issues with depression, mostly of the chronic low-grade variety, although I’ve had a few episodes that were worse. Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David Burns, was recommended to me by a psychologist friend when I asked for help after I started getting panic attacks after certain social situations, and I can honestly say it’s changed my life. Alas, it hasn’t cured me. I doubt there is a true cure, though a therapist might be able to make additional progress. But – and this is still a significant benefit and improvement in my quality of life – I haven’t had a panic attack since first reading the book in 2011, nor have I had one of my deeper depressive episodes. I still feel awkward in many social situations, but I’ve caught myself being braver, and less avoidant of them, and I beat myself up less afterwards for perceived mistakes. Again, not cured, but noticeably better.

Burns is one of the developers of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of psychotherapy that’s well supported by clinical trials for its effectiveness in treating, anxiety disorders, depression, and a number of other conditions. As someone with an internal voice that tends to be self-deprecating and sarcastic at best and cruel and unreasonable at worst, I found the concept of cognitive distortions especially helpful as a kind of mental structure to help me recognize when I was undermining good feelings and exaggerating mistakes. Even simply being able to recognize and label negative thought patterns has been really helpful in reducing both their frequency and their effect on my mental state.

I re-read it periodically as a sort of inoculation against trouble. If you suffer from anxiety or depression like me, I highly recommend it. It may not be an adequate substitute for seeing a therapist in person, but it’s a big step in the right direction if you need help.


If you’ve stumbled on this review and you need urgent help, skip the book and call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255. If you’re not in the US, check out this list of international suicide prevention hotlines.

My rating: (5 / 5)

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts Book Review

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My mother brought this book home from somewhere when I was in my teens and our whole family ended up reading it and discussing it at length. While I wouldn’t say it’s the be-all-and-end-all of relationship books, it’s definitely one of the best I’ve personally read, and it provide a useful and actionable framework for reducing misunderstandings and maintaining relationship satisfaction.

The Five Love Languages begins with the simple and common sense premise that people have different ways of expressing affection (“love languages”) and that misunderstandings can ensue if people happen to have different primary love languages. Chapman’s five love languages are:

  1. quality time
  2. words of affirmation
  3. gifts
  4. acts of service
  5. physical touch (not just sex, but also hugs, back rubs, cuddling, etc.)

He devotes a chapter to each love language, with numerous examples from his many years as a pastor and relationship counselor.

Although most people will respond to some degree to any of the five love languages, Chapman argues that most people have one or two that are dominant and that neglecting a person’s dominant love language can, over time, make them feel unloved and unhappy in their relationships.

My own family had some interesting revelations in our discussions of the book. Though nobody was surprised to discover that the primary love language of my mother, my brother, and I was Quality Time, my sister announced that hers was Physical Touch, a rather unfortunate happenstance given that the other four of us are physically aloof, with a very low need for touch. Similarly, my father concluded that his was Words of Affirmation, another weak point for the rest of us, who tend to be bad at giving compliments and worse at receiving them. To this day, over a decade after reading the book, I make a conscious effort to be more physically affectionate with my sister and more verbally appreciative with my father (practice that later came in handy with my husband, who’s also strong on Words of Affirmation).

I am doubtful whether Chapman’s love languages would be enough to save relationships with severe, long-term problems or incompatibilities, but in situations where the main problem is just that one or both partners are feeling unappreciated, unloved, or taken for granted, I think it could work wonders.

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My rating: (4 / 5)