New year, new you. If only it were that simple, right?

As we move deeper into January, the resolutions, goals, and hopes we harbor for 2014 are still within reach – but a little help achieving them couldn’t hurt. There’s nothing quite like the pang of discovering a lengthy New Year's resolution list from years past, and realizing that you’re still struggling to change the same old habits or to tackle the same elusive goals. Perhaps you’re seeking a happier life, and the ability to better appreciate what you have, or maybe you want to break bad habits and create a healthier, more productive and rewarding lifestyle.

The following five books offer a range of perspectives on how to effect change in your life, from health and diet to relationships and business. Learn the science of habits – how to consciously change them for the better — and the myths of happiness. Create a better life for yourself, one book at a time.

***

The Myths of Happiness"The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, but Does"

By Sonja Lyubomirsky

We all want to be happy, but some of us have a harder time achieving lasting contentment. It’s as if we’re on a treadmill – a hedonic treadmill, to be exact – and no matter what happens, we stay in the same general zone. Society has long insisted that we attain happiness by hitting culturally confirmed markers of success such as marriage, kids, jobs and wealth, but Sonja Lyubomirsky says that these are false promises. The UC Riverside professor has been conducting research on happiness for 23 years and has focused on developing a science of human happiness.

In her book “The Myths of Happiness,” out this month in paperback, Lyubomirsky shows how the common concept of happiness is flawed, and how subscribing to it can have toxic consequences. Failing to grasp the impact of the "I'll be happy when [I have a partner, job, money, kids]" fallacy may lead us to make very poor decisions. On the flip side, if we can learn how to slow hedonic adaptation, cope with adversity, and pursue new goals, we can transform moments of crisis into straightforward passages of life and actually stay happier – even during the most difficult times. Aside from feeling good, Lyubomirsky has determined that happiness offers numerous positive byproducts, including higher incomes, more satisfying and longer marriages, and better physical health. Happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities. If you’ve longed to be happier and are ready to cure yourself of “I’ll be happy when” syndrome, this is the book for you.   

***

The Happiest Life by Hugh Hewitt"The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success"

By Hugh Hewitt

“The Four Agreements.” “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” We’re all looking for digestible approaches to positive change — lifestyles that can be bullet-pointed and made easily accessible. Deepak Chopra gave us “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” and now Hugh Hewitt offers “The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success.”

Hewitt, a lawyer, law professor and broadcast journalist whose nationally syndicated radio show is heard in more than 120 cities across the United States, is a self-described “Evangelical Roman Catholic Presbyterian,” and he offers his distinctive Christian approach in “The Happiest Life.” His method is simple: focus on regularly giving seven "gifts" — encouragement, energy, enthusiasm, empathy, good humor, graciousness and gratitude — because both the giver and receiver benefit from these behaviors. Add to that a focus on faith, family, community and fulfilling work, and Hewitt believes you’ll be on your way to being “for the most part, happy.” "Everyone is eligible to be a giver of these gifts," he promises. "Everyone."

***

The Power of Habit by Charles DuHigg"The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business"

By Charles Duhigg

Charles Duhigg’s chartbusting book, “The Power of Habit,” which spent 62 weeks on New York Times bestseller lists, is now available in paperback from Random House. The book details scientific discoveries that explain why habits exist and how they can be changed. Duhigg, a Pulitzer prize-winning staff writer at the New York Times, brings to life a whole new understanding of human nature and its potential for transformation.

“The book draws on hundreds of academic studies, interviews with more than 300 scientists and executives, and research conducted at dozens of companies,” explains DuHigg. “It focuses on habits as they are technically defined: the choices that all of us deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day. At one point we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office, how often to have a drink or when to go for a jog. Then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic. It's a natural consequence of our neurology. And by understanding how it happens, you can rebuild those patterns in whichever way you choose.” Along the way we learn why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. We visit laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. We discover how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr.

The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive, building revolutionary companies and social movements, and achieving success, shows Duhigg, is understanding how habits work. Anyone can learn this stuff, he promises. Changing habits isn’t necessarily quick or easy. But it is possible if you know how.

***

Eat, Move Sleep by Tom Rath"Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes"

By Tom Rath

Tom Rath is the kind of person who can totally change your perspective on life. A senior scientist and adviser at Gallup, Rath is one of the masterminds behind StrengthsFinder, a tool similar to the Myers-Briggs test that has been used by more than 8 million people to identify their talents. The #1 New York Times bestselling author has penned five books about ways people and organizations can reach their potential – he even wrote one for kids.

Rath has also been managing a serious illness for  more than 20 years, and his most recent book, “Eat Move Sleep,” is inspired by his ongoing effort to stay as healthy as he can. Since he was diagnosed at 16 with von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes cancerous growths, Rath has assembled a wide range of information on the impact of eating, moving and sleeping. "As scientists are now uncovering, your lifestyle choices can create rapid and dramatic changes at the genetic level,” he writes. “Even with a family history of obesity or heart disease, you will benefit from a better diet, more activity, and quality sleep. Lifestyle choices can be even more influential than your genetic background.” Written in Rath’s engaging conversational style, “Eat Move Sleep” features proven and practical ideas from his research. He shows that while you can’t change your genes altogether, you clearly can alter the expression of your genes and the subsequent impact they have on your health over time. The book lays out ways of changing your eating, exercise, and sleeping habits that are easy to do at your own pace, and while Rath acknowledges that change can be hard, he encourages readers to give it some time. “From my own experience and from observing others, I have noticed that making better choices often becomes automatic after just a couple of weeks.” If you’re looking to improve your health and extend your longevity, “Eat Move Sleep” is a must-read.

***

Changeology by John Norcross"Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions"

By John C. Norcross

If you want to make transformative, permanent changes in your life but aren’t sure how to go about it, Dr. John C. Norcross can help. The internationally recognized expert on behavior change has spent decades studying what works and what doesn’t. His research led him to identify five distinct stages of behavior change, similar to the stages of grief distinguished by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Norcross believes that to effect enduring personal change, everyone must pass through five stages that include getting ready, planning before leaping, taking action, managing slips and maintaining change.

"People progress through the identical stages — what I will call the five steps — for each of the 50-plus problems now researched. And they use the same fundamental strategies to speed their progress through those stages. Of course, the particular goals are different — smokers are reducing cigarette consumption and dealing with cravings, while parent-child relationships are being improved by reducing conflict and enhancing communication. But the journey to the goal is the same." “Changeology,” out now in paperback, updates Norcross’s previously published research and expands its applications, offering a broader approach to achieving personal improvement and goals and focusing primarily on the crucial first 90 days of the change process. Behavioral research indicates that it takes 90 days to prepare for change, build a new behavior, become confident in the face of high-risk triggers, and move past the likelihood of relapse. Brain research also suggests that it takes a few months of practicing a new behavior to create permanent change. If you’re ready to invest three months into building a better you, “Changeology” may be just the guide you need.

Related on MNN: