Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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****Letters to a Young Therapist

Stories of Hope and Healing

by Mary Pipher

Reviewed September 12, 2004.
Basic Books, New York, 2003.  181 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #6, Personal Stories and Reflections

Mary Pipher is a Wise Woman.  She wrote Letters to a Young Therapist to a graduate student setting out to be a therapist, but the letters have nuggets of wisdom even for those of us who only want to live a happy and meaningful life.

Mary Pipher has many insights on living life, shared as she talks about what therapy can give people.  I read this book slowly and meditatively, a little bit at a time.  Every time I picked it up, I set it down with a thoughtful smile.  She says about therapy, “I want people to leave feeling calmer, kinder, and more optimistic.”  She did that for me with her book.

Here are some selected bits of wisdom that she shares:

“Happiness bears almost no relationship to good fortune.  Rich people are not happier than poor ones.  We humans tend to maintain a set point of happiness, staying at the same level of happy or sad regardless of circumstances.”

“I’ve noticed a funny kind of sorrow and emptiness in people who have met all their goals.  Unless they can redefine new goals that are meaningful to them, they are lost.”

“Now we can be counterculture and recommend that clients seek contentment, an underappreciated goal, rather than bliss.  Although bliss is great when you can get it, contentment is more achievable.”

“Flowers poking through the snow answer Einstein’s most important question, ‘Is the universe a friendly place or not?’”

“Happy spouses tend to see their partners as smarter, better looking, and sexier than they really are.  Research shows that positive illusions about one’s spouse foster good marriages.  A man whose wife sees him as a hero is more likely to behave heroically.”

“Couples don’t stay together because they agree on who does the dishes.”

“Good parents are antidotes to advertising.  They teach, ‘You are not the center of the universe.’  And they teach the meaning of ‘enough.’  Parents are the people who help children build meaning from all the complex information they are bombarded with daily.”

“Writers and therapists expose the unexposed.  These whistleblower jobs are risky and punishing.  We are subversives who commit the crime of telling the truth, often to people who have deeply vested interests in lies.”

“There is a big difference between people who’ve had interesting lives and people who are interesting.  That difference is storytelling.  Events alone are not particularly compelling.  Story illuminates motive, desire, and the complexities of the human heart.”

“Prayer works whether or not people believe in God.  Prayer is a more active, trusting process than worrying.”

“Contentment involves learning to balance one’s dreams with reasonable expectations.”

“Our profession has experienced its share of blunders, some of them disastrous.  But our goals of understanding others’ points of views, alleviating human suffering, and enhancing relationships are noble goals.  At our best we respect the complexity of the universe with all its uproar and glory.”

Review of another book by Mary Pipher:
The Middle of Everywhere

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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