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What Happy Women Know

Written By Dan Baker, Reviewed By Galia Barhava-Monteith

Of course when I saw this book title, I had to have it. The book is an easy read. It lays out the premise of positive psychology and relates it squarely to women. Dan Baker weaves research and theory with concrete case studies from his work with women and there are enough important topics covered in the book that I believe all women will find something that appeals.

You might find yourself skimming some chapters but being totally riveted by others. In my book club, everyone had a different perspective on what appealed and each of us found something worthwhile to take away. When I thought about writing this review, I decided that rather than focusing on the topic covered in the chapters, I’d focus on overall impressions and the enduring concepts I took away.

Evolution has a Lot of Explaining to Do

I LOVED the evolutionary explanations put forward to explain some of women’s most self-defeating tendencies, such as perfectionism, needing to please others, and even obsessive shopping! You have to read it to believe it. Take obsessive shopping as an example: our ancestors lived in a place and time of great danger. Food was always scarce and getting it cost men’s lives. When the men were hunting, the women were frantically gathering plants to ensure there was enough food if the men returned empty-handed. Our foremother’s obsessive need to gather more and more food was also more likely to be successful in ensuring her offspring survived the harsh winters.

According to Baker, as far as the more primitive parts of our brains are concerned, we are still gatherers needing more and more… so how do women gather today? They shop! You get the gist, reading these evolutionary explanations felt great because suddenly, it’s not just you or your childhood experiences that are to blame. These evolutionary explanations make our shortcomings and self-defeating behaviours less personal.

Taking One Step at a Time – The Kaizen Principle

Kaizen is the Japanese word for continual improvement through small, incremental and sometimes insignificant steps. You want to lose weight, get fit and look younger? Rather than embarking on a ‘no holds barred’ regime-from-hell, cut out one chocolate bar a day to start with. Or make a point of parking your car two streets away from your destination so you walk a little more throughout your day. Too often, we take on giant challenges and suffer disappointment when we can’t master them within our self-prescribed time frame. And then, of course, we feel like we’ve failed. I think we can all do with a little Kaizen in our lives, realising that good enough is quite often just that – good enough – and that every step counts towards achieving our goals.

The Diversified Life

The third concept I really enjoyed is the idea of treating one’s life as an investment portfolio. The premise is that just as it wouldn’t be wise to invest all your money in one stock, the same is true of our lives. Happy women run their lives as a mosaic of their strengths and interests. They have multi-dimensional lives and they choose to invest in things where they can draw on their strengths, be it designing kitchens, gardens, going back to study or doing fulfilling paid work. What all of them have in common is having great relationships which they nurture. Just as a diversified investment portfolio should provide a cushion in an economic downturn, so a diversified life cushions women who are faced with adversity.

A Little Niggle

Dan Baker works mainly with women who come to the Canyon Ranch in Arizona where he founded the Life-Enhancing Programme. Perhaps because of that, many of the women described in the case studies are wealthy and that might make the more cynical of you raise an eyebrow. I missed that fact, but one of my book club members pointed it out. So beware, but rest assured that with all the research and case studies presented, I believe that the author was able to strike a good balance with good lessons for us all.

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