The Best Book About Mental Health From 2019
Forge’s pick for the year’s best read on keeping a quiet mind
2019 perfectly encapsulated the disorienting, occasionally dystopian decade it capped off. Amid economic uncertainty, political upheaval, and the looming shadow of climate catastrophe, we searched for answers. We grasped for mentors. And we read books — many, many books. Within the flux of chaos, these books showed us new approaches for our work, our relationships, our minds, and our moods.
Every day this week, we’ll offer you one of our favorite personal development books of the year, as well as a runner-up in each category.
Forge’s favorite book about mental health from 2019:
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
The fourth-century Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope made a point of participating in the rituals of daily life in unexpected ways. He might, say, enter a theater as audience members were leaving, or casually walk backward down the street. As the artist and critic Jenny Odell explains in her 2019 manifesto How to Do Nothing, “when Diogenes did conform, he did it ironically.”
And while he may have lived nearly two millennia ago, Diogenes’ signature idiosyncrasy contains valuable lessons for anyone trying to resist today’s tech-modulated, late-capitalist attention economy. In a genre-bending odyssey that combines cultural criticism and elements of memoir, Odell argues that his borderline absurd approach to doing things his way (or, well, the highway) unlocks a defining existential conundrum of our time: How do we regain a sense of ownership over our time and, perhaps more critically, our headspace?
The answer, according to Odell, lies in making a decision to reinvent the wheel, on our own terms.
“To a question like ‘Will you or will you not participate as asked?’ Diogenes would have answered something else entirely: ‘I will participate, but not as asked,’ or ‘I will stay, but I will be your gadfly,’” writes Odell. She goes on to describe the Diogenesian approach as “an almost magical exit” from the expectations that restrain us. The way to a clearer mind and replenished existential outlook isn’t necessarily to opt out of the status quo, but, rather, to choose to opt into more worthy outlets for our attention. It’s an invitation to a personal agency — exactly the emotional antidote required for these noisy, distractible times.