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Three books on psychology

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Want to be shrunk without paying $150 an hour once a week for months on end? These books provide insights into the dynamics of human behavior and likely avenues to well-being for a fraction of the on-couch investment.

1 Sex, Murder, and the Meaning of Life: A Psychologist Investigates How Evolution, Cognition, and Complexity Are Revolutionizing Our View of Human Nature , by Douglas T. Kenrick (Basic, $26.99). Taking an evolutionary approach to human behavior, the author advocates selfishness — but of an enlightened kind. According to Douglas T. Kenrick, “a heartening wave of new research [suggests] that human beings are chock-full of mechanisms designed to make us feel good when we cement our bonds with those around us.”

2 Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being , by Martin E.P. Seligman (Free Press, $26). Accentuate the positive, recommends this psychologist. In doing so, you will overcome a deep-seated evolutionary tendency that has in the main served humankind well: “Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age.” But with another ice age among the least of our worries right now, the author urges us to recognize the truth that “positive emotion and engagement contribute to well-being.”

3 The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good , by David J. Linden (Viking, $26.95). At the end of this inquiry into the physiology of pleasure, David Linden imagines a future in which humans can dispense with eating artery-clogging foods, smoking throat-rasping cigarettes and making messy love by putting on a specially wired cap to stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain directly. “When pleasure is ubiquitous,” the question then arises, “what will we desire?”

— Dennis Drabelle

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