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It is healing to know that we are not alone – that others have gone before us, facing difficulties and experiencing joys that reflect to our experience as human beings. During this time of change and economic flux it is helpful to know that we can survive, and if we are lucky, even thrive during times of challenge. With this spirit, we offer four books that capture various dimensions of the human condition. We hope they inspire you as much as they have us.

A friend I often travel with has an unusual gift: the ability to tune out when things get tense. Once, on a hair-raising drive through Turkey, when our driver wouldn’t go less than 100 miles an hour and I was white-knuckled with fear, Jim fell asleep. Just blissfully took a nap, while the traffic blurred by around us.

This week the United States honored past leaders by celebrating Presidents' Day, and with a new president in office, leadership is a hot topic. While Barack Obama is America’s chief “Decider,” he doesn’t make his decisions alone. Obama and other leaders usually have a team of people – a leadership circle – bringing special skills and areas of expertise together to make sound decisions. Since most of us don’t have our own cabinet or staff, we have to rely upon ourselves to navigate life’s challenges. This is not necessarily a bad thing – with a little creative imagining, we can tap into internal resources we may not have realized we had to strengthen our decision making.

As a new year gets underway, many of us find ourselves making resolutions or vowing to "finally make that lifestyle or career change" we've been thinking about. It's a time of reflection, and of planning for the future.

Here are four concrete things you can do to take advantage of lower prices of stocks now that the stock market has fallen.

The New Year is traditionally a time for self-examination and committing to life changes. Whatever the changes and however desirable they may be, we often discover that it is difficult to sustain them. Here are a few suggestions to help you formulate and maintain your resolutions.

January 7, 2009

The coming year will be the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, and the celebrations – rightly – will be myriad. But as the list of Lincoln events grows, I keep thinking of a far less celebrated 200th anniversary that took place in 2008. I would never have known about it, let alone cared, if I hadn’t chanced through Greeneville, Tennessee, last spring.

My own aging, along with that of my parents, siblings, and friends, has challenged me to become a student of what experts are calling "healthy aging." Using myself as both lab rat and lab attendant, I've been browsing, digging, reading, listening, and reacting. I've also been toning my triceps, filling up on fiber, ohm-ing at yoga, and banging the strings around my fingers against my head, asking, where has all the gray matter gone?

Who do you really want to get your money when you (and your spouse) are done with it? Is your will up-to-date and complete? Did you know that if your investment account has beneficiaries, your money will go where you have designated it to go, not where your will says it should? In fact, this is an issue for many types of accounts you may own – those jointly held, your IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans, all kinds of trusts, annuities and life insurance.

Somewhere in the 1970s, a friend gave me a quotation from a book called “The Last Unicorn,’’ by Peter Beagle. I’ve never read the book, but I’ve kept that little quote above my desk ever since. This is what it says: