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Mud and Dreams (Book Review)

written by Aren Cohen 20 March 2019

Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.


Sean Doyle

For those of us in the Positive Psychology community who know John Sean Doyle, his new book is a welcome reminder of our friend’s wisdom and abiding curiosity in all the textures and nuances of being human. For those who don’t know Sean, there is no better introduction to his wisdom than this deeply meaningful and heartfelt offering of exploration and gratitude. Indeed, David Pollay’s description of Sean as “the poetic voice of Positive Psychology” makes good sense. Sean’s imaginative, astute prose draws a reader into revelations about the importance and abundance of common, shared experience. Details differ, but the lived experience of humanity is universal. Choosing to live an examined life is up to us, but Mud and Dreams: Essays on falling more deeply in love with life presents readers with well-crafted essays providing magnificently framed vistas to help us recognize the truths of how and why life is worth living, even in the face of adversity.

Mud and Dreams offers a generous and extended invitation to explore. As Doyle states, “We are our stories, no doubt. But we are so much more, too” (p. 27). As he shares his stories and subsequent reflections, Doyle’s insight shines forth from the page. As a reader, there is ample opportunity to bask in the warmth of Doyle’s words. They welcome us in with space to stretch out, look around, and investigate. In fact, each essay serves as a mini-meditation on some aspect of a life well-lived. Topics as wide ranging as the responsibilities of daily life, the contrasts between joy and pain, the bliss of love and the grief of trauma, the importance of resilience, and how to play with both the novel and the familiar, all deserve examination if we are to find meaning in the lives we live. Doyle leaves no stone unturned. He becomes our Virgil as we, like Dante, embark on a journey for meaning within the “divine comedy” of life.

Mud and Dreams escapes sounding like preaching precisely because Doyle requires readers to engage actively. Each chapter’s meditative offering can be revisited again and again. With each reading, new stories, new truths, new revelations arise, and that is one of Doyle’s key points.

Life is iterative

Life is iterative: the more we stay the same, the more we change. With each introspective journey, we learn new approaches to live in the world and to recognize love even in the face of constant imperfection. The Reader’s Guide at the end of the book is a testament to the author’s belief in hope and the goodness of the world. While some readers may enjoy distilling their own messages each time they read, those looking for a more formal approach to the large questions tackled by the essays will find that Doyle has given them a structured framework to connect personal experiences with big ideas.

Book of courage and heart

Mud and Dreams was written with courage and heart, and it asks its readers to respond in kind. It is book everyone, not just students of positive psychology, their friends, and family, should have in their library. It is a read to be savored completely and often. In this day and age, it is a welcome reminder that not only are we “hybrid creatures, both mud and dreams” (p. 72), but that our dual nature is something to celebrate and rejoice in, as it is our very gift of humanity that lets us fall deeply in love with life and all it has to offer.



Doyle, J. S. (2018). Mud and Dreams: Essays on falling more deeply in love with life.. Rainstick Publishers.

Doyle, J. S. (ongoing). Human moments blog.

Doyle, J. S. (2018). Happiness field manual: Practical things you can do today to make your life less stressful, more meaningful, & happier.

Maymin, S. & Doyle, J. S. (November, 2018). Interview about Mud and Dreams. Positive Psychology News.



Image Credits
John Sean Doyle, from his About page
Spiral Staircase Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash
Book of courage and heart Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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1 comment

Judy Krings 21 March 2019 - 12:15 pm

Brilliant review, Aren. Sean’s “Mud and Dreams” plastered a smile on my face from the first page. Love his authenticity and brilliant creativity. This is the perfect gift for those who appreciate cool and lovely narratives packed with inspiration, life lessons and wisdom.


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