Introducing my next book, The Joy of Movement. Read on for a summary of the book, a behind-the-scenes look at my writing process and the cover design, and the very first public excerpt.
The bestselling author of The Willpower Instinct doesn’t tell us why we should exercise but instead shows us how to fall in love with movement.
Through her trademark blend of science and storytelling, McGonigal draws on insights from neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, as well as memoirs, ethnographies, and philosophers. She shows how movement is intertwined with some of the most basic human joys, including self-expression, social connection, and mastery—and why it is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
McGonigal tells the stories of people who have found fulfillment and belonging through running, walking, dancing, swimming, weightlifting, and more, with examples that span the globe, from Tanzania, where one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes on the planet live, to a dance class at Juilliard for people with Parkinson’s disease, to the streets of London, where volunteers combine fitness and community service, to races in the remote wilderness, where athletes push the limits of what a human can endure. Along the way, McGonigal paints a portrait of human nature that highlights our capacity for hope, cooperation, and self-transcendence.
The result is a revolutionary narrative that goes beyond familiar arguments in favor of exercise, to illustrate why movement is integral to both our happiness and our humanity. Readers will learn what they can do in their own lives and communities to harness the power of movement to create happiness, meaning, and connection.
Behind the Scenes: How We Decided on the Title and Cover Design
One of the biggest challenges of preparing a book for publication is choosing a title, subtitle, and cover art. When I visited my publisher, Avery, at the Penguin Random House headquarters in New York City in February, we were working with a very different title and subtitle—one that did not center around the word “JOY.” The team showed me cover designs using that title, and imagery meant to quickly convey that the book is about physical activity.
While the cover designs were aesthetically appealing, I was struck by how both the title and cover failed to convey the emotion of the book. The book is joyful and hopeful. The science is awe-inspiring, and the stories are often moving. I asked the team to reconsider how we could better communicate these reader experiences in both the title and cover.
I told the team about about a series of index cards I created after I finished the first draft of the manuscript. I went through the book one page at a time, writing down the words that best captured the themes that emerged—not the topics the chapters were organized by, but the big truths and recurring ideas. Below are the themes that stood out, and that guided my revision of the book:
(Yes, that is a drawing of a cat peeking out behind the bulletin board—it is a sketch by one of my favorite artists, Eric Joyner)
I also explained that of all the joys in the book, the one that best captures these themes is the experience psychologists and sociologists call “collective joy”—a state of ecstatic self-transcendence and belonging that comes from moving with others, often to music. These words, and the state of collective joy, guided the cover redesign, and the decision to go back to our original title for the book, The Joy of Movement.
The cover is inspired by the Northern Lights, also known as the Dancing Lights—a phenomenon that is at once completely natural and awe-inspiring. The human tendency to be moved by nature, to have psychologically uplifting or even spiritually meaningful experiences when we feel connected to the natural world, is another theme of the book (and one of the reasons humans run, walk, hike, climb, surf, swim, garden, and otherwise explore the outdoors).
I’m so happy with the final title and cover, and hope that it communicates what I love most about the book—and what I hope you will love, too.
As I write in the introduction:
“When I started writing this book, I thought it would be a self-help guide, explaining how to find happiness through exercise. It turned out to be something a bit different: a love letter to movement in all its forms and also to human nature. In some strange and wonderful way, working on this book has had the same elevating effect on me as movement itself. It has given me a feeling of hope and fellowship. More than once after I finished talking to someone for the project, I said out loud, ‘I love humans. People are incredible.’ I think this was something my heart needed as much as it needs any cardiovascular exercise. Maybe it’s something you need, too.
If so, I hope that reading this book will give you a bit of what writing it has provided me. I hope that this book will encourage you to rethink what movement means and why it matters. I hope it will inspire you to move in ways that bring you joy and meaning. And I hope that at some point you will put this book down with a heart that is full. That you will find yourself thinking, How marvelous, how miraculous, we humans can be.”