Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” But if it were that simple, wouldn’t we all be happy? In reality, psychologists, philosophers, and other great thinkers have all had different opinions on exactly what happiness is and how it can be achieved. The following list is a comprehensive collection of books written by a wide range of authors, from a Harvard professor, to a television news anchor, and even a Holocaust survivor. Each author offers a different perspective on the one thing we’re all chasing after, happiness.
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Man’s Search for Meaning is the unbelievable true story of Victor Frankl’s struggle to survive in a Nazi concentration camp. Written in 1946, the book chronicles Frankl’s journey to finding happiness in one of the saddest and darkest environments imaginable. During World War II, Frankl was forced to work in several different Nazi camps, including Auschwitz. Knowing he had no control over his environment, he decided instead to find a way to cope with his suffering. His message of hope is inspiring, as he managed to find meaning in his life, despite his desperate circumstances.
- The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work –
This book is for those who have been seeking true happiness for a long time but can’t seem to find it no matter where they look. Oftentimes, people are waiting for something to happen- find love, buy a house, get a new job, etc.- and then they think they will be happy. But The Happiness Advantage turns that idea on its head and shows you how to find happiness first, and then attract success in your life. Author Shawn Achor outlines seven principles you can implement in your life now that will shift your attitude and put you on the path towards happiness and success.
This New York Times best-selling book is based on the last lecture given by Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch after he learned his pancreatic cancer was terminal. Faced with his imminent death, Pausch was forced to think about the true and meaning of life and he decided to give a talk titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Pausch’s teachings inspired not only those who witnessed it in person, but also the millions of others who have read this book. He encourages everyone to chase their dreams with passion and promises that if you do so, happiness will come easily along the way.
The author, Raj Raghunathan, was inspired to write this book after realizing some of his most successful classmates from business school weren’t all that happy. He didn’t understand why some of the smartest people he knew weren’t making decisions that led them to happiness. In this book, Raghunathan finds out why smart people make bad decisions that leave them stressed, overworked and depressed. He also explores why wealth and commercial success don’t always translate into fulfillment and joy and suggests seven ways how you can find a balance between success and happiness.
Everyone knows sleep is fundamental to health, productivity, and overall well-being. So why are so many of us not sleeping well? When author Shawn Stevenson was diagnosed with a degenerative bone disease, he was forced to take a hard look at his own health. He found out there is one key part of health that many of us are ignoring: sleep. Stevenson used the power of sleep to improve his health, business, and happiness. Now, he’s sharing what he has learned to help you be healthier, happier, and better rested.
Bernard Roth, Academic Director at the Institute of Design at Stanford, uses his academic knowledge of design to develop a system that anyone can implement to achieve happiness. Roth believes that through discipline and practicing good habits, we can teach ourselves how to achieve our goals. This book will help you identify bad habits that are sabotaging your happiness and help you break the pattern of behavior. The Achievement Habit combines stories with practical exercises that can help you stop making excuses and start reaching your full potential for positive change.
In How to Have a Good Day, Caroline Webb takes everything she learned at a global business consulting firm and applies it to everyday life. She uses the principles of economics and neuroscience and applies them to how we should be living and working. Webb outlines easy ways to start cultivating happiness, one “good day” at a time. No matter how you spend your time, whether it’s at work, at home, or something else entirely, these simple principles will help you take charge of your life and be your best self.
Introverts often get a bad rap for being shy or unfriendly. But author Susan Cain argues that introverts have unique skills and traits that are being wasted in modern society. Some of the world’s greatest artists, thinkers, and inventors have been introverts. A few famous introverts include Rosa Parks, Dr. Seuss, Chopin, and Steve Wozniak. Cain helps distinguish what makes people an introvert or an extrovert and dispels common rumors about introverts’ weaknesses and extroverts’ strengths. She also offers guidance for introverts on how they can harness their special abilities and find success and happiness in a world often dominated by extroverted personalities.
This touching and funny book tells Shonda Rhimes’s story of how she used the simple word “yes” to find happiness. Rhimes is a Hollywood success, having created and produced the popular television shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. With a packed work schedule and a busy family life, Rhimes found herself saying “no” a lot. But Rhimes decided to take a chance and make a change, committing to saying a “yes” for a whole year. This book shows how such a simple change shifted her life and how it could change yours, too.
In Life’s Golden Ticket, Brendon Burchard tells a story that may be all too relatable to many readers. In this inspiring novel, the main character finds himself drowning in sorrow and hardship, wishing for a blank slate or a chance to start all over. That second chance at happiness comes from an unexpected place- the dying wish of his sick fiancée, who asks him to visit an abandoned amusement park. There, the man finds much more than a few roller coasters and attractions. With the help of the friendly groundskeeper, the man goes on a journey of self-discovery and is able to find hope in his seemingly tragic life.
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt brings the knowledge and wisdom of the past into present day. He takes the ideas of ancient thinkers, like Jesus, Buddha, and Plato, and explains their relevance to modern-day psychology. Chapter by chapter, Haidt analyzes ancient and modern philosophy on how the brain works and how people pursue virtue, happiness, and fulfillment. The author takes often-repeated pieces of wisdom, like “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and dives deeper, applying them to modern-day life so readers can transform their thinking and find happiness.
- Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment – Martin E. P. Seligman
With this book, author and psychologist Martin Seligman changed the way we think about happiness and put the power back in the people’s hands. He came up with idea of “positive psychology,” which teaches that people can cultivate their own happiness. It has long been thought that someone’s happiness was a result of his or circumstances- good genes, wealth, luck, success, etc. But Seligman argues that true happiness comes from shifting your way of thinking and focusing on your own strengths. In Authentic Happiness, Seligman presents an interactive method, including practice tests and online resources, to bring happiness into your own life.
Scientists have identified Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, as the happiest man alive. Now, he is sharing his wisdom with the world. Despite our growing material wealth, studies show people around the world, especially in Western societies, are sadder than ever before. Ricard believes happiness is not just a passing emotion, but instead that it is something we can train our minds to experience. In this book, Ricard goes back to basics, giving readers simple, twenty-minute exercises to help practice the pursuit of happiness every day. By taming the mind and our various emotions, Ricard believes we can all find inner peace and happiness.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are – Brene Brown
Many people spend all their lives chasing perfection, hoping someday it will bring them happiness. But Brené Brown challenges that idea, and instead encourages readers to embrace their imperfections as a path to self-acceptance. Instead of constantly trying to please others or pursue an unrealistic standard, Brown believes we should be honest about our merits and our flaws. She preaches that we are all worthy of acceptance and happiness and through the book’s ten guideposts, she teaches a way to put these ideas into practice to achieve an authentic way of living.
- 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – Dan Harris
Author Dan Harris used to be a skeptic himself, until he experienced a panic attack live on national television. The television news anchor ended up pursuing meditation as a way to calm his anxiety and become happier. Now, he is spreading the word about mindfulness and debunking loads of myths about meditation. Harris promises you don’t have to practice yoga, light candles, or sit in any strange positions to reap the benefits of meditation. The one-time nonbeliever now offers a more practical (and scientifically supported) way to calm the voice in your head and achieve calm and happiness.
The How of Happiness is a powerful manual to those who are ready to take happiness into their own hands. The step-by-step guide is backed up by years of scientific research and breaks new ground in positive psychology. Using a workbook and quizzes, the book combines a customizable approach with exercises that challenge you to think in new ways about what happiness is and isn’t. The strategies presented are easy to implement right away and are also easy to stick with in the long-term road towards happiness and fulfillment. In this book, author and psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky also helps readers identify what obstacles in their life may be keeping them from achieving happiness, then offers advice on how exactly to overcome those challenges.
Tal Ben-Shahar takes a no-nonsense approach to the pursuit of happiness. The professor of one of Harvard’s most popular courses has taken the contents of his lectures on happiness and turned them into this inspiring book. He combines scientific research with spiritual principles to create this guide towards achieving happiness. Ben-Shahar believes happiness is a skill we can all learn. By helping readers identify the differences between two types of happiness, pleasure and meaning, he explains how we can all be happy in the present moment, but also for years to come.
This New York Times bestseller, written by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, explains how our imaginations are constantly failing us and keeping us from being happy. In this witty and accessible book, Gilbert says our minds are playing tricks on us as we try to think about the future, therefore setting us up for disappointment down the road. The author combines research from psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics to explain why we are so bad at predicting our future happiness, and how to avoid the common traps our imaginations fall into.
Gabrielle Bernstein, in her book The Universe Has Your Back, points out the biggest obstacle to achieving happiness: fear. This book guides readers through the process of identifying those massive roadblocks, letting them go, and having faith in the universe. Bernstein describes this process as empowering, allowing readers to relinquish control and relax into the ups and downs of life. In this shift, you may find that you have more strength and calm in times of hardship, and more instances of happiness than fear.
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson
Popular blogger, Mark Manson, turns conventional thinking about happiness upside down in this refreshingly honest book. Without sugarcoating anything and with a healthy dose of humor, Manson explains the inherent flaws of human nature and how through an excessive focus on positive thinking, we are keeping ourselves from being truly happy. Instead of looking on the bright side, Manson encourages readers to come face-to-face with the world’s problems and injustices. He believes the sooner we accept these failures and complications, the easier it will be to find peace with the state of society and happiness within our own lives.
When we imagine the important decisions in life, many of us think of the big ones, like deciding to get married, start a family, switch careers, or buy a house. But in this book, Tal Ben-Shahar argues that those are not the decisions that most impact our happiness. Rather, it’s the countless small decisions we make every day that have the most impact, sometimes without us even noticing. So in this book, Ben-Shahar explains more than 100 ways we can all slow down and start to make these small choices consciously, slowly but surely putting us on the path towards happiness.
Gretchen Rubin got the idea for this book one day while riding the bus when she realized she wanted to be happy, but spent no time consciously cultivating her own happiness. She realized life was quickly passing by, so she decided to dedicate a whole year to happiness, with lots of small adventures along the way. She draws on ancient wisdom about the meaning of life and combines it with her daily experiments at finding happiness, including things as simple as cleaning out her closet. She eventually finds that all these small things, plus a little mindfulness, can add up to happiness over time.
- Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life – Henry Cloud and John Townsend
In this book, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend argue that happiness ultimately boils down to one practice: setting boundaries. The authors argue we need to set boundaries in all aspects of life, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They point out that many Christians struggle with the concept of setting boundaries and worry that if they do, they may not be giving enough of themselves to others. Drs. Cloud and Townsend offer solutions based in the Bible to help readers deal with tricky situations, like setting boundaries with children, spouses, and coworkers. By setting boundaries, they say readers will be better able to achieve balance and happiness in their lives.
In this book, Don Miguel Ruiz argues that many of our commonly held beliefs are holding us back from achieving happiness. He proposes four agreements to live by: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. These teachings, based on ancient spiritual wisdom, offer a guide of rules to live by in order to create love and happiness in life. While Ruiz acknowledges it will be hard to live by these principles, he assures readers the payoff is well worth the effort.
Two of the world’s most famous Nobel Peace Prize winners, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, join forces in this life-changing book. They both have endured countless hardships, but have channeled those experiences into a life filled with joy and helping others. They created this book together as a gift to the world, hoping to help many find ways to find happiness in even the darkest circumstances. The two great spiritual leaders spent a week together writing this book. With each page, readers are drawn into their conversations filled with humor, great insight, and deep emotion.
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