Raise your hand if you agree: self-help books have changed your life.
If you have the slightest interest in becoming a better person, evolving through self-awareness, and finding your personal path to happiness, then it’s likely self-help books have impacted your journey for the better.
Granted there are some wackadoodle books out there that have you wishing on stars and rubbing crystals without much real help.
But there are hundreds of self-help books that have shifted my perspective, created many “aha” moments, lifted me up when I was in a funk, and even changed the direction of my life.
I know without a doubt that the only person in the world who controls your happiness is YOU. And I also know that self-help books are essential tools in making the changes and taking the actions once you seize that control.
Whatever challenge you are going through or dream you’re trying to reach, you’ll find a wellspring of resources and guidance simply by scanning the self-help section of Amazon.
Here are 12 self-help books that can help you take control of your happiness:
1. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, by Sonja Lyubomirsky
This book was a game-changer for me because the author based all of her happiness recommendations on years of groundbreaking research that she conducted.
She reveals how much happiness is in our control, and the 12 actions we can take to improve our levels of happiness. It is well-written, engaging, and highly readable.
The book includes happiness strategies, exercises in new ways of thinking, and quizzes for understanding our individuality
2. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
It’s really hard to be unhappy when you are deeply focused and engaged in something you feel passionate about. That feeling of being so engaged in what you are doing that time disappears and you are one with the activity is what the author defines as a state of “flow.”
During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life, and as these author states, this is an “optimal experience.” Fortunately, it’s not an experience that just happens randomly.
You can create these flow states by intentionally engaging in activities that are interesting, slightly challenging, and completely absorbing. Add more of these flow activities to your life, and you’ll be a much happier person. Csikszentmihalyi (don’t even try to pronounce it) gives some fascinating examples of people who have done just that.
3. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck
I was fortunate enough to interview Carol Dweck for my Sticky Habits Course when I discovered her groundbreaking work on achievement and success.
Carol explains why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success—but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset. A growth mindset is one where you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress, and capable of positive growth and change.
Even if you currently have a fixed mindset, you can change it to create more happiness and success in life. In the book, she gives you a checklist to help you determine your mindset, and she offers some skills and activities to improve your mindset and change your life.
It’s nearly impossible to be happy when you’re focused on your flaws. Fortunately, Brene Brown, PhD, not only gives up permission to be flawed, but she instructs us to celebrate our imperfections.
Brene is a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she’s learned from a decade of research on engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
She offers ten guideposts to help us cultivate the courage, self-compassion, and connection to love ourselves and live happily in spite of our vulnerabilities and imperfections. A beautiful book.
You may know Dan Harris as an ABC news anchor and host of the program Nightline. You may not know that he had a full-blown panic attack, live and on-air during a segment of Good Morning America.
Dan, a lifelong nonbeliever, used this terrifying and humbling experience as the launching pad for a spiritual adventure. Through his new assignment as a religion reporter and his longing to quiet “the voice” in his head, Dan discovered the power of meditation and mindfulness to forge a life that is at least 10% happier and more centered and connected.
Dan’s writing is witty, self-deprecating, and insightful. He gives you many compelling reasons to get out of your own head begin immediately with a mindfulness practice. Amazon’s description of the book is spot on: “10% Happier takes readers on a ride from the outer reaches of neuroscience to the inner sanctum of network news to the bizarre fringes of America’s spiritual scene, and leaves them with a takeaway that could actually change their lives.”
6. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, by Susan David
Renowned psychologist Susan David developed the concept of “emotional agility” after studying emotions, happiness, and achievement for more than twenty years.
It is an approach that allows us to navigate life’s twists and turns with self-acceptance, clear-sightedness, and an open mind. In fact, the way we respond to life’s challenges internally through our thoughts, feelings, and self-talk determines how successful and happy we become.
Susan David shares four key concepts to acknowledge uncomfortable experiences while simultaneously detaching from them so they don’t take over our lives. This allows us to embrace our core values and adjust our actions to go where we truly want to go.
7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
Fellow introverts — this is a must-read for you. All you extraverts out there, you have at least one introvert in your life, so it’s a must-read for you too!
Susan Cain shows how our culture has undervalued introverts, but also how much we have given up by doing so. In a culture that celebrates the extravert ideal, introverts have gotten a bad rap. But thankfully she reveals the power of introverts and how valuable they are in the professional world as well as within families, communities, and society in general.
Cain offers a wealth of useful advice for introverts, as well as for teachers and parents of introverts. It’s also a perfect book for highly sensitive people who are more often than not introverts themselves.
8. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
Daniel Goleman has changed the way we look at intelligence. He suggests that both our rational and emotional minds shape our success in relationships, work, and even our physical well-being.
He defines emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends, partners, and family members. People who possess high emotional intelligence are the people who truly succeed in work as well as play, building flourishing careers and lasting, meaningful relationships.
This book should be at the top of everyone’s self-help reading list because understanding and improving our “EQ” is critical to happiness in our relationships, careers, and daily life.
9. Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Bryon Katie
In this life and perspective-altering book, Bryon Katie (a woman) introduces us to what she calls “The Work.”
The Work is simply four questions that, when applied to a specific problem, enable you to see what is troubling you in an entirely different light. As Katie says, “It’s not the problem that causes our suffering; it’s our thinking about the problem.”
In the book, she shows you step-by-step, with clear and vivid examples, exactly how to use this revolutionary process for dealing with your own “stuff” and limiting beliefs to see how our perceptions don’t always reflect reality.
As we learn to apply The Work, we become less attached to our negative beliefs, fears, and entrenched ideas and more free to live peacefully and with contentment by accepting “what is.”
10. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, by Kristen Neff
Says Neff on the back cover of her book, “Our ultracompetitive culture tells us we need to be constantly above average to feel good about ourselves, but there is always someone more attractive, successful, or intelligent than we are.”
So what is the antidote to this compulsion to be better, even when it leads to depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem? It’s self-compassion. According to Neff’s research, people who are compassionate toward their failings and imperfections experience greater well-being than those who repeatedly judge themselves.
Neff provides a lot of personal stories and exercises for the reader to make the concepts more applicable and relatable. Self-compassion can be learned and practiced in everyday life.
11. 201 Relationship Questions: The Couple’s Guide to Building Trust and Emotional Intimacy, by Barrie Davenport
Mutual questioning is a powerful technique for your love relationship to draw out deeper emotions and desires and address potential areas of conflict before they disrupt your closeness.
The right questions inspire understanding, compassion and action for positive change. Questions like: • What does unconditional love mean to you? • Do I do anything to make you feel disrespected? • How can I listen to you better so you feel completely heard? • What should I never say to you, even in anger?
When you and your partner embark on a mutual questioning journey with this book, you are committing to an intimate, satisfying, joyful life together. Rather than waiting for conflict and resentment to inflict a surprise attack, you’re proactively addressing the needs and wounds both of you carry and reinforcing your commitment to the relationship above all else.
12. Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, PhD
One of the best relationship books I’ve ever read. Hendrix and his wife originated Imago Relationship Therapy, a unique healing process for couples, prospective couples, and parents.
Imago therapy is a philosophy for eliminating all negativity from couples’ daily interactions by replacing confrontation and criticism with a healing process of mutual growth and support.
He provides a series of exercises between couples to help them communicate with greater accuracy and sensitivity, release self-defeating behaviors, and focus energy on meeting each other’s needs.
This is a must read for any couple who wants to move past the power struggles, blame, and conflict to a more fulfilling and mutually satisfying connection.