Below are some of the most popular books on happiness—offering information about where it can come from, and strategies you can try to boost your happiness in meaningful ways.
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience Of Happiness, Love, And Wisdom
An Amazon Best Seller, this book by Rick Hanson has received mostly rave reviews, and it hinges on the idea that "if you change your brain, you can change your life." This book provides insight into topics such as sculpting your brain and enhancing positive brain states. Here, the author brings together science and ancient mystical wisdom to reveal ways in which you can stimulate your brain for a more fulfilling experience in all areas of your life.
In this work, you can explore how to activate calmness, joy, and compassion in place of negative, destructive brain states. According to an Amazon reviewer, this book is "an unprecedented intersection of psychology, neurology and contemplative practice" and features usable tools and skills you can apply every day.
Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
The scientist Matthieu Ricard turned to Buddhism not only to learn to be happier but also to study happiness itself. In this book, Ricard argues that we need to spend at least as much energy on being happy as we do on other pursuits, such as being wealthy, fit, and beautiful. Through storytelling, poetry, and personal anecdotes, Ricard offers exercises and lessons to guide the reader toward reshaping their experience of life and reality.
The Book Of Joy: Lasting Happiness In A Changing World
This book relates the true story of two spiritual giants and Nobel Peace Prize laureates Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams. This book relates the true story of two spiritual giants and Nobel Peace Prize laureates meeting in India for a week together. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African spiritual leader, say that their lives of hardship are exactly the reason why they are so filled with joy.
The book follows their explorations, musings, and philosophies on the nature of true joy and their confrontation of the obstacles to joy, such as anger, fear, stress, grief, illness, and death.
As the Dalai Lama explains, "Stress and anxiety often come from too much expectation and too much ambition…Then, when we don't fulfill that expectation or achieve that ambition, we experience frustration. Right from the beginning, it is a self-centered attitude. I want this. I want that."
On obtaining peace, Archbishop Tutu says, "The Dalai Lama's serenity didn't come fully formed. It was through the practice of prayer and meditation that the gentleness, the compassion grew, his being patient and accepting—within reasonable limits. Accepting circumstances as they are, because if there are circumstances that you cannot change, then it's no use beating your head against a brick wall."
As the two work through each obstacle, the reader is offered a clear understanding of the eight pillars of joy. The two leaders offer readers wisdom, stories, scientific findings, and daily practices for joy.
The Happiness Project
The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Have More Fun has been published in 35 countries and can be considered a synthesis of science and wisdom. Also a synthesis of science and wisdom, this popular book has been published in 35 countries. Rubin, who claims to have been the quintessential apparently happy housewife, spent a year examining and studying happiness after a breakthrough moment on a city bus. She embarked on this quest to experience more joy and happiness by studying and test-driving various sources of advice on the topic.
Every month, Rubin set out to achieve various goals and resolutions and wrote about which ones were helpful and which ones weren’t. She also read widely, including works from classical philosophers and modern-day self-help guides. Through these efforts, she came up with her own definition of happiness and wrote about her journey along the way.
Dan Harris is better known as a Nightline anchor, but in 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Works, he opens up about his personal story with anxiety. Dan Harris is better known as a Nightline anchor, but in this book, he opens up about his own personal story with anxiety. Years ago, he experienced a full-blown panic attack in front of the camera on Good Morning America. This experience catapulted him into a quest for greater inner peace and mental health. He approached this task with both skepticism and a sense of humor, meeting with a guru, a pastor, and many scientists along the way.
Throughout this book, Harris doesn’t offer miracle cures but has the simple remedy that has worked for him and his busy head: meditation. Harris also interviewed a host of meditators, ranging from CEOs to soldiers, and explored the outer reaches of neuroscience to understand why being quiet for a period each day can be so beneficial. He ultimately advocates that this simple method can change your life.
A professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Martin Seligman is known for his seminal work on positive psychology. The philosophy behind this movement, of which he is considered the founder, is explained in his own words: "Relieving the states that make life miserable… has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the 'good life.'" With aids such as an online program, tests, and exercises, Seligman offers not only a comprehensive toolkit to identify your strengths but also ways to exercise your virtues.
The Gifts Of Imperfection
Brené Brown is a researcher in the field of social work and social psychology who used her findings, after a decade of rigorous research, to write a book that changed many people’s understanding of psychological vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She advises, "For the connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen—really seen."
Brown also introduces "wholeheartedness," which explains authenticity and worth. In this sense, she explores an old foundation of happiness—our connection to others and ourselves—in a wholly new way. This book is said to have changed many lives with its insights and deeply moving wisdom about relationships.
Online Therapy As An Additional Tool
Reading books can be helpful, but sometimes it can be even more beneficial to process what you’re learning out loud. Meeting with a therapist can give you a safe space to discuss your thoughts and questions. If you are looking to boost your happiness because you have been feeling extreme and prolonged sadness or discontentment, talking to a therapist can be helpful for managing these symptoms and gaining new skills to cope.
Online therapy can be a great option for many reasons, including availability and affordability. Sometimes, conducting sessions from home feels more comfortable than going to an office for face-to-face therapy sessions.
What books should I read to be happy?
There are many books that explore happiness and how to achieve it. The following are some of the best happiness books, according to readers:
- The Art Of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (Dalai Lama XIV and Howard Cutler, 1998): This book includes Dr. Cutler’s interviews with the Dalai Lama on positive psychology and how to move from anxieties and insecurities towards happiness.
- Authentic Happiness (Martin Seligman, 2002): This book explains mental well-being (broken down into three elements: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning) and how people can reach a place of authentic happiness and enduring contentment.
- The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life (Shawn Achor, 2010): According to Achor, by finding happiness, we can improve our relationships, careers, and health. The author breaks down the myth that more money and success lead to happiness, providing practical advice people can use to build a happier life.
- Stumbling on Happiness (Daniel Gilbert, 2006): In this book, Professor Daniel Gilbert explores the fields of neuroscience (brain science), psychology, philosophy, and economics to explain the power of positive thinking and motivation in everyday life.
- Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier (Oprah Winfrey and Arthur Brooks, 2023): This New York Times Bestseller explains that, while you cannot be happy all the time, you can increase the happiness in your life. Winfrey, the host of her own TV show, and Brooks recommend practical tools rooted in family, friendship, work, and faith to help people boost their well-being.
Goodreads provides an extensive list of thousands of books that tackle wellbeing and how to find happiness. If you don’t have time to read some of these books, you may find these happiness book takeaways from Forbes contributor, Stephanie Denning, insightful:
- Make overarching goals, and then break them up into measurable, concrete steps.
- Find happiness from within, as external goods and outward attainment cannot bring lasting fulfillment.
- Focus on how you’re spending each day, as the sum of each day is a life.
- Focus outside yourself, or you may find that you become disconnected with others (and yourself).
- If you are limited on time, skip reading about happiness and practice meditation.
What is the best book on how to be happy?
Many people argue that The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living (Dalai Lama XIV and Howard Cutler, 1998) is the best book to read if you want to become happier. This book includes in-depth interviews with the Nobel Prize winning Dalai Lama XIV, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet. It combines both his spiritual knowledge and practices with the scientific research presented by psychiatrist, Dr. Howard Cutler. Other happiness books to consider include:
- The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin, J.D.
- Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, Ph.D.
- The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT by Russ Harris and Steven Hayes, Ph.D.
- Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life by Sylvia Boorstein, Ph.D.
How can I find happiness?
According to the Happiness Research Institute, modern science has found three components that indicate whether someone has a happy life:
- The cognitive dimension: This indicator is a measure of overall happiness and satisfaction with one's life
- The affective dimension: This indicator emphasizes the ratio of positive to negative emotions in daily life
- The eudaimonic dimension: This indicator focuses on finding one’s own happiness through purpose and meaning
Though some elements of happiness are genetically inherited, you can take steps to improve your cognitive, affective, and eudaimonic well-being:
- Start a mindfulness practice: Mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and tai chi are all practices that can help ground you in the present moment. When practicing mindfulness, try to allow positive and negative thoughts to pass without judgment.
- Incorporate healthy lifestyle practices: Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating a nutritious diet, spending time outdoors, and journaling can all help improve your mood and reduce stress.
- Find self-acceptance: If you’re your own worst critic, you may experience low self-esteem and self-confidence. Studies have found that practicing self-acceptance can significantly improve happiness. Start by noticing how you talk to yourself, and then reframing it in a more encouraging way. For example, if you say, “I’m terrible at this,” you might instead say, “This is challenging for me, but I can get better.”
- Enjoy the company of others: Some studies have found that positive social connections are the largest predictor of happiness. Set aside time for a monthly meetup with friends or family, or consider volunteering for something you’re passionate about.
- Set goals for your future: According to Aristotle, the meaning of life is finding eudaimonic happiness. Focus on identifying your passions and then making manageable goals to work towards finding your purpose in life.
Do books increase happiness?
Ceridwen Dovey, contributor for The New Yorker, writes that, “Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm.” Scientific studies have found that reading can:
- Reduce stress
- Relieve muscle tension
- Provide some relief from anxiety, depression, and stress
- Teach us new things about ourselves
- Increase empathy
- Improve brain function, memory, critical-thinking skills, and vocabulary
- Reduce the risk of dementia
- Improve sleep quality
If you find it difficult to make time for reading, consider reading books in the genre that most interests you, setting a daily reading goal (such as 15 minutes or 20 pages), starting a reading challenge with friends, and giving yourself permission to stop reading a book if you discover you’re not enjoying it halfway through.
What books are best for your brain?
The books that are best for your brain are likely the ones you enjoy most and actually want to spend time reading. In general, paper books may provide more benefits for brain health than e-books, but any book reading is likely beneficial.
How do I find a book I enjoy?
The following tips may help you find an enjoyable book:
- Reflect on previous books you enjoyed, and pick one from the same author or genre
- Go to your local library or bookstore and ask for recommendations
- Look up literary Nobel Prize Winners
- Join a book club
- Browse a website like Goodreads
- Start a book reading challenge, like The 52 Book Club, Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, or Beyond the Bookends’ Reading Challenge
You can also use a website like What Should I Read Next to enter the title of a book you enjoyed to find suggestions for other books you may enjoy. Once you start reading a book, remember that it’s okay to stop reading it if you discover that you do not like the book or writing style. By allowing yourself to stop reading halfway through, you can reduce the pressure of selecting the perfect book.
How can I stay happy in my life?
Emotions, including happiness, ebb and flow, meaning you will not feel completely happy at all times. In The Social Leap, William von Hippel postulates that evolutionarily, the fleeting nature of happiness helps people stay motivated and strive towards the reward that happiness provides. He summarizes that, “The good news is that evolution gave us happiness. The bad news is that evolution made it temporary.”
Though you cannot stay happy in your life at all times, there are things you can do that may make you feel happier, such as:
- Accepting your emotions as they are
- Engaging in your community
- Reading books that intrigue you
- Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle
- Finding people you can be vulnerable with, such as loved ones or a therapist
- Volunteering with a group of friends
- Creating a schedule
- Reducing the amount of time you spend on your phone
- Spending time outdoors
- Figuring out what your passions are
- Setting goals (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc.)
What brings true happiness?
According to some philosophers and psychologists, true happiness is derived from a combination of cognitive, affective, and eudaimonic dimensions of well-being:
- Cognitive dimension: This dimension is an indicator of overall life satisfaction. People with high cognitive well-being are satisfied with the way their life turned out and wouldn’t change much about it if they could.
- Affective dimension: This dimension is about pleasure and positive feelings. People who feel good most days and regularly engage in joyful activities may have high affective well-being.
- Eudaimonic dimension: This dimension emphasizes finding purpose, pursuing goals, and living a life that benefits yourself and those around you.
A combination of life satisfaction, enjoyment, and purpose can bring people a deep sense of fulfillment.
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