What is happiness? What is joy?
We probably have asked this question in our lives at one point or another.
But how can a person know if they are truly happy? To shed some light on one of life’s most difficult questions, we asked experts to share the best books on happiness and joy.
Here are their top recommendations:
Ashley Waknine, MA, CCMHC, ACC
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern
The Art of Happiness, by psychiatrist and happiness expert Dr. Howard Cutler offers a series of meditations, conversations, and stories from his interviews with the Dalai Lama and provides a systematic approach to happiness based on the teachings of the Buddhist tradition.
A key lesson from the book is the emphasis placed on the role of compassion by the Dalai Lama. He argues that by training our hearts and minds, and by actively practicing attitudes like empathy and compassion, anyone is capable of achieving happiness regardless of their circumstance.
The Art of Happiness is an iconic book that teaches readers how to maintain peace in the midst of life’s greatest challenges.
In his award-winning memoir, 10% Happier, news anchor Dan Harris describes how the relentless voice in his head both propelled him through the cut-throat business of broadcasting and provoked his embarrassing panic attack on national television.
Harris describes with deep insight and enormous humor, how he tamed that voice, reduced stress without losing his edge, and found self-help that actually works through the practice of meditation.
This book is a must-read for any mediation skeptic, curious as to why this ancient practice has become a scientifically-supported approach to achieving happiness.
Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh
Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices by author and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, is a simple, practical book of guided mindfulness exercises for basic activities including breathing, eating, walking, sitting, and even talking on the telephone.
It is only by being in the present moment, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, that we can cut through the mind’s endless anxieties and become available to true happiness.
Though rooted in Buddhist teachings, the book is accessible to spiritual and non-spiritual readers alike.
Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices allows us to carry one of the most prolific teachers in our pocket and learn from his wisdom any time of day.
The Happiness Trap by Dr. Russ Harris
In The Happiness Trap, Dr. Russ Harris exposes four common happiness myths and explains how the search for happiness often entangles us in greater suffering.
This book is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a scientifically supported mindfulness-based behavioral therapy that offers a radically different approach to the pursuit of happiness.
Readers learn how to identify core personal values and develop mindfulness skills to help reduce the impact that difficult thoughts and emotions have on everyday life. Through the use of cutting-edge techniques, this book helps readers escape the happiness trap and build a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
Once opened, The Happiness Trap will take you on an exciting journey of self-discovery and empower you to live life in a new way.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
In his iconic memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl describes the harsh day-to-day realities of living three years in Nazi death camps during World War II while his pregnant wife, brother, and parents all perished.
Dr. Frankl, who studied depression and suicide prior to his encampment, describes how life was experienced in his mind and the minds of other prisoners. Dr. Frankl argues that while suffering is inevitable, how we cope is a personal choice.
In the second half of this riveting book, Frankl explains his theory, known as logotherapy, and redefines happiness as not a quest for pleasure but one for meaning and purpose.
Often quoting Nietzsche he reminds us that “he who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
This book will help you consider your happiness more deeply as a search for meaning in life.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
In his highly controversial book, 12 Rules for Life, psychologist Jordan Peterson combines innovative new research with ancient ideas and offers 12 rules for living a happy, meaningful, and successful life.
Suggestions such as rule #1 – stand up straight with shoulders back – may seem cliche at first glance. However, Peterson argues with surprising and practical wisdom that alters both the minds and hearts of his readers.
The central theme that change is possible, hinges on values like personal responsibility and discipline as an antidote to chaos.
Though not a fast read, the book is funny, educational, and insightful for those who want to change what is within their personal power to do.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Written by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now became a word of mouth phenomenon that ascended to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list because of its powerful message about living in the present moment.
The book begins with a personal story by Tolle about his long battle with anxiety and suicidal depression.
Tolle shares about a personal awakening in which he heard a voice directing him to “resist nothing” and came to realize the nature of the mind as the culprit behind all human suffering.
His message, about how to be happier and live at peace, is only possible Tolle says when we learn to break free of the egoic mind and live fully in the now.
The book is structured through question and answer format and offers a “how-to” approach for readers that is simple and easy to follow.
I cannot recommend this classic highly enough. The Power of Now is a transformational guide that can rapidly alter your experience of happiness.
The Happiness Project is a fun, thought-provoking read that will inspire you to consider your own road to happiness.
In this #1 New York Times Bestseller, Author Gretchen Rubin shares stories from her year-long happiness experiment in which she puts to test cutting-edge research, age-old wisdom, and popular ideas about how to be happier.
Among many insights, Rubin found that outer order impacts inner peace, money can matter, and that daily personal challenges do contribute to a happier state of mind.
A rarely humanizing, laugh-out-loud read, The Happiness Project will lift you up and embolden you to create your own happiness.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brene Brown
In her New York Times bestselling book, The Gifts of Imperfection, research professor Dr. Brene Brown challenges us to embrace our vulnerabilities in order to live a wholehearted life.
An important and inspiring read for anyone who has ever felt trapped by the feeling of unworthiness.
Brown combines heart, wit, and extensive research and offers “ten guideposts” for authenticity to help readers live a more honest, imperfect and fulfilling life.
A phenomenal book by an esteemed professional who is unafraid to be real. The Gifts of Imperfection is a gift in itself, both insightful and beautifully courageous.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Dr. Susan Jeffers
An inspirational kick in the pants for anyone who wants to live a more self-empowered life.
This outstanding classic, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by psychologist Dr. Susan Jeffers, discusses the soul-destroying consequences of life-based on fear, and offers practical techniques to help readers take courageous action instead.
This book remains iconic because of Dr. Jeffers’ true ability to change lives with her inspiring call to action.
Family Lawyer | Empowerment Trainer | Author
Composed of a series of interviews of the Dalai Lama conducted by psychologist Howard C. Cutler, “The Art of Happiness” provides a simple, no-nonsense approach to achieve happiness in the context of daily life.
Sprinkled with the teachings of His Holiness and reflections by the co-author, the book seamlessly ties together the wisdom of Buddhism and Western traditions.
The Dalai Lama prescribes the practice of love, compassion and tolerance, and living moment to moment as a mechanism to feel happy regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in.
It is a must-read and a keeper in everyone’s personal-development library.
Related: The 100 Best Self Help Books of All Time
40 Best Self Help Books for Women
Follow Your Bliss Not Your Blisters by Nanci Sherman
In “Follow Your Bliss, Not Your Blisters: How to Live Unconditionally Happy,” Nanci Sherman offers a delicious recipe for more joy in your life.
The author draws from her life experiences and her expertise in the hospitality industry to devise a no-nonsense approach to being happy.
The book is a quick, easy read, without any time-consuming or complicated exercises. You will feel inspired and uplifted by the time you put it down–if you can. A must-read if you’re serious about being happy!
Motivational Speaker | Happiness Coach | Author | Founder, Choose Happy
Choose Happy by Jill Liberman
Choose Happy is one of those rare books that you pick up and don’t want to put down because each page is fun, informative, and inspiring.
It is a game-changer. You will find yourself referring back to this book over and over for inspiration, wisdom and uplifting quotes so keep it out on your nightstand or someplace you can easily grab it.
Choose Happy is appropriate and relatable for people of all ages and walks of life. It is a whimsical book with a very powerful message: happiness is a choice.
The book helps people learn how to live a meaningful life every day. After reading just a page or two, you’ll be happy you did.
Emma Green, PhD (c), MSc, BSc
Certified Personal Trainer | Life Coach | Fun, Food, and Fitness
The Little Book of Lykke: Secrets of the World’s Happiest People (The Happiness Institute Series) by Meik Wiking
Lykke means happiness in Danish. Meik Wiking knows a lot about happiness. He is not only from Denmark himself (a country consistently ranked as being one of the happiest countries in the world) but is also CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
In the book, he boils down the six key aspects of happiness he has found from his research:
Wiking then explores how these elements of happiness are applied in countries all over the world. Through reading the book, I learned a lot about what happiness really means as well as the wide range of ways that it can be put into practice.
Senior Trial Paralegal, The Lange Law Firm, PLLC | Make Food Sale
Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee
Joyful is wonderful for those of us who want to look at the little things in life to find joy.
Whether it is listening to your favorite song while you get dressed, having fresh flowers on your desk at work, or simply wearing your favorite hat, Joyful inspires us all to look deeply into what makes us happy (and do more of it!)
The point is, we live in a world where we think we do not deserve joy or happiness, but we do!
Lee focuses her book on how objects, spaces, colors, and vibrant things make us happy – so we sound to find and experience more of those in our lives.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
This is perhaps the primary document of stoicism. This book, written by a Roman emperor, was never meant to be published.
It’s personal and honest. It comprises observations, aphorisms, and other content that will help readers live the good life.
It’s also a small book, so you can bring it when traveling or pull it out when you’re upset.
It will help you embark on the journey of stoicism, of taking struggles one day at a time, of cultivating a steady and positive soul.
Ego is the Enemy: The Fight to Master Our Greatest Opponent by Ryan Holiday
Many of our problems stem from the way we project ourselves to the world. People are conditioned or wired to think about “me.” Either way, the motivation of this self-centered thinking doesn’t matter.
We can end our self-inflicted suffering by thinking about the essence of solutions and the well-being of others, by taking responsibility for our actions.
Humility is the key to sobering our worldviews and accepting our role in hurting ourselves.
Once you admit that controlling your mind and reactions in the face of adversity is the key to happiness, it’s always good to get a refresher of the ethos that bounds your newfound judgment.
The Daily Stoic contains 366 passages, all about stoicism, that you can read as you wake up or on the go.
It’s an incredibly convenient book, one that adds flavor to life and reminds you of all the good things around you.
Author | Medical News Reporter | Certified Health Coach
Chronically Positive by Ashley Boynes-Shuck
Chronically Positive is a nonfiction health memoir/anthology about living a positive life while chronically ill and is a raw, honest, and inspiring look at a life lived with illness or disability, as seen through an optimistic and grateful lens.
The overarching message is about the focus on what you do have, instead of what you’ve lost, and focusing on what you can do, instead of dwelling on what you cannot.
Health & Wellness Expert, Maple Holistics
Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever: The Making of a Happy Woman by Judy Sheindlin
A book by Judge Judy might not be what springs to mind when you’re trying to find a book about happiness. But in this work, the queen of bluntness opens up about her own personal reflections on what it takes to be happy.
Specifically focusing on the needs of women in a male-dominated world, Judge Judy Sheindlin talks about how women can tackle struggles in order to achieve happiness in their personal and professional lives.
She discusses how a person’s actions should be dictated by an effort to obtain bliss and how independence is a huge part of this.
In this book, Dan Harris of Good Morning America fame addresses how his inner voice brought him to success but also led him to have a panic attack on TV.
Harris discusses how through meditation he was able to tame the voice in his head in order to be more calm and happier.
He talks about everything from neuroscience to spirituality, helping readers understand what to do in order to lead better lives.
Wilderness Liaison | Speaker | Podcast Host
The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor
Why are students at Harvard, of all schools, not happy? Shawn Achor explores this question and others in his book, The Happiness Advantage.
I have to say it is hands down one of my favorite books on happiness. Inside, he tells stories and personal experiences that help illustrate the points he makes on happiness. He works through science as well as philosophy, and he does it in a friendly, easy to read way.
The data is real, the suggestions are actionable, and the information is priceless. Start implementing any of his tips and your life will change in a positive way.
Tom Glaser, MS
Licensed Psychologist | Life Coach | Author | Speaker | Full Heart Living
Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know by Tom Glaser
With its unique combination of storytelling, interviews, memoir, and activities, Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know is as fun and engaging as it is relatable and practical.
Pulling himself out of darker times, the author’s vulnerability touches the soul, and the lessons he learns make complex ideas simple and doable.
Beyond happiness, this book reveals how to live, with your arms outstretched and your heart wide open.
Each delicious chapter concludes with a summary of key points and optional activities that bring the concepts immediately to life.
As intimate as sitting down to coffee with your best friend and as instructional as attending your favorite instructor’s class, this book is a profound reflection on how to live fully with joy and meaning.
Writer | Podcaster
How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernhard
This book is a must-read for anyone with a chronic illness. The advice is universal and helpful even to the most able-bodied.
We all face challenges and this book is loaded with good advice for living (with or without a chronic ailment). I highly recommend the book to anyone.
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau
A wake-up call to anyone who wants to live life on their own terms. The book is part memoir, part how-to guide, so your mileage may vary.
The author’s specific goals may not be yours. Nonetheless, guidance is universal enough to be helpful to others. Includes bullet summaries after each chapter that help guide your own personal life plan.
Founder, Airbnb Universe | Social Media Consultant, Entrepreneur MFC
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
A friend recommended this book to me. The majority of society has some form of anxiety or another. With everything around you moving 100 miles per hour, it’s hard for the brain to slow down and take a minute to think about nothing.
The Miracle of Mindfulness helps you think in a way that puts your thoughts to rest. It guides you into meditation where you focus on breathing and control. It helped me with my severe anxiety. It didn’t get rid of it completely but I can at least control anxiety when it appears.
Related: How to Get Rid of Social Anxiety?
Public Relations Diploma Graduate | Former Freelance Writer & Social Media Enthusiast
Author Jen Sincero is funny and brutally honest. She tells the reader exactly why they get seem to get out of their head.
It’s all about taking the right actions to have a fantastic and balanced life. Touches on aspects of career, managing stress, and the importance of being social.
The bold yellow book cover stands out on the bedside table or shelf. I highly encouraged my mother to add this book to her reading list as it provides great material for goal setting.
By the end of the book, I felt confident in my abilities to further my happiness.
You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay
In addition to being a great self-help book, it is also motivational and will help elevate one’s mood. Author Louise Hay gives detailed real-life examples that deal with difficult situations that result in positive outcomes.
No matter how challenging things can be, readers can make great strides toward change.
This book helped me out a great deal while I was actively looking for work. I joined a focus group and two of the leaders strongly recommended this book.
It promotes happiness and making necessary changes to feel better about yourself and your environment. You can change anything with your outlook.
Dr. Rebecca Ray provides sage wisdom for readers of every age. The colorful quotes and illustrations are delightful. A wonderful book to read more than once due to its insightful reminders.
The beautiful, pastel pink cover definitely caught my mother’s attention as she was looking through my bookshelf for her next read.
I told her she must read this book because it provides reassurance and brings me joy. It was a book that I could easily binge read multiple chapters because I felt that the information resonated with me.
I learned a lot about the importance of gratitude and envisioning my future.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do these books require prior knowledge or experience in the field?
No, these books do not require prior knowledge or experience in happiness and joy. They are written to be accessible to people of different backgrounds and experiences. Whether you are just beginning your journey to finding happiness or have been exploring the subject for years, these books offer valuable insights and perspectives that can help you.
Can you read these books in any order?
Yes, these books can be read however you prefer. Each book offers unique insights and perspectives on happiness and joy and can be read independently of the other books. You may find that some books resonate with you more than others, so feel free to read the books that interest you most first.
How can I use these books to find greater happiness and joy?
The books on this list can help you find happiness and joy in your life in several ways. You can read them for inspiration and motivation, use them as a resource for learning new techniques and strategies or even use them as companions on your path to greater happiness and joy. The key is to find the book (or books) that resonate with you and use its insights and perspectives to improve your life in meaningful ways.
Are these books based on scientific research or personal experience?
Many of these books are based on scientific research and personal experience. They often draw on the latest findings in positive psychology and well-being but also incorporate the authors’ insights and stories. This combination of evidence-based research and personal anecdotes helps make the books engaging, relatable, and actionable.
Can these books be part of a self-improvement or personal development plan?
Absolutely. These books can be a valuable resource for anyone who wants to improve their overall well-being and find greater happiness and joy. They offer practical advice, tools, and techniques. They can also help you develop a self-improvement or personal development plan tailored to your needs and goals. Whether you want to improve your relationships, boost your self-confidence, or simply live a more positive and joyful life, these books can be a great place to start.
Are these books suitable for people from all cultures and backgrounds?
These books are appropriate for people from all cultures and backgrounds. While they may draw on examples and perspectives from different cultures and backgrounds, they are written in a way that is inclusive and accessible to people from all walks of life. Whether you come from another country, have a particular cultural background, or simply have a different life experience, these books offer valuable insights and perspectives that can help you find greater happiness and joy.
Can these books be used in the classroom or educational setting?
These books can be used in the classroom or educational setting. They offer valuable insights and perspectives on happiness and well-being. They can be used as part of a curriculum on positive psychology, personal development, or related areas. Whether you are a teacher or student or just want to learn more about the topic, these books can be a great resource for educational purposes.
Are there any downsides to reading these books on happiness and joy?
While these books can be a valuable resource for finding greater happiness and joy, it is important to remember that they are not a magic solution. Reading these books alone may not lead to immediate and lasting happiness and joy, as happiness is a personal journey that requires constant effort and attention. In addition, some people may find that specific techniques or strategies offered in these books are inappropriate for their needs and circumstances. It is important to approach these books with an open mind and a willingness to experiment while paying attention to what works best for you.
Can these books be used as gifts for friends or family members?
These books can be used as gifts for friends or family members interested in finding greater happiness and joy in life. Whether you want to inspire someone close to you or simply seek a meaningful and thoughtful gift, these books are a great option. Just consider the recipient’s preferences and reading habits and choose a book you think they will enjoy and find valuable.
Can these books be used to improve relationships with others?
Yes, some of these books can be used to improve relationships with others. These books offer insights and perspectives on communication, empathy, and emotional intelligence. They can help you build stronger and more meaningful relationships with the people in your life. Whether you want to improve your relationships with family, friends, or romantic partners, these books can provide valuable tools and techniques for building healthier and more fulfilling relationships.
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