Need A Lift? Here Are 50 Books That Can Make You Happy
by Ashley McCann
Need some positive thinking? How about some happy books?
While the idea of a book ‘making you happy’ is obviously a stretch, peace of mind is often a product of a simple cognitive pattern: you see what you think about, and you think about what you see.
Happy in, happy out.
This is difficult when wisdom, empathy, love, and happiness are drowned out by a news cycle bent on spectacle. These days the news is hard to escape — between social media, television, radio, and well-meaning friends and colleagues, we are inundated with what’s going on in the outside world.
And unfortunately, it seems like it’s seldom good news, partially due to the fact that sensationalism sells but also because there’s a lot going on right now.
But do we need to know all of it?
While a working knowledge of current events is important, all too often we’re immersed in the 24-hour news cycle and when negativity abounds, our mental health and sense of well-being begin to erode.
Short of going all Henry Thoreau and retreating to the woods for awhile, what can we do to lift our spirits, find an escape, and change the things we think about? The first and most obvious step is to abstain from social media, but that’s not entirely effective — or even possible, in many cases. A second possibility is to fill our brains with good stuff; to seek out positivity and nourish our souls with that instead.
The following list contains both fiction and non-fiction ‘happy books’–everything from self-help to humor but what these books share in common is their ability to inspire happiness.
As Oscar Wilde once said, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines who you will be when you can’t help it.”
Maybe reading can make you happy.
So, be happy. Everyone deserves more of that. Here are some happy books.
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Need A Lift? Here Are 50 Books That Can Make You Happy
1. Hector and the Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord: Hector travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States, and along the way he keeps a list of observations about the people he meets. Combining the winsome appeal of The Little Prince with the inspiring philosophy of The Alchemist, Hector’s journey around the world and into the human soul is entertaining, empowering, and smile-inducing—as winning in its optimism as it is wise in its simplicity.
2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin: The Happiness Project describes one person’s year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. Drawing at once on cutting-edge science, classical philosophy, and real-world applicability, Rubin has written an engaging, eminently relatable chronicle of transformation.
3. The One Life We’re Given by Mark Nepo: Exploring the craft of awakening, The One Life We’re Given affirms our purpose: we are here not just to stay alive but to stay in our aliveness. “The wisdom presented in the shining pages of this holy book is another luminous gift from a gallant, grateful, and imaginative spiritual master” (Spirituality & Practice).
4. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown: Daring Greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where “never enough” dominates and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt. But when we step back and examine our lives, we will find that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as standing on the outside of our lives looking in and wondering what it would be like if we had the courage to step into the arena.
5. This Book Will Save Your Life by A. M. Homes: The ability of A.M. Homes to explore how extraordinary the ordinary can be is at the heart of her touching and funny new novel, her first in six years. This Book Will Save Your Life is a vivid, uplifting, and revealing story about compassion, transformation, and what can happen if you are willing to lose yourself and open up to the world around you.
6. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini: Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman’s love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival.
7. I Will Not Die an Unlived Life by Dawna Markova: Twenty years ago, faced with a life-threatening illness, Dawna Markova began a journey of rediscovery. This book follows her path to finding deeper meaning in life. As she points out, people can continue to feel powerless and live habitual lives – or they can make the choice to follow their passion.
8. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.
9. Mules of Love by Ellen Bass: Balancing heart-intelligent intimacy and surprising humor, the poems in Ellen Bass’s Mules of Love illuminate the essential dynamics of our lives: family, community, sexual love, joy, loss, religion and death. The poems also explore the darker aspects of humanity—personal, cultural, historical and environmental violence—all of which are handled with compassion and grace.
10. The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer: Whether this is your first exploration of inner space, or you’ve devoted your life to the inward journey, this book will transform your relationship with yourself and the world around you. You’ll discover what you can do to put an end to the habitual thoughts and emotions that limit your consciousness. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, author and spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer shows how the development of consciousness can enable us all to dwell in the present moment and let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.
11. The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes: This poignant, intimate, and hilarious memoir explores Shonda’s life before her Year of Yes—from her nerdy, book-loving childhood to her devotion to creating television characters who reflected the world she saw around her. The book chronicles her life after her Year of Yes had begun—when Shonda forced herself out of the house and onto the stage; when she learned to explore, empower, applaud, and love her truest self. Yes.
12. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want—husband, country home, successful career—but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.
13. The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abrams: In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering? This book offers us a rare opportunity to experience their astonishing and unprecendented week together, from the first embrace to the final good-bye.
14. Advice from my 80-Year-Old Self by Susan O’Malley & Christina Amini: What advice would your 80-year-old self give you? That is the question artist Susan O’Malley, who was herself to die far too young, asked more than a hundred ordinary people of every age, from every walk of life. She then transformed their responses into vibrant text-based images. From a prompt to do things that matter to your heart, to a reminder that it’s okay to have sugar in your tea, these are calls to action and words to live by—heartfelt, sometimes humorous, and always fiercely compassionate.
15. Quitter by Jon Acuff: From figuring out what your dream is to quitting in a way that exponentially increases your chance of success, Quitter is full of inspiring stories and actionable advice. This book is based on 12 years of cubicle living and Acuff’s true story of cultivating a dream job that changed his life and the world in the process. It’s time to close the gap between your day job and your dream job.
16. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: In The Four Agreements, bestselling author don Miguel Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, The Four Agreements offer a powerful code of conduct that can rapidly transform our lives to a new experience of freedom, true happiness, and love.
17. Love Does by Thomas Nelson: When Love Does, life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don’t want to miss. Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob’s life and attitude just might inspire you to be secretly incredible, too.
18. Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly: Are you happy? It may be the wrong question. Most of us think we are relatively happy, while at the same time knowing that we could be happier — maybe even a lot happier. Ordinary people and the finest philosophers have been exploring the question of happiness for thousands of years, and theories abound. But this is not a book of theory. Resisting Happiness is a deeply personal, disarmingly transparent look at why we sabotage our own happiness and what to do about it.
19. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg: Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and coauthor of Option B with Adam Grant. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TED talk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which has been viewed more than six million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto. Lean In continues that conversation, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can.
20. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope–a captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.
21. The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky: You see here a different kind of happiness book. The How of Happiness is a comprehensive guide to understanding the elemetns of happiness based on years of groundbreaking scientific research. It is also a practical, empowering, and easy-to-follow workbook, incorporating happiness strategies, excercises in new ways of thinking, and quizzes for understanding our individuality, all in an effort to help us realize our innate potential for joy and ways to sustain it in our lives.
22. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schawlbe: During her treatment for cancer, Mary Anne Schwalbe and her son Will spent many hours sitting in waiting rooms together. To pass the time, they would talk about the books they were reading. Once, by chance, they read the same book at the same time—and an informal book club of two was born. Through their wide-ranging reading, Will and Mary Anne—and we, their fellow readers—are reminded how books can be comforting, astonishing, and illuminating, changing the way that we feel about and interact with the world around us.
23. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later the stories and history continue.
24. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman: Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins.
25. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin: A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.
26. News of the World by Paulette Jiles: In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.
27. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer: Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.
28. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper: This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s most accomplished work to date, and a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind-whether we like it or not.
29. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: The how of Pooh? The Tao of who? The Tao of Pooh!?! In which it is revealed that one of the world’s great Taoist masters isn’t Chinese–or a venerable philosopher–but is in fact none other than that effortlessly calm, still, reflective bear. A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh! While Eeyore frets, and Piglet hesitates, and Rabbit calculates, and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is.
30. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig: An unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father and his young son. A story of love and fear — of growth, discovery, and acceptance — that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence . . . and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.
31. On Agate Hill by Lee Smith: A dusty box discovered in the wreckage of a once prosperous plantation on Agate Hill in North Carolina contains the remnants of an extraordinary life: diaries, letters, poems, songs, newspaper clippings, court records, marbles, rocks, dolls, and bones. It’s through these treasured mementos that we meet Molly Petree. Raised in those ruins and orphaned by the Civil War, Molly is a refugee who has no interest in self-pity. When a mysterious benefactor appears out her father’s past to rescue her, she never looks back.
32. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Shel Silverstein’s masterful collection of poems and drawings stretches the bounds of imagination and will be cherished by readers of all ages. This is a collection that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf. Makes a great gift for special occasions such as holidays, birthdays, and graduation.
31. Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobsen: Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and “spinning” wildly until it’s over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself – starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties – and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all.
32. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate: Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated book is told from the point of view of Ivan himself. Having spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of his enclosure in a shopping mall, Ivan has grown accustomed to humans watching him. He hardly ever thinks about his life in the jungle. Instead, Ivan occupies himself with television, his friends Stella and Bob, and painting. But when he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from the wild, he is forced to see their home, and his art, through new eyes.
33. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory is opening at last! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. And the winners are: Augustus Gloop, an enormously fat boy whose hobby is eating; Veruca Salt, a spoiled-rotten brat whose parents are wrapped around her little finger; Violet Beauregarde, a dim-witted gum-chewer with the fastest jaws around; Mike Teavee, a toy pistol-toting gangster-in-training who is obsessed with television; and Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, a boy who is honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the wildest time of his life!
34. Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss: From soaring to high heights and seeing great sights to being left in a Lurch on a prickle-ly perch, Dr. Seuss addresses life’s ups and downs with his trademark humorous verse and illustrations, while encouraging readers to find the success that lies within.
35. Keep Going by Joseph M. Marshall III: When a young man’s father dies, he turns to his sagacious grandfather for comfort. Together they sit underneath the family’s cottonwood tree, and the grandfather shares his perspective on life, the perseverance it requires, and the pleasure and pain of the journey.
36. The Noticer by Andy Andrews: Like all humans on the planet, the good folks of Orange Beach have their share of problems. Fortunately, when things look the darkest, a mysterious man named Jones has a miraculous way of showing up. Communicating what he calls “a little perspective,” he explains that he has been given a gift of noticing things that others miss. “Your time on this earth is a gift to be used wisely,” he says. “Don’t squander your words or your thoughts. Consider even the simplest action you take, for your lives matter beyond measure…and they matter forever.”
37. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is an allegory in which each character, representing a different phase of life, teaches the Little Prince from Asteroid 325 about love, trust, forgiveness and what is really important in life.
38. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson: A humor memoir tinged with just enough tragedy and pathos to make it worthwhile, Jenny Lawson examines her own experience with severe depression and a host of other conditions, and explains how it has led her to live life to the fullest. “I’ve often thought that people with severe depression have developed such a well for experiencing extreme emotion that they might be able to experience extreme joy in a way that ‘normal people’ also might never understand. And that’s what Furiously Happy is all about.”
39. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris: Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths.
40. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That’s because he’s being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he’s really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.
41. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh: Touching, absurd, and darkly comic, Allie Brosh’s highly anticipated book Hyperbole and a Half showcases her unique voice, leaping wit, and her ability to capture complex emotions with deceptively simple illustrations.
42. Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne: Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) relates the hair-raising journey made as a wager by the Victorian gentleman Phileas Fogg, who succeeds – but only just! – in circling the globe within eighty days. The dour Fogg’s obsession with his timetable is complemented by the dynamism and versatility of his French manservant, Passepartout, whose talent for getting into scrapes brings colour and suspense to the race against time.
43. The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne: When Christopher Robin asks Pooh what he likes doing best in the world, Pooh says, after much thought, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying, ‘Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.” Happy readers for over 70 years couldn’t agree more. Pooh’s status as a “Bear of Very Little Brain” belies his profoundly eternal wisdom in the ways of the world.
44. Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams: At first a brand-new toy, now a threadbare and discarded nursery relic, the velveteen rabbit is saved from peril by a magic fairy who whisks him away to the idyllic world of Rabbitland. There, he becomes “Real,” a cherished childhood companion who will be loved for eternity. Treasured for generations, here is a timeless tale about the magic of boundless love.
45. Find the Good by Heather Lende: As the obituary writer in a spectacularly beautiful but often dangerous spit of land in Alaska, Heather Lende knows something about last words and lives well lived. Now she’s distilled what she’s learned about how to live a more exhilarating and meaningful life into three words: find the good. It’s that simple–and that hard.
46. The Princess Bride by William Goldman: Here William Goldman’s beloved story of Buttercup, Westley, and their fellow adventurers finally receives a beautiful illustrated treatment. A tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts—The Princess Bride is a modern storytelling classic.
47. Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakagawa: Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe will set you free on a visual journey of self-discovery. Set against a surreal backdrop of intricate ink illustrations, you will find nine metaphysical lessons with dreamlike instructions that require you to open your heart to unexplored inner landscapes. From setting fire to your anxieties to sharing a cup of tea with your inner demons, you will learn how to let go and truly connect with the world around you.
48. Hug Me by Simona Ciraola: Ever feel like you need a hug, a really big hug from someone? That’s how Felipe the young cactus feels, but his family just isn’t the touchy-feely kind. Cactuses can be quite prickly sometimes you know . . . and so can Felipe. But he’ll be darned if this one pointy issue will hold him back, so one day Felipe sets off on his own to find a friend and just maybe, that long awaited hug.
49. Life of Pi by Yann Martel: The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea.
50. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
What books have lifted your spirits, warmed your heart, or made you smile? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
Positive Thinking: 50 Happy, Heartwarming, Helpful Books
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