The good life, according to Socrates, is highly examined, and I think it’s definitely enhanced by lots and lots of reading. If you value human development, personal growth, and self-mastery a fraction as much as I do, here’s fresh grist for your mill.
These six books are intensely practical: They propose concrete things you can do to make your experience of — and impact on — the real world even better than what you do naturally. In addition to providing good insights and information, I found them all a pleasure to read.
If you can fit in just one book every two months, by the end of next year, as Dr. Seuss said, you’ll have given yourself quite a lot: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
- It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys by Marilyn Paul
This is my favorite book about how to get organized, thanks to both its tone and its functionality. Even if you’ve been late or messy all your life, Paul’s humorous, compassionate, skillful approach delivers hope — and lots of things to try. Although the book pinpoints the mechanics of personal reorganization, it’s actually presenting an engaging and developmental framework for change, so if you feel like you’re on the same page with Paul, you can apply her approach to unrelated areas of life and work.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Duhigg is blunt and clear: There’s an underlying mechanism to building and sustaining habits that hooks them in and makes them tough to change, but it can be done! His examples of the impact of habits and what’s necessary to create new ones are compelling and motivating. That motivation is crucial, because it takes persistence and effort to shed the old as well as to inculcate the new.
- How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry
I wish I had a smart, kind, witty friend like Philippa Perry to help me navigate the confusing, chaotic, and troubling world we live in. There’s no single right way to maintain sanity, so Perry provides loads of practical recommendations for developing balance and resilience. Self-knowledge headlines as a cornerstone of self-mastery: To be effective, says Perry, we have to work on ourselves before we work with or on others.
- Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts by Dr. Guy Winch
Why shouldn’t we take both preventative and rehabilitative care of our psyches the way we do our bodies? Dr. Winch familiarizes us with a range of effective, easily accessible treatments available to treat the gamut of emotional ailments and woes we confront daily. Use the book like an emergency guide, and look up whatever emotional ache or pain you’re experiencing right now, or read from cover to cover to learn more about healthy maintenance.
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
There are shelves full of books about happiness. This one is grounded deeply in scientific research, and lays out both the concept and the experience of increasing one’s personal level of happiness as something that’s both practical and achievable. Lyubomirsky presents persuasive anecdotes about how other people have helped themselves feel happier, and offers practices and activities that will help you home in on the most effective ways to boost your own perceived level of happiness.
- A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives by Thupten Jinpa
Jinpa is the longtime translator for the Dalai Lama and a famous scholar of Buddhism in his own right. In this book, he shows how the practice of compassion helps us break through the narrowness of our own self-focus. Just by viewing the world through a more compassionate lens, we can learn to collaborate better with others, engage more effectively with structures and institutions, and even treat ourselves better.
And a Bonus Book: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This tiny book is based on the author’s popular TED talk, and uses good humor, common sense, and wonderfully illustrative stories to show us that the world doesn’t treat everyone the same way. We often don’t take note or think it’s worth trying to change things, but that’s because of what we’re used to seeing, and what we assume we believe. Adichie’s message can break through the things we take for granted, and help us think and do better.
What books have you found to be personally developmental? I’d love to know — I’m always on the lookout for more!