13 best books about happiness full of tips on how to find it

13 best books about happiness full of tips on how to find it

In Reading Lists by Lanie Pemberton

13 best books about happiness full of tips on how to find it

Happiness looks different to each of us. For some, it’s about having a successful career and healthy family. To others, it’s a life filled with travel and adventure. (For me, it’s spending as much time as possible with a good book and my very good dog.) 

The only thing universal about happiness? We all want to find it.

Reading the best books on happiness and positive thinking is a great start, so that’s what I’ve gathered for you here. This list includes self-help books about cultivating happiness and peace, pop science studies on what it means to live well, and even a few novels about characters undergoing positive personal transformations (which will surely put a smile on your face).

While it’s true that reading books about being happy won’t necessarily improve your life overnight, they’re a fantastic step toward experiencing fulfillment, joy, and gratitude. I recommend starting with The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, which blends science and self-help. Follow it up with Waldinger’s TED Talk, one of the most-watched talks in history.

1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

We only get one life, so why waste it on things that don’t make us happy? After coming to this conclusion, Rubin conducted a year-long experiment to find creative ways to boost her happiness.

Funny, moving, thoughtful, and highly relatable, this bestselling memoir may inspire you to reevaluate how you spend your time, energy, and money so that it all better aligns with your unique brand of happiness.

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2. 10% Happier by Dan Harris

After suffering an on-air panic attack, former ABC News anchor Harris embarked on a personal journey to understand happiness. His entertaining odyssey includes wisdom from experts and gurus of all walks of life, in addition to helpful learnings about how to tame the voices in our heads. 

The key takeaway? Meditation. Don’t knock it till you try it: this practice can really lower your blood pressure and rewire your brain to make you happier and healthier. 

10% Happier is one of the most popular and bestselling books on happiness out there for a reason.

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3. The Good Life by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

The key to living well is fostering strong relationships; so say Waldinger and Schulz, directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development — one of the most in-depth and long-standing studies on human happiness ever conducted. Rooted in compelling research, The Good Life explores how connecting with people impacts our lives and legacies. 

This is a vital read for those seeking a greater understanding of fulfillment. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, be sure to follow it up with Waldinger’s TED Talk, “What Makes a Good Life,” one of the most-watched TED Talks of all time.

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4. The Fun Habit by Mike Rucker

What if happiness eludes us because we’ve forgotten how to have fun? As children, play came to us naturally, just like breathing. But as adults, we’re often either too busy, or we feel too guilty, to prioritize activities that bring us joy.

Rucker makes a case for fun, using scientific evidence to prove its value in our lives — benefits that are just as important as physical health. The Fun Habit doesn’t ignore that negative experiences are inevitable, but it does explore how to balance those challenges with positive moments. 

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5. The Happiness Makeover by M.J. Ryan

The Happiness Makeover teaches readers how to be happy with their lives by breaking down the myths that often prevent people from reveling in everyday joy. Ryan’s work consists of short chapters with simple, easy-to-follow ways to channel more happiness, so even the busiest readers have something to smile about.

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6. It Starts with Self-Compassion by Celeste Headlee

Speak to yourself like you would to a friend in crisis — with compassion rather than cruelty — and you’ll unlock the secret to lasting happiness. 

Journalist and author Headlee (You're Cute When You're Mad) researched self-compassion with rigor and found that, far from making people soft, it makes them strong. This Everand Original lays out the benefits and best practices of self-compassion so you can start treating yourself better today.

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7. Ikigai by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

What’s the secret to living a long and happy life? Authors Garcia and Miralles travel to a small Japanese village — home to some of the longest-living people on Earth (a place considered a Blue Zone) — to find out. 

Their answer? Ikigai, the Japanese concept of finding meaning by staying busy doing what you love. A blend of compelling case studies and moving conversations, Ikigai teaches us how to live better and, by extension, longer.

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8. The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

Hygge (pronounced hyoo-gah) is a way of life in Denmark, which is often cited as one of the happiest countries in the world. Hygge is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being, and like many practices, it can be adopted and integrated into your life. 

This easy-to-read guide provides advice and ideas for making your life more comfortable, from quick wins like turning off your phone, curling up on the couch, and lighting a candle, to more in-depth tactics, like building successful relationships with your tribe.

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9. Walking in My Joy by Jenifer Lewis

The title of this memoir by Lewis couldn’t be more apt: It’s an essay collection brimming with laughs and inspiration. Follow along as the author, activist, actress, and Broadway star recounts experiences both mundane and extraordinary, including waiting out the pandemic and meeting the Obamas. 

Regardless of the circumstances, Lewis is continually hopeful, encouraging each of us to find and walk in our own joy.

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10. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Epic and uplifting, The Alchemist chronicles the life of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd who yearns for adventure in pursuit of a worldly treasure. Along the way, his journey transforms into one of self-discovery and fulfillment. 

Anyone in need of inspiration to follow their dreams will find a kindred spirit in Santiago and his story. This allegorical novel has been praised year after year as a life-changing book by almost everyone who’s read it, from Oprah to LeBron James. 

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11. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Sometimes happiness is right under our noses, if we’d only open ourselves up to it. At least, that’s what smalltown curmudgeon Ove discovers in this moving tale about second chances.

Ove is a man of staunch principles, strict routines, and terrible anger — all a coverup for true sorrow and loss. When Ove gets new neighbors, he discovers the power of vulnerability and community, and his frosty heart finally starts to melt. 

While I can’t quite imagine the lovable Tom Hanks as a curmudgeon, he stars in this book’s film adaptation, A Man Called Otto, which is streaming on Netflix.

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Klune’s gentle fantasy highlights the importance of connection and finding family and friends who support your true self. It follows Linus Baker, a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s known as an ardent rule-follower, never stepping outside the regulatory boundaries of his job when determining the best homes for children with magical abilities.

In his biggest job yet, he’s sent to report on an orphanage housing six of the most dangerous magical children. But for the first time, it’s hard for him to maintain his professional distance.

Wonderfully weird, quietly romantic, and full of magic and queerness, The House in the Cerulean Sea is one of the finest found family stories around (with a beautiful ending that will surely make you as happy as Linus).

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13. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A tea monk finds themself struggling with feelings of dissatisfaction and restlessness, when one day, they connect with a friendly robot. Humans and self-aware robots parted ways centuries ago, but these two decide to embark on a journey together, seeking to make sense of one another’s existence and pondering their purpose in life.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, the first in Chambers’ Monk & Robot series, won the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Novella. Reading it inspired me to stop going through the motions, and to truly question what brings me joy and a sense of fulfillment.

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About the Author: Lanie Pemberton

Lanie is a San Diego-based freelance writer who loves reading crime thrillers and nonfiction about animals and the natural world. When not writing and reading (or writing about what to read), Lanie spends as much time as possible at the beach with her husband and pampered pittie, Peach.