I’m about to get deep with you for a sec — are you happy? Like, really happy? Like, Spongebob Squarepants happy? (Yes, my frame of emotion is, in fact, a cartoon character from the early 2000s. He’s just so damn jolly!)
While some of us seem to be born with a (sometimes irritating) sunnier disposition, psychologically speaking, happiness is not based on circumstance. It’s actually something you learn. That’s right. Happiness is not something that happens to you — it’s a skill that requires just as much training and practice as any other skill. But this also means that those thought patterns you might know all too well of, “I’ll be happy when…” are not actually real.
We tell ourselves, “I’ll be satisfied when I make X amount of money,” or “I’ll be happy once we move to that new city,” or even the all-too-common, “I’m just waiting for Friday (or 5 o’clock) to enjoy my life.” As easy as that is to promise yourself that you’d be happy if only… it’s just not true. Happiness comes from training your brain to see the positive in any situation, so if you’re not happy right now, you’re not going to be happy whenever you get what you’ve been waiting for.
What better way to train your brain than with some enjoyable reading? Maybe you need some serious help in feeling satisfied with your life or maybe you consider yourself a decently happy person, but you could use some help with managing stress, taking control of your life, or dealing with anxiety. No matter where you are on the happiness square (from Squidward to Spongebob), we can all work that happiness muscle to get healthier, more confident, and live more joyfully. Here are the books that are going to get you there:
10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works — A True Story
Nightline anchor Dan Harris discusses his own journey on a (skeptical!) path of spirituality and self-help in a quest for a happier life. What he found was not the cliché, "I learned to love myself," journey, but rather a specific and relatable finding that might just be life-changing for you too. Read if you're skeptical about reading a book on happiness, or self-help in general.
Psychologist Anthony Gunn brings together quotes and tips for a simple, cheery, and effective guide to happiness. Each page is a comprehensive tip for something you can do in your own life, rather than narrative or personal story, so it's perfect to pick up here and there for powerful reminders and specific tips on how exactly to enjoy life. Read if you want to work on a new, easy tip every day for measurable steps to happiness.
This genius little guide uses a much different approach than most other self-help books — rather than positivity, Mark Manson argues that the secret to happiness is you know, not giving a f*ck. Equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and scientific backing, the book is a genuine and powerful lesson in forgetting about turning lemons into lemonade, and instead just learn to stomach the lemons. Read if you consider yourself a realist, or prefer some humor with your self-help.
Another personal narrative, "The Happiness Project" follows Rubin's year-long attempt to discover what leads to true contentment. However, it's not your typical journey to awakening. It's actually a one-stop shop for cutting edge science, classical philosophy, and comprehensive ways to apply to your life. Read if you're just getting interested in positive psychology or want a little taste of everything.
A major (and common) obstacle of unhappiness? Self-doubt and lack of self-confidence. This best-seller doesn't just promise mental changes, but physical ones too — in work, in relationships, and even in personal finance. This witty how-to guide is filled with solid advice, applicable exercises, and inspiring (but funny) stories, helping the reader stop sabotaging habits and create the life they want. Read if you're ready to make a serious life-change and make all your dreams come true.
Many books on happiness can be a little fluffy, but this is not one of them. Admiral William H. McRaven doesn't sugar-coat a word in this wisdom-loaded book, inspired by principles he learned in Navy Seal training that changed his life. Filled with personal anecdotes and real-world tips, the book explains how much the little things can make a difference. Read if you need helping finding purpose and contentment in even in the darkest or toughest moments.
"Eat, Pray, Love," is no longer just a book. Yes, it's also a hugely popular movie with Julia Roberts, but besides just a blockbuster hit (as if that's not enough to convince you), the book has inspired women to go on their own "Eat, Pray, Love"-esque journeys to find themselves, and maybe even find happiness along the way. The extremely talented and entertaining Elizabeth Gilbert details her trip through Italy, India, and Bali on a quest to find what would truly fulfill her, eating, praying, and — you guessed it — loving.
The scientific research says it all — success does not fuel happiness; happiness fuels success. Harvard professor Shawn Achor does not detail a story of finding fulfillment, but is rather searching for the key to personal and work success and finds happiness is the secret ingredient. His seven practical principles have been tested in classrooms and boardrooms all over the world, stemming from his studies of thousands of Fortune 500 CEOs in 42 different countries. Read if you're looking to gain a competitive edge at work that just might help you land that promotion, start your own company, or get your dream job.
I like to think of this book as the source straight from the horse's mouth. If you're looking for happiness, who better to look to than His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu? Two of the world's greatest peace leaders have survived decades of oppression and exile, but came out as some of the most enlightened, joyful people in the world. This book consists of a conversation between the two that took place in the Dalai Lama's home in India, discussing the question of: how do we find joy in the face of life's inevitable suffering? Just as profound, powerful, and magnificent as you'd expect, the conversation is filled with experiences, spiritual practices, and wisdom that transcends geography and time. Read if you're struggling with suffering or grief.
As the author of bestselling, "The Happiness Project," Rubin has done it again in this insightful and life-changing work. She answers the long-debated "key to happiness" with a very simple answer: habits. She argues we can harness the energy of habits to build happier, stronger, more productive lives. Whether you're looking to strengthen your relationships, get healthier, or finish a huge project, this book is the guideline to how. Read if you want to build healthier habits and become a better version of you.
What book has helped you become happier?
This article originally appeared on The Everygirl on May 22, 2019.