“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”
― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Outside of people, books are my great love. I read voraciously and love to pass along favorites. Here are the self-help books that I find myself mentioning to clients, passing along to friends, and, the truest test of my devotion, leaving alone during bookshelf purges.
I linked each title to my local bookstore for fun - not compensation. Just a little encouragement to support an independent bookstore!
I’m sure I’ve missed some great books here, so the list will be updated regularly.
How to Live
This is a terrific book explaining how modern life exacerbates depression and anxiety and how to combat it. I cited some of Hari’s ideas in this blog post.
In Joyful, Lee looks at how our physical world impacts our mood and happiness. Basically it will give you permission to spring for fresh flowers, buy the fuchsia tea pot, and book the room with the view. You’re welcome!
Vanderkam has written several books encouraging us to get real about how we spend our time (by tracking it instead of guessing), in order to use that time better. This book goes further, encouraging us to consider and plan our time, moment by moment, to consciously create a meaningful life.
The Heaths’ book is about amplifying moments to create impact and memories. It is written for a business audience, but is widely applicable, especially to family life. Read this in tandem with Off the Clock.
If a science-based book about meditation sounds dull - it’s not. Wright is an engaging, funny writer and he takes the reader on his own journey from skeptic to evangelist. This book convinced me to finally start meditating regularly. I am indebted.
Part memoir, part treatise, this book is mainly a love letter to therapy. Gottlieb is a warm, engaging companion, and a terrific subject on each side of the therapeutic relationship. I gobbled it up.
With an eye on both problem solving and optimization, Feiler applies strategies from a variety of disciplines, including science, the military, sports, and business, to his family life. There are dozens of excellent, instantly applicable ideas in this fun, engaging book.
How to grow
I am a Gawande super-fan. He is the only author with two books on this list, and I could have easily put a third, “Check-list,” on here as well. In Better, Gawande explores the quest for mastery and top performance through the world of medicine. How do some doctors, hospitals, interventions, get results so superior to their peers? Riveting.
Is anyone more tender, honest, or funny than Anne Lamott? Every Lamott book is a treat just because it’s a chance to hang out with her. This one also has solid writing advice that can easily be retrofitted to any creative endeavor, or even just how to live generally.
This book is so widely known and cited that it is tempting to leave it off the list, but it’s so popular for a reason. Brown’s framing of vulnerability and its importance in our relationships make this book required reading.
Well-researched and highly readable, this is Duckworth’s missive to perseverance and determination over potential and talent. My own motto is “Consistency is the only metric,” so she was preaching to the choir. A great one to read along with Dweck’s Mindset.
This book is described and referred to so often in other books and articles that you may be tempted to skip the original. Don’t. Reading the book itself is a great way to get into the growth mindset Dweck advocates for here. Indispensable for parents, teachers, and mentors of any sort.
Newport is on a mission to challenge the ethos that constant connectivity and highly distracting work environments are healthy or desirable. He challenges the reader to reclaim their brain, time and attention. You will be convinced.
Whenever someone is struggling with “What’s next?” career-wise, I always point them to this book. Burnett and Evans apply product design principles to life planning to great effect.
How to love
A great book about how marriages work, where they fail, and how to fix it. I think the book works even better if you’ve seen Terry live, so by all means check out his workshops and events. He’s a force and a great communicator.
Such an important book it is shocking it didn’t exist before 2015. Here is the sex education you didn’t realize you were missing. A must read for anyone who really wants to understand women’s sexuality.
Perel discusses the difficulties of sustaining attraction and desire in a committed relationship. When this book came out in 2007, it reframed how we think about sex and marriage. This book is still fresh and relevant.
Dunn’s quest to get her marriage back on track after having a baby is funny, relatable and filled with good suggestions. Your spouse might give you the side-eye when this appears on your nightstand, but it’s worth it.
How to die
This is the book I recommend most often. It should be on the required reading list for all humans. Gawande challenges us to face, and plan for, the realities of illness and death. Consciously thinking about the inevitable can allow us to live with purpose and dignity to the end.
These are both memoirs, not self-help, but I couldn’t leave them off the list. Riggs and Kalanithi wrote these beautiful books while grappling with what it means to live, love, and work while facing your own mortality. Each book is profound and unforgettable. Being reminded that your own life is fragile and sacred is the best self-help of all.
What books have you read and loved? I’d love to hear! Shoot me a line.