Throughout this section about happiness, we’ve pulled from many books. So much recent work has been done by the best authors and positive psychologists out there on the study of happiness.
So, here is our comprehensive list, generally ordered from ‘best’ (in our opinion) to ‘also quite good.’
⭐⭐⭐ = Absolutely Recommended ⭐⭐ = Highly Recommended
⭐ = Recommended
No stars indicates ‘meh,’ and we wouldn’t recommend reading before reading the others, if at all.
Our “Happiness” 6-Pack
You ask, “If I were to read 6 books to tell me what I need to know and help me improve my ‘happiness,’ which would they be?”
Here is our answer. These 6 books, considered together, complement each other in their theories and practices.
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
This book is the other overview you need. The cover makes a now-dismissed assertion (happiness set points are more complicated than a simple percentage), but that plays a small part in an otherwise fantastic analysis of well-being research, including practical tips and myth breakers.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan
Business professionals and CEO’s are too often conflating their secrets for ‘success’ with happiness, and it saturates the book market.
Somehow, even though this author is a business professor, his audacity landed on point, his research is very good, and his independently formulated theories are well-aligned with leading models in positive psychology. This book covers ground that is missed in some other books. It includes helpful exercises and calls out the conflation mentioned above.
Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived
This book is the deeper dive. Top scholars of positive psychology movement apply their latest research and analyses, expanding the scope of social and psychological research to include happiness, well-being, courage, citizenship, play, and the satisfactions of healthy work and healthy relationships. This book reads like an insider synopsis of positive psychology research, written by some of the foremost leaders in the field. You’ll find that this book strongly echoes the role of the 4 Cornerstones of Meaning in a well-lived life.
Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization
When psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman first discovered Maslow’s unfinished theory of transcendence, sprinkled throughout a cache of unpublished journals, lectures, and essays, he felt a deep resonance with his own work and life. In this groundbreaking book, Kaufman picks up where Maslow left off, unraveling the mysteries of his unfinished theory, and integrating these ideas with the latest research on attachment, connection, creativity, love, purpose, and other building blocks of a life well-lived.
Happy This Year by Will Bowen
This is the super practical perspective book that you didn’t know you needed. The writer is not a psychologist, and it doesn’t matter. Every step is a straightforward, utilitarian guide to taking control of your own psychological well-being. This book sacrifices almost no action-orientedness to theory, and the theories it follows happen to be sound.
More Books on Overall ‘Happiness’
Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter
This book is a report on extensive global research on well-being by Gallup. The authors outline 5 essential types of well-being: career, social, financial, physical, and community.
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
Calling it a ‘handbook for living,’ the Dalai Lama offers his usual grace and elegance about living well in this book. The book balances Perspective and Meaning, especially through compassion in relationships.
Happiness By Design by Paul Dolan
“There are a slew of books on the market dictating programs for achieving happiness, but Happiness by Design is the first to explain that happiness ultimately depends upon our experience of pleasure and purpose over time—and everyone has their own optimal balance.”
Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat
Yes, another book on ‘happiness’ by a corporate exec. And, Gawdat’s impeccable research ability and problem-solving skills, combined with a deeply emotional personal motivation, led him to a really interesting presentation of concepts.
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
This is a positive psychology book with special humanity. It reads like an NYT bestseller, and it was, for half a year. It puts scientific knowledge into simple terms, with special focus on how and how well we can predict what will make us happy in the future.
Happiness by Matthieu Ricard
The strongest point made by Ricard’s book is that happiness is a virtue deserving more weight in our lives and in society. Other than that, he offers personal anecdotes and echoes of eastern philosophy to recommend how.
On Element #1: Ephemeral Pleasures
On Element #2: Flow & Engagement
The Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler
All about peak performance, this book reads like a pop journalism romp through examples of flow, sort of selling the idea like a superpower. While it’s a compelling read, it also may be overhyped and overemphasize flow as an element of a well-lived life.
On Element #3: Perspective
The following books focus on internal solutions to well-being. If we’ve listed them here, they’re worth a read. And, remember that Perspective is everywhere, but not the sole solution to ‘happiness.’
A Liberated Mind by Steven Hayes
“How to Pivot Toward What Matters”…this is the book to read on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and will offer you a transformative perspective on yourself.
Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chodron
From the bestselling author of When Things Fall Apart, an open-hearted call for human connection, compassion, and learning to love the world just as it is during these most challenging times.
The Deepest Acceptance by Jeff Foster
This book is pretty singularly focused on acceptance, and it is a bit wishy-washy at times. But it is bold in its invitation to accept radically, and it has great use of metaphor.
How We Choose to Be Happy
This book outlines 9 choices that happy people consistently make: intention, accountability, identification, centrality, recasting, options, appreciation, giving, and truthfulness. Reading it uncovers a Perspective focus that echoes what you’ll find on this site.
Spontaneous Happiness by Andrew Weil
A bit wishy-washy at times, but this book offers a different and helpful lens of integrative medicine.
“Drawn from psychotherapy, mindfulness training, Buddhist psychology, nutritional science, and more, these strategies include body-oriented therapies to support emotional wellness, techniques for managing stress and anxiety and changing mental habits that keep us stuck in negative patterns, and advice on developing a spiritual dimension in our lives.”
On Element #4: Meaning in Life
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Frankl wrote this landmark book after enduring the holocaust and time in a concentration camp, where he realized the power of meaning in life. This book is highly recommended, and you can check out our page on Logotherapy, his meaning-based therapy methods, here.
29 Gifts by Cami Walker
This memoir follows the author’s mission after being diagnosed with MS, to give 29 gifts in 29 days. It is a personal testament to the transformative power of meaning in life.
The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith
This book comes recommended for its central thesis, which echoes that of this site: meaning is the key to a life well-lived. Smith offers her own 4 cornerstones of meaning: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling, and Transcendence. It’s worth a read, and you can check out her TED talk here.
Novel Concepts and Explorations
The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma
This book is a hoot. It is a bit mystical and sales-y in its tone, but it nevertheless offers incredible well-being insights, and uses the device of a surreal fable to remember a few key concepts. It’s good enough that we have a synopsis on this book on this page.
The Five Things We Cannot Change
This book takes an interesting tack, focusing on 5 ‘facts of life’ and how to cope with them for better well-being. These are the 5 things:
Everything changes and ends, Things do not always go according to plan, Life is not always fair, Pain is part of life, and People are not loving and loyal all the time.
The Future of Happiness by Amy Blankson
This book questions what we think we know about well-being and its techniques from an important, pressing context: the technological era. If you’ve felt the addictive tendencies of technology getting in the way of your happiness, this book is a helpful read.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
This book combines 2 novel elements: a radically honest memoir and a grab bag of real, reliable well-being principles. The author shows how she harnessed positive psychology and made serious changes to her life, following a different virtue each month.
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
This is like a curiosity travel tour of well-being: ‘Are people in Switzerland happier because it is the most democratic country in the world? Do citizens of Qatar, awash in petrodollars, find joy in all that cash? Is the King of Bhutan a visionary for his initiative to calculate Gross National Happiness? Why is Asheville, North Carolina so damn happy?’
Designing Your Life
Ok, it’s not actually a workbook per se, but this book is so practical and action-oriented that it belongs here. This is the no shit, bird’s eye level, do this then that book you need for building a happy life intentionally.
52 Lists for Happiness
“Weekly Journal Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy (A Weekly Guided Self-Love Journal for Women with Prompts, Photos, and Illustrations)” Great for both men and women.
The simple practice of keeping a gratitude journal can make a huge difference to one’s overall well-being. You can learn more about Gratitude in our section on the subject here.
Parenting and ‘Happiness’
The Secrets of Happy Families
Don’t worry about family dinner, let your kids pick their punishments, ditch the sex talk, and cancel date night. These are just a few of the surprising tips given in this book, where expertise is sought from ‘creative minds’ of all types.
On the Spiritual Side of ‘Happiness’
This site doesn’t advocate for any particular religion, being science-based. And, we objectively recognize the role that religion and spirituality take in many people’s psychological well-being. The following books in particular struck common chords with modern positive psychology.
Happiness in This Life by Pope Francis
This site doesn’t advocate for any particular spiritual path, but despite the religious context, the pope’s book hits the nail on the head, focusing on meaning, then relationships, then perspective.
Inner Engineering by Sadhguru
This book is fascinating. It is like a handful of sand with grains of diamonds. Even if some of statements made are farfetched, some are deeply insightful and forward-thinking.
The Ten Worlds by Alex Lickerman
This book offers a transcendent lifestyle of ‘happiness’ in a classic sort of hierarchy model, pronouncing 9 ‘hells’ that we endure through, like stages on the way to enlightenment. Structural implications notwithstanding, the book does land on important well-being concepts.
The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha
The market of published wisdom has a glut of life advice from corporate execs. 🙂
That being said, the book does have some interesting points and practical visual infographics. If you read it, do so primarily from the lens of getting clear-minded on money and career goals.
10% Happier by Dan Harris
This book is a memoir about a conflicted approach toward meditation and spirituality, through anxiety and disorientation. This book may be meaningful for you if are facing a similar struggle.
The Algebra of Happiness by Scott Galloway
Another well-conceived marketing idea masquerading as happiness science. It’s a fun idea, but the equations miss the mark in too many ways, and the author arrives with over-confidence and a bias toward branding and business.
Finding Happiness by Abbot Christopher Jamison
This book does highlight meaning in life as opposed to hedonic well-being. But the context of sin from which it delivers may not be necessary. If you are a Christian, this could be a great perspective for exploring meaning as the path to well-being.
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
‘The 7 principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work.’ As if ‘performance’ is a higher virtue than well-being. Though many of the ideas in this book are well-researched and helpful, the context importantly misses the mark.
The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala
A leading expert on health psychology, well-being, and resilience argues that happiness is the key to fast-tracking our professional and personal success.
While it’s true that happiness is correlated with success, books like this one can be problematic, over-conflating success and happiness.