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Scott Barry Kaufman first discovered Maslow’s unfinished theory of transcendence, sprinkled throughout a cache of unpublished journals, lectures, and essays, he felt a deep resonance with his own work and life.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’
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
This was the book that started the Positive Psychology movement. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in reading everything about the topic, or a historical lens, but otherwise, read Flourish instead.
The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
The subtitle says it all: “What should make you happy but doesn’t. What shouldn’t make you happy but does.”
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.
Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson
This book is all about the unique and powerful skill of savoring. You can read more about the unique and powerful skill of savoring here.
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.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
With a helpful balance of Perspective techniques and Meaning virtues, Haidt draws on ancient wisdoms for a modern well-lived life.
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.”
Happier by Tal Ben Shahar
Shahar’s breakout book on happiness. This one is an overview and a great starting point for positive psychology. A quick read.
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.
Awakening Joy by James Baraz
Blending Eastern philosophy and modern science, this book mainly calls attention to elements like Gratitude, Mindfulness, Self-Love, and Relationships.
On Element #1: Ephemeral Pleasures
Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee
This book may oversell ephemeral pleasures as a key to a good life, in a way. But looking from the lens of savoring and making the most of pleasures, it’s a fun ride.
The Little Book of Hygge
A fun, pleasing little tour of Hygge. You can read more about Hygge on our page on it here.
On Element #2: Flow & Engagement
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Though it only specifically covers this one element of well-being, this is a landmark book within the positive psychology movement. It is highly recommended.
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.’
Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
“Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha”…this book offers a compassionate starting place of moving one’s perspective to compassion and love. Check out our section on Acceptance here.
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.
The Illustrated Happiness Trap
This book, a delightfully visual revision of its earlier version, presents the fundamentals of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and calls out the entrapping farce that we should be happy all the time.
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.
The Happiness Makeover
This book focuses on optimism and contentment with what we have as opposed to what we want. If you know this is a specific growth area of yours, it’s recommended.
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.
Life on Purpose by Victor Strecher
This is just one book of many we would suggest on the subject of Purpose. The concept is closely intertwined with Meaning, and you can check out our section on the subject here, including a resources page with other book recommendations.
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 Blue Zones of Happiness by Dan Buettner
Buettner’s original best-selling Blue Zones book takes a simple, effective approach to longevity: where does it happen and why. Here, he seeks to do the same thing for happiness, and he offers ways to design communities, families, and one’s inner life.
The Book of Joy
This book is essentially a week of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, curated and edited to include modern science on well-being.
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
A book on habits with the focus/end-goal being happiness rather than productivity. And a fun read as usual from Rubin. You can learn all about habits in our section on the topic.
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell
A modern philosopher polymath’s stab at positive psychology, pre-positive psychology. Give it a look if you like Bertrand Russell’s other work.
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?’
Exploring far beyond the Bliss Map, this book shares 10 ‘rules of ikigai,’ which are lifestyle tips from long-living Okinawans.
Awakening Your Ikigai
This book offers 5 pillars to Ikigai: start small, release yourself, align your actions with your values, take joy in small things, and be here now.
How To Ikigai
This one is more recent. It is more poppy and journalistic, and it’s full of personal anecdotes. It’s ok. 🙂
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.
My Little Ikigai Journal
A super helpful workbook for implementing elements of the Bliss Map. You can see some highlights from it on the Ikigai page.
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’
This is the parenting book you need if want to set your child up for lifelong happiness. It offers 10 well-designed steps that are well-grounded in science.
Awakening Joy for Kids by James Baraz
Written for both adults and kids, this one is packed with practices and activities for finding and creating joy in every day in the classroom or at home.
The Danish Way of Parenting
Play, authenticity, reframing, empathy, no ultimatums, and togetherness. These are the parenting guidelines offered as coming from the world’s happiest country.
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 Meaning of Happiness by Alan Watts
You can check out our page on Alan Watts here. This book is his take on happiness and blends spirituality and philosophy, from early days of eastern mysticism.
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.
Pragmatic Psychology by Susanna Mittermaier
This book focuses on honoring one’s inner voice, overcoming self-doubt, and self-love.
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.