6 Happiness Books That Mental Health Experts Trust

Reading as an act of self-care

Just as there is no single definition of happiness, there is no single form of self-care that works for all people. Landing on a self-care method that works for you takes some experimentation and often a lot of trial and error. (In case you missed it, here’s how to create a self-care plan, according to experts.)

But one thing we know for sure: almost everyone could benefit from more self-care and less stress right now. About 19 percent of adults say their mental health is worse than it was a year ago, according to an August 2020 national survey conducted by The Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association.

When things get out of hand (ahem, during a global pandemic), finding ways to center yourself and meditate can be invaluable, explains Crystal Burwell, PhD, the director of outpatient services for Newport Academy, an Atlanta established teenage rehabilitation center.

The power of reading

“Reading promotes relaxation and inner peace. Research shows that regular reading habits are correlated with less depression, higher self-esteem, better sleep, and lower stress levels, compared to non-readers,” says Burwell. “In addition, books can provide healthy distractions during stressful times. This is especially true now, during the pandemic, when we can’t plan those spa days or take vacations, a book can be an inexpensive way to transport us to a quiet space.”

(This is why reading is important for your brain.)

When you’re immersed in a story and turn off other disturbances around you, your attention is on the page in front of you (instead of, say, the news or social media fights). You inadvertently exclude other stressors in a healthy way, adds Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City. Reading can also counteract feelings of loneliness and take you to another place.

“Reading can help a person practice mindfulness without them being aware that they are doing it,” Hafeez says.

What should you look for in a lucky book?

For a maximum mood boost per page, think back to the volumes that have stayed with you from the past few years. There are many genres and book formats that can increase your happiness, and what you have enjoyed in the past may be a hint of what you will enjoy in the future. Or a book of the same style can provide a pleasant dose of nostalgia.

Just remember: “Books should not be used as a substitute for professional help. If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that affect your life, it’s important to talk to a therapist or other professional,” says Burwell.

Happiness books that therapists trust

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After the Rain: Gentle Memories for Healing, Courage and Self-Love


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Part Memoir, Part Guide, After the Rain: Gentle Memories for Healing, Courage and Self-Love by Instagram celebrity and self-care storyteller Alexandra Elle (@alex_elle) talks about Elle’s journey from self-doubt to self-discovery to self-love. It contains 15 lessons about overcoming obstacles, improving self-confidence and living a more honest and fulfilling life.

Read, reflect and practice the motivational mantras.

“Books can help you on the path to change, give you inspiration, give you a new outlook on life, increase your knowledge, and let you know you’re not alone with thoughts, fears, and worries,” Hafeez says. That said, “They can’t do the work for you and they’re not magic potions. If you read a self-help book to move more or have a more positive perspective, you are still the one who determines whether that happens or not. The book or the author cannot do the work for you.”

(Here are some self-love quotes to remind you of your worth.)

give and take book

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Give and take: why helping others drives our success


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While many self-help books that focus on success talk about being relentless to succeed, Give and take: why helping others drives our success by organizational psychologist Adam Grant has approached the subject in a new way – which is why it deserves top marks from Hafeez.

“Grant shows that people who give [to others] can also win,” she says. “He discusses how when we stop focusing solely on our own self-interest, a greater world opens up where we can ‘win’ along with others who take the journey with us.”

While this was designed as a tool to increase your business acumen, it can be translated to other areas of work and personal life as Grant has explored everything from motivation to generosity to creativity.

(These are the life skills for health, wealth, and success.)

The Magic of Thinking Big book

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The magic of thinking big


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It’s never too early to start a happiness book habit. At a young age, “my parents started a lot with books and reading,” says Burwell. “I quickly developed a strong relationship with books that have significantly influenced my life.”

Some of her personal (childhood and lifelong) favorites are: The giving tree; A guide to rational living; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; How the mind works; and this book—The magic of thinking big.

The magic of thinking big by David J. Schwartz “challenged my thinking because I could connect with themes in the book. … it made me feel alive and aroused a sense of joy, excitement and curiosity,” says Burwell.

This happiness book suggests that instead of exceptional talent or a super high IQ, it takes the right mindset to find happiness and success.

(Have a positive attitude with these positive thinking quotes.)

The Book of Joy

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The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World


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Nobel Peace Prize winners, the Dalai Lama (Tibet’s spiritual leader) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (a South African cleric, theologian and human rights activist) spent five days together discussing how they found joy in their most difficult moments. This includes a collective 50 years of exile, oppression and violence. The results end up in this lucky book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, who recounts their week-long journey of joy. It ends with them landing on “Eight Pillars of Joy,” which the duo say can lay the groundwork for lasting joy.

Burwell appreciates how inspirational books educate, guide, inform, and inspire readers to make positive changes in their lives, especially books like this one that deal directly with the subject of life satisfaction. “They can provide tips on managing stress, dealing with anxiety, dealing with difficult relationships, and more, which can lead to greater happiness and mental well-being,” she says.

(Want to boost your mood? Here are some Amazon products to make you feel happier.)

The Power of the Now Book

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The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment


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Instead of worrying about the future or worrying about the past, this self-help book is, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle, suggests focusing on the here and now.

“I love this book because it emphasizes the importance of living in the present moment, literally living day to day,” Hafeez says. “During this pandemic, it was helpful because life can get overwhelming if you think too far in advance.” This can potentially lead to feelings of uncontrollability or lead to unnecessary worry or stress.

(Fill out your bookshelf with some of the best self-help books.)

The body is not an apology book

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The body is not an excuse: the power of radical self-love


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Activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor believes “radical self-love” is the antidote to modern societal trends that say there’s only one way to look beautiful and dignified. Feeling good in your home (also called body) is an important part of feeling happy, Hafeez believes.

“This book goes beyond self-love and self-acceptance, which is something so many women struggle with,” she says. “It breaks down the societal reasons why we struggle with or hate our bodies, then serves as a call to action to better ourselves.”

If you read and love this book of happiness, The body is not an excuse: the power of radical self-loveyou can continue the journey through Taylor’s related online community.

Next, learn how walking can improve your mood.

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