Yes, 2020 is finally over, but many of us are still reeling from its unprecedented and often heartbreaking disruption of our lives. Indeed, even as we welcome in a new year, we’re not out of the woods yet, and ‘normal’ may not be a place we can – or should – return to.
With so much uncertainty around us – and with many of us having extra time on our hands – I think discussing some of the best books on happiness is something we could all benefit from. Although living through the pandemic has been difficult, it has also provided the space and opportunity to explore what really makes us happy. Now the conversation has started, it's worth checking out some of these books on happiness to further it.
Among the challenges of the year dominated by COVID-19, many people wondered, “How can I be happy, when so many of the things I took for granted, that I enjoy and value, aren’t available to me?”
In psychology, there is a term used to describe where people think their power rests: locus of control. Some people have an internal locus of control and some an external locus. This simply means that some people look outside themselves for the sources and solutions to situations, and some look inside themselves for understanding and resources to cope with life’s ups and downs.
As you might guess, people with an internal locus of control have been shown to be more resilient, resourceful and happy: they take responsibility for their situation and state of mind. They understand there are things in life they can’t control, but they also know they have a great deal of control in how they respond to it.
Meditation is essentially a way to cultivate an internal locus of control. It’s a perspective and a skill that helps you to see what happiness really is and where it lies. Through practice, you come to recognize that situations, relationships and circumstances are always changing and often challenging, but there’s a lasting, resilient and resourceful place inside you that you can discover and nurture over time.
So, how do you define happiness? Do you think your definition has changed over the last year through the limitations and stresses you’ve experienced? If you’d like help answering these questions and creating a better and brighter 2021, here's my countdown of the best books on happiness that will help you explore the subject.
So, this list of the best books about happiness inevitably starts with the crazily popular The Happiness Project title which came out of one woman’s random thought on a bus: “I want to be happy.”
Gretchen Rubin realized that, beneath all her goals in life, she just wanted to be happy. But, she also realized she didn’t actually know what made her happy! So, she began a year-long happiness project to discover what made her happy and why. The result is a delightful read about Rubin’s day-to-day experiences over one year and how her understanding of happiness became increasingly simple, in spite of her busy and accomplished life.
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Rubin talks about each month’s “happiness goal”: what she did, what she learned and how you can do the same. You can use her 12-month framework to create your own happiness project and discover more of your unique happiness formula for simple, happiness-generating activities. An engaging, heartwarming read.
If you’d like to read an enlightening book about happiness written by someone with a fascinating life path, try Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. Matthieu Ricard grew up with philosopher and artist parents, amidst the intellectual and artistic circles of Paris. After earning a Ph. D. in cell genetics, he discovered Buddhism, became a monk and has now lived in the Himalayan region for over 40 years.
Happiness… is the best known of Ricard’s many books that uses his deep understanding of meditation to describe how we unintentionally make ourselves unhappy. Importantly, he explains what we can do to uncover our innate happiness instead. Ricard has crafted simple lessons and exercises to apply his keys to happiness to your stressful situations, habits and beliefs that make you unhappy, and much more.
Sharon Salzberg is a pioneer in the field of meditation and mindfulness, bringing Buddhism to mainstream culture in practical, compassionate and lighthearted books, talks and retreats. Salzberg wants to demystify the practice of meditation and show its relevance to modern life – from day-to-day stresses to deep feelings of depression, disconnection and dissatisfaction.
One of my many favourite quotes from this book is: “Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.”
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This 28-Day program will help you see some of your stories, and the clarity and happiness that lies in wait for you when you see through them. Real Happiness is full of down-to-earth inspiration, exercises and tips that will help you create your own transformative month of meditation.
Some countries pride themselves on the happiness of their citizens, and Denmark, in particular, claims to be one of the happiest places on Earth. Many Danes believe the practice of hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is their secret.
Hygge doesn’t have a simple definition, but see if you can get a feeling for it from descriptions like this. It’s anything that gives comfort to your soul and allows you to let your guard down. It’s the deep peace you feel looking at the ocean with a loved one beside you. It’s a shared meal with your best friends or sharing a laugh with your child. All these experiences speak to simple, soul-satisfying moments that enrich your life and evoke the feeling, “Yes, this is enough. Just this.”
“Although living through this pandemic has been difficult, it has also provided the space and opportunity to explore what really makes us happy.”
The Little Book of Hygge is written by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. This beautifully designed happiness book is full of inspiration for simple changes you can make to bring more hygge and joy into your life. Wiking writes like he’s talking directly to you, sitting around a fire, sharing a perfect moment of hygge!
If mindfulness is new to you, The Little Book of Mindfulness is another wonderful way to dip your toe into mindfulness and happiness. Collard is a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher and stress management expert who has put together a library of 5- and 10-minute practices to increase your happiness through reducing stress and negative thinking.
There is no jargon in her definition of mindfulness or her explanations of how you can apply mindfulness practice to situations you face every day. As she says in the book, “Mindfulness is an attitude, rather than a skill.”
It’s not a complicated discipline you need to learn, you can start by approaching each moment with a mindful attitude. Collard’s exercises provide many ways to let go of stress, so you can rest in the simplicity and happiness present in each moment.
This is another book that doesn’t look at meditation from the usual point of view of a “discipline.” Meditation For the Love of It shows you how to find joy in meditation and in yourself. And what could be a better motivator to explore meditation.
Kempton’s book is a skillful explanation of how and why “loving yourself” is anything but an empty cliché. Not only accepting, but embracing all parts of your experience in meditation and in your daily life, deepens your understanding of your strengths, your vulnerabilities and what truly makes you happy.
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Kempton teaches readers how to connect with the power of their deepest desires which she sees as the path to lasting happiness. Playfulness and devotion are the two attitudes indispensable to your journey of self-knowledge. The book includes over 20 practices to help you bring happiness, insight and self-acceptance into your life through meditation.
I’ve chosen this classic by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the best book on happiness because it is such a comprehensive, practical and compassionate look at the human condition: how and why we suffer, and how we can use simple, but potent practices to become happier.
Kabat-Zinn is the creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that has become the gold standard in evidence-based, mindfulness programs.
In Wherever You Go, There You Are, the author explains in a non-pretentious style how small, everyday moments are the best places to understand what mindfulness means to you. You don’t need to sit on a meditation cushion for an hour every day or have extraordinary experiences. Growing in emotional, mental and spiritual well-being comes from learning to see everyday experiences and your responses to them through a lens of non-judgment, curiosity and compassion.
“This classic by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the best book on happiness because it is such a comprehensive, practical and compassionate look at the human condition.”
The title describes the central premise of the book and of mindfulness in general. “Wherever you go,” you take your strengths, weaknesses, life experiences, beliefs, worries and everything else, with you – for better or worse. And all these factors determine your experience, whether you’re living in paradise or living through a global pandemic. When you explore all these aspects of yourself, in a mindful, caring way, you gain the immeasurable power to better understand yourself and others, relieve even long-term anxiety and become more balanced and happy.
So, if you’ve evaluated life after 2020 and are key to explore your happiness further, these are the best books to try. You couldn’t find a better way to start 2021. Let us know below in the comments which ones have helped you most. Or, if you think I've missed some essentials from the list, share below also. Happy reading. •
Main image: shutterstock/Marjan Apostolovic
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Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses and on their journey of self-discovery.
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