Last Updated on December 11, 2019
We need a big dose of hope and happiness in this world where people seem to be gripped by anxiety and depression.
The standard of living may have improved in the United States but many of us appear to be more agitated amid the bombardment of news about calamities and ads about products that will make you look better and more successful. In fact, the US ranked 19th place—behind New Zealand, Canada, and Australia—in the list in the United Nations’ latest World Happiness Report.
Moreover, loneliness seems to be a problem of both the young and old. The UN report said that the rate of depression rose among teens starting 2010. Meanwhile, the “loneliness epidemic” is plaguing US senior citizens, especially those who are far from family members or friends.
At the same time, studies have shown that people’s health is affected by their emotions and social ties. Therefore, being happy is important if we want to be healthier and live longer.
A sense of meaning and purpose is attainable even in this seemingly “post-happiness” world. The following books show us how to make this possible.
A Meaningful Life isn’t Just About Happiness
1. Flourish by Martin E.P. Seligman
In this book, former American Psychological Association president Martin E.P. Seligman, who is also referred to as the father of positive psychology, says that life satisfaction comes from PERMA: positive emotions, engagement (a state of effortless work like when you’re doing a hobby), relationships, meaning (a higher purpose for living), and accomplishment (a growth mindset instead of competitive attitude).
Seligman encourages us to develop gratitude by regularly journaling three good things that happened to us at the end of the day. He also emphasizes the importance of social networks and doing generous or kind deeds to others without expecting a return.
2. Authentic Happiness by Martin E.P. Seligman
In Seligman’s other work, Authentic Happiness, Seligman offers a “Signature Strengths Survey” to help us identify the best in ourselves and nurture these qualities to improve our health, career, and relationships.
3. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
Australian psychotherapist Russ Harris says that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can get people out of the “happiness trap” of failing or even suffering the more we seek happiness. The therapy calls for:
- accepting your difficult thoughts and feelings while at the same time being focused on what you are doing at the moment;
- choosing a valued direction (clarifying the values that will guide you through life); and
- taking action (using your values to motivate you to live a meaningful life).
In ACT, mindfulness skills replace experiential avoidance or attempts to forget or avoid unpleasant memories and thoughts. This, in turn, should jumpstart you to start living a truly happy life.
4. Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat
Author Mohammad “Mo” Gawdat, the former chief business officer at Google’s research and development facility Google X, wrote this book after losing his son during a supposed routine appendectomy. Gawdat says that happiness is equivalent to or greater than your perception of what happened in your life minus your expectations about how life must be.
His “6-7-5” model talks about six illusions blurring our view of the real world, seven blind spots, and five life truths. He advises dealing with the illusions and blind spots to reduce unhappiness levels.
The illusions include: thought (or the belief that you are your thoughts), self (the belief that you are your body, emotions, beliefs, or possessions), knowledge (can include false beliefs), time (worrying about the future and regretting the past), control, and fear.
The blind spots include memories, emotions, labels, filtering, assuming, hunting, and exaggerating. Gawdat then says that we have to accept as real the truths of death, love, change, the now, and grand design—that life follows patterns and nothing is random in life.
5. The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, the Psychology vice-chair at the University of California, Riverside, shares 12 activities people can do for a happier life based on her years of research, including acts of kindness to others. Because activities affect individuals differently, readers must consider the following: motivation and beliefs, effort, social support, culture, age, and starting levels of happiness.
Based on the tests that Lyubomirsky conducted over the past 20 years, she concluded that 40 percent of people’s happiness is determined by “intentional activity” or events we can control such as our internal and external behavior or what we think and do. She calls on people to work through that 40 percent to get out of the rut.
6. The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
A good companion reading to “The How of Happiness, “Lyubomirsky’s The Myths of Happiness points out many wrong ideas of happiness (I will be happy when I become rich, when I buy that house, and so on) that leave us feeling frustrated.
7. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
Shawn Achor‘s book shows that there’s a direct correlation between having a positive mindset and a healthy brain. He says that we can train our brains to choose thoughts and actions that will result in happiness.
Among the seven principles he featured in his book are:
- Fulcrum and lever: Adjust the way you think so that you can see the world through the eyes of hope, gratitude, and resilience, instead of pain, uncertainty, and stress.
- Tetris effect: Your brain can be stuck into viewing people and events in a certain way due to your professional training and habits. Just like playing Tetris, your mind can acquire the skills to notice and focus on new possibilities.
- “Falling Up”: People can learn resilience by coming up with “counterfacts” or alternate scenarios when making sense of their lives after experiencing failure.
- Zorro Circle: You can tackle overwhelming events by first narrowing your focus and taking small steps before expanding your circle of control.
8. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
Entrepreneur and Live Happy co-founder Jeff Olson tells readers that our daily but deliberate decisions determine whether or not we achieve our goals.
This book will motivate procrastinators to act now, saying that if people consistently do uncomfortable habits leading to success earlier in life, they will become easier in time.
9. The Art of Happiness by Dr. Howard Cutler
American psychiatrist Dr. Howard Cutler details the lessons that he learned from Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, in 15 chapters of his book, which is divided into five sections: the purpose of life, living a spiritual life, human warmth and compassion, overcoming obstacles, and transforming suffering.
He said that if gentleness was humanity’s fundamental nature, then people will practice compassion to make themselves and others happy.
10. How Happiness Happens by Max Lucado
Christian author and pastor Max Lucado said that happiness happens when we give it away. Jesus Christ’s teaching that it is more blessed to give than to receive applies to not just generosity of time and money but also forgiveness and love.
The book compiles over 50 “one another” statements from the Bible to describe the attributes of happy individuals. It also includes a “Happiness Challenge” to pray, serve, and bring the best out of others in 40 days.
11. Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
Despite gaining a fan base of 1 million women worldwide and being known as “The Nicest Girl Online,”Erin Loechner left the life of fame and frenzy she knew as host of Discovery’s HGTV.com.
Her first step to “chasing slow” was to admit that “busyness” and wanting more will never satisfy. In Chasing Slow, Loechner shares how her values and priorities were redefined as she went through her husband’s brain tumor, bankruptcy, family loss, and public criticism.
12. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
University of Houston professor Brené Brown teaches us about courage, compassion, and connection in The Gifts of Imperfection.
She says that people can hide shame by putting on a mask of perfectionism. Brown encourages readers not to be paralyzed by the fear of acceptance or criticism by not comparing themselves with others and remembering that the opinions of others don’t determine their self-worth.
Her 10 guideposts for “wholehearted” living are gratitude and joy, authenticity, self-compassion, calm and stillness, resilience, intuition and faith, creativity, play and rest, laughter song and dance, and meaningful work.
Knowing the effect that our thoughts and decisions have on our short- and long-term happiness will make a difference in our mental well-being and physical health. Happiness is no longer as elusive as we think when we realize that our failures and inadequacies don’t define our value.
Although difficult circumstances will come our way, we can develop new ways of looking and responding to them without losing hope. By learning how to process our memories and emotions, reassessing our priorities, and connecting with others with compassion, we can welcome every day with gratitude and choose to be happy.