5 Best Books on Happiness (And Why You Should Read Them)
For yourself. The people around you. And the world as a whole.
For yourself, because it’s the key to better health, greater resilience, thriving social relationships, higher productivity, and reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
For the people around you, because happiness is contagious. If you’re happy, you literally lift up the world around you, helping family, friends, and co-workers feel better and perform at a higher level.
For the world as a whole, because happiness is the path to living in peace and harmony. Like my favorite long-bearded guru, Osho, used to say: “You can’t drag a happy person to war. Happiness is constructive; misery is destructive.”
So, how do you become happier?
It’s easier than you might think. Simply read the books below, do what they say, and voilà: greater happiness with all its benefits.
To say these books have changed my outlook on life would be an understatement. Knowing exactly how happiness works and how to create it for oneself gives a sense of real power and control over one’s life. I hope these books serve you as much as they serve me.
(NOTE: I’m only including books I have personally read. Surely there are other great ones, but I can’t recommend them without having read them – duh!)
1. The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
This is easily the most complete book on the science of happiness I’ve ever read.
If you want a complete overview of the subject, this is your pick.
The book does essentially three things: 1) It explains why happiness matters. 2) It explains how happiness works. 3) It explains how to create happiness for oneself.
Here are three specific things you’ll discover:
- The pie-chart theory of happiness. This theory explains in detail what determines human happiness. It’s a need-to-know for anyone interested in the subject.
- Happiness takes effort. In her own words: “becoming lastingly happier demands making some permanent changes that require effort and commitment every day of your life. Pursuing happiness takes work, but consider that this ‘happiness work’ may be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.”
- Exercise is the most effective instant happiness booster, period. Exercise is a must if we’re interested in reaching our happiness potential. Not only are the effects instant, they are also lasting. In fact, exercise has been shown to be more effective at beating depression than anti-depressant drugs.
2. Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
This was one of the first science-based books on happiness written. It’s authored by Martin Seligman, the father of the Positive Psychology movement.
The book does a great job at explaining the difference between pleasure and happiness.
By pleasures we mean the fleeting bursts of positive emotions we get from playing video games, watching Game of Thrones, eating cookies, or having sex. The pleasures are easy to have, don’t take much effort, and don’t lead to true happiness.
True happiness is what we get from living a life of meaning, from being in a state of flow a lot of the time, or from using our signature character strengths. True happiness, as opposed to pleasure, it hard to create for ourselves. It takes effort, but it’s also a lot more fulfilling.
Three specific lessons you’ll learn:
- Why shortcuts won’t make you happy. Generating artificial positive emotions through shortcuts (gambling, video games, comfort foods, etc.) will leave you addicted and unfulfilled. There’s a better way…
- The key to happiness is virtue. Ancient philosophies and modern science agree: the long-term solution to greater happiness is virtuous living.
- Using your signature strengths makes you happy. Your signature strengths are the character strengths that make you who you are as a person. The more you use the best aspects of your personality, the happier you’ll be.
3. Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson
Fredrickson writes that she doesn’t use the term happiness for various reasons and prefers to use the term positivity. That said, I don’t see a difference between the two and this is basically a book about the science of happiness.
The book does two things: 1) It explains how positivity/happiness optimizes our bodies and brains to perform at the highest levels possible. 2) It shows scientifically proven ways to raise our level of positivity/happiness.
Here are three specific lessons you’ll learn:
- The broaden-and-build framework of positive emotions. This is about the fact that positive emotions broaden our minds and build our skills, while negative emotions do the opposite.
- Why positivity is a key to resilience (resilience = the ability to bounce back from setbacks). Fredrickson explains studies showing that happiness is perhaps the greatest asset for recovering from heartaches, failures, and other setbacks.
- The positivity ratio. This is incredibly important as it shows that we need to reach a certain ratio of positive emotions versus negative emotions to create upward spirals in our lives.
4. The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
This is the shortest, easiest, and perhaps most enjoyable in this list so far.
The premise of the book is simple: Happiness creates success much more than success creates happiness.
If you think happiness can wait until you’re a success, this book is a must-read.
Here are three specific lessons you’ll learn:
- Why chasing success and neglecting happiness is a losing strategy. The winning strategy is creating happiness now and leveraging its performance-enhancing effects to create more success.
- A short primer on neuroplasticity. This is all about the fact that our brains are able to change throughout life. We’re not stuck with unhappy thought patterns or negative emotions, but rather can change them at any point in our lives.
- The detrimental effects of watching the news. In his own words: “Studies have shown that the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are.”
5. The Happy Life Formula by Nils Salzgeber
As you may know, I’ve published my own little book on the science of happiness.
It’s by far the shortest and simplest read on this list.
It essentially does three things: 1) It explains the basics of happiness. Why does it matter? How does it work? And what else do you need to know about it? 2) It gives 26 proven happiness-boosting strategies. This is the main part of the book, where I outline all scientifically proven ways to raise one’s level of happiness. 3) It shows you how to build a happy life. This is all about moving from theory to practice. It’s a step-by-stem system to incorporate happiness into the very structure of our lives.
Here are three specific things you’ll learn:
- Why happiness deserves priority. This is all about the science-backed benefits of happiness – including better health, stronger relationships, greater financial success, higher productivity, and so on.
- Why happiness takes effort. In this section, I talk about the evolutionary history of human beings and how our genes and brains get in the way of being happy.
- A simple two-step approach to creating a happy life. This explains how to take all the theory about happiness and use it to create a happier, healthier, and more successful life for yourself.
Other “Happiness” Books
The first five books are purely on the science of happiness.
If you want to learn more about that topic – what determines happiness and how to generate it – that’s your list.
Here, I want to give you a short list of books I’ve read that sound like they are about happiness, but they really aren’t.
- The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. This is a great, great book! Highly recommend it. But it’s not really about happiness, it’s about mindfulness. Specifically, it’s about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) – a type of therapy largely focused on the use of mindfulness.
- Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. This is basically a book on neuroplasticity and how to use its findings to change the brain for the better. Through specific techniques, you can hardwire your brain for greater happiness, kindness, compassion, confidence, or whatever you like.
- The Happiness Track by Emma Seppälä. This great little book is similar to The Happiness Advantage. It’s all about using positive mind-states (and other counter-intuitive strategies) to become more productive and successful. I see it more as a productivity than a happiness book.
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris. This is a book about meditation, in which the author recounts his personal story of discovering meditation and how it made him 10% happier.
Other Positive Psychology Books
The books I want to present in this section cover certain aspects of happiness, but they’re not exclusively about happiness.
Gratitude, for example, has been shown to contribute greatly to happiness. That said, a book solely on gratitude may not be what you’re looking for.
Here are some great Positive Psychology books to dive deeper into specific topics:
- Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. Optimism turns out to be an incredibly healthy way of looking at the world. The book is all about the benefits of optimism and how to become more optimistic. (Yes, it’s possible to become more optimistic, even if you’re currently a pessimist!)
- Making Hope Happen by Shane Lopez. As the title suggests, this one’s all about the science of hope. Just like optimism, hope is highly beneficial, making people happier, healthier, and more productive. The book offers strategies for becoming more hopeful about the future.
- Thanks! by Robert Emmons. This is about the science of gratitude. Turns out that gratitude is not only the best researched but perhaps also the most beneficial of all human emotions. For more on the benefits of gratitude and how to become more grateful, check out the book.
- Gratitude Works! by Robert Emmons. This is like a shorter and more practical version of Thanks! If you’re interested in gratitude, this is a great start.
- Love 2.0 by Barbara Fredrickson. This little book is all about the science of micro-connections. If you want to learn about the benefits of social interactions and how to create more of them and get better at them, this one’s for you.
- Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. I’m a huge fan of self-compassion and this book is a must-read. Self-compassion trumps self-criticism in every area of life. Highly recommend this one.
- Grit by Angela Duckworth. Grit is a character trait defined as the combination of perseverance and intense passion. This book is all about the science of grit, its vast benefits, and how to become a more gritty person.
- Mindset by Carol Dweck. Not sure if this is really a Positive Psychology book, but it’s definitely a must-read. If you’ve never heard of growth versus fixed mindset, head over to Google and read up on it.
- Flourish by Martin Seligman. This is Seligman’s latest book, and it’s all about human well-being and flourishing. It’s not technically a self-help book, so there’s too much fluff for my perspective.
I’m curious to know… what are your favorite happiness books?
Please let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading.
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How to be Happy by Cara Stein. Recommended
Will check it out, thanks!
I listen religiously to Dennis prayer happiness hour on Friday. I love all his videos about happiness is a serious problem. I am also an avid fan of TedTalk on the subject of happiness and gratitude. Read myriad of books on the subject of happiness and mindfulness . My favorite topic at the present time
Awesome, Dina! Thanks for the inputs.
“Happy” by Derren Brown.
Thanks, John. I’ll check it out!
The Best of the Best !
THE BOOK ON HAPPINESS
The Book on Happiness will guide the reader to a new and deeper understanding of the final roots of happiness and of the hidden laws of nature that underlie and regulate all forms of life, both in the physical and in the spiritual dimensions of reality. Because these laws consistently affect events in human life, no less than any law of physics, they must be carefully observed if one would lead a happy and productive life. In the present book the author shows that happiness in human life is not a random gift of fortune, which some receive and others seek in vain, but the inevitable consequence of all creative, ethical activity. Spiritually considered, happiness is an experience that every human being is not merely able to create, but morally required to attain. It is an obligation every person has to meet, a debt we owe both to ourselves and to society as such.
Contents: Prelude. Creating Happiness as Moral Duty. “I and “You.” Wealth and Poverty. Money. Optimism. Conclusion.
Excerpt: The Nature of Happiness
133 pages. Paper $10.95. 1994. ISBN 0-915034-04-2.
Great advice, Nils. I enjoyed your list. Thanks!
Thanks, Sandro! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂