Words are powerful. They can ignite positive change in your life and bring you more happiness and freedom. They can transform the world into a better place. That's why I believe the right book is priceless, and indeed the perfect gift.
However, it may not be helpful to read too many books. The key is to contemplate what you learn and then put it into practice instead of skipping immediately onto a new book. Otherwise, it’s like leaving a collection of supreme knowledge to gather dust on a book shelf. And then, just continuing on with automatic habits that leave you discontent.
I read less these days, try to capture the essence of what I read, and then do my best apply it. My method is to draw a few key points from what I've read. I'm beginning to play with mind maps as a simple way to remind myself of what's truly important. I sometimes journal or blog about an important theme from a book as another way to nudge the information more deeply into my being.
These are some of the amazing books that have touched my life in positive ways. They might make a perfect gift for someone in your life. That might even be you!
You Can Buy Happiness and It's Cheap, How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel
"Once, Tammy Strobel and her husband were living a normal middle-class lifestyle: driving two cars, commuting long distances, and living well beyond their means. Now they are living the voluntary downsizing — or smart-sizing — dream. In this book Strobel combines research on well-being with numerous real-world examples to offer practical inspiration. Her fresh take on our things, our work, and our relationships spells out micro-actions that anyone can take to step into a life that’s more conscious and connected, sustainable and sustaining, heartfelt and happy."
Read my review.
10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) by Galen Pearl
"If someone asked us if we want to be happy, most of us would say yes. But we are lousy predictors of what will actually make us happy. Many of us hold our happiness hostage to some future circumstances: "I'll be happy when I get a job, when I lose weight, when my kids shape up, when I meet the right person..." But happiness is, as they say, an inside job. Happiness is not a destination, not something to be pursued. It is the way we live. Happiness is a choice we make every moment, and each moment is a new opportunity to choose. If we choose repeatedly to be happy, it becomes a habit, our default position. 10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place (and Staying There) demonstrates how to create these joyful habits, and in truth, each of these steps will bring us back to where we started: ourselves."
Read my review.
Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope, and Surrender by Alex Blackwell
"Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender shares 25 heartfelt stories from ordinary people who have experienced the life-changing freedom that letting go of a negative attachment provides.
The stories are categorized into five parts: - Letting Go of Relationships - Letting Go of Emotional Attachments - Letting Go of Fear - Letting Go of the Past - Letting Go of Our Children
These true stories will help you remember that you’re not alone on your journey. The stories will also challenge you to remember that it’s your responsibility to follow your personal destiny – no matter how out of control, or frightening, it may feel at times.
Letting Go: 25 True Stories of Peace, Hope and Surrender will inspire you to offer up your struggles so your beautiful life can be revealed, too."
The Secret Promise of Aging: Finding Meaning, Joy, and Inner Peace as Years Fly By by Christopher Foster
"It's never too late to live your dream, 81-year-old author and blogger Christopher Foster declares in this wise and comforting book, praised by best-selling author Sharon Salzberg as "full of generous insight and truth-telling."
Most of us feel anxious about aging from time to time. But Foster invites us to see this rite of passage in a new light as a unique opportunity to celebrate the sheer joy of being alive. In more than 40 moving, thought-provoking short essays, Foster offers insights and strategies that help us overcome challenging times and discover the blessings of growing older. His book is based in his personal experience of moving from turmoil and despair into acceptance, joy and inner peace. It is an easy, light and friendly read which can inspire you time and again."
• Adventure, Intrigue, Challenge
Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War by Marianne Elliot
"I am about to be left in charge of the office.I'm not sure I'm ready for the responsibility, so I double-check with my boss. He reassures me. 'You'll be fine, Marianne. As long as no one kills Amanullah Khan, you'll be fine.' By midday, Amanullah Khan is dead.
Marianne Elliot is a human rights lawyer stationed with the UN in Herat when the unthinkable happens: a tribal leader is assassinated, and she must defuse the situation before it leads to widespread bloodshed. And this is just the beginning of the story in Afghanistan.
Zen Under Fire lays bare the struggles of a war-torn region from a uniquely personal perspective. Honest and vivid, her story reveals the shattering effect that the high-stress environment has on Marianne and her relationships. Redefining the question of what it really means to do good in a country that is under siege from within, Zen Under Fire is an honest, moving, at times terrifying true story of a women's experience at peacekeeping in one of the most dangerous places on Earth."
Read my mini-review.
"'You must be mad to live in the bloody jungle, mates.' Not mad exactly, just disconnected and seeking more meaning and adventure in their lives. An eccentric free spirit who never quite fit in, Robin Easton saw her soul mate in Ian—a rugged, rowdy Aussie who wanted out of the confines of his family's business. Together they planned their Great Escape: to live off the grid in a remote area of Australia's Daintree Rainforest.
But as their Jeep wound its way closer to the tiny black dot on the map, Robin couldn't have fathomed just how the jungle would test her mentally, physically, and spiritually. As she came face to face with her fears of deadly snakes, leeches, and man-eating crocodiles, she began to unravel the mysteries of life and death, love and loss, and nature and humankind. Hidden in the forest mist, she discovered our biological relationship to the natural world and our unique place in it."
Read my related post.
In the Shadow of the Buddha: One Man's Journey of Discovery in Tibet by Mateo Pistono
"For nearly a decade, Matteo Pistono evaded Chinese security and smuggled out photos of prisons, secret documents, and firsthand interviews of torture victims and other atrocities committed by the Chinese government. Yet Pistono had not initially gone to Tibet to fight for human rights-but as a Buddhist pilgrim.
After Pistono became the student of a venerated meditation master in Tibet, he began couriering messages to him from the Dalai Lama in India. This began an extraordinary adventure. In the Shadow of the Buddha is both a vivid account of how Tibet's rich spiritual past is slipping away under repression, and the story of one man who merged political activism with Buddhist mysticism in pursuit of freedom and peace."
Read my review.
• Taking Control of Your Life
You Are Not Your Brain, The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad-Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life by Jeffrey Schwartz, MD and Rebecca Gladding, MD
"Two neuroscience experts explain how their 4-Step Method can help identify negative thoughts and change bad habits for good.
A leading neuroplasticity researcher and the coauthor of the groundbreaking books Brain Lock and The Mind and the Brain, Jeffrey M. Schwartz has spent his career studying the human brain. He pioneered the first mindfulness-based treatment program for people suffering from OCD, teaching patients how to achieve long-term relief from their compulsions.
Schwartz works with psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding to refine a program that successfully explains how the brain works and why we often feel besieged by overactive brain circuits (i.e. bad habits, social anxieties, etc.) the key to making life changes that you want—to make your brain work for you—is to consciously choose to “starve” these circuits of focused attention, thereby decreasing their influence and strength.
You Are Not Your Brain carefully outlines their program, showing readers how to identify negative impulses, channel them through the power of focused attention, and ultimately lead more fulfilling and empowered lives."
Read my review.
"Resilience is the ability to face and handle life’s challenges, whether everyday disappointments or extraordinary disasters. While resilience is innate in the brain, over time we learn unhelpful patterns, which then become fixed in our neural circuitry. But science is now revealing that what previously seemed hardwired can be rewired, and Bouncing Back shows us how. With powerful, time-tested exercises, Linda Graham guides us in rebuilding our core well-being and disaster-proofing our brains."
Mini Missions for Simplicity, Small Actions, Massive Change by Courtney Carver
"When you start to simplify your life and even when you are years into the process, some things take longer than you anticipate and it can feel like you are taking one step forward, and two steps back. Instead of getting frustrated or giving up, try a mini-mission.
Mini-Missions are assignments or challenges that you can implement immediately, so you can benefit from some immediate gratification during this adventure and make your simple life more enjoyable and sustainable.
Mini-missions are often one step actions that you can do to improve your health, relationships, bank account or wardrobe."
• Meditation, Compassion, and Wisdom
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
"A newly revised and updated edition of the internationally bestselling spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche, is the ultimate introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. An enlightening, inspiring, and comforting manual for life and death that the New York Times calls, 'The Tibetan equivalent of [Dante’s] The Divine Comedy,' this is the essential work that moved Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, to proclaim, 'I have encountered no book on the interplay of life and death that is more comprehensive, practical, and wise.'"
The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Publisher's Weekly: "This refreshing book is yet another sign that the next generation of Buddhism is creative, cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary. Born in 1975 in Nepal, the author is among the generation of Tibetan lamas trained outside of Tibet, and he's also a gifted meditator. His brain activity has been measured during meditation, earning him the enviable sobriquet of "happiest man on earth." He fuses scientific and spiritual considerations, explaining meditation as a physical as well as a spiritual process. Mingyur Rinpoche knows from experience that meditation can change the brain. He experienced panic attacks as a child that he was able to overcome through intensive meditation. If diligently practiced, meditation can affect the 'neuronal gossip'—his imaginative rendering of brain cell communication—that keeps us stuck in unhappy behaviors. The meditation master offers a wide variety of techniques, counseling ease in practice to avoid boredom or aversion. Less is more; practice shorter periods more often, he says. His approach will be especially welcome for anyone frustrated by meditation or convinced they're not doing it right. This book is a fresh breath from the meditation room, written with kindness, energy and wit. Three cheers for a cheerful contemplative."
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki
"'In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few.'So begins this most beloved of all American Zen books. Seldom has such a small handful of words provided a teaching as rich as has this famous opening line. In a single stroke, the simple sentence cuts through the pervasive tendency students have of getting so close to Zen as to completely miss what it's all about. An instant teaching on the first page. And that's just the beginning.In the forty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern spiritual classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics—from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality—in a way that is not only remarkably clear, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page."
I encourage you to get these books from the library or a local bookstore if possible. If you would like to buy from an online retailer and click on the links above, I'll receive a small affiliate commission. Thanks so much for supporting my work in this way.
Fibre Tibet is made with the finest cashmere and yak wool. The cashmere and wool is collected by Tibetan nomads near Mount Kailash and Golok. The collection is woven in Kathmandu, Nepal by Tibetan, Newari and Nepalese artisans.
Tibetan nomad families, businesses, and Himalayan artisans benefit directly from Fibre Tibet, a social benefit corporation.
Give the Gift of Ease
I hope you enjoy these suggestions! I would love to hear about your favorite life-changing books in the comments. If you're reading by email or a reader, click here to participate in the conversation.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra
- Sources: The book descriptions above are from Amazon unless otherwise noted.
- Image: © CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)