For many of us, happiness is a goal we’re only partially successful at attaining. Our lives are complex, with a host of desires that don’t always line up: personal satisfaction doesn’t always coincide with professional success, for one thing. The day that you’re set to have a life-changing meeting might be the same one in which your bathroom springs a leak, counterbalancing any good feelings with an abundance of stress. Life’s tricky like that — but the road to happiness and joy can take a host of forms.
For some of us, that might involve reorganizing our lives to a substantial extent. In June, the New York Times Magazine examined the influence of Marie Kondo and the movement that she’s inspired, which asks people to de-clutter their lives as a move towards self-improvement. Others might find happiness through faith, meditation, or some such path towards the transcendent. And, in our digitally-saturated world, there’s also an argument to be made that changing our relationship to the way we experience information can likewise be a route towards greater happiness. That’s certainly one of the points that can be taken from a recent Andrew Sullivan essay, in which he documents how changing his relationship with technology caused a seismic shift in his emotional connection to the rest of the world.
Everyone has a slightly different definition of happiness and joy, and a slightly different path to get there. But whether you’re looking for a route there through the sacred, through the organizational, or through understanding yourself better, here are a handful of the best books on happiness that can only serve to help you on your journey.
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
Seeking advice on the very nature of joy? The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have plenty to offer on the subject. Each has decades’ worth of experience in venerated religious traditions; each has also struggled with political and social oppression over the course of their lives. In this book, the two share their own observations on the nature of joy and happiness, from contemporary thought on the subjects to their own experiences with both.
Life Without Envy by Camille DeAngelis
One of the biggest obstacles to happiness can frequently be ourselves, whether we’re feeling jealous of the people around us, struggling with the sense that we aren’t good enough, or grappling with a sense of where we belong. As the author of several acclaimed novels, DeAngelis knows the creative world well, and offers plenty of advice for avoiding becoming your own worst enemy and getting in the way of your own well-being.
Messy by Tim Harford
There are those who emphasize epic organization strategies and the reduction of clutter as the hallmarks for a happier life. In this study of the role of chaos and clutter in the lives of successful figures in politics and art, Tim Harford takes a contrarian view. Perhaps it’s disarray that can ultimately lead to creative breakthroughs and insights that will show us the path to a more contented life.
Changing the Subject by Sven Birkerts
Over the course of the essays contained in Changing the Subject, Sven Birkerts takes on a host of subjects, from society’s changing relationship with technology to the pleasures that can come from an in-depth reading of a great book. Birkerts’s own feelings on modern technology are somewhat idiosyncratic, but whether or not you agree with the specifics of all of his arguments, the larger questions that he asks strike deeply at questions of happiness and joy. For Birkerts, art is a means for people to connect, to empathize, and to feel moments of happiness and joy — and to read this book is to open oneself up to a richer inner life and deeper connections.
Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
Good design emphasizes the happiness of the person using it, whether we’re talking about a phone, a building entrance, or a transit system. In Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans explore the principles of good design, and then extrapolate how best to apply them to the reader’s life, increasing their happiness along the way. This unexpected angle on personal happiness is based on the course that the book’s two authors teach at Stanford.
The Quantified Self by Deborah Lupton
Between smartphones, smartwatches, and fitness tracking devices, it’s become easier and easier for us to keep track of the most minute data that emerges from our everyday lives — and, in theory, use them to improve our happiness. Are we exercising enough? How are our sleep patterns? These are all questions that can, in a very pragmatic way, improve the way that we live. And in this study, Deborah Lupton examines just how we go about monitoring our own behavior, and where it might lead. For those seeking insights into their own pursuit of happiness one Fitbit step at a time, this might just be the place to look.
Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy by Sadhguru
In Inner Engineering, yogi and founder of the Isha Foundation Sadhguru brings together his own life story with a narrative making the case for yoga’s ability to create joy in its practitioners. Or, to put it another way, this book juxtaposes its author’s story of his own transformation with a philosophical and scientific approach for his readers to use in order to do the same.