On a cold, wintry day, what’s better than curling up under a blanket with a good book? In my mind it’s what the word hygge was created for. Even better if you have a fire or candles going and are already in your PJ’s! Bliss!
I love reading and books in general. I read and re-read. I…shhh…I even highlight passages and quotes and make notes in the margins of my favourite ones. But don’t tell anyone. That kind of behaviour is often frowned upon.
I first read my favourite book, ‘Alanna: The First Adventure,’ by Tamora Pierce, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it now, but 30 years on, I still go back to it and fall in love with it all over again. Because connecting with the writing is ultimately what’s important when it comes to reading.
That book was probably one of the first books I read where the lead character didn’t conform to gender roles. Alanna was a kick-ass girl who wanted more. She dared to do the impossible and show people that her gender didn’t define her. To my 9 year old tom boy self, it was inspiring. It was love!
And we should read books we love. That make us feel and cry and laugh and dream. That inspire us and encourage us to take risks, to change, grow and transform and to hope. Books that make us question ourselves and our reality. Books that make us want to be better people; to want more.
Hopefully you received a book for Christmas that does just that. But just in case you didn’t, I’ve put together a list of 21 books that will do all of the above.
Here's a list of my top 21 positively inspirational books for 2021. Enjoy!
1. The Gift of Presence by Caroline Welch
Welch’s inspired book speaks particularly to women seeking calm and focus when overwhelmed by the demands of family, work and multiple responsibilities. The Gift of Presence guides readers to develop four capacities that will enable them to become more resilient and centred in their lives: presence, purpose, pivoting and pacing.
I love this book because according to Welch, you don’t need to spend hours sitting in silence meditating, you need to practice mindfulness wherever you are and whenever you can; something I believe wholeheartedly in!
2. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
This is a lively and entertaining account of Rubin’s epiphany one rainy afternoon and subsequent decision to dedicate one year of her life to pursuing happiness. It is very funny and contains lots of amazing tips and ideas from scientific research, popular culture and wisdom of the ages for you to try too.
3. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama
The Art of Happiness combines the Dalai Lama’s eastern spiritual principles of Tibetan Buddhism with a western perspective. The combination of the lead author’s psychology background with the Dalai Lama’s pragmatism means the information is presented in a clear and accessible way. The subjects of happiness, universal positive thinking, compassion and love are combined with practical advice and guidance. It is an enlightening read.
4. The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
Lyubomirsky’s book was a must read on the book list of one of the modules in my recent master’s degree in positive psychology (MAPPCP). A reputable and widely respected scientist, this book is grounded in her experimental research but remains accessible and easy to read.
It is practical and empowering, providing quizzes, strategies and happiness exercises to help individuals discover the activity or activities that will help them find and sustain joy in their lives. I highly recommend it!
5. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
This international best seller is one of the most famous books on positive thinking in the world. It outlines practical techniques to help people master the problems of everyday living, energize their lives, worry less and build new power and determination to achieve their ambitions and hopes.
Even though there is a lot of talk about faith, and particularly God, don’t think that makes it incompatible with your personal beliefs. It mainly focuses on psychology and the subconscious. Personally, I just mentally swapped out the more religious parts for my personal beliefs and changed prayer for deep reflection and found that worked too!
6. Authentic Happiness by Martin E. P. Seligman, PhD
Written by ‘the father of positive psychology,’ Martin Seligman, this highly entertaining and informative book teaches us that happiness can be learned. Seligman describes the 24 research-based strengths and virtues unique to the human psyche and explains how by incorporating them into our daily lives we can reach new levels of optimism, productivity, joy and meaning. This book also reminds us that what we think is what we become, so focusing on the positive is surely the only way forward.
7. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert’s 2006 memoir describes her spiritual journey toward finding herself. From disillusion with her life and marriage, she decided to start afresh and create the life she loved, before she felt it was too late. I found the book positive, engaging and inspiring and it reminded me to work hard to keep being me, to try new things and always keep living my truth.
8. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
What? Two books by the same author on this list? You’d better believe it! If Eat Pray Love is awakening, Big Magic is the next step; the creating. This is my favourite of the two and I found the book inspiring, emotional and full of incredible advice. Whatever you dream of doing – write a novel, learn an instrument, create art, or cope with challenges – this book encourages you to embrace your curiosity and face your fears.
9. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This story transforms a quest for treasure into a spiritual journey to uncover the hidden treasures found within us and around us. It brings a realization of the unimaginable value contained in our hearts, minds and dreams.
A bit of a ‘Marmite’ book, people seem to either love it or hate it. Personally, I would say read it with an open mind and think about coming back to it at another time if you aren’t instantly connecting with it. It is definitely likely to speak most to those people who are experiencing their own spiritual awakening.
10. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
Considered life-changing by many readers, this self-help book describes the law of attraction and shows how positive thinking can lead to happiness, health and wealth. It is another controversial book with some people criticizing its lack of scientific basis and others hailing the processes of visualization and gratitude as the path to ‘the good life’. Whilst I love a good controversy, if you look at this advice from a positive psychology perspective, the recommended processes build positive emotions and personal resources; both now considered a key elements of happiness. So make sure you check it out and make up your own mind.
11. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae
Rae’s highly entertaining and engaging book describes what it’s like for her to be an awkward introvert in a world that glorifies ‘cool’. Covering topics from PDA to suck up colleagues to friendship, this hilarious book reminds us that stereotypes are stupid and being your authentic self is the real key to happiness.
12. Happier Human: 53 Science-Backed Habits to Increase Your Happiness by S.J. Scott & Amit A.
This book provides a detailed overview of the scientific strategies and ideas that really do make people happy. It also includes an action plan for turning these concepts into simple, easy-to-do steps to build habits.
13. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Power of Now has been celebrated by people all over the world and even has celebrity fans such as Oprah Winfrey. Put simply, the book describes the benefits of living in the moment. It explains how to free ourselves from, and leave behind, negative thoughts and emotions and embrace our true selves in peace and happiness.
14. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
A hugely popular heart-warming tale which examines the concepts of generosity and unconditional love and reminds us not to take people and loved ones for granted. There are so many moral lessons to take from this book and children of all ages will enjoy the beautiful pictures too.
15. 50 Ways to Feel Happy by Vanessa King
This book is jam-packed full of creative, inspiring and fun activities for children and adults to help them feel happier. Each of the activities relates to one of the 10 research-based 'keys' developed by Action For Happiness; Giving, Relating, Exercising, Awareness, Trying out, Direction, Resilience, Emotions, Acceptance, Meaning. These activities are great to repeat and build the skills necessary to cultivate happiness.
16. Mindset by Carol Dweck
Dweck is a widely respected psychologist and her work into achievement, success and mindset has been highly influential to several scientific fields. Most people have heard of ‘fixed’ or ‘growth’ mindset and have a vague understanding that mindset matters. What you might not know, is that the right mindset can motivate, inspire, create resilience and lead to great accomplishment. This book delves into why praising intelligence and ability actually jeopardizes success and damages self-esteem, and outlines a better path to take. Perfect for anyone who wants to understand how their mind works and parents who want to know how to support their children.
17. The Enchanted Life by Carol Blackie
I found this beautiful book empowering, humbling and deeply moving. Contrary to the images first conjured by the title, Blackie’s book has nothing to do with magical thinking or fantasy. Instead it encourages the reader to open their eyes to the incredible, awe-inspiring beauty of the world around them. To find work that has heart and meaning and to find joy in the every day. To ‘fall in love with the world all over again.’ The practical tips and advice, alongside inspiration and wisdom from myth, fairy stories and folk tales, creates a roadmap to a greater sense of meaning and belonging to the world. I highly recommend this book!
18. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis
I actually listened to this book on audio before I read it and I laughed, cried and recognized many of the behaviours mentioned in myself and friends. I loved it so much I bought the paperback before I had finished the audiobook, just so I could highlight passages and make notes as I listened along!
Even though it's aimed at women, I think there's a fantastic message to everyone within this book. That is, to stop defining yourself as other people see you and stop letting your life pass you by!
Rachel Hollis challenges you to examine the excuses you tell yourself for why you can’t achieve your dreams and outlines a guide on how to achieve the goals you want to set. If you get the audiobook, it feels like a close friend has sat you down for a wake-up call and pep talk! A must for 2021!
19. The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner
Buettner’s fascinating book examines the locations around the world where the population experiences longer, healthier lives: The Blue Zones. He uncovers the fascinating secrets to longevity and happiness, which include community, lifestyle and spirituality. He summarises the similarities between the zones and outlines easy to follow ‘best practices,’ providing key principles towards healthy longevity.
20. Essentialism by Greg Mckeown
I found this book to be a fascinating insight into the pressure we all often feel to do everything, to say yes and to fill our time. The advice in this book is a great antidote to stress, burnout and overload, outlining how to determine what to focus your energy on, and when, to bring you the greatest reward. Full of clear suggestions to regain control of your health, wealth and happiness, Essentialism will help you create a meaningful life in which you feel happier and empowered.
21. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
I saved my favourite book for last! Although it's a children’s book, this gentle and heart-warming story is full of life lessons for all ages. I can’t read it without crying, but it always leaves me feeling happier and more at peace. It is a simple reminder to always come back to what is truly important in life; kindness, love and friendship.
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