21 Self-Help Books That Are Actually Worth Reading
We can all agree: Many self-help books feel, well, cheesy. You know, a lot of half-baked mantras and promises of happiness if you just journal. In order to weed out the quacks, we did some research to find 21 self-help books that are actually worth reading, so you can confidently continue on your quest to be a better you.
1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
We’ve been spotting this book everywhere since it came out in April 2019. The refreshing twist on self-help chronicles Gottlieb’s experience of being a therapist in L.A., while also seeing a therapist herself, while also navigating heartbreak. We’re in.
2. DROP THE BALL: ACHIEVing MORE BY DOING LESS BY TIFFANY DUFU
Do you ever feel so overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks that you’re tempted to just say “screw it” and take a sick day? Tiffany Dufu has been there—and she maintains women truly can have it all (a loving family, a high-power job, a gorgeous wardrobe and relaxing downtime included) by “dropping the ball” on things they don’t find enjoyable or don’t contribute to their larger purpose. So go ahead, let that laundry pile up on the bedroom floor. You have some very important yoga to do.
3. GET OVER IT! BY IYANLA VANZANT
This Oprah-endorsed spiritual life coach helps both fearful people who’ve been worn down by life and angry people stuck in their righteous outrage. “What. If. The. Problem. Is…You?” she asks, meaning that it’s our attitudes, not circumstances, that determine whether or not we live a happy and fulfilled life. Vanzant deploys “thought therapy” exercises, a combination of spiritual tools and the science of neuroplasticity, to eliminate dominant negative thought patterns and emotional energies.
4. THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF NOT GIVING A F*CK BY SARAH KNIGHT
Riffing on the title of Marie Kondo’s smash-hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Knight’s book is all about the art of caring less and getting more. She hilariously lays out rules for ridding yourself of unwanted obligations without feeling guilty, steps for decluttering your mind and tips for channeling your energy toward things that actually matter. The New York Times Book Review called it “the self-help equivalent of a Weird Al parody song,” and we couldn’t agree more.
5. PROFESSIONAL TROUBLEMAKER: THE FEAR-FIGHTER MANUAL BY LUVVIE AJAYI JONES
There’s a strong chance you know Ajayi Jones from her witty Instagram, her previous New York Times bestseller or her incredible TED talk. Add to the list: Her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual. Ajayi Jones says, “It is the book that I believe I needed 10 years ago when I was afraid to call myself a writer. It's the book that I need now. I usually like to write the books that I want to read…and I know that if it's useful for me, somebody else will find value in it.”
6. JUDGEMENT DETOX BY GABRIELLE BERNSTEIN
This best-selling New Thought leader and speaker has come up with a six-step practice that involves replacing negative assessments of others (and yourself) with a sort of Buddhist Lite acceptance. Meditation, a therapy called Emotional Freedom Technique (in which you tap points on your body to re-train yourself toward positive thinking) and prayer add up to a strictly non-denominational, tricky at first but ultimately rewarding method of self-soothing—no credit cards or Chardonnay needed.
7. YOU ARE HERE: AN OWNER'S MANUAL FOR DANGEROUS MINDS BY JENNY LAWSON
Part therapy, part humor and part coloring book, Lawson (who wrote the equally hilarious book Furiously Happy) draws on the tenets of art therapy to help readers cope with anxiety and general negative feelings. As in her previous books, Lawson is candid about her personal struggles, and in doing so makes the reader feel comfortable airing her own grievances (here, in the form of fill-in-the-blank lists and sometimes-irreverent drawings).
8. THE SELF-LOVE EXPERIMENT BY SHANNON KAISER
OK, you’re trying to do the things you’re supposed to be doing to be a happier, healthier person (Yoga! Meditation! Eating healthy!) and then the guilt of spending so much time on yourself creeps in. Kaiser is here to show us 15 principles to clear away the clutter and simplify your path to happiness and fulfillment without the self-reproach. (Now go take a bubble bath and enjoy it, dammit.)
10. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
You’ve already read (and adored) Eat, Pray, Love, right? This is another Elizabeth Gilbert tome to pick up. This time, rather than describing her soul-searching trip around the world, she’s delivering realness on how to live your most creative, fulfilled life. “Wow. Big Magic is one of the most honest discussions about the creative process that I’ve ever read," one reader raves. “Her no-BS attitude helps do away with the unrealistic expectations and unnecessary melodrama attached to the concept of ‘creative living.’"
11. MODERN LOSS BY REBECCA SOFFER AND GABRIELLE BIRKNER
Soffer and Birkner fancy themselves experts on destigmatizing grief. (Soffer suddenly lost both of her parents in her early 30s and Birkner's father and stepmother were murdered when she was 24.) The two are the creators of a website that The New York Times says is “redefining mourning” for the social media age, and their first book is comprised of dozens of essays about everything from surviving small talk after a loss to survivor’s guilt. Somehow this volume is simultaneously deep and funny (one chapter is called “My husband’s death went viral and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”)
12. SOULPRENEURS BY YVETTE LUCIANO
Want to pivot from your current work (or unemployment) to a more satisfying job—but afraid you’re not talented, savvy or special enough to support the endeavor? This book, by an Australia-based life coach, maintains that through community, collaboration and courage, you can create a sustainable dream life, no plan B required.
13. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
In chapters like “Your Brain Is Your Bitch,” “Fear Is for Suckers” and “My Subconscious Made Me Do It,” Sincero writes in a conversational, witty tone that actually makes self-improvement sound fun. Seriously, we blew through this guy in an afternoon.
14. YEAR OF YES: HOW TO DANCE IT OUT, STAND IN THE SUN AND BE YOUR OWN PERSON BY SHONDA RHIMES
It’s an indisputable fact that Shonda Rhimes is an absolute badass. In addition to creating, writing and producing Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and producing How to Get Away with Murder, Rhimes is the best-selling author of an incredible memoir jam-packed with life advice. While poignantly and humorously chronicling her childhood and rise to success, Rhimes dishes out tips for achieving your goals (especially if you, like her, are an introvert). Let’s face it: It’s Shondaland, and we’re just living in it—happily.
15. Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe the World by William H. McRaven
You’re busy, so a revamp of your entire life probably isn’t in the cards right now. That’s why we appreciate the simplistic approach of this guide. Each chapter outlines a theme like “Life’s Not Fair, Drive On!” and “Never, Ever Quit!” (Can you tell it was written by a Navy SEAL?) We’re extremely here for the lack of sugarcoating in these pages.
16. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
Here’s all you need to know: “Manson makes the argument, backed by both academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach the lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited. Manson, a self-help author whose books have sold more than 13 million copies, advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them,” the Amazon synopsis explains. And the over 4,000 people who gave this book a five-star review think he’s on to something.
17. UNTAMED BY GLENNON DOYLE
The latest book from bestselling author, mom and speaker Doyle is equal parts intimate memoir and wake-up call. It’s the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. Doyle writes about navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and learning to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries and unleash our truest, wildest selves.
18. WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE by Jon Kabat-Zinn
This enlightening book is basically an intro to mindfulness. (Which, if you’ll remember, is hugely beneficial.) Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts who has studied Zen Buddhism under Thich Nhat Hanh, has a way of simplifying complex topics into digestible lessons that are easy to actually incorporate into your life. (No hour-long meditation required.) One thing that really stuck with us was the idea of non-doing, or letting things unfold the way they will.
19. RISING STRONG: HOW THE ABILITY TO RESET TRANSFORMS THE WAY WE LIVE, LOVE, PARENT AND LEAD BY BRENÉ BROWN
According to research professor and famous TED talk speaker Brené Brown, failure can actually be a good thing. In her fifth book, Brown explains that navigating through the difficult times in our lives is often when we learn the most about who we are.
20. F*CK FEELINGS BY MICHAEL I. BENNETT, M.D. AND SARAH BENNETT
Written by a father-daughter team (Michael is a psychiatrist and Sarah is a comedy writer), this practical guide is actually more of an anti-self-help book. In funny prose, they argue that modern methods for dealing with life’s problems place unrealistic emphasis on resolving feelings. Instead, they suggest putting doing good over feeling good, and not letting negative emotions distract you from living a good life.
21. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
This book has been a hit since it was first published in 1936, and people are still reading it. If you’re looking to get smart about your interactions with your coworkers, friends and even neighbors, Carnegie’s here to help. He draws on the interpersonal strategies of successful people throughout history to give you tips that’ll help you succeed at work (and also in life).