Last summer, we recommended to our readers some wonderful novels and memoirs that touch on Greater Good themes. This summer, we’re taking a new tack by recommending some great self-help books, instead. Some of these books can help you embrace your emotions, strengthen your relationships, and find inner peace and happiness. Others can help us all to collectively to address teacher burnout, encourage gratitude at work, and empower women.
If you want an enjoyable summer read that might also change your life, take a look at this list selected by Greater Good editors.
Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, by John and Julie Gottman
John and Julie Gottman have spent decades studying couples and uncovering the behaviors that can spell doom for a relationship—what they call the “four horsemen”: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. So, how can couples not just avoid the four horsemen, but actually build goodwill in relationships to help them thrive over the long haul?
In this book, the Gottmans invite readers to go on eight dates, each centered around conversation and skill-building that will strengthen and deepen their connection with partners. The dates focus on topics like building trust and commitment, handling conflicts, increasing sex and intimacy, and learning to play together more. The activities they suggest are tailored to the skills being built—so, for example, to encourage more play, the authors give a list of adventures that couples might take together and a list of questions to consider both before and during the date.
With easy-to-follow instructions, the book is a gold mine of ideas for couples wanting to increase intimacy and joy in their relationship.
Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder, by Reshma Saujani
If you’re a woman who has compromised your dreams or talked yourself out of making a bold move, this book is for you. Written by the cofounder of the organization Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, Brave, Not Perfect examines how socialization keeps girls stuck career-wise, in relationships, and creatively—and suggests ways to better understand and combat societal myths around female empowerment.
Saujani argues that boys are rewarded for being “brave” but girls are encouraged to be “perfect”—a demand that leaves them little room to explore, make mistakes, and grow. To get around that, she provides strategies to help you overcome fear of imperfection, including creating a “brave mindset,” being honest about your hopes and fears, engaging in positive self-talk, finding strength from supportive women in your life, and taking on small challenges to build up your bravery muscle. The book is an inspirational read from a woman who practices what she preaches, empowering girls every day through her organization.
Project Happiness founder and CEO Randy Taran offers a primer of sorts for ten emotions: desire, tolerance, happiness, sadness, fear, anxiety, confidence, anger, guilt, and love. In each chapter, Taran gives a brief overview of the science behind a select emotion, along with some homework (such as journaling, gratitude letters, and practices like “Three Good Things”) to embrace your feelings or dig for the upside of negative emotions.
Taran hopes to help readers understand their emotional reactions and change negative patterns of behavior. Emotional Advantage could certainly help those at the beginning of their journey toward greater well-being. The science won’t be new to Greater Good readers—in fact, the GGSC’s work is cited many times in the book. But it’s an easy guide to take with you on any summer travels.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottlieb
Therapists guide people through some of the most personal and painful experiences of their lives. But, while the results of therapy can be impressive, the process seems mysterious—even miraculous—when you don’t understand it. Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb explains what happens in a therapy room to help people change, but in a thoroughly entertaining way—by following the stories of four clients from her practice, while also exploring her own struggles with loss.
The book gives readers insight into how people get stuck in self-destructive patterns and what it takes to get out of them. By seeing how Gottlieb approaches her clients, we develop empathy, understand the importance of human connection, and get glimpses of our common humanity. For those of us dealing with setbacks in life—and let’s face it, who isn’t?—this book is inspirational and instructive. And, as a bonus, it reads like a gripping novel.
Coming on the heels of the Marie Kondo craze, Outer Order, Inner Calm is a guide to decluttering your space to boost your happiness. The book consists of a series of tips for deciding what to keep, creating and maintaining order, improving your clutter-related habits, and adding beauty around you—all while recognizing how your own personality and values influence the process. The emphasis on self-knowledge and personalized strategies is what makes Gretchen Rubin’s book different from some others, which recommend more of a one-size-fits-all solution.
Regular Rubin readers might miss the personal stories that make her other books so engaging, but they will appreciate her psychological lens on clutter. She unearths some of the thoughts and emotions that keep us untidy, such as guilt and uncertainty, failed goals and fantasy identities, and regrets from the past. If you want some inspiration to organize that doesn’t require you to fold your socks, the little tips in this book might make a big difference.
If you struggle with difficult conversations, you’re not alone. When emotions are in the mix, it’s easy for us to get angry or defensive, misunderstand each other, and say things we regret.
Drawing from the traditions of Buddhist mindfulness, nonviolent communication, and somatic experiencing, Oren Jay Sofer’s book Say What You Mean will give you the tools to understand others and express your own needs in your relationships. He teaches you to be present in conversations, cultivate an intention of care and curiosity, and focus on what matters—and all the ways that we mess this up, thanks to our upbringing and the messages we receive from society.
This work is difficult—and, as Sofer emphasizes, you won’t learn it just from reading a book. He challenges you to try out different practices so that, over time, you discover a deeper way of relating to the people you care about.
Surviving to Thriving: The 10 Laws of Grateful Leadership, by Steve Foran
We now know that research has found many benefits to gratitude practice—it improves our health and well-being. But did you know that you can bring gratitude to your work environment and help not just yourself, but those around you?
That’s what Steve Foran, CEO of Gratitude at Work, encourages in his book, Surviving to Thriving. With engaging stories, he outlines what gratitude is and what it isn’t. He describes the research that supports shifting our mindset in a more positive direction—where we recognize how grateful we are for what we have, rather than focusing only on what’s missing or imperfect. By doing so, he writes, we can feel happier, build social connections, become more resilient to stressors, and improve our adaptability and innovation.
The Burnout Cure: Learning to Love Teaching Again, by Chase Mielke
After a 10-year teaching career, Chase Mielke was emotionally depleted and ready to leave his job. In The Burnout Cure, Mielke shares the tools he used to renew his commitment to teaching and to flourish and thrive as an educator.
How did he turn it around? The positive psychology elective he designed for his own high school students ended up emotionally sustaining him, too.
Mielke’s practical, user-friendly book describes the keys to well-being that enlivened him both personally and professionally—including mindfulness, optimism, gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, and altruism. He outlines specific activities or “life assignments” for savoring and sustaining each of these qualities—like committing to a no-complaining challenge for 24 hours, ending each day by writing down a “win” and a goal, or listening to a mood-lifting song.
Although his book is well-grounded in the latest positive psychology research, Mielke does all the heavy lifting for readers by sharing clear and relatable stories and classroom-based analogies—all with a light, sometimes humorous touch.