12 of The Best Books on Psychology, Philosophy, and How to Live Meaningfully

Reading is the supreme lifehack.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Reading is the supreme lifehack.

Distilled knowledge that often took years to assemble can be consumed in just a few hours. I can’t think of a single better way to empower yourself than that.

How do I make everyday decisions better? How do I live in the moment? How can I let myself be happy? Why in the world did I do that? How can I do better?

Chances are you’ve asked yourself these questions at least once this week.

To understand how your mind works, why you behave the way you do and how you can improve your decision-making, explore these psychology, philosophy, and behavioral economics books.

1. Great Thinkers: Simple Tools from 60 Great Thinkers to Improve Your Life Today by The School of Life Press

This books is a collection of some of the most important ideas of Eastern and Western culture — drawn from the works of those philosophers, political theorists, sociologists, artists and novelists whom we believe have the most to offer to us today.

“…simplicity is really an achievement — it follows from hard-won clarity about what matters.”

“Aristotle also observed that every virtue seems to be bang in the middle of two vices. It occupies what he termed ‘the golden mean’ between two extremes of character.”

2. Free Will by Sam Harris

“The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present.”

“You can do what you decide to do — but you cannot decide what you will decide to do.”

“We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises. To understand this is to realize that we are not the authors of our thoughts and actions in the way that people generally suppose.”

“You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.”

3. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B Irvine

“Your primary desire, says Epictetus, should be your desire not to be frustrated by forming desires you won’t be able to fulfill.”

“We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.”

“..the easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.”

4. Why Do I Do That?: Psychological Defense Mechanisms and the Hidden Ways They Shape Our Lives by Joseph Burgo

Each of us needs to feel that we matter and have a place in the world; we need a sense of internal worth and to feel that the other people in our lives (our “pack”) value and respect us. When our early environment doesn’t instill us with this sense of individual worth and value, we’ll struggle with issues of shame and low self-esteem throughout our lives. ”

“People with parents who consistently let them down emotionally and who failed to provide what was needed rarely feel safe in their adult relationships.”

5. How to Find Fulfilling Work by Roman Krznaric

“A first step is to humanize our imaginations by developing an awareness of all those individuals hidden behind the surface of our daily lives, on whom we might depend in some way.”

“If the diver always thought of the shark, he would never lay hands on the pearl,’ said Sa’di, a Persian poet from the thirteenth century.”

“…we often become psychologically paralysed, like a rabbit caught in the headlights. We get so worried about regretting making a bad choice that we may end up making no decision at all, and remain frozen in our current unfulfilling career.”

6. The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz

“Being present, whether with children, with friends, or even with oneself, is hard work. But isn’t this attentiveness — the feeling that someone is trying to think about us — something we want more than praise?”

“In trying so hard to be different from our parents, we’re actually doing much the same thing — doling out empty praise the way an earlier generation doled out thoughtless criticism. If we do it to avoid thinking about our child and her world, then praise, just like criticism, is ultimately expressing our indifference.”

7. Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”

“The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them.”

8. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman

“Our natural tendency to avoid the pain of loss is most likely to distort our thinking when we place too much importance on short-term goals. When we adopt the long view, on the other hand, immediate potential losses don’t seem as menacing.”

“When things go wrong, we can either apply a short-term, Band-Aid solution or remember that in the grand scheme of things, it’s only a minor misstep. Having a long-term plan — and not casting it aside — is the key to dealing with our fear of loss.”

9. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

“History is written by the victors, but it’s victims who write the memoirs.”

“Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Even irrefutable evidence is rarely enough to pierce the mental armor of self-justification.”

“Prejudices emerge from the disposition of the human mind to perceive and process information in categories. “Categories” is a nicer, more neutral word than “stereotypes,” but it’s the same thing.”

10. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere by Pico Iyer

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still. You”

“Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.

11. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality.”

“Words of wisdom, the meaning of life,perhaps even the answer sought by Borges’s librarians — all of these may wash over us every day, but they can do little for us unless we savor them,engage with them, question them, improve them, and connect them to our lives”

12. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton Christensen

“If you defer investing your time and energy until you see that you need to, chances are it will already be too late.”

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.”

“In order to really find happiness, you need to continue looking for opportunities that you believe are meaningful, in which you will be able to learn new things, to succeed, and be given more and more responsibility to shoulder.”

Before you go…

If you enjoyed this post, you will love Postanly Weekly (my free digest of the best productivity, psychology, and neuroscience posts). Subscribe and get a free copy of my new book, “The Power of One Percent Better: Small Gains, Maximum Results”. Join over 37,000 people on a mission to build a better life.

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