Thriving in the New Normal//

15 Books That Brought Us Meaning and Joy This Year

Amidst all the stress and uncertainty we faced in 2020, we also leaned into some great reads that brought us inspiration and hope.

GaudiLab/ Shutterstock
GaudiLab/ Shutterstock

Reading can inspire us, enlighten us, and allow us to live inside a story that’s completely different from our own. And amidst all the stress and uncertainty we faced in 2020, we also leaned into books to bring us joy and inspire us to be more resilient

We asked our Thrive community to share one book they loved this year, and why it was so impactful and meaningful. Which of these will you read in 2021?

Untamed 

“My favorite read of 2020 was Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. It should be the new anthem read for women of any age or background. I laughed, I cried, and I couldn’t put it down. It made me reflect on my experiences as a woman and brought up experiences from my adolescence that I had not thought of in decades. It was an uplifting reminder that we are all stronger than we think.”

—Tara Bethell, HR executive, Phoenix, AZ

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

“I read Robert Iger’s book this year and then immediately bought the audible version to soak up the message. The book opens with Mr. Iger sharing three challenges he had to face while leading the company. It was a powerful reminder that leadership is about more than executive vision and direction. It’s about being present, empathetic,  optimistic — especially in the difficult moments. This book offered a powerful reminder I needed throughout this year.”

—Stacy Cassio, CEO, Charlotte, NC

The Things We Cannot Say

“Kelly Rimmer’s book particularly stood out to me this year.  It was one of the rare books that our book club collectively loved. This book alternates between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life. A granddaughter learns the truth about her grandmother’s life by going back to Poland. She reluctantly leaves behind a hectic life with an autistic child. It is an amazing story of what happens when the truth is silenced, and a powerful reminder that we all have a story to tell.”

—Laurie Jonas, blogger, Red Wing, MN

Man’s Search for Meaning

“I have countless books by my bedside. During this wild year, one of the books I enjoyed most was Man’s Search for Meaning by Frankl. Frankl’s story reminded me to choose my attitude. We can pick what attitude to have, what story we tell ourselves about ourselves, whether to have hope and what is significant and therefore meaningful in our lives. It was a powerful reminder that we are enough, the power is within us, and tomorrow is another day.”

—Siobhan Kukolic, author, inspirational speaker and life coach, Toronto, Canada

Greenlights

“I recently read Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey and was really impressed by it, mostly because of the simplicity of the book. It is a great collection of stories and musings that remind people how to turn red and yellow lights into green lights, and just keep moving forward. It brought me a sense of resilience during a challenging year.”

—Mark Jones, attorney, Mill Valley, CA

Fear Is Not the Boss of You

“I read a lot of books this year, but my favorite was Fear Is Not the Boss of You by Jennifer Allwood. 2020 completely shifted my perspective and previous ways of thinking. This book helped me recognize that I had let fear and anxiety play a major role in what I was doing in my life. It helped me shift my focus from the day-to-day perspective to the big picture. That attitude shift has taken me so much farther in 2020 than in years prior, and I can’t wait to see how the freedom from fear moves me forward in 2021.”

—Liz Hammond, clarity and success coach, Pittsburgh, PA

The Hidden Life of Trees

“I loved reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Since my regular routine came to a halt in March, I’ve found myself doing more solo runs and taking more walks outside. This book helped me to see trees with a new sense of wonder and awe. I haven’t looked at a tree the same since reading this book, and I’ve gifted it to several of my friends.”

—Kristin Meekhof, author and therapist, Royal Oak, MI

The Power of One

“Bryce Courtenay’s novel was the most powerful and inspiring book I read this year. It instilled me with resilience. It summons the reader to question the arbitrary manmade divisions between men. I found the valued relationships between old and young throughout the book incredibly refreshing.”

—Marianna Goldenberg, financial advisor and CDFA, Langhorne, PA

The Wright Brothers

I was in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year before the pandemic hit and picked up The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.  I was totally inspired by their courage and determination. They were originally made fun of because several of their flying contraptions failed. But even though people ridiculed and laughed at them, they never gave up trying to perfect the flight of birds. I was so inspired by how these brothers went from everyone’s laughing stock to immediate celebrity status as they changed the course of history. If we all  their sense of determination, just think of what we could do.”

—Larry Freshler, HR director, Spokane, WA

Deep Work

“I set a goal of reading 100 books this year, and my favorite was Deep Work by Cal NewPort. All of the things I have been trying to improve my focus and be more productive finally started to make sense. I started leveraging the skills outlined in the book, like fixed schedule productivity. The tools provided in the book have helped me focus on the most important priorities in my day.”

—Div Manickam, Raleigh, NC

Life Is in the Transitions

“I loved reading Bruce Feiler’s Life Is in the Transitions, which is based on over 200 real stories. The book offers frameworks to understand why life transitions are not linear, and helps us prepare and navigate through them. I enjoyed learning that life stories usually had one of four themes: self-actualization, service, gratitude, or love. I felt that it was the perfect book for the transitions we all had to make this year.”

—Isabelle Bart, life coach, Orange County, CA

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

“I was scheduled to have nasal surgery when a colleague suggested I read Breath by James Nestor.  I had spent decades on this planet not knowing I was supposed to be breathing through my nose rather than my mouth, and that making this shift could help clear my blocked nasal passages. At first, I wasn’t able to pass air through my nose, but I have kept practicing and things are shifting! Being mindful of my breathing has had a significant impact on both physical and mental health.”

—Julie Demsey, mindset coach and hypnotherapist, Sydney, Australia  

365 Days of Wonder 

“An old favorite that I used to read with my kids was dusted off during quarantine — Wonder — accompanied by 365 Days of Wonder written by R.J. Palacio. While the book recounts a heartwarming story of optimism and resilience, the daily quotations included in the new edition provide wonderful words of wisdom. It’s a great read for children and adults alike, reminding us that there is hope and inspiration all around us if we take a moment to look for it.”

—Marta Rzeszowska Chavent, management and change consulting, France 

The Lost Art of Dying 

“This year, I discovered The Lost Art of Dying by L.S. Dugdale. It’s a must-read in a year in which over 300,000 people have been lost to COVID-19. The author’s argument that we have forgotten how to die well and how to talk about death is incredibly powerful. Our inability to respond to death can have long-term implications, and yet, dying is the one thing that we all experience and must address. A healthy attitude towards death can free everyone up to live a healthier and more connected life.”

—Kristina Libby, writer and tech executive, New York, NY 

Leonardo da Vinci

“My favorite book I read in 2020 was Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. Reading about the genius and curiosity of one of history’s greatest minds and polymaths is incredibly inspirational. It transported me from today’s COVID-19 challenges to life lived more than 500 years ago. It put the challenges of 2020 into perspective.”

—Donna West, coastal facilities manager, Perth, Australia

Which book brought you meaning and joy in 2020? Share your recommendation with us in the comments!

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