The health and self-help sections of a bookstore can be hard to navigate. How do you know which books to choose? What advice holds up?
Most of the recommendations were published this year, but our list includes some older classics. As Dan Heath, author of “Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen,” puts it: “One of the great things about self-helpy nonfiction books is that they are evergreen.”
Here are their picks.
Author: David McRaney (buy it here)
Recommended by: Adam Grant, author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know”
Why he liked it: “This book inspired me to rethink my assumptions about how to motivate others to rethink theirs. In an era when closed minds seem to be all around us, it’s a masterful analysis of what it takes to open them.”
Author: Susan Cain (buy it here)
Recommended by: Susan David, author of “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life”
Why she liked it: “In a world that often tries to force silver linings and positive thinking, this book refreshingly explores the truth of life: beauty and longing, joy and sorrow are all our companions. Bittersweet surfaces the power of tough emotions, and guides us on how to understand them in ways that are healthy and whole.”
Author: Cassie Holmes (buy it here)
Recommended by: Katy Milkman author of “How To Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be”
Why she liked it: “'Happier Hour’ shares advice on how to think differently about your time to build a more fulfilling life, which is an incredibly important topic. I love this book because it’s evidence-based, practically useful, and it’s a pleasure to read. It’s already changed my life for the better!”
Author: Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry (buy it here)
Recommended by: Tara Parker-Pope, Well+Being editor and author of “For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage Succeed”
Why she liked it: “At a time when it’s tough to find mental health services, listening to this audio book over the course of a few weeks can feel like 10 sessions with a therapist. This book will not only explain how trauma can shape who we are, but also its ongoing influence on our relationships and the choices we make every day.”
Author: Frank Ostaseski (buy it here)
Recommended by: Lakeasha Sullivan, contributing columnist for Well+Being and clinical psychologist
Why she liked it: “Death is the ultimate teacher, and suppressing thoughts about it robs us of priceless opportunities to use it as a beacon for our lives. This book helps us courageously face the truth about our mortality, making everyday decisions easier because we can align them with our highest values.”
Author: George Zaidan (buy it here)
Why she liked it: “Zaidan guides readers through the hype and misunderstandings that surround the word ‘natural.’ We learn what’s safe and what isn’t, why that is and how science comes to these conclusions. Plus, he’s the funniest science writer I know. I hated chemistry in high school, but I loved this book.”
Author: Stephanie Foo (buy it here)
Why she liked it: “As a mental health professional, I love this book because it explores trauma from a cultural lens. As a child of immigrants, I feel like I know Stephanie and by investing in her journey, I learn to invest in my own. While this book confronts heavy and difficult themes, it’s ultimately hopeful.”
Author: Chrysta Bilton (buy it here)
Recommended by: Lori Gottlieb, author of “Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed”
Why she liked it: “It’s an extraordinary memoir about identity, family secrets, the nature of love and forgiveness, and resilience that’s alternatively hilarious and heartbreaking, redemptive and triumphant. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, and never stopped thinking about this story long after I finished.”
Author: Kathryn Paige Harden (buy it here)
Recommended by: Daniel Pink, author of “The Power of Regret: How Looking Forward Moves us Back”
Why he liked it: “A provocative, and often brilliant, look at how the randomness of the genes we inherit affects the course of our lives — and why acknowledging this uncomfortable fact is essential in understanding who we are and how we can build a more just society.”
Author: Daniel Gilbert (buy it here)
Authors: Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton (buy it here)
Recommended by: Dan Heath, author of “Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen”
Why he liked them: “Lately I’ve been thinking about how much my life was changed (for the better) by these two books. I can trace specific decisions about how to spend time and money — including which house to buy! — to the advice given by those books.”
Authors: Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn (buy it here)
Recommended by: Richard Sima, Brain Matters columnist
Why he liked it: “This book helped me through a difficult time in graduate school and is one that I return to for guidance and wisdom. It offers practical advice and exercises on mindfulness grounded in science, which I believe many will find helpful and life-changing like I did and still do.”
Author: Frans de Waal (buy it here)
Why he liked it: “This is a very timely book that courageously tackles some of the hottest political topics from a cool scientific perspective.”
Author: Michelle Segar (buy it here)
Recommended by: Gretchen Reynolds, Your Move columnist and author of “The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer”
Why she liked it: “Since the pandemic began, I’ve been reading mostly fiction, but I tore through this. It offers gentle, practical guidance about how to stop setting and then backsliding on ambitious exercise and eating goals and instead find the ‘perfect imperfect option’ that motivates us to do something — anything — healthy right now. ‘We can find joy,’ Segar writes, ‘in even the smallest momentum toward our larger health goals.’”
Author: Daniel Bergner (buy it here)
Recommended by: Ethan Kross, author of “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It”
Why he liked it: “It’s a beautifully written, deeply personal and rigorously researched book that explores what we know about how the brain contributes to mental illness.”
Author: Donna Jackson Nakazawa (buy it here)
Recommended by: Peggy Orenstein, author of “Boys and Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity”
Why she liked it: “The mental health repercussions on our kids of the past few years have been profound, so I find myself recommending this book to all my friends with daughters. It’s invaluable not only in understanding girls’ vulnerabilities, but in providing useful, actionable ways to build resilience and foster well-being.”
Author: Rachel Aviv (buy it here)
Recommended by: Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”
“This book is not only beautifully written — with luminescent prose and vivid characters — it is also startlingly original. It is about how we define mental illness, and how those definitions come to dominate the experience of those who are ill, and those who care about them. But it is also about so much more: how the stories we tell ourselves can become dangerous, empowering, limiting and freeing, and the skepticism we ought to bring to the stories we believe are true.”
A previous version of this story misspelled Ethan Kross's name. This version has been corrected.
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