The Pursuit of Happiness: Ten Self-Help Books To Improve Your Mood

By Miriam Tuliao and Charlene Rue

The year is still young, and as we think of making and breaking those inevitable New Year’s resolutions, we cannot help but ask: Why can’t we just be happy? It is the perfect time to look at new books on happiness and the psychology of happiness and see what developments have emerged in the last few years.

While the positive psychology movement began in the late 1990s with Martin E.P. Seligman as its recognized guru, self-help sections in bookstores have recently seen increased demand for books on happiness. In 2009, Psychology Today described what it saw as a happiness frenzy with 4,000 books published in 2008 while a mere 50 books were published on the topic in 2000.

The books listed below should satisfy readers wanting to know how they can become happier right now. Rather than pursue the state of happiness, write the authors of The Creativity Cure, we believe in pursuing habits that give rise to happiness, thereby creating more opportunities for experiencing moments of joy, inspiration, purpose and meaning.

Andreas, Steve. Transforming Negative Self-Talk: Practical, Effective Exercises. Norton. Jul. 2012. 192p. ISBN 9780393707892. pap. $14.95.
Internal voices can be very destructive and disorganizing, or they can be very useful and supportive‚ and everything in between, writes Andreas, a 35-year veteran psychotherapist and neurolinguistic programmer (Heart of the Mind). His illuminating book considers the impact words and tone have on how we perceive experience and sheds light on the influence of nonverbal aspects of voice. Andreas proffers a series of simple, sometimes playful exercises (e.g. installing a background song for mood maintenance; changing tempo; programming your morning; affirmations) aimed at developing a supportive inner voice, gaining self-acceptance, and making useful change.

Archer, Dale. Better than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional. Crown Archetype. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780307887467. $25.
If being normal means being just like everyone else, where’s the fun in that? asks psychiatrist and media veteran Archer (distinguished fellow, American Psychiatric Assoc.; founder, Inst. for Neuropsychiatry, Lake Charles, LA). Shouldn’t we prefer to be unique and embrace who and what we are? In this extraordinary book, Archer challenges conventional thinking by reframing the conversations surrounding mental disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity, bipolarism, and schizophrenia. He examines a range of fundamental human personality traits, showing how such traits are not simply present or absent but are instead manifested along a continuum, present in degrees. Readers are asked to complete eight questionnaires designed to assess their personality profile and broaden their self-understanding.

Baraz, James & Shoshana Alexander. Awakening Joy: 10 Steps That Will Put You on the Road to Real Happiness. Bantam. 2010. 336p. ISBN 9780553807035. $26.
An extension of longtime meditation teacher Baraz’s successful online course of the same name, this book, co-authored with writing teacher and practicing Buddhist Alexander (In Praise of Single Parents; Women’s Ventures, Women’s Visions), offers a combination of anecdotes about Baraz’s students, exercises, and practical advice designed to unlock the joy within. His philosophy, stemming from decades of work and rooted in Buddhist mindfulness meditation, holds that joy already exists inside every one of us; we simply need to train our thoughts to be able to realize it. His ten-step program was developed to help students achieve that goal. A carefully balanced approach developed through years of feedback and practice.

Barron, Carrie & Alton Barron. The Creativity Cure: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness. Scribner. May 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781451636789. $26.
Are you a member of the worried well, an active or able person with hidden angst? Husband-and-wife team Carrie Barron (adjunct psychiatrist, Columbia Univ. & Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Ctr.) and orthopedic surgeon Alton Barron (president, New York Soc. For Surgery of the Hand) have co-written an invaluable action guide to creating opportunities for greater joy, purpose, and meaning through self-expression. Filled with motivational stories of people who have been transformed by engaging in creative activity, this inviting book also features numerous exercises aimed at achieving a calmer mind, mastering self-knowledge, and building resilience. Outlining a five-step process‚ Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift‚ the authors emphasize the importance of action, relaxation, community, and friendship. Extensive notes, recommended reading, and a list of relevant websites and groups are included.

Bays, Jan Chozen. How To Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness: Simple Daily Mindfulness Practices for Living Life More Fully and Joyfully. Shambhala. 2011. 230p. ISBN 9781590308172. pap. $14.
Turn the unhappy mind toward discovering even one thing it can be grateful for, writes pediatrician and renowned Zen master Bays (Mindful Eating) in this inspirational collection of 53 fun, simple exercises designed to increase awareness and fulfillment in everyday life. Activities include using the nondominant hand, becoming aware of the use of filler words, abstaining from media for one week, giving genuine compliments, and stopping to listen. The refreshing primer insightfully explores compassion, creativity, faith, and fear; provides basic meditation instructions; and lists suggested further reading on mindfulness.

McKenna, Paul. I Can Make You Happy. Sterling. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9781402779091. $22.95 with audio CD.
Television personality McKenna is among the best-selling nonfiction authors in Great Britain and one of the world’s premier self-help gurus. His client list is a who’s who of athletes, rock stars, actors, and other celebrity clients. The titles of his previous self-help works include I Can Make you Thin, I Can Make You Confident, and I Can Make You Sleep. Now, thanks to scientific research indicating that our happiness levels are not fixed, Mckenna can also make us happy. This volume provides psychological techniques aimed at increasing happiness through thoughts and actions. A hypnosis CD is included with the book.

Rubin, Gretchen. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying To Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. HarperCollins. 2009. 301p. ISBN 9780061583254. $25.99.; pap. ISBN 9780061583261. $14.99.
While not unhappy, lawyer-turned-author Rubin (Forty Ways To Look at Winston Churchill) realized she had the potential to be a lot happier. In this New York Times and international best seller‚ part memoir, part self-help book‚ she offers readers a thoroughly engaging and humorous look at her life as she tests scientific, philosophical, and common-sense theories about happiness. Following her own 12 commandments (be yourself, let go, be polite and fair, enjoy the process, etc.), she encourages readers to pursue their own happiness and design a plan to suit their own lives. Rubin fills the book with helpful tips and even offers a Happiness Manifesto. Further reading is provided at

Seligman, Martin E.P. Flourish. Free: S. & S. 2011. 368p. ISBN 9781439190753. $26.; pap. ISBN 9781439190760. $16.
Seligman (psychology, Univ. of Pennsylvania; former president, American Psychological Assoc.; Learned Optimism) is the guru of the positive psychology movement. Any discussion of happiness seems incomplete without a look at this, his first book in ten years. More global in tone and scope than a standard self-help book, this work explores how the overall human condition can be improved via the improvement of communities, schools, and other societal institutions. That Seligman’s conclusions about happiness coincide with those shared by the other authors on this list feels reassuring; he teaches that happiness comes from building lasting relationships, engaging with the world, taking pleasure in and showing gratitude for what we have, and being mindful.

Taylor, Eldon. I Believe: When What You Believe Matters! Hay House. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781401931278. $24.95.
How do we build the confidence to be certain that we do, indeed, believe in ourselves? asks clinical psychologist, popular radio personality, and prolific and best-selling author Taylor (Mind Programming; What If?). While Taylor’s four most recent previous works explore perception, choice, and illusion, this latest 26-chapter treatise critically examines the elements of character and the influence of personal belief systems. In a work whose broad scope encompasses topics ranging from ambition to enlightenment and the afterlife, Taylor invites readers to reflect on their personal beliefs and the actions predicated on those beliefs.

Weil, Andrew. Spontaneous Happiness. Little, Brown. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780316129442. $27.99.
Weil (founder & director, Arizona Ctr. for Integrative Medicine) is an internationally recognized expert in holistic medicine and the author of such best-selling titles as Spontaneous Healing and Eight Weeks to Optimum Health. Synthesizing well-tested strategies from Eastern and Western medicine and healing traditions, Weil here outlines many approaches to improving mood, drawing from stress-management techniques, nutritional science, spiritual practices, mindfulness training, and biofeedback. He also presents an eight-week program designed to help readers attain optimal emotional health.

Charlene Rue is the director of collection development at the Brooklyn Public Library. She currently serves as co-chair of the ALCTS and RUSA CODES collection development in Public Libraries Interest Group.

Miriam Tuliao is the assistant director of central collection development at the New York Public Library. She currently serves on the RUSA CODES Reading List and Education Committees of the American Library Association.

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  1. Lillian Merrill says:

    Hi Miriam and Charlene,

    Thanks for a great list of books; wonderful reference list! If we all read them, we WOULD be happier.

    Another great book is The Law of the Garbage Truck (Sterling Publishing), by positive psychologist and author David J. Pollay. It’s hard enough managing your own happiness, but what do you do when you keep running into negative people and negative events? The book has been so helpful to me in answering that question. I have a whole new approach to focusing on what’s good and important in my life.

    Thanks again for your article.


    • Sputter says:

      No it’s not. The garbage truck is a rehash of a mindfulness message that can be said in a postcard. Toxic people are undesirable. Silly. Stop the self promotion of friends