James Newman presents some of his favourite non-fictions which feature pressing lessons for life…
There is no doubt that the 'self-help' field of literature is not always packed with advice that is necessarily helpful. However, there are those books, often authored by experts in the field, which can provide moving and practical ideas for living the a Pretty Peachy life. Here are some of my favourites...
#1 How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci: Goodreads 4.0
"They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn" - Seneca
From reminding yourself that you’re going to die, to visualising everything going wrong – the Stoics had some pretty counter-intuitive ideas. However, Stoicism is also the basis from much practice promoted by psychologists in the 21st Century, being heavily drawn upon in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.
Pigliucci’s book invites you to consider thinking like a Stoic, most especially the idea that there are no truly good or bad events in our lives, but good or bad reactions. This book made me consider how to respond to challenges so I am less reactive and more reflective. It is packed with ideas that can be practically implemented.
#2 Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: Goodreads 4.7
“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” — Nietzsche
There are few books which sum up the case for life more than Frankl’s. This moving autobiographical account of Frankl’s life in a Nazi Concentration camp ensures that, however big your problems, there is hope.
At the core of this extraordinary book, is Frankl’s lesson that meaning can be found in even the most horrendous of places, and meaning is what is needed to bear the suffering we can all endure.
Specifically, Frankl focused not on expecting meaning to show up, or to be pre-destined, but instead encourages the reader to create their own meaning. Reading it, I was buoyed that, no matter how challenging life is, if meaning can be found in a concentration camp, it can be found anywhere.
#3 The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: Goodreads 4.0
“A way of life that keeps saying 'Around the next corner, above the next step,' works against the natural order of things and makes it so difficult to be happy and good.”
Explaining ‘Taoism’ through dialogue of Winnie the Pooh is perhaps one of the more out-there ideas. However, Hoff ensures a beautiful, kind and thoughtful narrative triumphs in presenting an accessible guide to a popular Eastern philosophy. What I love about this book is that it not only presents suggestions as to the genesis and alleviation of suffering (as one would, perhaps, expect); Hoff also asks deeper questions of how science fits with morality and spirituality. He asks whether knowledge is really power and whether simple thought and action are more beneficial to us and the wider world. Worth a read to find out if you are a ‘Tigger’, an ‘Eeyore’, a ‘Piglet’, or a ‘Pooh’.
#4 The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: Goodreads 4.1
“When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives...”
This read is an unusual choice, I grant you. Wohlleben’s book includes startling revelations that trees can communicate with each other, alert each other to the presence of predators and feed their sick and young.
The reason I chose this one within a ‘humanity’ category, is that it asks questions of how closely aligned we are with the natural world. It asks us whether there are more similarities than differences between us, plants and other species and it makes us question exactly where those differences lay.
The outstanding impression I was left with from reading this book, is that we have lost a grave sense of how we are simply one branch of evolution in the natural world, but that we have built an ‘imaginary’ world of money, religion and so on, which perhaps acts as a barrier to the natural world, which may ultimately be to our cost.
#5 Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein: Goodreads 4.0
“The idea that life’s meaning is not something to look for but something to create myself feels right to me. In fact, it seems absolutely essential.”
Klein looks back on some of the philosophical quotes and ideas which have captured him as a young philosophy student, right up to his writing the book. Klein is funny and, unlike some in the philosophy game, is happy to lampoon himself and his ideas as he invites you to consider some fascinating ideas on life and the universe without feeling like you’re being sold a 2012 Vauxhall Corsa. I was particularly interested in his take on religion. He makes a pressing point that believing in a religion is no different to believing in morality. There is no evidence for either so one cannot absolutely reject one without rejecting the other.
Klein particularly saves his ire for new-atheism, this Dawkins’ led movement to ridicule religious individuals and their belief systems. Klein suggests this is hypocrisy – as atheism is itself a ‘single-belief system’ – a belief that there is no god, which all people must be encouraged to subscribe to, dissenters are met with disdain – is this really different to any other hate-induced belief system? Whether you agree or not – it is thought provoking.
#6 The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV & Howard C. Cutler: Goodreads 4.2
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
It probably goes without saying that this book is packed full of powerful stories and ideas that, if applied, could make us happier. At the centre of this book is the message that pursuing external riches (e.g. status, wealth) is likely to draw you away from happiness, whilst pursuing psychological and internal factors (e.g. compassion for self and others, kindness) is more likely to move you towards happiness.
Compelling differences between short-term satisfaction (e.g. eating fast-food) and long-term happiness (e.g. having a healthy diet) are fascinating.
This book led me to become a psychologist and, in latter years especially, focussing efforts on being more compassionate and less bothered by status.
Have you own 6 READS suggestions? Submit your ideas and you can contribute!