For people trying to better their average mental state, reading is a habit I most strongly implore they acquire. Going into a book, it’s impossible to know how it will change your perception of the world; even when you finish, it may not be obvious. But it is undoubtedly true that spending a significant amount of time learning and exploring different perspectives changes a person for the better. Reading helps the reader become more empathetic because they care for the people they read about, which can therefore help with feelings of loneliness and doubt. Here are some of the ones I think most often about.
- How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci
Stoicism is a simple philosophy where you come to let go of that which you can’t control and worry about what you can. This book is a delightful tour through ancient Greek Stoicism with a focus on the dialogues and work of Epictetus.
2. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Another Stoic work—although there is a whole lot in this book I disagree with, Gregory Hays’s interpretation of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’s personal journal is excellent and very readable.
3. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl pioneered logotherapy, a therapy that understood the inevitability of human suffering. Frankl argues that by understanding why we experience pain, we are able to endure it. He was an Austrian neurologist and survivor of the holocaust; a man I consequently respect deeply.
4. Factfulness by Hans Rosling
Bill Gates recommended this one to me. (Through GatesNotes, not personally, of course) This book is a breakdown of the progress humanity has made, detailed with positive descriptions and interesting graphs. This book has the capacity to improve anyone’s outlook on the world; it becomes abundantly clear that in most areas, humanity is improving. Rosling argues that things are better and getting better, but still not good. Factfulness leaves readers with an empowering call to action.
5. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
I don’t know what it was about this book, but it had about as much of an effect on me as written language possibly could. It deals heavily with death (as per the title). My takeaway was that however we spend our lives, we are going to convince ourselves we’re doing the right thing while we live them. When we start dying, reconciliation happens, and we recognize the lies we told ourselves while living. At that point, death is the path we take to justify, explain, and conclude our lives. This book calls readers to live in a reflective way they won’t regret and paints death as an experience to positively cap a life instead of destroy it.
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This is a book about mental illness that also tackles the overwhelming and infinite nature of decision making. “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor…”
7. Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Although this is an anti-war sentiment, I love Kurt Vonnegut’s books because him and his characters understand and embrace uncertainty. Every plot event is seemingly random; Vonnegut was a man who admitted to not understanding why or how things happen, but he argued for embracing opportunities and laughing through life.
8. The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson
This is a classic self-help book, and I became skeptical of the author after I found out he wrote a book how to pick up women that seemed pretty unpopular among women on Goodreads. Regardless, this book teaches the value of ruthlessly prioritizing the things you care about and forgetting everything else. This is similar to Stoicism in practice, although Manson never calls it that.