Want to Read about Happiness or Habits? Check Out These 15 Outstanding Books.

My favorite thing to do, by a long shot, is to read books — and then to try to persuade other people to read the books I love. So I get great joy from my monthly book club, where I recommend three books: one book about happiness, habits, or human nature; one outstanding work of children’s literature; and one eccentric pick.

People often ask me for various lists, so here’s a list of some of my favorite books about happiness, habits, and human nature.

As you’ll see, there’s a big range here. Non-fiction, fiction, essays, journals, serious, light…but in one way or another, these books shed light on some big questions:

  • How do we build a happy life?
  • What do we owe other people?
  • How can we change?
  • What habits will tend to make us happier?
  • How do we learn about ourselves?


Oh, how I love all these books.

15 Books About Happiness, Habits, and Human Nature

1. The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

2.  Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired by Till Roenneberg

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

3. Here Is New York by E. B. White

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4. The Journal of Jules Renard

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

5. Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

6. Pack of Two: the Intricate Bonds Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

7. The Diary of Anne Frank

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

8. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

Buy from IndieBound; BN.com; Amazon

9. Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection by John Cacioppo and William Patrick.

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon

10. How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton

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11. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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12. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It by Gary Taubes

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13. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

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14. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Fankl

Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon

15. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Buy from WORD ; BN.com; Amazon

Have you read any of these? What books would you add?

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  • Amanda Kendle

    Great list Gretchen, and I particular like Murakami’s “Running” book, I only read it because I love him, but hate running, and yet I loved the book! I guess it’s not really about running at all 😉

  • I adore book lists (just joined your book club!) The only one I read above is “Gilead” – I appreciated Robinson’s beautiful prose and wise insights on life.
    If I added a few books to my happiness list:
    1. Tiny, Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed – I go back to these advice letters constantly!
    2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – A new book I just read, but I’d recommend it to you, Gretchen. He talks a lot about living a happy life vs. meaningful life, and it’s really beautifully written and so thought-provoking!
    3. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand – the downside is, because of Paul Ryan’s loud approval and interpretation of this text, people will assume you’re very right-wing if you recommend this book. BUT if you read it on an individual (rather than political) level, Rand’s belief in the creativity of the individual is inspiring. And her writing really is breathtaking.
    4. Entire Harry Potter series x 1000.
    Okay, I could do this all day but I’ll stop now. Thanks for the list!!

  • Elizabeth Wrosch

    This may seem odd, but the introduction, My Secret Life, to Cheryl Mendelson’s exhaustive but charming manual on homekeeping, Home Comforts, is a brilliant piece that touches on outer vs. inner expectations, knowing oneself, and the effect of one’s surroundings on daily happiness.

    • Christine

      Great to know. I have this wonderful book on my bookshelf and have used it as a reference for years. I don’t know if I ever read the intro – but I will today!

  • ConstanceEve

    I loved Marilynne Robinson’s Home even more than Gilead. It’s a parallel book.

  • I always love your book lists Gretchen! So inspiring! They always make me want to read!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! That’s great to hear.