How a Book Club Can Make You Happier

assorted-color filling book lot

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: Strong relationships make people happier. We need enduring, intimate bonds; we need to feel like we belong; we need to be able to confide; we need to be able to get support—and just as important, give support. 

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists also agree: Reading makes people happier. Reading regularly boosts creativity, reduces stress, fosters empathy and understanding–and it’s fun.

A great way to combine relationships+reading is through a book club!

Any kind of group or organization can help us form and strengthen our relationships, but I do think we get a special boost from a book club.

How a “book” club can make you happier

Many people want to cultivate the habit of reading. Belonging to a book club means that you don’t neglect this aim. And, especially if you’re someone who benefits from outer accountability and deadlines—Obligers, I’m thinking of you—belonging to a book club means that reading doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list.

A book club is a terrific way to meet new people who share similar interests.

I’m in three (yes, three) book groups, and through them, I’ve met people I would never have otherwise met, and made strong friendships.

A book club creates a feeling of community and exposes you to new perspectives and ideas. Meeting on a regular basis ensures you’re connecting consistently and have something on the calendar you look forward to with pleasure.

Shape the book club to suit your interests

People often assume that a book club has to be organized one way. There’s no right way!

You can start or join a book club for whatever topic or genre interests you. For instance, for a long time, I didn’t admit my passionate interest in children’s literature. It didn’t fit with my ideas of what I wished I were like. But when I acknowledged what I found fun and made this activity a major pastime by starting a “kidlit” reading group, I dramatically ramped up the fun I got from it.

I now belong to two kidlit groups. To be clear, these groups are for adults who have a taste as adults for children’s and young-adult literature—no actual children are involved. Just as some adults like mysteries, sci-fi, or experimental fiction, some enjoy kidlit.

I also belong to a “regular” book club where we read adult books—mostly fiction.

Creative book club ideas

Not everyone wants to join a classic book club, but there are many ways to structure a book club to make it as enjoyable as possible. Consider:

  • Silent book clubpeople get together to read to themselves, in quiet companionship.
  • No-homework book club—everybody reads whatever they want, then all swap notes about what they recommend or not. (Great solution for Rebels)
  • Social-issues book club—people read books to become more educated on pressing issues of social policy; my sister Elizabeth joined this kind of book group
  • Category book club—for instance, I highly recommend the kidlit book club! Or it could be biography, history, sci-fi, romance, horror, mysteries, thrillers, cookbooks…
  • Subject-matter book club—for people who want to go deep on World War II, gardening, Napoleon, the Tudors, Japan, entrepreneurship, or whatever fascinates the group (we can get a real happiness boost from becoming a minor expert)
  • Life-stage book club—people read books about parenting, divorce, or whatever is happening in the group’s lives (we can gain insights and support by reading about a life stage, and also from the discussions sparked in the group)
  • Single-author book club—I know members of a Proust book club and an Anthony Trollope book club
  • One-off book club—This can be a super-fun way to meet and spend time with people, though it doesn’t offer the same ongoing relationship-building. Last year, I went to a one-off book club to discuss the work of Laurie Colwin, and we had a terrific time.
  • Prize-winner book clubs—I’ve heard of book groups that select their choices from looking at winners of prizes such as the Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize, and the National Book Award
  • Adaptation comparisons—the group reads the book, watches the movie or TV show, and discusses the decisions made in adaptation
  • Read-then-experience—the group reads books in preparation for an experience they’re going to have together. For instance, the group reads book about a place, then travels to that place, or reads books about an artist, then goes to see a major exhibition. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: The more we know, the more we notice.
  • Guided-discussion reading group—some groups enjoy inviting an expert to lead their discussion; I’ve never belonged to a group like that, but I’ve heard that it’s really great

Discussion Ideas

Because book clubs are so popular, many bookstores, celebrities, and others offer book suggestions. If you need ideas for a book to choose, you can look at:

Also, many writers offer discussion guides to their books. I always do! (If you’re looking for a discussion guide for The Happiness Project, Life in Five Senses, or my other books, look here.) If you’re worried about the actual discussion, you may find those guides helpful.

Ground Rules

If you’re starting a group, it’s good to be explicit about the expectation for the group. People may have different assumptions, and those different perspectives can cause friction if they aren’t discussed. For instance:

  • Can people attend even if they haven’t read the book? The motto of my kidlit groups is “No guilt.” People are encouraged to come even if they haven’t read the book.
  • Should the conversation stay focused on the book, or is it okay for people to talk about other topics? Is the discussion highly structured? In my groups, we don’t have a very structured conversation.
  • If you take turns hosting, what’s expected of the host? the guests?
  • How often will you meet? I have a group that aims to meet once a month, and two groups that aim for once every six weeks.

The only thing I enjoy as much as reading is talking about reading. If you’re not part of a book group, and the idea appeals to you, consider starting one yourself, or looking for a group to join.

It will boost your happiness in so many ways.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

From renowned happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, the “Five Things Making Me Happy” newsletter is one of today’s most popular newsletters. You’ll get a weekly round-up of what’s making Gretchen happy, as well as practical tips, research, and resources about how we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.