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The infamous 2020 is finally behind us, while 2021 looms in front, nebulous, still undecided about the form it will assume. Will it be friend or foe? Only time will tell.
This uncertainty about what 2021 will hold can be worrisome if we let it. But if there’s one lesson that 2020 has taught me, it’s to focus on what we can control rather than what we can’t.
During 2020, focusing on my personal growth was a lifesaver for me.
If you’re in search of a new perspective on life, or simply seeking to know yourself more intimately, check out the following list of best self improvement books for personal growth.
These reads are sure to challenge the way you think about: happiness, habits, mindset, and your purpose in life.
Table of Contents
The 10 Best Self Improvement Books For Personal Growth
The books recommended in this next section are all books that I have read (and in some cases re-read) in the last year. I have chosen to share these particular books with you because in one way or another they have all had a positive impact on my life, and I hope that they will impact yours as well.
Books About Happiness
In the last decade or so, I’ve come to understand that happiness is a habit, something that everyone is capable of, but that must consistently be worked towards.
I read the following books in the hope to shed light on the process of building a happiness habit.
This book is one of the few that I’ve included here that is not written by a researcher or expert in their field. Gretchen Rubin was actually trained as a lawyer, but gave up this profession to become a full time writer.
The thing that I like about this book is that it is an everyday person’s account of how they attempted to improve their own happiness over the course of a year-long experiment she dubbed the Happiness Project.
This project shows how we can improve our overall happiness by simply making small but consistent changes to our daily habits over time. No dramatic life-upending gestures required!
Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar
This book was written by an Israeli-born professional squash player turned author and Harvard Psychology Professor. Talk about a big change!
In his book, Dr. Ben-Shahar shares the science of happiness in a way that is easy to understand, and then gives examples that really bring the message home, and finally, teaches the reader how to become happier.
My favorite thing about this book is that it blends theory and application beautifully. His “hamburger model” of happiness, though comically named, was a real eye-opener for me on how happiness actually works.
In fact, I wrote about the hamburger model of happiness here!
Books About Healthy Habits & Mindset
You can’t have personal growth without addressing habits and mindset!
James Clear is a self-help blogger turned author of a national best-seller. I’ve always really admired his work, and he’s become somewhat of a role-model for me.
Like Gretchen Rubin, James Clear does not hold the title of “doctor” but he is really amazing at simplifying complex science into easy-to-understand, actionable steps for the rest of us.
Don’t miss this book for a straight-forward, science-backed 4-step plan to break bad habits and adopt healthier ones.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
This book was the original handbook for how to understand and actually engineer your own habits.
James Clear’s book borrows heavily from the ideas of others like BJ Fogg and Charles Duhigg and presents them very clearly all in one place.
But if you want to go straight to the source, this is it!
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck
At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I’m convinced that this book changed the trajectory of my life.
Dr. Carol Dweck is a world renowned psychology researcher who in this book, coined the terms growth mindset and fixed mindset which you’ve likely heard about by now.
This book was really written for teachers, parents, and coaches, but every single person can benefit from the concepts presented in this book. Seriously, If I could only recommend one book to anyone for all of eternity – it’d be this one.
But if you haven’t got time to read the whole book, you can check out my posts on the growth mindset here:
If you aren’t familiar with the growth mindset yet – you’re really missing out!
This book is a very “colorful” but insightful book on mindset and life in general.
But be warned, the life lessons in this book are heavily laced with curse words – enough to make even the most seasoned of sailors welcome Manson into their fold. So if R-rated language makes you cringe, definitely skip this one, just know that you’ll be missing out on some fresh and extremely thought-provoking perspectives.
Books About Finding Your Purpose In Life
Those of you that have been following this blog for awhile know that I was injured on the job two days into 2020, and am still working hard to recover. This situation, paired with the global pandemic that followed, were excellent motivators for me to slow down and re-examine the direction that my life was taking.
The following books were part of that deep dive into my life’s purpose.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
I’ve got to be honest when I say that this book wasn’t at all what I expected when I picked it up. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did!
It reminds me a lot of The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner.
The Blue Zones looks at the similarities in lifestyle in the 5 places around the world where people have the longest life expectancy and highlights the common factors that seem to result in those added years. This book zeros in on just one of those 5 areas – the one in Japan.
It merely brushes over the concept of Ikigai (your life purpose), but that’s really it. If you’re mostly interested in how to find your ikigai, skip this book and check out the next one on the list by the same authors.
But if you want to wrap your mind around why people in Japan live so long – and hear it right from the mouths of their adorable and sassy old folk – this is the book for you.
The Ikigai Journey: A Practical Guide to Finding Happiness and Purpose the Japanese Way by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
This book is more what I was expecting when I checked out the previous book on this list.
This one really zeros in on HOW to go about finding your life purpose or ikigai. I loved that each chapter was dedicated to a different exercise that could help you unearth your own ikigai.
My favorite chapters were the ones on:
- Shinkansen objectives (a way of thinking that helps you achieve what you may have once thought to be an impossible goal)
- The Pomodoro technique, and
- Benjamin Franklin and his 13 virtues
I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Chris Guillebeau. In this book he looks at the stories of tons of different real-life stories about people who decided to dedicate their life to a “quest”.
For example, one man set out to get rejected every single day and recorded the experience to share on YouTube. One woman wanted to see more birds than anyone ever before. The author even had his own quest of visiting every single country in the world, even the not-so welcoming, war-torn ones.
In this book he asks the question what drives people to dedicate their life to a “quest”, and gives directions for discovering your own quest.
Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Sir Robinson PhD
This book is the sequel to the author’s first book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. The first book was more concerned with theory, whereas this one is designed to be a step-by-step guidebook to finding your element.
Your element is somewhat similar to the concept of ikigai and is defined as the area of intersection between your natural talent and your passion for something – basically, what you are good at and what you enjoy.
If you aren’t sure what your passion in life is – the activities in this book are perfect to help you uncover it.
10 Self Improvement Books On My Reading List For 2021
I consider myself a life-long learner and am constantly searching for new concepts to learn and skills to master.
The books in this section are books I intend to read in the coming year, in no particular order.
Or, If you’d prefer them in list form:
- The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin
- Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
- Flourish (A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being) by Martin E.P. Seligman
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
- The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Dr. Nathaniel Branden
- How to Raise Your Self-Esteem: The Proven Action-Oriented Approach to Greater Self-Respect and Self-Confidence Dr. Nathaniel Branden
- The Slight Edge (Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness) by Jeff Olson
- The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
I hope this list of self improvement books has inspired you to do a little personal growth in the coming year!
Let’s continue the conversation in the comments!
- Have you read any of these books before? What did you think of them?
- Will you be adding any of my recommendations to your own reading list?
- Are there any books that I don’t have on this list that you would recommend that I check out?
And finally, would you be interested in forming a little book club to read self improvement or personal growth books?
Let me know! I’ve been thinking about forming a digital book club for awhile now.