wellness books

Sarah Kim

With all the external stresses of modern life, we crave relief, answers, and guidance. Luckily, there is a canon of literature available to provide insight, wisdom, and support.

I won’t lie—for a long time, I had no interest in this kind of book. Sit down and look at my shit when I don’t have to? No thank you. Then, in my early twenties, I developed Crohn’s Disease and struggled with a major bout of anxiety. These two events collectively brought me to my knees. That was when I first encountered the work of wellness OGs such as Louise Hay and Wayne Dyer. They were total life-savers.

Now, I’ve been an avid reader of this genre for over twenty-five years. For me, the most useful book is the one that’s to the point and easy to implement. When I’m looking for answers, what I don’t want is unnecessary fluff. I’m a total nerd for science-heavy books, but I also appreciate great storytelling. And here’s a dirty secret: whether heavy in Buddhism, psychotherapy, neuroscience, breathwork, forest bathing, or crystals—even a mash-up of several modalities—many of these books arrive at a similar place. They raise our consciousness and provide relief, giving us a sense of agency and instructions on how to arrive at our authentic selves.

Listed in no particular order, here are our thirty essential wellness books. No matter what you’re going through, there’s something here to help everyone.

1

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, by Eckhart Tolle

Tolle delivers a masterpiece on awakening to consciousness. Oprah Winfrey called this “the most important book I’ve ever read,” and co-hosted a podcast with Tolle devoted to each chapter. The author has a calming presence, but don’t confuse his calm for a lack of conviction. Consciousness is about being in the present, dropping our stories, and creating space between our thoughts and who we really are. When I feel off-center, I can pick up A New Earth and find myself realigned in no time.

2

The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, by Martha Beck

Beck is my kind of writer: smart, funny, and no-bullshit. In this hit-you-between-the-eyes book, she shows us how easily we fall out of integrity even in small ways, like why we often say “yes” when we mean “no.” In an effort to fit into the confines of social constructs—family, work, culture—we subvert our integrity in the name of love, security, and acceptance. I had no idea how out-of-integrity I am in certain areas of my life. Beck’s book has empowered me to take ownership and action.

3

Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life, by Gary John Bishop

At first blush, you can’t be blamed if you’re resistant to take Gary John Bishop’s less-than-delicately titled Unfu*k Yourself seriously (never mind Love Unfu*ked and Stop Doing That Sh*t). But this neat, trim volume is just the kick in the ass you need. Bishop is blunt without being a jerk. He’s a realist who encourages us to skip our excuses and face our true resistance. What are we willing and unwilling to do? This is where our truth lives, he argues. This brisk, unapologetic book challenges us to take more agency over our lives, circumstances, and desires. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

4

Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks, by Barry McDonagh

If you have anxiety, this book is ideal. McDonagh, who had quite a wrestle with anxiety himself, has developed specific and doable steps on how to approach anxiety: Diffuse, Allow, Run Toward It, Engage. He’s quick to argue that anxiety is not our fault. “In the United States alone,” McDonagh writes, “approximately 40 million American adults aged 18 and older are estimated to have an anxiety disorder. So if you suffer from anxiety, you’re actually quite normal.” This is an informative instruction on a complicated, overwhelming topic. Having experienced anxiety at different points of my life, this is hands-down my favorite book for how to move through and release anxiety, knowing it won’t hold me hostage.

5

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön

Pema Chödrön is a pioneer and legend of American Buddhism. Her teachings are rooted equally in sobering truth and gentle compassion. You can’t go wrong with any of her books or teachings, but I love her 1997 classic, When Things Fall Apart. It’s a natural inclination to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but avoidance perpetuates suffering. “If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated,” Chödrön writes, “then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation.” When we don’t resist, she argues, we discover the jewels in our circumstances. Obstacles are friends, not enemies, and the path is always the goal. She will lead the way.

6

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor

Breathing: nothing more essential, right? In a stressful situation, we say, “Just breathe.” And yet, as we learn in James Nestor’s smart examination, many of us don’t know how to breathe effectively. Or at least, many of us don’t breathe in an optimal way. “No matter what we eat,” writes Nestor, “how much we exercise, how resilient our genes are, how skinny or young or wise we are—none of it will matter unless we’re breathing properly. The missing pillar of health is breath.” The book’s strength is in its helpfulness. Nestor provides practical applications of breathing exercises, addressing both how and why they help. Breath is a fantastic tool that provides huge insight into ourselves and our most inalienable right.

7

Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-to Book, by Dan Harris

You may know Dan Harris as a former anchor on ABC News, or as the author of the New York Times bestseller 10% Happier, which has become Harris’s signature platform (including a podcast, newsletter, and app). His 2017 book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, also falls under the 10% Happier brand, and is a relatable, instructive, and incredibly useful guide that also happens to be extremely funny. Harris delineates the challenges and benefits of meditation through his own experience. While he is hilarious, his sense of humor never undermines his enlightening message and direction.

8

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith, by Gabrielle Bernstein

This 2016 bestseller from Gabrielle Bernstein will transform your life. We try to control our lives, insisting things go as we desire, but this insistence is often based in fear. Turning fear into love is Bernstein’s central message. Instead of demanding things go our way, she argues that “when we surrender to the power of the Universe we will always be guided to exactly what we need.” Bernstein shares intimate stories about how she’s taken her hands off the steering wheel, knowing the universe has her back.

9

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, by Qing Li

You don’t have to be Henry David Thoreau or Rachel Carson to appreciate that being in nature is good for the mind, body, and spirit. But too often our concept of being outdoors is to be active—hiking, climbing, biking, etc. The beauty of Forest Bathing (a fast-growing healing modality), as Dr. Quing Li explains, is that we can simply be still in the forest amongst the trees and feel better. This elegantly designed book will show you how and why being in the forest is replenishing, restorative, and healing. Good and good for ya.

10

The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living, by Nick Ortner

Wait—you’re telling me that if I have physical or emotional pain, all I need to do is tap on specific acupressure points and that will help me feel better? According to Nick Ortner, the answer is yes. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), also known as tapping, combines ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology; when practiced, a message is sent to the amygdala—the emotional center of the brain—which activates a calming response. EFT is my go-to when emotions get too big and difficult. The most appealing thing about this modality is that it can be learned in minutes, as you’ll discover in Ortner’s indispensable guide. He shares how he personally benefited from EFT, includes the history and science behind tapping in sharp detail, and provides user-friendly descriptions of the practice. Ortner is amusing, articulate, and very real. While you’re at it, consider Peta Stapleton’s excellent book, The Science of Tapping.

11

The Little Book of Breathwork, by Catherine Carrigan

Catherine Carrigan’s 2019 jewel, packed with insight and instruction, is anything but little. “Your breath is your power,” she writes. “Whether you realize it or not, you derive all of your personal power from your breath.” This book is filled with specialized breathwork techniques for many common ailments, including anxiety, depression, asthma, and fatigue. Carrigan also provides breathing exercises to improve energy and happiness, as well as clearing emotions and the mind. Carrigan is so accomplished—she’s a medical intuitive, yoga instructor, kinesiologist, holistic lifestyle coach—that you don’t quite know how she has time to breathe. Carrigan is the author of numerous books, and this one is a gift that keeps giving.

12

Living Untethered: Beyond the Human Predicament, by Michael A. Singer

Singer, author of the classic self-help book the untethered soul, is back with his latest—a brilliant, observant, no-nonsense bit of good mental health. Singer wastes no time putting things in perspective. “It took 13.8 billion years for this moment to get here, and every single thing had to happen exactly as it did—but I don’t like it,” we like to complain. “That’s funny,” Singer continues, “it’s like saying that you don’t like that Saturn has rings.” If we can surrender what we think we want, we can have a more peaceful and harmonious life. “Remember,” cautions Singer, “you are not surrendering life; you are surrendering your resistance to life.” Put this on your summer reading list.

13

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, by Nedra Glover Tawwab

It’s no revelation that having healthy boundaries is crucial to our overall well-being. That said, some of us would rather put darts in our eyes than set them. We all seem to have someone in our life with whom it feels impossible to set boundaries. Help arrives in Tawwab’s enlightening book, full of relatable examples from her therapeutic practice. She encourages the reader to set boundaries even when it’s uncomfortable, as it’s ultimately a path to protect ourselves and feel better.

14

Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, by Anita Moorjani

Anita Moorjani was about to die. She slipped into a coma after a four-year battle with cancer, and during her near death experience, she learned a radical truth: self-love is the answer. Upon her return from the near death experience, she shifted to living from a place of love, not fear. Moorjani is an evocative writer, which makes her personal story even more dramatic and compelling. The bright side is that you don’t need a near-death experience to embrace her life-changing principles. I can’t count how many times I’ve read this book. I’m endlessly inspired.

15

Wonder Drug: 7 Scientifically Proven Ways That Serving Others Is the Best Medicine for Yourself, by Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli

Take a look at any selection of self-help books and you’ll find many arguing that in order to achieve health and happiness, you need to look inward. Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli’s captivating new book, Wonder Drug, claims the exact opposite. In fact, it’s by looking outside ourselves—by serving others—that health and happiness are found. “When you connect with other people,” they write, “you get hits of reward-center hormones—endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin—that make you feel good.” They have a prescription for how to get started, and remind us that doing just a little bit is enough to make a big difference.

16

Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, by Esther Perel

Sex is the elephant in the room in a lot of long-term relationships. In her invaluable 2006 study, Mating in Captivity, Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel challenges the myth of the “sexless marriage” and offers couples a foundation to keep erotic awareness and connectivity alive. Perel gives us compelling examples from her practice and forces us to reckon with our inherited assumptions about sex. This can be a painful read in how it forces the reader to examine their own relationship to sex, but Perel is encouraging and optimistic. She does not mince words or sugar-coat anything.

17

The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles, by Bruce H. Lipton

Why even bother trying to feel well if we have no control over our genes, good or bad? In case you missed Bruce Lipton’s 2005 masterpiece, The Biology of Belief, here’s the good news: we are not powerless to affect the expression of our genes. He writes, “When we change our beliefs, we change the blood’s neurochemical composition, which then initiates a complementary change in the body’s cells.” This is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding how our beliefs shape our biology. Though Lipton’s concepts are rooted in empirical research, you don’t need to be a scientist to understand what he’s saying. He seamlessly weaves data together with fascinating examples, and brings a great sense of humor to the table, too. This is an intriguing and extraordinary work.

18

Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success, by Shawn Stevenson

Sleep, writes Shawn Stevenson, “suffers from a PR problem and desperately needs rebranding. Sleep isn’t sexy.” Sure, it’s essential, but we often don’t value it as a key component of health and wellness, which it most certainly is. Stevenson’s book is a well-informed tool backed by scientific data, complete with action steps at the end of each chapter. He provides applicable, not theoretical help. Stevenson’s prose is conversational, he’s got a great sense of humor and leaves the reader knowing that a good night’s sleep is not only possible, but attainable.

19

Connecting with Crystals: Crystal Wisdom and Stone Healing for Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Laurelle Rethke

Stay with me here, because if you’re not already into crystals, they may initially seem ridiculously woo woo, but I am totally into them. I like being able to hold something in my hand, knowing it’s having a positive effect on me. Crystals are everywhere these days, but where to begin? Laurelle Rethke’s beautifully-designed guide is a comprehensive reference ideal for beginners and seasoned enthusiasts alike. We learn how crystals work and what to use them for, as well as how to choose them, care for them, clean them, etc. The book is as aesthetically attractive as it is informative. You may also want to consider The Crystal Healer, one of many fabulous books on the subject by Philip Permutt.

20

Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, by Rick Hanson

In our current climate, resilience is needed more than ever. But how do you build it? Is it just a matter of sheer grit? In this engrossing and accessible guide, Hanson writes, “Mental resources like determination, self-worth, and kindness are what makes us resilient: able to cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of opportunities. The key is knowing how to turn passing experiences into lasting inner resources built into your brain.” Hanson breaks down the components of resilience and offers a process on how to develop resilience beyond the notion of grit. As a writer, Hanson goes down smoothly. The chapters—on topics such as courage, confidence, intimacy, and calm—are all easy to follow, making this a necessary and valuable tool.

21

The Joy of True Meditation: Words of Encouragement for Tired Minds and Wild Hearts, by Jeff Foster

“Stress is the tension between this moment and your mental image of how this moment should be,” writes Jeff Foster in this beautiful, demystifying appreciation of meditation. This isn’t an instructional book—it doesn’t offer exercises, but rather it’s a series of essays on the practice, like a meditation on meditation. Foster writes from the gut, and his authenticity is off the charts. This is a book I want to give to everyone I know. If you saw my heavily underlined, highlighted, and dog-eared copy of this compact but powerful volume, you’d understand why.

22

Move The Body, Heal The Mind: Overcome Anxiety, Depression, and Dementia and Improve Focus, Creativity, and Sleep, by Jennifer Heisz

It comes as no surprise that there’s a connection between exercise and good mental health. “Regular exercises tones the stress response,” writes Heisz, “making us less reactive to psychological stressors, and this promotes optimism, even amidst the most seemingly uncontrollable situations.” What’s refreshing about Heisz’s approach to exercise is her understanding that everyone’s threshold is different. The goal is to find the sweet spot between doing too little and too much. Heisz champions the low-and-slow approach and provides custom regimens for different afflictions, like addiction, poor sleep, and anxiety. This is especially appealing for those of us that have a hard time getting started—and Heisz addresses that, too. By turns, empathetic, personal, and practical, this is a smart, terrific resource.

23

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Eckhart Tolle

Tolle’s sterling debut, 1997’s The Power of Now, posits a daringly simple truth: when we are in the now, the present moment, there are no problems. WTF? Our quest to avoid the now is what leads to suffering. Tolle teaches us how to step back from our thoughts and observe them instead of being ruled by them. His approach is gentle yet unapologetically direct. Having a tough moment? Turn to any page and Tolle will bring you back to the present. This book is now considered a classic, and a copy has been on my night table for decades. The companion volume, Practicing the Power of Now, sits right beside it.

24

Judgment Detox: Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living A Better Life, by Gabrielle Bernstein

Judgment. We judge ourselves, we judge others, we judge ourselves for judging others. Judging can be a destructive and insidious force—one that’s hard to reel in. As Gabrielle Bernstein points out in her transformative book, judgment “is a form of emotional pain that you want to relieve.” Judging is a deflection from the true pain beneath the surface. In a six-step interactive process built on spiritual practices such as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), meditation, and prayer, Bernstein offers an invaluable roadmap to help break these habits, all told in her approachable manner with vivid, intimate detail.

25

Bliss Brain: The Neuroscience of Remodeling Your Brain for Resilience, Creativity, and Joy, by Dawson Church

In this fascinating exploration of meditation, Church, a natural storyteller, takes us through a harrowing personal experience with the page-turning dramatic touch of an expert novelist. His story demonstrates that even when unimaginable shit goes down and you think there’s no way to overcome it, there is an answer. Meditation can be discouraging because it’s so damn difficult, but Church takes us off the hook, or at least reframes our resistance. “The difficulty has nothing to do with willpower or intention,” he writes. “It’s simply due to the design of the human brain.” Church maps out how, through meditation, the brain can be remodeled. Be sure not to miss the companion meditations that come with the book.

26

The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel

For those of you with a taste for more science-heavy work, look no further than this riveting study by a molecular biologist (Blackburn) and a health psychologist (Epel), who bring wellness down to the cellular level. They explain, “Telomeres are repeating segments of non coding DNA that live at the ends of your chromosomes.” So what does that mean? It means that our health and longevity are affected by the length of our telomeres. And wouldn’t you know it, their length depends on how we live, sleep, and eat, as well as our environment, relationships, and history. Amazingly, telomeres are impacted by the way we think and feel, too. The authors illustrate how we can affect our telomeres and live a longer, healthier life. They succeed in bringing a highly specialized topic previously relegated to medical journals to a wider audience. The book is dense, studious, comprehensive, and completely absorbing.

27

The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT, by Russ Harris

Why does the pursuit of happiness often result in anything but feeling happy? Maybe because we confuse happiness with gratification. In this neatly-organized examination, Harris outlines how we fall into the happiness trap—and how to pull ourselves out. He employs Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a program based on six principles that concentrate on mindfulness, values, and action. The ACT program is not spiritual or religious, Harris points out. It’s not meditation or a path to enlightenment. “ACT is a scientifically based program for creating a meaningful life through accepting our internal experience, staying present, and acting on our values,” he writes. Sensible and hands-on, it works.

28

Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life, by Jim Kwik

When he was in kindergarten, Jim Kwik suffered a brain injury in a classroom accident. “I’m so stupid,” “I don’t understand,” and “I’m too dumb to learn” became his mantras. He thought he would forever need to work harder, but in his powerful and constructive book, he illustrates that working harder does not necessarily mean working smarter. In this hopeful, challenging, and probing work, Kwik shows us how we arrive at our limitations, and deconstructs preconceived notions like: intelligence is fixed; mistakes are failures; and genius is born. Smartly structured, full of thoughtful questions and exercises, Kwik reassures the reader that we are capable of so much more than we believe. Limitless provides an engaging roadmap to self-empowerment.

29

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie

The genius of Katie’s most celebrated book is its daring simplicity. Her methodology for mental and emotional wellness is based on asking ourselves four questions, no matter the situation: 1) Is it True?; 2) Can you absolutely know that it is true?; 3) How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?; 4) Who or what would you be without the thought? “These questions,” writes Katie, “will burn up anything that isn’t true for you.” These questions help disarm and dismantle the stream of non-truths that play over in our minds. By asking ourselves these questions, it’s possible to transform our thinking. Katie’s vital guide brims with wisdom and provides the reader with hope and relief. You’ll walk away with a different perspective and feel a whole lot lighter.

30

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, by Brené Brown

The latest from Brené Brown is a lavishly produced, graphically rich coffee table book, written in her inimitable style. She’s witty, vulnerable, and frank. She’s also brilliant. Atlas of the Heart—which has a companion HBO series—is devoted to finding language for our emotions. “To form meaningful connections with others,” Brown writes, “we must first connect with ourselves, but to do either, we must first establish a common understanding of the language of emotion and human experience.” As with everything Brown publishes, this is must-read material.

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