Here are my top five non-fiction books to read that could change your life, all from the comfort of your living room.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. Daring Greatly is a really engaging and accessible look at what her research has found and how it can help you in your daily life.
With a title based on the famous Roosevelt speech, the book is about how learning to be vulnerable is one of the most courageous things that you can do.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” ― Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Understanding vulnerability really does have the power to transform your life and your relationships.
The book also looks at shame — one of the most paradoxical emotions as it feels so lonely and unique, but yet is felt universally. As a writer, I love this quote about shame, because it’s true.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” ― Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Talk about shame and release its power. Tell your story to someone you trust, whether that’s a friend, family member, partner or therapist. Or write it down to release some of its power. Trust Brené — you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
The Artist’s Way: A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self by Julia Cameron
For anyone who wants to get in touch with their creative side, but doesn’t know how, The Artist’s Way is the go-to book on rediscovering your innate creativity.
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano / act / paint / write a decent play? Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.” — The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
With practical exercises, it helps you overcome any blocks you might have to accessing your creativity such as limiting beliefs, fear, sabotage, jealousy and guilt. Because let’s all be honest here, capitalism has conditioned us to think that creativity is frivolous and not to be indulged by the serious, because God forbid, we learn that maybe there is more to life that working.
“No matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity.” ― The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The book does have quite a strong ‘God’ theme running throughout, but don’t let that put you off. Nearly every book I’ve read about creativity talks about God in one way or another, but they rarely mean it in a religious sense of the word. It’s used more as short hand to articulate that feeling of magic when interest, imagination, novelty and flow all come together to spark creativity.
The School of Life: An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
If you want to be reassured that everything you thought was odd about yourself, is perfectly normal and just part of being human, read An Emotional Education.
Written in Alain de Botton’s trademark wry, but empathetic style, the book is funny but also extremely poignant. Each of us thinks we’re crazy, but sometimes all we need is someone to remind us that really, that’s just the human condition.
“Being properly mature involves a frank, unfrightened relationship with one’s own darkness, complexity and ambition. It involves accepting that not everything that makes us happy will please others or be honoured as especially ‘nice’, but it can be important to explore and hold on to it nevertheless.” ― An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
If you’re looking for one book to help you understand anxiety, relationships, sex, childhood and parenting, then read this book. And next time you’re anxious, take solace in this lovely quote.
“Anxiety deserves greater dignity. It is not a sign of degeneracy, rather a kind of masterpiece of insight: a justifiable expression of our mysterious participation in a disordered, uncertain world.” ― An Emotional Education by Alain de Botton
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
Do you remember real-life before all the pandemic madness? Do you remember how exhausting if felt just to be a woman? This book is for you. The authors found that the gap between what it’s like to be a woman and other people’s expectations of women is one of the main causes of burnout.
“Human Giver Syndrome — the contagious belief that you have a moral obligation to give every drop of your humanity in support of others, no matter the cost to you — thrives in the patriarchy, the way mold thrives in damp basements.” ― Burnout by Emily and Ameila Nagoski
“Human givers must, at all times, be pretty, happy, calm, generous, and attentive to the needs of others, which means they must never be ugly, angry, upset, ambitious, or attentive to their own needs.” ― Burnout by Emily and Ameila Nagoski
The book is full of practical tips on how to regain a sense of freedom and overcome burnout.
“The good news is that stress is not the problem. The problem is that the strategies that deal with stressors have almost no relationship to the strategies that deal with the physiological reactions our bodies have to those stressors. To be “well” is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure, or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.” ― Burnout by Emily and Ameila Nagoski
The one tip that stuck with me the most is the idea that when stressed, you have to move your body (it doesn’t matter how) in order to reset your cortisol levels again. The authors use the example of how animals shake after something stressful has happened (seriously — look at your dog have a shake after seeing a cat/squirrel/postman/shadow/anything vaguely out of the ordinary). So my attitude towards stress now is to stick on Taylor Swift and literally shake it out.
The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff
Taosim is a 2,500 year old philosophy that originated in China, and seems to be perfectly captured in the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh. If you’re looking for an engaging, less philosophical way into Taoism, The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet is the book for you.
“The main problem with this great obsession for saving time is very simple: you can’t save time. You can only spend it. But you can spend it wisely or foolishly.” ― The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
Pooh himself is the very embodiment of the Taoist principle of Wu Wei — which loosely means ‘going with the flow’. There are so many lessons to learn from Taosim and so many that have become more relevant than ever in this current situation. But understanding, and trying to live by the principles of Wu Wei can help free you from some of the anxieties of the modern Western world.
“When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit into round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn’t try. It doesn’t think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn’t appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.” — The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
And if you’re unsure, how a children’s book could possibly be philosophical, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Winnie-the-Pooh — a conversation between Piglet and Pooh about the futility of worry.
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?” “Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought. Piglet was comforted by this. — A.A Milne