The Happiness Curriculum

If I’m honest, I was never a big reader. That might surprise some folks that know me because my undergraduate degree is in English Literature which, by definition, requires a great deal of reading.

College made me appreciate it, I guess, and it stuck, though I rarely prioritized it. That was the case until I took a job years later that involved a 30-45 minute commute. Every good multitasker will tell you that you can make good use of that time even if you’re driving. For me, it was to sneak a few good books in with my subscription to Audible.

That’s what started the consumption of great titles, but it doesn’t explain the subject matter. I, of course, had read a self-help book on occasion. Clearly, nonfiction is not nearly as exciting as something fictional on the drive to a day packed with meetings and onerous tasks. But something lit a fire one day as I was trying to make sense of stories in my own life and wondering why, despite all of the relatively good circumstances I enjoyed, I wasn’t happier.

My first clue began back in 2004 when I first read the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It was a difficult read, and I’m not sure I finished it, truthfully. But in 2012, I watched an interview with him on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and I was mesmerized. I decided that he had to be the happiest person in the world, and I determined to read the book again. This led me down a road that crossed paths with many of the same authors that would appear on Oprah’s series. And some of the authors I found while listening to interviews on podcasts I subscribed to — Rob Bell’s Robcast, for example, or Dan Harris’s 10% Happier podcast. Others came out of Ted Talks or Twitter follows. At times, I felt like the universe was conspiring to make me happy or at least lead me to people who could show me the way.

Before I explain further, take a look at the list of titles that helped me get acquainted with happiness:

  1. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
  2. Moments of Forever: Discovering the True Power and Importance of Your Life by Bill R. Path
  3. The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor
  4. Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace You Who Are by Brene Brown
  5. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin
  6. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
  7. You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
  8. Discovering Your Soul Signature: A 33-Day Path to Purpose, Passion & Joy by Panache Desai
  9. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris
  10. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
  11. How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
  12. Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist
  13. Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace by Sharon Salzberg
  14. Be Happy! Release the Power of Happiness in YOU by Robert Holden
  15. Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin
  16. Essential Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change, Briefly by Leo Babauta
  17. Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzberg
  18. The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success
  19. Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection by Sharon Salzberg
  20. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative by Florence Williams
  21. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness
  22. Unwind! 7 Principles for a Stress-Free Life by Michael Olpin and Sam Bracken
  23. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

[Note: Can we talk about subtitles? I’m looking at you, Gretchen Rubin. :)]

[Second note: Can we talk about exclamation points in titles? The imperative here seems unnecessarily judgy or preachy. If I could do what you’re exclaiming, I wouldn’t be reading your book!]

In my future posts about each of these, I intend to offer an explanation for their inclusion. In my curriculum, I’ve blended a few ideas — as I started looking into happiness, mindfulness showed up on the reg. These two things are well connected through research. Good habits are also a prevailing theme. You might notice repeated authors because if they’ve written one successful book on the subject, they have probably found an area of expertise in the happiness realm. Or, as in the case of Sharon Salzberg, she’s just a rock star, and you should probably read anything she has written.

There are a few duds, too, as I will explain later. Whether it came to me as a recommendation or I stumbled upon it in my partner’s library, I still included it as a guidepost if nothing else.

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. I’m sure to find more and will add accordingly. I will gladly consider additions to the list. I am certain to be criticized for leaving off seminal works that are obvious to all. I get it. Also note that these are more practical works which incorporate science but are not academic. There were definitely points along the way that turned me on to some of the research, but I was satisfied by the author’s incorporation of the data without sliding into yet another rabbit hole.

But listen, there are tons of self-help books out there, and apparently the pursuit of happiness is more than just an inalienable right declared in our independence from British tyranny. It’s a real thing with which Americans still struggle even through they are usually the ones sabotaging themselves in mediocre servitude. This list of resources is what I stumbled upon which helped me gain some sort of clarity or inspired a level of introspection that I couldn’t unlock before. I hope it’s helpful as I read them again and post my key takeaways that may inspire others to do the same.



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