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5 Happy Books To Read

5 Happy Books to Read if You Want to Feel Better

A good book can change your entire outlook on life. If you’re having a bad day or can’t seem to shake that pessimistic attitude, there are tons of inspirational novels, memoirs, and poems to be discovered at your local library or bookstore.

Don’t assume your only choices are self-help books or dense religious texts, either— feel good books come in all shapes and sizes. 

Here are five quick picks to help you turn that frown upside down!

Jonathan Livingston Seagull — Richard Bach

Jonathon Livingston Seagull

First published in 1970, this novella was a huge hit among readers for its lighthearted tone and whimsical approach to spirituality. It’s been said that this was Michael Jackson’s favorite book.

Its author, Richard Bach, is an experienced pilot who uses writing to express his love of flight. But while many of his other books devote pages to discussing the finer details of biplanes and gliders, this allegorical take on the joy of flying is his most approachable book on the subject.

The titular seagull Jonathan is different from his peers, who are content to live their lives scavenging for food on the beach. For them, flight is a means to an end— but Jonathan loves to fly more than anything else. His unique perspective is shunned by the other seagulls, forcing him to embark on a journey that transcends time and space.

Interspersed with black and white photos of seagulls, this is a book that immerses you into the world of a seabird and encourages you to constantly push past your limits. It’s a beautiful story that challenges readers to improve their own natural talents, just like how Jonathan learns to fly faster, turn tighter, and dive deeper into the ocean below.

 You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn’t have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there.

You should read this book if…

  • You’re ambitious and obsessed with self-improvement.
  • You have niche interests that make you feel isolated from those around you.
  • You love birds and the beach.

The Little Prince — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"The Little Prince" book cover

It’s tricky to decide if this is a children’s story or not. The short length and colorful illustrations give that impression— but it’s also wholly valid to interpret this as a story written for adults who want to rediscover their inner child.

A pilot is stranded in the middle of a desert where he meets the titular prince. With no one else around and nothing else to do, the childlike prince describes his journey from a distant planet, cataloguing his encounters with the inhabitants of other planets along the way. Once he lands on Earth, his opinion of our home planet isn’t very high; it’s full of grown-ups, after all. But he comes around after some memorable encounters with the indigenous flora and fauna.

When this book explores themes like loneliness and death, it might not seem like a happy one. But this is absolutely a feel-good story at its core. It’s cathartic in the way it portrays some of the most self-serious kinds of people as inherently silly— like a geographer who’s never gone exploring, or a king with no subjects. The two pilots at the core of this story provide the reader with a bird’s eye view of the events described within, diminishing any negatives without drowning out the positives.

 "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....”

You should read this book if…

  • You enjoy “fish out of water” stories.
  • You can stand to take things a little less seriously.
  • You want to feel better about being separated from someone you love.

The Alchemist — Paulo Coelho

"The Alchemist" book cover

Although it has the trappings of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, the treasure hunt that drives the plot of this 1988 book is more spiritual than physical. The core idea behind this story is that of a personal legend, which is a quest every person is driven to complete throughout their entire life. 

For protagonist Santiago, his quest is to uncover a treasure buried near the pyramids of Egypt. As he encounters hardships and setbacks, the people he meets along the way enrich his life even more than the treasure he seeks. And that’s what makes this book so comforting— it embraces the journey more than the destination and exudes a powerfully optimistic perspective on the universe.

Being robbed of all your worldly possessions in a foreign country is terrifying, as does the thought of being lost in the desert surrounded by angry warriors and a brutal sandstorm. But Paulo Coelho’s book shows the silver linings that can be found in these experiences— the opportunities to connect with fellow travelers and commune with nature itself. 

If you’re feeling especially jaded or world-weary, this story can help you rediscover a childlike love of adventure and faith in humanity. And if you apply some of its central themes to your own life, you may start to notice the universe conspiring to help you accomplish your own personal legend.

“Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream.”

You should read this book if…

  • You love stories about treasure hunting in foreign lands.
  • You’re trying to see the good in life, even when things are bad.
  • You’re open to spirituality and allegorical fables.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments — Aimee Nezhukumatathil

"World of Wonders" book cover

The author of this book has a fascinating background. As the daughter of two immigrants who spent most of her early life living in different parts of the United States, her perspective is markedly different from the typical American. However, her insights into life — interspersed with keen observations of the natural world that surrounds her — aim to expand the arguably limited scope within which the average American resides.

The result is a collection of essays that reads like a cross between a David Attenborough documentary and an episode of Prairie Home Companion. Using a seemingly ordinary animal or plant as an anchor, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s prose elicits a vast ocean of memories, emotions, sensations, affirmations, and implications.

Unlike the other books on this list, not all of these emotions and memories are positive. Additionally, the technical detail that goes into many of her descriptions can be a distraction from the broader ideas at play in each essay. But each page of this book feels unique, even when describing flora and fauna that already feels familiar.

It’s no wonder that World of Wonders was chosen as Barnes & Noble’s 2020 Book of the Year. It does a fantastic job reintroducing readers to the amazing beauty and potential in nature.

“If a white girl tries to tell you what your brown skin can and cannot wear for makeup, just remember the smile of an axolotl. The best thing to do in that moment is to just smile and smile, even if your smile is thin. The tighter your smile, the tougher you become.”

You should read this book if…

  • You’re fascinated by natural sciences like zoology and botany.
  • You want to be exposed to diverse perspectives.
  • You want to rediscover the wonder in your own life and surroundings.

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up — Marie Kondō

"Spark Joy" book cover

Just about everyone in a First World country can do with a little less of everything. Consumption can often get out of hand, which can result in a lot of clutter in our personal living spaces. Having tidy surroundings can have a significant positive impact on our mental health— but the process of letting go is difficult for many people.

Spark Joy is the second in a series of books written by Marie Kondō, who also goes by KonMari. Part Eastern philosophy and part instruction manual, it covers everything you could possibly need to know about the art of tidying up. And in the process, this book helps you understand how to take something that feels negative — getting rid of your personal possessions — and turn it into something positive. 

The secret is identifying what you love about your favorite clothes, furniture, photographs, and other valuables. Through a very specific process of organization and selection, you will identify what objects “spark joy” for you. And while this process does involve getting rid of things, it’s not minimalist in nature; in fact, it provides you with an opportunity to replace what you’ve lost with new possessions that you’ll treasure.

This book includes a lot of simple but helpful illustrations showing how to make the most of your favorite possessions, as well as guidelines for how to store them so they can be easily identified and accessed. This is interspersed with personal stories about KonMari’s journey to develop her method of tidying up, and answers to any questions you may have about any aspect of the process. This means it can get overly technical at times — for example, several pages are devoted entirely to folding clothes — but it’s a fantastic resource to turn to if you want to bring joy into your life.

 “The bento encapsulates Japan’s unique storage space aesthetics. Key concepts include separating flavors, beauty of presentation, and close fit. If you substitute ‘separating flavors’ for ‘separating materials,’ packing things into a drawer operates on exactly the same principles as packing a bento box.”

You should read this book if…

  • You’re interested in Japanese culture and eastern philosophy.
  • You want to clean up your living space but don’t know how to start.
  • You aren’t sure what your personal tastes are and want to discover them.
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