We are not only what we eat, but also what we read, watch, listen to, the kinds of conversations we have, the websites we visit… I eventually discovered that I feel a lot healthier and happier if I take in inspiring or classic books and media rather than trashy, violent novels and TV series (which I really overdosed on in the past.)
Below are a few of the books and audios that have really helped and inspired me on the path to a calmer, happier life over recent years. This list is meant as a Thank You to them (rather than a suggestion that you should rush out and buy/consume them all at once! Don’t, you’ll go mad!) and will get bigger as I discover new wonderful materials.
Happiness and Mindfulness Reading – Books
Peace is Every Step – Thich Nhat Hanh
This is the book that started it all for me. If I had to recommend just one book, this would be it. Wonderful, bite-sized pieces of wisdom, personal stories and mindfulness practices from the Buddhist tradition, that you really can start using immediately to live a happier life. His book “The Miracle of Mindfulness” also deserves a worthy place on this list.
When Things Fall Apart – Pema Chödrön
…for when times are tough and you need to know how and why it’s all OK, and soon feel better again.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Suffering and happiness go hand in hand, and although there is great pain in this incredible novel, there is also amazing light. And after reading Alice Walkers descriptions of God (not the ‘old man with white beard’ version, but God-as-everything), my view of the world, and people in particular, changed slightly, and very much for the better.
Happy Parenting and Fatherhood Books
Manhood – Steve Biddulph
A powerful change occurred in me after reading this book, mainly connected to finding a more meaningful role in life, and my working life in particular. But this book also contains powerful ideas about being a dad, our relationship with our partners, fixing things with our own fathers, real male friends… it’s the perfect answer to the famous male ‘lives of quiet desperation’ that many of us have known only too well. (The updated version, The New Manhood, is currently only available in large print edition, for the Kindle, or as a paperbook direct from the publisher, but I think it’s worth getting).
Happiness Listening – Audiobooks
If you prefer to listen to wisdom, then my long term favourite is…
The Art of Mindful Living – Thich Nhat Hanh
A calming, inspiring, life-enhancing audiobook full of Buddhism-based mindfulness practices, and ideas and advice for a happier life in the present moment. His Teachings on Love is also wonderful. Both are available as a download or CD from Sounds True.
Happiness Audio – Podcasts
Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma Talks Podcast – Endless wisdom.
Jack Kornfield Dharma Talks/Podcast – Wise and Entertaining.
La Sal de la Tierra/The Salt of the Earth – Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.
Stunning documentary about the life and work of photographer Sebastião Salgado. Visually incredible, it takes us through the darkness of humanity’s worse follies, to an ending of hope and radiant light.
Getting together with other people who are committed to being happier and more mindful helps a lot. In fact, I can’t recommend it enough. I have been involved in local meditation groups (sanghas – see directory here) in the easy-going, common-sense tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh for some time, but there are many different forms of happiness groups to look into.
Going on a retreat isn’t a prerequisite for happiness, but it does provide a very healing, peaceful space that just isn’t available in every day life.
After several years reading his books, my wife, our young son and I, finally plucked up the courage to attend one of Thich Nhat Hanh‘s summer family retreats at his Plum Village home near Bordeaux, in France, which provide an extremely friendly, surprisingly non-religious (but certainly spiritual) atmosphere in which to learn more about mindfulness and happiness. What I’ve learned there has been extraordinary, plus it’s just nice to hang out with other people who are on the same path as you. If you can’t get to France, he and his monastics travel widely offering retreats in different parts of the world, see the Plum Village webpage for details.
I haven’t attended retreats in other traditions, but have friends that have, and know there are many other wonderful alternatives to Plum Village. I suggest something not too heavy to start with (some retreats include endless sitting meditations all day – compared to just one or two optional sittings in Plum Village).