You Are What You Read: Recommended Resources, Books and Audio

Rainbow, Asturias, Spain

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.

Happiness Groups

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.

Happiness Retreats

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).


10 thoughts on “You Are What You Read: Recommended Resources, Books and Audio”

  1. Hey Ben,

    I too was influenced in a big way by Wilber’s, “No Boundary.” It really blew my mind when I discovered it in my early twenties. Alan Watts was also a mentor. He wrote a gem called “The Meaning of Happiness.” That one, and his “Wisdom of Insecurity” were life-changers for me. But the #1 author for me was/is, oddly enough, Henry Miller. He didn’t write “about” happiness per se, but the vitality flowing through his prose (when he was at his best) opened me to the world of art and creativity, which in turn led to great happiness and personal transformation.


  2. Hi Bob, I really enjoyed the Alan Watts podcast a few years ago, he is great. Do you have a favourite Miller book? I shall investigate him some time!

  3. Ben,

    The Miller book that set the wheels spinning for me was “Tropic of Capricorn.” Many of my friends scratch their heads over just why I find this book (and some of Miller’s others, like Black Spring, Sexus, The Colossus of Maroussi, and his most famous work, Tropic of Cancer) to be so spiritually significant. After all, Miller is known more for his bawdiness than anything else. I can’t say, really. There’s just something about the way he deals with the “struggling to become an artist” theme–namely by actually living it out through his writing–that strikes a deep chord in me. Miller is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for me he’s been like a tasty pint on a fine summer’s day.

    Coincidentally, Watts and Miller were near-neighbors in California for a time, and Watts was great admirer of Miller’s books, especially The Colossus of Maroussi (a non-racy book about Miller’s travels/adventures in Greece).

    Anyway, thanks for continuing with these interesting posts (and for teaching me so much Spanish over the years!).

  4. Hi Ben I brought 3 of these books and have almost finished the first; Peace is Every Step. Very interesting and rewarding reading, thanks for the recomendations.

  5. “into the wild” was riveting and i often recommend it as well. if you haven’t already read them, i have 2 other recommendations for you: viktor frankl’s “man’s search for meaning” and mihaly czikzsentmihalyi’s “flow: the psychology of optimal experience”. these are some of my standards for re-centering and reminding myself what purpose is and how to let it into my life. i moved to italy from the states 5 years ago and one of the challenges is that there seem to be regular intervals of exaggerated existential hopes and doubts: one day a simple, less-than-ordinary event like going to the shoe repair seems euphoric and the next day the whole world seems to be conspiring against you, leaving you beaten up and exasperated on the side of the road. but I wouldn’t trade this experience in for anything!

    1. Thank you Samaya. I have the Viktor Frankl book on my list of things to read – I flicked through it at a friends house and see it is very hard reading in places. I’ll check out the other book too. Many thanks.

  6. Hello Ben

    I’m enjoying have aread of your blog – I found it through NIS… I’m based in Bangkok now and I remember from Inspired Beginners I think that you and Marina went to Thailand. Perhaps you will like the talks by the Thai Western monk Ajaan Sumedho. I discovered them recently and find him just so interesting and thought provoking… and calming. He isn’t too sweet and pleasant… he talks about greed, wanting, and the difficult emotions….

    I love the talk about food – his teacher – Ajaan Chah – used to mix up all the monks food into a sort of pig swill so they didn’t seek pleasure from food.

    Best wishes


    1. Hi Kath, thanks for the comment. I listened to a couple of talks by Ajaan Sumedho, very insightful, he’s great.

      Enjoy life in Bangkok, what a wonderful city!

      Saludos from Madrid,


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