June 05, 2021

How to be Happy: Five books that will change your life

We all know that being happy is a key aspect of life – but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Here’s our guide to the best books to help you learn the art of happiness.

From Abraham Lincoln to Audrey Hepburn – it seems everyone’s been talking about happiness. They all agree on one thing: Happiness is the only thing you need in life to be, well… happy.

It may sound obvious, but happiness isn’t guaranteed. In fact, the latest World Happiness Report found that more people are unhappy than ever before. Negative feelings - worry, sadness, and anger - rose by 27 percent from 2010 to 2018.

Experts say that happiness isn’t something that just falls into our laps – it’s something we have to work on and practice. But where should we start?

We’ve compiled some top tips from the world’s brightest minds to get you started.

The Happiness Equation: Neil Pasricha

According to Pasricha, to be happy we must focus on the simple nature of happiness and how to get more of it into your life – even when it means going against conventional advice.

Don’t retire

Say what? Turns out, retirement stopped working decades ago. In Okinawa, Japan, people don’t retire but follow ‘Ikigai,’ which means “reason for waking up in the morning.” In a nutshell, this means they work until they die, albeit in different ways and at a slower pace. There must be something in it, as Okinawa is home to some of the longest living people in the world!

Do the Saturday morning test

What would you do on a Saturday morning if you didn’t HAVE to do anything else? Answer this question and you’ve just completed Pasricha’s “Saturday Morning Test.” The idea is that the more time we spend doing the activities we love, the happier we’ll become. And they’re not just for the weekend!

Don’t listen to advice

Don’t listen to advice at all. Advice from different sources often contradicts each other. The trick is to ignore what others say will make us happy and trust our own judgement. We know ourselves better than anyone, so why listen to others?

The Happiness Advantage: Shawn Achor

What if happiness is not the result of success, but instead a tool for achieving it? That’s the belief of Shawn Achor, one of the world’s youngest happiness researchers (yes, that’s a real job). Achor is testament to his own theory, with his work in positive psychology spreading like wildfire, and his TED Talk among the 20 most popular of all time.

Achor’s insights?

Happy people become successful, not the other way round.  

The book refers to a study where the happiness of 272 employees was monitored over 18 months. Those who started happier, achieved the most success. It’s simple; instead of trying to be successful so we can be happy, work on your happiness and success will follow. 

We can train our brains to spot positives.

The Tetris Effect is what happens when we spend hours of our life on one activity. Our brains become so engaged, that the environment of the activity spills over. We can use this trait to spot the positive things in our life, in order to become more optimistic.

Use failures as a stepping stone.

After each failure, crisis or catastrophe, three things can happen: Nothing changes, downward spiral, or come back stronger. Following a bad event, our brain makes up alternative scenarios, called ‘counterfacts.’ These enable us to take control of our attitude around failure.

Hardwiring Happiness: Rick Hanson

Do you have a habit of reacting more strongly to negatives? The tendency to disproportionately focus on the bad is hardwired – based on a time where negative things could kill you (think cavemen and sabre-toothed tigers). The fear center of our brain - the amygdala - comes in two variants. The happy version stimulates the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that sparks motivation and optimism. But the sad version bases your actions on fear, releasing cortisol, adrenaline and other stress-inducing hormones, making us anxious and worried.

By staying with a positive experience, you can turn a passing mental state into a lasting neural structure. How? Here’s Hanson’s advice:

Counteract the bad with the good

If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, consciously move on to the good stuff and let go of that negativity.

Start a Good Year Box

Exposing your brain to positives can tone down your sad amygdala. At the end of each day, pull out anything positive and write it down, then put it in the box. This helps you to acknowledge the good things and train your brain to recognize them.

Dwell on positivity

Create an infinite stream of positivity from your memories. Spend time thinking about happy memories. Be grateful for the good things you have. Give gifts to your loved ones or donate to charity if you can.


The Algebra of Happiness: Scott Galloway

Don’t let the word ‘algebra’ put you off. The principles behind it work – learning to be happy follows the pattern of discovering what unknown values we must add up to equal happiness. So how do we solve this equation?

  1. Prepare well. Recognise the trade-offs between work and relationships, and it’ll be easier to access happiness. Understand that playing too much will result in more effort being required later.
  2. Take care of your relationships through your working life. If you’re working 80-hour weeks, how will you see friends and family?
  3. Monitor the trade-offs you make at each stage of your life to ensure that you have balance.
  4. When you reach financial security, change your focus to enjoy freedom. Think back to why you started your professional journey and what your aims were.
  5. Find the right partner and work hard to keep the relationship strong. The deepest happiness comes from creating quality relationships. Develop the habit of forgiveness and your relationships will thrive.

The Happiness Project: Gretchen Ruben

This is the hack of all hacks – how to change your life, without actually changing your life.  Gretchen Rubin realized one day that although she was working hard, it wasn’t on the things that matter. She decided to dedicate a year of her life to running happiness experiments. This New York Times bestseller book is the result. Ancient ideas about happiness were put to the test, alongside painstaking scientific research. Rubin discovered a multitude of ways to improve happiness without any major changes. Here’s the lowdown.

Declutter your house, declutter your brain.

Both mental and physical clutter are a drag. It takes up to 50% more time to manage our household if it’s messy. Declutter your house and you’ll see a difference in your stress levels.

Look after your physical health.

Make sure you’re getting the basics: getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising.

Digital to-do lists add to stress.

The Zeigarnik Effect makes our brain nag us about unfinished tasks. Focus on small items that you can do. This helps get rid of clutter and feel productive, thus boosting happiness.

Stop trying to change your partner.

We can’t change our partners, only ourselves. It takes five positive actions to correct one negative one, so reducing the negatives makes relationships happier. 

Aim for financial security.

Money doesn’t buy you happiness. But not worrying about it makes life easier. Earning more than you need to be comfortable doesn’t actually increase happiness. 

For more on these books, plus other Happiness Hacks, visit Uptime.

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