One of the most enduring tools for personal development is the self-help book.
Books are affordable, portable ways to find inspiration when you need it. Whenever you want to reinforce a self-improvement concept or need an emotional pick-me-up, there’s a self-help title for the occasion. Keep it on your shelf and refer to timeless advice again and again. Most of these books have endured the test of time for a reason.
Here are some self-help bestsellers to add to your reading list. These recommendations gather some classic favorites and new voices offering their perspectives on how to live a happy, fulfilled life, both at work and at home.
Who are self-help books for?
As of 2021, the personal development market generated an estimated $41.81 billion in revenue worldwide, and such a large market means there’s a range of titles and topics. Whatever stage of your life you want to fine-tune, chances are high that someone’s already written a book about it.
Self-help books appeal to people searching for insight or support, whether practically or emotionally. Topics range from time management and leadership skills to living intentionally. And for people experiencing mental illnesses like depression, self-help books can play a similar role as talk or group therapy, offering guidance on coping mechanisms and healing.
But if you’re looking for a quick fix to a problem in your life, you likely won’t find it in a book. They’re tools, not solutions. Research into self-help books has shown that they can be helpful for people tackling a specific problem, like imposter syndrome or low self-esteem, but there isn’t much hard evidence for their overall effectiveness. If you aren’t sure what the problem is or you want direct support, you should consider personalized coaching instead.
Before choosing a self-help book
No matter the topic — from self-discovery to self-care and all points in between — there are many self-help titles to choose from. Find one that suits both your reading style and your life goals.
Here are a few tips to help you determine which titles are worth your time:
- The challenge: Your book choice depends on the issue or issues, you want to address. Self-help titles run a gamut of subjects, some addressing increasingly specific sub-topics. Take time to review the content before making a purchase to ensure it provides the information and guidance you’re looking for.
- The background: Get to know the author to discover their history with the topic. Are they subject matter experts? Have they dealt with the issue in their personal life? These factors affect how reliable and relatable their advice will be. A psychologist and a businessperson will write about teamwork in two different ways, and it’s up to you to decide which you’d prefer to read.
- The style: Do you enjoy the author’s voice? Is the information presented compellingly? Does the book provide clear, actionable advice? A book you struggle to read won’t offer the guidance you’re looking for because you won’t pay attention. The best self-help books are the ones you actually learn from and enjoy reading.
14 self-help books to add to your reading list
If you aren’t sure where to start or want to read some general self-help guidance, here are some of the best and most popular titles.
1. Atomic Habits, by James Clear
Change your habits. Change your life. That’s the premise of James Clear’s practical self-help book, Atomic Habits. Using actionable suggestions and strategies, Clear shows how you can take control of your behavior by developing a system that helps upgrade your bad habits and build good, healthy habits. If you want to make tangible day-to-day changes in your life, this book is a worthwhile read.
2. How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
A classic of the self-help genre, there’s a reason why this title has sold more than 30 million copies. To summarize How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie puts his experience as a successful entrepreneur and salesperson to work. He shows you how to improve your personal and professional relationships by teaching you ways to help others understand you better and create stronger connections.
3. You Are a Badass, by Jen Sincero
At once a humorous account and practical guidebook, Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass offers real-life advice to help you break down the fear and insecurity that hold you back. Reading entertaining anecdotes and completing engaging end-of-chapter exercises will help you build self-confidence and feel more motivated.
4. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell
Journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers discusses how successful people differ from the rest of the world. His theory is that people pay too much attention to what success looks like and not enough about where it comes from: community, culture, and experience. Gladwell visits the history of some of the most successful people of all time to discover how their beginnings positioned them for success.
5. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
Like Atomic Habits, Stephen R. Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People discusses the formation of habits and how establishing the right ones can lead to personal and professional success.
The book provides a step-by-step guide to forming seven fundamental habits that can help you make better choices and find happiness. It’s one of the best self-help books for work and for daily life.
6. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown
In Daring Greatly, vulnerability expert Brené Brown argues that strength and courage come from embracing your insecurities. Loaded with personal anecdotes and insights, Brown leans into her 12 years of research to show how leading with vulnerability can become a source of connection, conviction, and creativity.
7. The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
If you have difficulty living in the moment, Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is a must-read. This practical guide takes you on a more spiritual journey that demonstrates how to be present in your life. You’ll find examples, practical exercises, and self-discovery techniques to help you let go of your ego and place yourself firmly in the now.
8. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo
Your perception of your home directly correlates with your mental health. Tidying up and creating a space that makes you happy has the potential to improve your life more than you think.
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the companion to Marie Kondo’s popular Netflix series, you’ll discover the KonMari Method approach to minimalist living and learn how cleaning your space can be an act of self-care and love.
This book has actionable exercises and guidance to help you clear out the clutter, keep items that make you feel good, and tidy your way to a harmonious — and organized — home.
9. Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
You might already know Shonda Rhimes as an award-winning writer and television producer. But despite her success, she still struggles with self-confidence and suffers from imposter syndrome.
With refreshing honesty, The Year of Yes shares how, for 365 days, Rhimes challenged herself to be brave and confront insecurity in all aspects of her life. Warm and humorous, this book will remind you of what’s possible when you ignore the voices that say you aren’t good enough.
10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, by Mark Manson
If the optimism and positivity of the self-help genre aren’t for you, give blogger Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck a read. It’s not about apathy, but learning to be selective about what you care about, protect your energy, and adjust your perspective to match.
This norm-busting book admits that sometimes, life doesn’t go your way. You’ll struggle, feel a lack of motivation, and experience everything on the emotion wheel. Recognizing those feelings and learning how to work through them instead of ignoring them will help you set better priorities and live a happier life.
11. Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
You might recognize Elizabeth Gilbert’s name from her journey of reinvention and self-discovery in the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love. But in Big Magic, she instead examines the creative process and its challenges with an unfailingly empathetic eye.
Gilbert reminds readers that to live a life of inspiration is to embrace a path that’s neither smooth nor linear and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Full of cheerfully pragmatic advice and guidance, Gilbert encourages you to let go of fear, embrace curiosity, and make art even if it’s bad. It’s an ideal read for creative thinkers in a slump.
12. Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl
Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist practicing in Vienna when World War II hit. By 1942, he was sent to a concentration camp and lived through the war’s final days at Auschwitz. He was the only member of his family to make it out, and his experiences gave him unique insight into human nature and the meaning of life.
Frankl’s compelling tale of survival and his observations from the camps form the first half of Man’s Search for Meaning. In the second half of this inspirational book, he takes what he learned — that you can’t avoid pain, but you can choose how to respond — to craft a spiritual yet practical guidebook to demonstrate the power of that choice. Frankl’s narrative shows you how to move through suffering and find meaning in the simple act of living.
13. The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Drawing on the wisdom of Toltec sages, and spiritual experts who lived in Mexico just before the Aztecs, Don Miguel Ruiz shows how to apply ancient ideas to modern life. He describes four principles: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. Ruiz challenges you to avoid self-limiting beliefs and build the best version of yourself.
14. Own Your Greatness, by Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin
Get to the source of your self-doubt with Own Your Greatness, a workbook from psychologists and leadership consulting team Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin. Backed by research, you’ll find insightful exercises, journal prompts, and activities to help you understand why you doubt your abilities and feel comfortable acknowledging the qualities that make you exceptional.
Turn the page in your own life
Whether you’re trying to find yourself, create new habits, or get out of a rut, self-help books offer the boost you need. Do your research and find titles that you connect with to start doing the deep work necessary to better yourself. A book might not change your entire life, but it can pave the way for emotional growth.