Are you looking for ways to improve your life but don’t know where to start? We’ve compiled a list of the best self-help books worth reading.
I’ve always found the genre of self-help fascinating. Over the past decade, I’ve read many self-help books for business, sports, writing, and even my personal life.
I like self-help books because they usually contain interesting techniques and strategies for fixing problems. I’ve even written in the genre. My most recent book, This is Working, is basically business self-help for time-strapped executives and entrepreneurs.
Enough with the self-promotion though. In no particular order, here are some of the best self-help books to help you change your life (or at least part of it). Need to finish more books faster? Check out my guide to reading more often.
- Best Self-help Books Ranked
- 1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- 2. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
- 3. Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana
- 4. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine
- 5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
- 6. Mastery by Robert Greene
- 7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- 8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- 9. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- 10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
- 11. Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Laura Huang
- 12. Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do by Sarah Knight
- 13. Mastery by George Leonard
- 14. Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven
- 15. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Julie Smith
- 16. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
- 17. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World by Haemin Sunim
- 18. The Courage To Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
- 19. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- 20. Manifest: 7 Steps To Living Your Best Life by Roxie Nafousi
- 21. Me vs. Brain: An Overthinker’s Guide to Life by Hayley Morris
- 22. Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman
- 23. The Child In You: The Breakthrough Method for Bringing Out Your Authentic Self by Stefanie Stahl
- 24. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore
- 25. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read [and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did] by Philippa Perry
- 26. Life Changing Magic Of Tidying by Marie Kondō
- 27. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
- 28. The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life by Todd Herman
- 29. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg
- 30. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane
- 31. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
- 32. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
- 33. The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery by Brianna Wiest
- The Final Word on the Best Self-Help Books
- Further Reading
Best Self-help Books Ranked
1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This bestseller is one of the most famous self-help books of all time. It recounts the author’s experiences in four Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz.
The book has been translated into over 50 languages and sold more than 16 million copies. I read it for the first time when I was unemployed and it got me out of a depressive funk.
Frankl’s book was published in 1946, after World War II, and it includes advice like,
“It does not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”Viktor E. Frankl
Unlike other self-help books, this one doesn’t rely on platitudes, because Frankl directly relates his takeaway to his experiences during the war. Considering the subject matter and the death of Frankl’s family, this is a heavy read. And yet it’s hopeful too.
2. Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers by Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss has written several books over the past few years, and many cite the 4-Hour Workweek. I’d argue this book is his real masterpiece. He distills insights from over 200 interviews with world-class performers from his podcast.
The book even includes an introduction by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ferriss discloses specific tactics like how to cultivate a state of focus using geranium oil and includes classic strategies for setting goals, growing a business, and finding personal fulfillment.
“If you let your learning lead to knowledge, you become a fool. If you let your learning lead to action, you become wealthy.”Timothy Ferriss
The tome took me over a month to get through. I underlined a lot of thoughts and insights and came back to them after I finished the book. Even though I listened to his podcast often, most of the material in this book was still new to me.
My only criticism is that the tactics of one high performer often conflict with the tactics of another high performer. For example, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel argues for moonshot goals while Dilbert creator Scott Adams recommends systems instead of goals.
So you’ll need to wade through the book and find what works for you. Still, if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, productivity, or high performance, this book is an essential read.
3. Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana
Reading this book got me into meditation when I was in my early thirties. The author uses clear and concise language to write about concepts some may find wooly. He’s also a little funny, writing:
“Somewhere in this process, you will come face to face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy.”Henepola Gunaratana
This book explains exactly what mindfulness is and how you can start developing a daily meditation practice and improve your mental health. In fact, this book taught me the basics of that practice. It also includes some interesting chapters explaining key concepts like loving kindness and how to develop your concentration.
While meditation apps are popular these days, this is the book I’d recommend to anybody who wants to find more calmness or focus. You can read this book many times and still find new insights.
4. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine
Stoicism is all the rage these days, particularly in Silicon Valley.
In this book, the author explains how this popular ancient philosophy can help you live a better life. Practitioners advocate for the endurance of pain and hardship rather than the pursuit of wealth and comfort.
Irvine combines his approach to stoicism with modern-day psychological insights and techniques. He also draws on personal stories. For example, he recounts how rowing in the cold and wet helped him cultivate Stoica qualities.
The author offers advice like,
“If we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.”William Irvine
You’ll learn how to minimize worry, let go of the past, and focus on your efforts.
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
This popular self-help book has been a best-seller in this genre for years.
But did you know the book was rejected 126 times before it was finally published in 1974? Since then, it’s sold over five million copies. Unlike many of today’s self-help books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a dense read that takes some time to digest.
Don’t let the title fool you. It isn’t about repairing a motorbike!
Instead, it is about how to become more comfortable with problems in your personal or professional life. It’s also semi-autobiographical and contains a surprising ending that will stay with you long after you put the book down.
It’s a must-read, even if you’re not into the genre that much as the underlying story is captivating. The book also provides insights on Zen and Eastern philosophy and contains advice like:
“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”Robert Pirsig
6. Mastery by Robert Greene
Robert Greene’s 2012 New York Times bestseller is hundreds of pages long and full of interviews, historical research, and dense chapters.
Greene’s book features interviews with many professionals and case studies. He includes people from history who’ve achieved mastery in their disciplines, including Charles Darwin and Henry Ford. Greene writes:
“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”Robert Greene
7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
If there’s classic self-help, this book is it. Published in 1936, it has sold over 30 million copies and is still in print.
This book covers topics like increasing your popularity and earning power, becoming a better public speaker, and winning people over to your way of thinking. Some key techniques that are still relevant today include: don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; give honest and sincere appreciation; and arouse in the other person an eager want.
The author also writes about how you can encourage people to like you by smiling, becoming genuinely interested in their problems, using their names, and being a good listener. Carnegie writes:
“A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”Dale Carnegie
8. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
This popular self-improvement book combines how to succeed in your career, business, or personal life.
It contains chapters about being proactive, putting first things first, beginning with the end in mind, and more. As a parent of three kids, I found the advice about conflict management useful.
Expect gems like:
“Two people can see the same thing, disagree, and yet both be right. It’s not logical; it’s psychological.”Stephen R. Covey
9. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
This self-improvement book was first published all the way back in 1937, and it’s still in print today. It contains 14 principles for the reader covering topics like planning, decision-making, the brain and your subconscious mind.
Although some of the book’s ideas have dated, it’s an interesting insight into the idea of money as an abundant commodity. It’ll also help you with procrastination. You might also be interested in our list of authors like Yung Pueblo.
Read it for motivational self-improvement advice such as:
“Set your mind on a definite goal and observe how quickly the world stands aside to let you pass.”Napoleon Hill
10. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
Manson’s book is one of the more popular self-help books in recent years. In fact, Manson has spawned a new genre: anti-self-help.
He doesn’t tackle much stock in the heart-warming advice of older books by the likes of Napoleon Hill. You might also enjoy these authors like Wayne Dyer.
That’s a good thing because the genre was getting clichéd. Expect life-affirming statements like:
“We’re apes. We think we’re all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we’re just a bunch of finely ornamented apes.”Mark Manson
11. Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage by Laura Huang
Harvard Business School associate professor, Laura Huang, knows a thing or two about success. In her book, Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage she gives readers pointers about identifying what makes you unique so you can get ahead and stand out while you set out to conquer your goals.
Read it for some truths like:
“Hard work alone isn’t enough. You need something else to stand out and give you that EDGE which makes you unique and different.”Laura Huang
12. Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do by Sarah Knight
Although a crude name, we need a blunt truth bomb sometimes. Self-proclaimed “anti-guru” Sarah Knight set out to help readers… well, get their sh*t together.
In the book, she explains how negative thinking sabotages us, how to find a healthy balance of work and fun while still being financially responsible, and how to deal with anxiety.
You’ll feel more in control than ever with nuggets of advice like:
“Proven fact: You can never finish something you didn’t start.”Sarah Knight
13. Mastery by George Leonard
George Leonard published Mastery in 1991, and it’s still pretty relevant. In it, he combines Zen principles with the martial art of aikido.
By the end, you will hopefully be able to master anything in your life, whether a career change or a personal goal. There are also personal anecdotes throughout, which help you feel more connected to the author.
“For the master, surrender means there are no experts.”George Leonard
14. Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven
Although you may have no interest in joining the Navy Seals, there is a lot to learn from them. That’s why Admiral William H. McRaven detailed ten key lessons he learned in his book, Make Your Bed.
It shows how being disciplined in your daily routines, even for seemingly small acts such as making your bed each morning, can eventually build up, allowing you to live the life you’ve always wanted.
McRaven explains the importance of pushing ourselves with the following:
“Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.”William H. McRaven
15. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? by Julie Smith
If you’re struggling with your mental health, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? could be a huge help. Penned by psychologist Julie Smith, the novel explains how the human mind works and what we need to do to cope when life gets tough.
Some helpful pieces of advice include:
“If we don’t do the work to develop self-acceptance, we set ourselves up to live a life in which we may need constant reassurance, get trapped in jobs we hate or relationships that cause us harm, or find ourselves living with resentment.”Julie Smith
16. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne
The Secret is one of the best-known self-help books, for good reason. It’s all about the law of attraction, which is the belief that our thoughts influence our lives; in other words, positive thoughts manifest in positive life experiences.
If you’re skeptical, learning to look on the bright side couldn’t hurt.
“There is a truth deep down inside of you that has been waiting for you to discover it, and that truth is this: you deserve all good things life has to offer.”Rhonda Byrne
17. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World by Haemin Sunim
Life is hectic these days, and The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down is a good reminder to take a breather. Penned by a Buddhist monk, Haemin Sunim, the book teaches us how to be more mindful. When we slow down, life’s problems seem less overwhelming.
With the following pieces of advice, you’re bound to feel calmer:
“We know the world only through the window of our mind. When our mind is noisy, the world is as well. And when our mind is peaceful, the world is, too. Knowing our minds is just as important as trying to change the world.”Haemin Sunim
18. The Courage To Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
The Courage To Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life, and Achieve Real Happiness was a huge hit in Japan and was eventually translated into English. It pulls on wisdom from renowned psychologist Alfred Adler.
The book teaches you how to carve your own path regardless of your past or what others expect of you. While many of us have a desire to be well-liked, the novel has some comforting wisdom:
“It’s that you are disliked by someone. It is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles.”Ichiro Kishimi
19. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Anyone who is an introvert knows, that the negative comments about your demeanor and pressure to be more chatty or sociable never end. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is an incredibly validating book.
In it, Susan Cain draws attention to famous introverts who made the world a better place, like Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein, how the Extrovert Ideal became so prevalent in society, and shows why introverts are valid. In Cain’s own words:
“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured. The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters.”Susan Cain
20. Manifest: 7 Steps To Living Your Best Life by Roxie Nafousi
Manifestation, like the law of attraction, is the belief that you can use your thoughts to create your ideal life. In her book, Roxie Nafousi breaks the manifestation process down into seven simple steps. Regardless of your goals, Nafousi is determined to put you on the right path, when she says:
“When we consciously choose to think positive and empowering thoughts that trigger high-vibe emotions (such as confidence, enthusiasm, and hope), we will attract more abundance into our lives through the law of attraction.”Roxie Nafousi
21. Me vs. Brain: An Overthinker’s Guide to Life by Hayley Morris
Me vs. Brain: An Overthinker’s Guide To Life is a hilarious, endearing, and relatable read that will soothe even the most anxious of overthinkers. Realistic in her approach, Morris doesn’t promise to fix overthinking, but she does make readers feel less alone.
To prevent herself from internalizing her negative thoughts, Morris looks at them as separate from herself:
“The voice comes from inside my head, but it isn’t me. It’s Brain.”Hayley Morris
This approach makes it easier to separate your initiation and beliefs from your anxiety.
22. Toxic Positivity by Whitney Goodman
So much discourse surrounding self-help verges into toxic positivity. The truth is, that repressing our negative emotions won’t help us in the long run.
That’s where therapist, Whitney Goodman comes in with her book, Toxic Positivity: Keeping It Real in a World Obsessed with Being Happy. Goodman shows us just how damaging toxic positivity is while offering realistic ways to acknowledge our feelings and heal.
Goodman expertly explains the concept:
“Healthy positivity means making space for both reality and hope. Toxic positivity denies an emotion and forces us to suppress it. When we use toxic positivity, we are telling ourselves and others that this emotion shouldn’t exist, it’s wrong, and if we try just a little bit harder, we can eliminate it entirely.”Whitney Goodman
23. The Child In You: The Breakthrough Method for Bringing Out Your Authentic Self by Stefanie Stahl
They say our childhood experiences shape the rest of our adult lives. So, if you feel like trauma and hardship from your youth are holding you back, how do you move forward?
Psychologist Stefanie Stahl sought to help readers connect with and heal their inner child in her book. She offers exercises that will teach you how to change your perception of past memories, improve relationships and conflict management, and embrace your inner “sun child.” Stahl explains:
“The four basic psychological needs are the need for connection, the need for autonomy and control, the need for pleasure or avoidance of displeasure, the need for bolstered self-esteem and acknowledgment.”Stefanie Stahl
24. The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore
If you can’t stop procrastinating, The Now Habit by Neil Fiore is for you.
Fiore argues that procrastination stems from anxiety and perfectionism, and is simply a defense mechanism. The book offers tips on reducing stress, positive thinking, getting things done, and enjoying downtime guilt-free.
Some gold nuggets of advice include:
“In most cases, you are the one who confuses just doing the job with testing your worth. Replace ‘I have to’ with ‘I choose to.’”Neil Fiore
25. The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read [and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did] by Philippa Perry
Every parent wants to do the best for their children, so if you don’t have a great relationship with yours, you may worry about continuing unhealthy patterns. Psychologist Philippa Perry helps parents understand their own upbringing and break cycles. She teaches readers how to accept mistakes and better understand the needs of themselves and their children.
On dealing with familial conflict, the author explains:
“Ruptures—those times when we misunderstand each other, when we make wrong assumptions when we hurt someone—are inevitable in every important intimate and familial relationship. It is not the rupture that is so important, it is the repair that matters.”Philippa Perry
26. Life Changing Magic Of Tidying by Marie Kondō
Marie Kondō is one of the most recognized names in the self-help world, for a good reason. Living in clutter isn’t good for our mental health, but many of us struggle to keep our homes organized.
Kondō’s unique cleaning system encourages readers to determine which items in their home “spark joy” and which it’s time to part with. The result? A tidy home, and a tidy mind.
According to Kondō:
“Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.”Marie Kondō
27. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Living in the moment is easier said than done. So many of us miss the present because we’re so worried about the future.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, teaches us to leave our egos in the past and truly live in the moment without abandoning self-reflection.
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”Eckhart Tolle
28. The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life by Todd Herman
A lot of us have an idealized version of ourselves in our heads that we wish we could be; someone more confident, talented, and skilled. What if you could become that person?
In The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life, Todd Herman argues that some of the most successful people in the world got to where they are by allowing that heroic alter ego to shine in their most challenging times. The book teaches you how to create and become your best self. You might also find our list of the best negotiation books helpful.
Herman offers readers:
“A reminder that playfulness doesn’t stop at eight years of age; it’s a pathway to handling life with more grace.”Todd Herman
29. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change by Charles Duhigg
Seemingly small actions can greatly impact our lives, which is why developing and maintaining good habits is so important. In his book, business journalist Charles Duhigg educates readers on why we have habits and how to use them to our advantage.
The author reveals:
“If you believe you can change – if you make it a habit – the change becomes real.”Charles Duhigg
30. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane
While some people have a natural charm, those born without it aren’t doomed to be socially awkward forever. Those looking to become more charismatic will wish they got their hands on Olivia Fox Cabane’s The Charisma Myth sooner. Cabane takes a scientific approach while offering practical advice and harsh truths to readers so they can become more confident. Cabane tells readers:
“The most effective thing you can do for your career is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.”Olivia Fox Cabane
31. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
Oftentimes, people who have experienced trauma feel stuck and misunderstood. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk’s validating and insightful novel The Body Keeps The Score can help you take the first steps on your healing journey.
Van der Kolk pulls from scientific research to explain the effect trauma has on both the body and mind. He also shares resources on learning to live with trauma and thrive again from creative and physical outlets to meditation and neurofeedback. On the benefits of recovery, the author says:
“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”Bessel van der Kolk
Although it may not be a substitute for mental health care, it can put you on the right path.
32. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project was inspired by an epiphany Gretchen Rubin had. One day, she realized she wasn’t devoting enough of her attention and energy to the things that matter most to her. She set out to spend the next year of her life trying to be happy.
Rubin shares her 12-month journey in The Happiness Project, what worked for her, and how everyone’s journey will be unique. Some of her insights include:
“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”Gretchen Rubin
33. The Mountain Is You: Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery by Brianna Wiest
One of the hardest things to admit in life is that sometimes the thing holding us back is ourselves. The Mountain Is You explains why we self-sabotage and what we can do about it. By having a better understanding of ourselves and challenging our behaviors, there’s nothing we can’t do. The author explains:
“It is very hard to show up as the person you want to be when you are surrounded by an environment that makes you feel like a person you aren’t.”Brianna Wiest
The Final Word on the Best Self-Help Books
You don’t need a Ph.D. to improve your life.
After reading some of the best self-help books over the past few years, I’ve discovered it’s a sprawling genre… full of classics.
But where to start? Make a list of what you want to read. Then choose a self-help book for a problem you’re having right now rather than an abstract topic. Pick an instructional self-help book to discover how to achieve an end goal, or opt for a more autobiographical self-help book, like Zen and the Art Motorcycle Maintenance.
Whatever your choice, the answers are out there. If you liked this post, you might also be interested in our list of books for wisdom.
Do self-help books work?
Self-help books work if you read them to solve a particular problem if your life and then put what you learnt from the book into action. Reading can turn into a form of procrastination otherwise.
What is wrong with self-help books?
Some authors of self-help books offer a cookie cutter approach to solving a professional or personal challenge. This doesn’t always translate to each reader’s circumstances.
What is the number 1 best-selling self-help book?
Think and Grow Rich is the number 1 best-selling self-help book of all time. It was first published back in 1936 and has reportedly sold over 100 million copies.