The best books for building adulthood in your twenties

Who am I?

I have been conducting psychotherapy for over 30 years, much of it with young people navigating the tricky path between dependent adolescence and independent adulthood. I’ve seen the downsides of stasis and stagnation, and the tremendous benefits of learning to stand and take the tiller of one’s own life. Many of my goals in writing, vlogging, and doing therapy involve helping young adults steer their way around the potholes in the paths they aspire to tread. More broadly, I have worked on various fronts to “give psychology away,” as instructed during my training, making psychological and life-management knowledge as open and as easily accessed as possible. I operate one of Vancouver’s largest psychotherapy services and provide training to clinicians across Canada in effective mental health interventions for mood- and anxiety-related concerns.


I wrote...

How to Be Miserable in Your Twenties: 40 Strategies to Fail at Adulting

By Randy J. Paterson,

Book cover of How to Be Miserable in Your Twenties: 40 Strategies to Fail at Adulting

What is my book about?

Every decision you make, from what to have for lunch to what career to pursue, is designed at least partly to make you happier in the future. Yet here you are: Less happy than you’d like to be. It’s possible that your decisions just haven’t quite paid off yet, but maybe (like most people) you’re not so great at predicting your future happiness. What would it be like to ask instead what you would do if it was your mission to be miserable rather than fulfilled? The decade of the twenties is a decisional minefield, and it might be helpful to have 40 of these traps pointed out before you step on them. That’s the aim of How to be Miserable in Your Twenties. From allowing adulthood to begin to confronting the lies fed to you by well-meaning elders, this book helps you find the road forward and the road back, and lets you decide which way to turn.

The books I picked & why

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The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

By Meg Jay,

Book cover of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

Why this book?

Jay points out that the decade of the twenties, once regarded as the core of young adult life, has become for many a kind of extended adolescence - or an early retirement. The skills, knowledge, habits, and talents which would ordinarily be developed during this time are put off for a later that may prove too late. She makes the case for treating the decade seriously - while still having fun and laying the groundwork for yet more enjoyment later on in life.

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now

By Meg Jay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Defining Decade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Revised and reissued for a new generation, The Defining Decade has changed the way millions of twentysomethings think about their twenties -- and themselves.

Our "thirty-is-the-new-twenty" culture tells us the twentysomething years don't matter. Some say they are an extended adolescence. Others call them an emerging adulthood. In The Defining Decade, Meg Jay argues that twentysomethings have been caught in a swirl of hype and misinformation, much of which has trivialized the most transformative time of our lives.

Drawing from more than two decades of work with thousands of clients and students, Jay weaves the latest science of the twentysomething…


Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert,

Book cover of Stumbling on Happiness

Why this book?

Most books carve out a small part of existence to examine. Gilbert has done a remarkable job of looking at virtually all of life through a neglected lens: emotional forecasting. This is the prediction of future mood states given the various choices we make. Despite making hundreds of such decisions each day, human beings are remarkably poor at guessing what will ultimately prove fulfilling. He argues that many of our trusted instincts are fundamentally untrustworthy - but that there are other ways of making these decisions in more effective ways.

Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Stumbling on Happiness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bringing to life scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, this bestselling book reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. 

• Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink?

• Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight?

• Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they…


Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps

By Kelly Williams Brown,

Book cover of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps

Why this book?

Adulthood seems like a necessary and possibly desirable life stage, but HOW exactly does one do it? What are the essentials? Brown steps away from cheerleading and the examination of deep psychological concepts, and instead focusses on the actual skills you need in order to be a tolerably functional, reasonably independent adult. From how to roast a chicken, to coping with upsells at the lube shop, to responding to dinner invitations, she inventories the things every grownup should (and often doesn’t) know.

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps

By Kelly Williams Brown,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Adulting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From breaking up with frenemies to fixing your toilet, this way fun comprehensive handbook is the answer for aspiring grown-ups of all ages.

If you graduated from college but still feel like a student . . . if you wear a business suit to job interviews but pajamas to the grocery store . . . if you have your own apartment but no idea how to cook or clean . . . it's OK. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Just because you don't feel like an adult doesn't mean you can't act like one. And it all…


Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest

By Sally Koslow,

Book cover of Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest

Why this book?

The cultivation of independent adulthood is a tricky dance - usually at least part of the time conducted with parents. It helps to see the other side of the fence, and Koslow describes the emotional journey of parents as they gradually disengage from their role as captain of the ship of a young adult’s life. Whether they know it or not, you are almost certainly the biggest and most lasting project of their entire lives, and standing on the sidelines to watch it sink or swim ain’t easy.

Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest

By Sally Koslow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Slouching Toward Adulthood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A witty and insightful report from the parenting trenches by the mother of two "adultescents"

Millions of American parents sit down to dinner every night, wondering why fully grown children are joining them—or, more likely, grunting good-bye as they head out for another night of who knows what. Sally Koslow, a journalist, novelist, and mother of two "adultescents" digs deep to reveal what lies behind the current generation’s unwillingness—or inability—to take flight.

By delving into the latest research and conducting probing interviews with both frustrated parents and their frustrated offspring, Koslow uses humor, insight, and honest self-reflection to give voice…


The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

By Walter Mischel,

Book cover of The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

Why this book?

Our culture has a great tendency to (over-) emphasize the importance of talent in a person’s life, as though our abilities came as standard equipment fresh from the factory. And yet one of the strongest determinants of a fulfilling life has little to do with intelligence or skill or mysteriously-acquired abilities. It’s about the ability to manage our wanton and often self-defeating impulses. Mischel uses the famous “marshmallow test” studies to describe the cultivation of self-discipline - not so that we can be responsible to others, but so we can achieve the goals WE choose for ourselves.

The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success

By Walter Mischel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Marshmallow Test as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: Eat this one now, or wait and enjoy two later. What will she do? And what are the implications for her behaviour later in life?

Walter Mischel's now iconic 'marshmallow test,' one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology, proved that the ability to delay gratification is critical to living a successful and fulfilling life: self-control not only predicts higher marks in school, better social and cognitive functioning, and a greater sense of self-worth; it also helps us manage stress, pursue goals more effectively, and cope…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in happiness, adult, and psychology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about happiness, adult, and psychology.

Happiness Explore 55 books about happiness
Adult Explore 3 books about adult
Psychology Explore 304 books about psychology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Everything Will Be Okay, Normal Sucks, and The Oxford Companion to the Mind if you like this list.