The best books on finding and building compassion

Who am I?

I went through a particularly hard time several years ago and to get through it I was forced to dig deep into what I’d learned about compassion and self-compassion over three decades of meditating. Because I’m a meditation teacher, I wanted to share with my students everything I learned about being kind and supportive toward myself as I went through the toughest challenges I’d ever faced so that they could benefit as well. That’s why I wrote This Difficult Thing of Being Human. Self-compassion has become the core of everything I’ve taught since then, and one of the wonderful things about it is that once you’ve shown yourself compassion, you automatically find yourself treating others with compassion too.

I wrote...

This Difficult Thing of Being Human: The Art of Self-Compassion

By Bodhipaksa,

Book cover of This Difficult Thing of Being Human: The Art of Self-Compassion

What is my book about?

It sounds like a simple idea: to be kind to yourself. But if you pay attention to your thoughts, habits, and self-talk, you may find that it’s more difficult than it sounds.

The intentional practice of self-compassion, outlined here by Buddhist scholar and teacher Bodhipaksa, can help you find greater overall wellbeing, emotional resilience, physical health, and willpower. Bodhipaksa provides both the why and the how of mindful self-compassion, drawing on contemporary psychology and neuroscience and also on Buddhist psychology, weaving the modern and ancient together into a coherent whole.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Why did I love this book?

Sharon Salzberg is undoubtedly the preeminent teacher of lovingkindness meditation in the west, and probably the world. When I read her book I’d already been practicing this form of meditation for a dozen years, and yet dipping into it now reminds me of how much of my own teaching draws on Sharon’s pioneering work. If you want to learn to develop lovingkindness, which is the basis of compassion, Sharon’s book is the ideal place to start.

By Sharon Salzberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Throughout our lives we long to love ourselves more deeply and find a greater sense of connection with others. Our fear of intimacy—both with others and with ourselves—creates feelings of pain and longing. But these feelings can also awaken in us the desire for freedom and the willingness to take up the spiritual path.

In this inspiring book, longtime meditation practitioner and teacher Sharon Salzberg shows how the Buddhist path can help us discover the radiant, joyful heart within each one of us, drawing on Buddhist teachings, wisdom from various traditions, her personal experiences, and guided meditation exercises. With these…

Book cover of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

Why did I love this book?

Why should you read Kristin Neff on self-compassion? Well, first, as a psychologist she invented self-compassion as an area of scientific study. She’s a true pioneer. But she’s not just an academic; she’s been practicing meditation for decades. Her book will lead you step-by-step through the how and why of self-compassion and explains how compassion for oneself extends naturally into having compassion for others.

By Kristin Neff,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Self-Compassion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Kristin Neff offers practical, wise guidance on the path of emotional healing and deep inner transformation.' Tara Brach, PhD, author of Radical Acceptance

Kristin Neff PhD, is a professor in educational psychology, and the world's expert on self-compassion. A pioneer who established self-compassion as a field of study, Kristin offers a powerful solution for combating negativity and insecurity - the symptoms of living in a high-pressure world.

Through tried and tested exercises and audio downloads, readers learn the 3 core components that will help to heal destructive emotional patterns…

Book cover of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Why did I love this book?

“The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.” Is there anyone who can express raw honesty, or can craft a punchy, witty, and above all true statement like Brené Brown? No, there isn’t. Brown has done the hard work of learning to look at herself uncompromisingly, of letting her heart break, and of supporting herself through this process with love. And then she’s communicated her journey with humor and searing authenticity. If you want to get to a place where you can say, “I am enough,” read this book.

By Brené Brown,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Gifts of Imperfection as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In hardback for the first time, this tenth-anniversary edition of the game-changing #1 New York Times bestseller features a new foreword and brand-new tools to make the work your own.

For over a decade, Brene Brown has found a special place in our hearts as a gifted mapmaker and a fellow traveller. She is both a social scientist and a kitchen-table friend whom you can always count on to tell the truth, make you laugh and, on occasion, cry with you. And what's now become a movement all started with The Gifts of Imperfection, which has sold more than two…

Book cover of How to Be an Imperfectionist: The New Way to Self-Acceptance, Fearless Living, and Freedom from Perfectionism

Why did I love this book?

One of my favorite sayings (by G.K. Chesterton) is, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” With these well-chosen words, Chesterton converted me to “imperfectionism.” It’s not that as imperfectionists we should aim to do things badly, but that we should aim to do necessary things and accept that we’re going to make mistakes on the way. Guise’s writing isn’t always elegant. However, he puts the case strongly that perfectionism is not something to humble-brag about, and is a “disorder of the mind.” More importantly, though, he offers detailed, practical, easy-to-implement steps for developing an imperfectionist mindset where we “lose our crippling fear of not doing [things] well.”

By Stephen Guise,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Be an Imperfectionist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From an early age, kids are taught to color inside the lines, and any color that strays outside the lines is considered to be a mistake that must be avoided. Perfectionism is a naturally limiting mindset. Imperfectionism, however, frees us to live outside the lines, where possibilities are infinite, mistakes are allowed, and self-judgment is minimal.The old way to approach perfectionism was to inspire people to “let go” of their need for perfection and hope they could do it. The new way is to show people how simple but highly strategic "mini actions” can empower them to gradually and effortlessly…

Book cover of Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta

Why did I love this book?

Our final book offers more of an “old school” guide to developing kindness and compassion. By “old school” I mean that that the writings of Gunaratana, who is affectionately known by his fans as “Bhante G.” is firmly rooted in classic teachings from the Buddhist tradition. But he goes beyond that, drawing on his personal experience, quoting modern meditation teachers, and sharing the results of scientific studies of lovingkindness and compassion. And he does all this in a warm and kind way that makes reading this illuminating and practical book a true pleasure.

By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Loving-Kindness in Plain English as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling author of Mindfulness in Plain English invites us to explore the joyful benefits of living with loving-kindness.

With his signature clarity and warmth, Bhante Gunaratana shares with us how we can cultivate loving-kindness to live a life of joyful harmony with others. Through personal anecdotes, step-by-step meditations, conversational renderings of the Buddha’s words in the suttas, and transformative insights into how we live in and relate to the world, we learn that peace here and now is possible—within ourselves and in all our relationships. Bhante G speaks directly to how we can cultivate loving-kindness to find emotional clarity,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in compassion, self-acceptance, and meditation?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about compassion, self-acceptance, and meditation.

Compassion Explore 26 books about compassion
Self-Acceptance Explore 46 books about self-acceptance
Meditation Explore 235 books about meditation