The best books on finding and building compassion

The Books I Picked & Why

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

By Sharon Salzberg

Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Why 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.


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

By Kristin Neff

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

Why 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.


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

By Brené Brown

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

Why 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.


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

By Stephen Guise

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

Why 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.”


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Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta

By Henepola Gunaratana

Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta

Why 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.


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