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.

The books I picked & why

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Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

By Sharon Salzberg,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Kristin Neff,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Brené Brown,

Book cover of 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.


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

By Stephen Guise,

Book cover of 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.”


Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta

By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana,

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in compassion, self-acceptance, and meditation?

5,888 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 15 books about compassion
Self-Acceptance Explore 34 books about self-acceptance
Meditation Explore 92 books about meditation

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Mindfulness in Plain English, and When Things Fall Apart if you like this list.