The best books for finding your own philosophy of life

Who am I?

I’m drawn to the intersection of psychology, philosophy and pragmatism — a dynamic that can be found in the books I write, the conversations I enjoy, and the ways I choose to spend my down time. By getting in touch with my personal psychology (influenced by my brain chemistry, temperament and upbringing) and studying various philosophies (from the Stoics to Alain de Botton), I have begun to find my own truth and formulate my own best practices in life. I don’t always nail it — not by a long shot — but that’s why it’s called a practice. There are so many different ways to live a contented life. It can be awfully rewarding to locate your own.

I wrote...

Relax It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids about Religion When You're Not Religious

By Wendy Thomas Russell,

Book cover of Relax It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids about Religion When You're Not Religious

What is my book about?

A rapidly growing demographic cohort in America, non-religious and progressively religious parents are at the forefront of a major and unprecedented cultural shift. Unable to fall back on what they were taught as children, many of these parents are struggling  or simply failing  to address issues of God, religion, and faith with their children in ways that promote honesty, curiosity, kindness, and independence.

The author sifts through hard data  including the results of a survey of 1,000 secular parents  and delivers gentle but straightforward advice to atheists, agnostics, humanists and open-minded believers. With a thoughtful voice infused with humor, Russell seamlessly merges scientific thought, scholarly research and everyday experience with respect for a full range of ways to view the world.

The books I picked & why

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The Courage to Be Disliked

By Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga,

Book cover of The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness

Why this book?

The Courage to be Disliked is an homage to Alfred Adler, the founder of individual psychology, and offers lessons about attaining true happiness. Written as a conversation between a wise old man and a struggling young man, the book is in translation from Japanese and may come across as stilted or awkward at times. Yet profound wisdom abounds. Those brought up as people-pleasers will find it particularly fascinating. Just be sure to grab your highlighter; you’ll need it.

The Emperor's Handbook

By Marcus Aurelius, David Hicks, C. Scot Hicks

Book cover of The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations

Why this book?

I often joke that Marcus Aurelius is my brother from another mother. Sure, he was a Roman emperor who, if he’d lived, would be 1,900 years old this year, but the things he wrote in Meditations — his book on Stoic philosophy written for himself between 170 and 180 CE — are perfectly on point. I feel like he’s writing from inside my head, struggling with the same challenges I do. Of course, Aurelius is not so much like me as much as he’s like every human on the planet; he just happened to think and express himself in a direct, accessible way. His “epithets” – guiding principles for how he lived his life – inspired me to come up with my own epithets. Maybe they’ll do the same for you.

Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Book cover of Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High

Why this book?

This is the most “practical” book on my list and one of the most important. Most of the stresses we face in life come down to conflicts with the most important people in our lives — our family, friends, and colleagues. And when we avoid dealing with those conflicts, we sow the seeds of resentment, anxiety, and hard feelings. Unfortunately, precious few of us have been schooled in how to communicate effectively and kindly in high-stakes situations. Not only does this book lay out the “devices” people employ in such conversations, but it inspires readers to keep in mind what we truly want — for ourselves, other people, and our relationships. Read it. Study it. Do it.

Buddhism Plain and Simple

By Steve Hagen,

Book cover of Buddhism Plain and Simple: The Practice of Being Aware Right Now, Every Day

Why this book?

This was the first book I ever read that changed my life. It came along at a time when I felt I was missing something. I didn’t know a lot about Buddhism at the time, and therefore didn’t recognize that what I was feeling was a universal phenomenon and that the Noble Eightfold Path was a secular template for contentment. I have read many other Buddhist books since then, but none of them have spoken to me like this one did. I have a notebook that contains entire passages of Buddhism Plain and Simple, and regularly refer back to those passages today.

The School of Life

By The School of Life,

Book cover of The School of Life: An Emotional Education

Why this book?

Since discovering Religion for Atheists, while researching my first book, I have loved me some Alain de Botton, but I recommend this one because I think it offers the most in terms of practical wisdom across a host of categories. Alain has spent his life doing for others what I spend a lot of time doing for myself: Trying to discover universal truths that lead to a greater enjoyment of life without having to resort to religious dogma or magical thinking. He explains plainly how to love life for what it offers, wholly accept what it does not, and understand that we all, truly, are in this together.

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