The best books on happiness that will improve your life

Who am I?

In my view, there is no bigger quest than to understand how to live a long and fulfilled life. Most of my professional life has focused on running neuroscience experiments in my academic laboratory and developing technologies for companies I have started to understand and increase happiness. I have devoted 20 years to this quest and I continue to work to build a happier and healthier world. I am one of the most cited scientists in this area and also regularly communicate to the general public through TED talks, books, magazine articles, and public lectures.    


I wrote...

Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness

By Paul J. Zak,

Book cover of Immersion: The Science of the Extraordinary and the Source of Happiness

What is my book about?

No one has ever raved about a boring movie, a bland customer service experience, or a sleep-inducing class. Yet, most designers of experiences fail to create the extraordinary because until very recently, there was no way to measure what people’s brains really love. Immersion offers a framework readers can apply to transform the ordinary to extraordinary. Based on 20 years of neuroscience research from his lab and innumerable uses by companies of the Immersion platform, Dr. Paul J. Zak explains why brains crave the extraordinary and shows readers exactly how to create amazing experiences for customers, prospects, employees, audiences, and learners. Creating the extraordinary used to be extraordinarily hard, but Immersion shows you how to wow people every time and create more happiness in the world.  

The books I picked & why

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Stumbling on Happiness

By Daniel Gilbert,

Book cover of Stumbling on Happiness

Why this book?

This book argues that humans do not know what makes them happy because we inaccurately perceive our unconscious emotional states. Gilbert makes the case that we consistently habituate to our circumstances and our happiness bounces around a genetically-drive set point. Over our lives, we stumble toward accepting that to thrive, we must seek out small moments of wonder and surprise. This book directly inspired my research on the neuroscience of happiness. My research extended Gilbert's book by showing that peak immersion experiences not only make us happy in the moment, but can train our brains to experience greater happiness throughout our lives.  

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…

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

By Jonathan Haidt,

Book cover of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

Why this book?

This book helped me understand how philosophical traditions I had read about also were connected to scientifically validated approaches to living a happier life. It is very well-written, not too long, and helped me see how these two strands of scholarship were useful to me. There are ways to be happier, and many of the ways to do this are found in the writings of Aristotle and the Stoic philosophers.  

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

By Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world's philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims-like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn't kill you makes you stronger-can enrich and even transform our lives.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

By Eric Weiner,

Book cover of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Why this book?

The USA is unique in that our Declaration of Independence identifies the happiness of citizens as a goal when organizing the country. The Geography of Bliss asks why all countries are not similarly organized. This book is a fun romp as the author visits different countries that have radically different happiness levels and seeks to find out why. A key finding from the book is that a rich cultural life increases happiness. This is consistent with my research that has shown its connections to, and experiences with, other people that account for most differences in happiness. This book made me think about what communities can do to foster social connections that drive up happiness levels. 

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World

By Eric Weiner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What makes a nation happy? Is one country's sense of happiness the same as another's? In the last two decades, psychologists and economists have learned a lot about who's happy and who isn't. The Dutch are, the Romanians aren't, and Americans are somewhere in between...

After years of going to the world's least happy countries, Eric Weiner, a veteran foreign correspondent, decided to travel and evaluate each country's different sense of happiness and discover the nation that seemed happiest of all.

*He discovers the relationship between money and happiness in tiny and extremely wealthy Qatar (and it's not a good…


Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way

By Dan Buettner,

Book cover of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way

Why this book?

This book asks if those who live the longest are also the happiest. The short answer is sometimes...and that is what makes this book interesting. Part travelog, part science, this book connects happiness to the quality and length of life and argues that connections to others and a rich social life are what allow people to flourish with long and happy lives. I was surprised by the contribution of diet and exercise to one's happiness and while I'm already committed to a healthy diet and consistent exercise, these findings lead me to include these factors in my own research on happiness. One mystery the book does not solve (but my research has contributed to), is why those who are old tend to be quite happy even when they have lost spouses, friends, and children. The causation appears to be bidirectional between the biological basis for happiness and life circumstances. 

Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way

By Dan Buettner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What makes us happy? It's not wealth, youth, beauty, or intelligence, says Dan Buettner. In fact, most of us have the keys within our grasp. Circling the globe to study the world's happiest populations, Buettner has spotted several common principles that can unlock the doors to true contentment with our lives. Working with leading researchers, Buettner identifies the happiest region on each of four continents. He explores why these populations say they are happier than anyone else, and what they can teach the rest of us about finding contentment. His conclusions debunk some commonly believed myths: Are people who have…


Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

By Matthieu Ricard,

Book cover of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

Why this book?

I like and dislike this book! Ricard is a scientist and a Buddhist monk, and is reported to be the happiest man on earth. I know, respect, and like Ricard, and this book harkens back to the Stoics by suggesting that moderation is the key to happiness. My research says yes and no to this.  Ricard is correct that spending too much time worrying about the past or future will drag down one's happiness. My research, and that of many others, have shown the positive effect of meditation on happiness and here Ricard is masterful in explaining how and why meditation is important. Calmness and self-insight are very important to avoiding depression and setting the conditions for happiness, but, as Ricard notes, we must be in communities of other people to truly thrive. A little wildness is awesome, go for it!

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill

By Matthieu Ricard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Combining science and spirit, a cell biologist turned Buddhist monk blends new scientific research with traditional Western philosophy to reveal how readily attainable happiness is.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in happiness, travel, and Buddhism?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about happiness, travel, and Buddhism.

Happiness Explore 50 books about happiness
Travel Explore 169 books about travel
Buddhism Explore 188 books about Buddhism

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Adulting, The Oxford Companion to the Mind, and The Human Brain Coloring Book if you like this list.