The best books that really make you think about purpose and meaning

Why am I passionate about this?

Since 2014 I have studied, researched, and written about the concepts of meaning and purpose. In 2016, I published a book entitled The Purpose Effect dedicated solely to the topic. In Work-Life Bloom, two of the key work-life factors that make up the accompanying model focus on meaning and purpose. I am known for urging people to declare their purpose, writing it down, and sharing it far and wide. My declaration is as follows: “We’re not here to see through each other; we’re here to see each other through.”

I wrote...

Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes

By Dan Pontefract,

Book cover of Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes

What is my book about?

Just as a flower needs the right mix of sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow and thrive, team members need the right mix of work-life factors to create a fulfilling and harmonious existence. 

Dan Pontefract argues that there really is no such thing as work-life balance: our rigid attempts to achieve it don't reflect current realities and are leading us to further burnout, stress, and unhappiness. Pontefract introduces six key work-factors – trust, belonging, feeling valued, purpose, strategy, and norms and six life-factors relationships, skills, well-being, meaning, agency, and respect essential for creating an integrated work-life ecosystem. Discover if you are blooming, budding, stunted, or needing renewal through the book's simple yet practical Work-Life Bloom model.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies

Dan Pontefract Why did I love this book?

Ranjay Gulati delves—dare I say—deeply into the significance of purpose-driven organizations in today's business landscape.

The book emphasizes how cultivating a strong, authentic purpose can lead to exceptional performance and long-term success.

What I loved is that Gulati highlights that purpose is not just a tagline but rather a dynamic, guiding force that drives innovation, collaboration, and resilience. He shows how it can help decision-making.

Gulati shares several compelling case studies and practical tools that helped me affirm my position on the concept of organizational purpose. If you’re passionate about transformative leadership, Deep Purpose will inspire you to create meaningful impact in your organization.

By Ranjay Gulati,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'If you want to be inspired to build more sustainable organizations, Deep Purpose should be your next read' Arianna Huffington, Founder & CEO, Thrive Global

'Insightful, practical, and timely' Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

'Deep Purpose points to the conversations we must have right now about how to redefine the role of business in society, restore trust, and enhance our license to operate ... Highly recommended' Paul Polman, former CEO, Unilever


Distinguished Harvard Business School professor Ranjay Gulati takes readers inside some of the world's most…

Book cover of When Breath Becomes Air

Dan Pontefract Why did I love this book?

This is a poignant memoir by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon confronted with terminal lung cancer.

The book offers a profound, intimate look at how Kalanithi grapples with his own mortality and the fragility of life, something I needed at a particular low point in my life.

His eloquent prose reveals his personal journey to understand what truly matters, ultimately finding purpose in his work, relationships, and the pursuit of knowledge. By sharing his unique perspective on life, love, and death, When Breath Becomes Air served as a powerful reminder to me to cherish every moment and prioritize what truly gives life (and work) meaning.

By Paul Kalanithi,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked When Breath Becomes Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Rattling. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.' Atul Gawande, bestselling author of Being Mortal

What makes life worth living in the face of death?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity - the brain - and…

Book cover of The Power Of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward

Dan Pontefract Why did I love this book?

Daniel Pink provides a unique perspective on finding meaning and purpose in life by embracing the transformative potential of regret.

As you explore your sense of meaning and purpose, this book offers valuable insights into how reflecting on past experiences and learning from mistakes can enrich your life's journey. It made me rethink past so-called regrets, and whether they might have positively or negatively influenced my sense of meaning.

Through thorough primary research and compelling stories, Pink demonstrates how regret can inspire personal growth, self-improvement, and a clearer understanding of your life's direction. The book encourages you to use regret as a powerful resource, which only can help your sense of meaning and purpose.

By Daniel H Pink,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Power Of Regret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The world needs this book.” —Brené Brown, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of Dare to Lead and Atlas of the Heart

An instant New York Times bestseller

As featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post

Named a Best Book of 2022 by NPR and Financial Times

From the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of When and Drive, a new book about the transforming power of our most misunderstood yet potentially most valuable emotion: regret.

Everybody has regrets, Daniel H. Pink explains in The Power of Regret. They’re a universal and healthy part of being human. And…

Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Dan Pontefract Why did I love this book?

This book is a profound exploration of the human quest for meaning and purpose. I read it once every year or two.

I am continually seeking insights into work and life so this book continues to offer invaluable lessons derived from Frankl's experiences as a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist. Frankl posits that life's meaning is not given but rather must be discovered through our choices and actions. That message hits me every time.

Frankl emphasizes the importance of finding purpose even in the face of immense adversity. I find it to be a timeless piece of work that continues to help me lead myself to greater fulfillment and resilience.

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

41 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.

Book cover of The Last Lecture

Dan Pontefract Why did I love this book?

Randy Pausch demonstrates the power of determination and resilience in finding meaning and purpose in work and life.

Through Pausch's journey of becoming a Disney Imagineer—despite his initial setbacks—he showcases the importance of pursuing one's passions and living with intention. Pausch taught me to be dissatisfied with the status quo when it comes to building on your purpose. We must push for our purpose in both work and life.

His experiences serve as a vivid example of how to align personal values with one's professional life, thus helping to foster a sense of purpose. Pausch offers a concrete roadmap to overcome obstacles and pursue their passions, ultimately leading to more fulfilling and purposeful lives.

By Randy Pausch, Jeffrey Zaslow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A lot of professors give talks titled The Last Lecture. Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didnt have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave, Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,…

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Book cover of This Animal Body

Meredith Walters

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Neuroscience PhD student Frankie Conner has finally gotten her life together—she’s determined to discover the cause of her depression and find a cure for herself and everyone like her. But the first day of her program, she meets a group of talking animals who have an urgent message they refuse to share. And while the animals may not have Frankie’s exalted human brain, they know things she doesn’t, like what happened before she was adopted.

To prove she’s sane, Frankie investigates her forgotten past and conducts clandestine experiments. But just when she uncovers the truth, she has to make an impossible choice: betray the animals she’s fallen in love with—or give up her last chance at success and everything she thought she knew.

By Meredith Walters,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Frankie Conner, first-year graduate student at UC Berkeley, is finally getting her life together. After multiple failures and several false starts, she's found her calling: become a neuroscientist, discover the cause of her depression and anxiety, and hopefully find a cure for herself and everyone like her.

But her first day of the program, Frankie meets a mysterious group of talking animals who claim to have an urgent message for her. The problem is, they're not willing to share it. Not yet. Not until she's ready.

While Frankie's new friends may not have her highly evolved, state-of-the-art, exalted human brain,…

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