The best compassion books

13 authors have picked their favorite books about compassion and why they recommend each book.

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The Empathy Effect

By Liz Neporent, Helen Riess,

Book cover of The Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Differences

Of all of the competencies that repeatedly predict effective leadership and creating and maintaining of key relationships, is empathy. At the heart of any relationship and perhaps the only antidote to rampant narcissism in our society is empathy. As a prominent psychiatrist and scholar, Helen chronicles decades of research and explains the neural mechanisms that enable us to relate to others, build better relationships ad even inspire others. Her personal stories and those of patients and colleagues make the research come alive with compassion and meaning.


Who am I?

As a professor and scientist, using my Intentional Change Theory (ICT), I have studied sustained desired change of individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and countries since 1967. I have authored more than 200 articles and 9 books on leadership, competencies, emotional intelligence, competency development, coaching, neuroscience, and management education (including the international best-seller, Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee and the recent Helping People Change with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten). I run several Coursera MOOCs, including Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence which has over a million enrolled from 215 countries.


I wrote...

Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

By Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith, Ellen Van Oosten

Book cover of Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth

What is my book about?

Helping others is a good thing. Often, as a leader, manager, doctor, teacher, or coach, it's central to your job. But even the most well-intentioned efforts to help others can be undermined by a simple truth: We almost always focus on trying to "fix" people, correcting problems or filling the gaps between where they are and where we think they should be. Unfortunately, this doesn't work well, if at all, to inspire sustained learning or positive change.

Radical Acceptance

By Tara Brach,

Book cover of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha

Talking of the emotional dashboard, Tara Brach’s book on radical acceptance dives deeply into how we can better deal with the uncomfortable and threatening nature of much of our experience. “The way out of our cage begins with accepting absolutely everything about ourselves and our lives” she says. Really? Everything? Sorrow, shame, pain, inconvenient desire? Even accepting my non-acceptance? Yep: the lot. “Clearly recognising what is happening inside us, and regarding what we see with an open, kind and loving heart”: doesn’t that sound nice! Not wallowing or fighting or indulging; just telling ourselves the truth so we can deal with things on the basis of the full picture, not one occluded by denial. Highly recommended.


Who am I?

I’m a long-time meditator and student of Buddhism, and a retired but still active academic. I am a cognitive scientist specialising in the learnable aspects of real-world intelligence. My meditation ‘career’ started when I was an undergraduate studying psychology at Cambridge in the late 1960s, and has since taken me to America, India, and Japan, as well as to many retreats in the UK with visiting teachers from all the main branches of Buddhism. In my academic life, I have a doctorate in psycholinguistics from Oxford and have been Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Bristol and the Research Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning in Winchester. My books on the crossover between Eastern and Western Psychology include The Psychology of Awakening, Wholly HumanNoises from the Darkroom, and The Heart of Buddhism.


I wrote...

The Heart of Buddhism: Practical Wisdom for an Agitated World

By Guy Claxton,

Book cover of The Heart of Buddhism: Practical Wisdom for an Agitated World

What is my book about?

My Mom was a church-going Christian, so when she found out I was interested in Buddhism she was quite suspicious. (It was actually an escalation of the suspicion she had felt when I had switched my degree major from chemistry to psychology.) This book started life as my attempt to explain to people like my Mom why Buddhism wasn't scary and weird, but a sensible and positive approach to life and the attempt to get better at it. So it is a down-to-earth introduction, shorn of all the exotic trappings. No saffron robes, no tying your legs in knots, no reincarnation.

Into the Magic Shop

By James R. Doty,

Book cover of Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

We are born with so much untapped potential and Dr Doty’s techniques can really help us transform our lives through a series of visualisation and relaxation exercises. From humble and difficult beginnings Dr. Doty has had considerable achievements in his lifetime and has been so generous in sharing what he has learned over the years. Being a neurosurgeon, Dr. Doty has a wealth of experience of the inner workings of the mind. His self-development journey brought him to create amazing tools to increase confidence, positivity, and self-expression.


Who am I?

Dominique Antiglio is a Qualified Sophrologist, former Osteopath, and best-selling author based in London. Sophrology is a simple practice for mental well-being supporting everyone to tap into the unlimited resources of consciousness and become empowered in daily life. Having used Sophrology to overcome her own issues as a teenager, Dominique is passionate about how each one of us can find resilience and meaning through difficult times. She is a world-leading Sophrologist, founder of BeSophro, a leading Sophrology clinic in London and a Sophrology platform so everyone can learn to practice the method based on relaxation, breathing, visualisation and movement. Dominique gained her Master's in Caycedian Sophrology under Professor Caycedo.


I wrote...

The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect with the Calm and Happy You

By Dominique Antiglio,

Book cover of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology: Breathe and Connect with the Calm and Happy You

What is my book about?

In a world that can feel uncertain and overwhelming, this comprehensive guide on the practice of Sophrology will help you access resilience, confidence, and serenity in your daily life.

Sophrology is a mental well-being practice and self-development system already extremely popular in Europe, growing worldwide, and used successfully by people from all walks of life, including athletes, CEOs and mum-to-be. This simple method combines Western science and Eastern wisdom using relaxation, breathing, body awareness, and visualisation into a step-by-step practice which has the power to radically transform your life. Featuring practical tips, case studies, and 13 audio downloads, this leading book on Sophrology is a must-have self-help resource.

I See You

By Michael Genhart, Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (illustrator),

Book cover of I See You

Although this picture book has no words, its message of caring and compassion is clear and powerful. A small boy becomes aware of a homeless woman and simply, gently, acknowledges her. This innocent and kind book serves may serve as an opening to talk to children about homelessness. It also may help us all to remember not to ignore those less fortunate.


Who am I?

I have always loved children. I love tiny babies just discovering the world around them. I love elementary-age kids who are taking pride in developing new skills and learning how to deal with challenges. I love teens who are questioning and rethinking the things they thought they knew. I also love the science and practice of psychology (my profession for over thirty years) and, I love books. To date, I have written nine books. My audience ranges from preschool to high school and topics include strategies to understand and cope with problems as well as psychology as a topic of study.


I wrote...

Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

By Kendra J. Barrett, Jacqueline B. Toner, Claire A. B. Freeland, Violet Lemay (illustrator)

Book cover of Yes I Can!: A Girl and Her Wheelchair

What is my book about?

Carolyn is a happy, energetic, first-grader who just happens to be in a wheelchair. She’s excited to start her new year of school and make new friends. Yes I Can! follows Carolyn on a typical day at home, at school, and even on a field trip. She can do most of the things the other kids do, even if sometimes she has to do it a little differently.

Written by a physical therapist and two psychologists, this picture book includes a note to parents, caregivers, and teachers with more information about discussing disabilities with children and helping them to build positive empathic relationships.

True Love

By Thich Nhat Hanh,

Book cover of True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

To truly love another, we must first learn what true love is. A love that shifts and changes depending on circumstances, or depending on how someone else responds or behaves, is not built on the right foundation and is sure to cause suffering. But a love that emanates naturally from genuine presence, that asks nothing in return – cultivated through lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and freedom—is strong enough to weather any storm, and is perhaps the greatest gift any parent can offer.


Who am I?

As a child, I grew up with a mom and dad who, like just about every parent, did the best they could with the tools they had. Unknowingly, though, they also carried forward into their roles as parents their own unhealed wounds from the past. Luckily for me, my parents sought to become more self-aware as I grew from child to adult. In this book, we aim to share some of the tools and practices that can help parents find wholeness in themselves from the beginning of the parent-child relationship, and avoid many of the pitfalls that can cause unnecessary conflicts and suffering in family living.


I wrote...

Calm Mama, Happy Baby: The Simple, Intuitive Way to Tame Tears, Improve Sleep, and Help Your Family Thrive

By Jennifer Waldburger, Derek O'Neill,

Book cover of Calm Mama, Happy Baby: The Simple, Intuitive Way to Tame Tears, Improve Sleep, and Help Your Family Thrive

What is my book about?

Eye-opening neuroscientific research shows that your stress and unresolved psychological pain directly affect your child's mood, behavior, and health. The good news is that you can learn how to take responsibility for the energy you bring to the parent-child relationship – and allow your child to develop unburdened by a legacy of negative or destructive patterns.

Drawing on their experience in nearly two decades of working with parents in Hollywood and around the globe, Derek O'Neill and Jennifer Waldburger give parents practical tools for finding your center as a parent and a person, regardless of what is happening with your child. Calm Mama, Happy Baby helps you parent intuitively, with confidence.

Self-Compassion

By Kristin Neff,

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

This is not, strictly speaking, a book about personal finance. But for women who beat themselves up emotionally about the state of their finances, Self-Compassion is truly powerful. Blending exercises, research insights, and well-told stories, Neff helps readers notice and transform how they treat themselves when it comes to touchy subjects like money. Finances can be an emotional minefield, but Neff’s self-compassion practices can help anyone approach the topic from a place of greater calm—thereby increasing their chance of achieving positive change. I use Neff’s teachings in my daily life and my work, and I have recommended this book to clients, friends, and family members with equal success.


Who am I?

I am a writer and financial wellness coach, and I am on a mission to help women like you become more confident and capable with money. Previously, I was an award-winning business and financial journalist with The New York Times, Business Week, and CNBC, and I have a graduate business degree from a top university. Even with all that, though, it took me years to build healthy personal financial habits and start using my money to achieve my life goals—so I understand the pain of financial stress and self-blame. I wrote my book to help you find an easier path to financial wellness and empowerment.


I wrote...

You Are Worthy: Change Your Money Mindset, Build Your Wealth, and Fund Your Future

By Kelley Holland,

Book cover of You Are Worthy: Change Your Money Mindset, Build Your Wealth, and Fund Your Future

What is my book about?

Many women live in silence about their finances, holding anxiety and fear inside. Many want to change, but don’t know how to even start. In You Are Worthy, I go to the heart of your money issues; shining a light on problem areas, providing solutions, and instilling confidence and skills to help you achieve financial well-being. 

You Are Worthy takes you step by step through the process of taking charge financially, weaving in the voices of dozens of real women. You will shed outdated beliefs; you will be inspired to learn; and you will learn to create an integrated financial plan to achieve your goals. You will come away with greater confidence, clarity, and hope, not just about money but about your whole life.

Loving-Kindness in Plain English

By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana,

Book cover of Loving-Kindness in Plain English: The Practice of Metta

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.

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.

Mindful Compassion

By Paul Gilbert, Choden,

Book cover of Mindful Compassion: How the Science of Compassion Can Help You Understand Your Emotions, Live in the Present, and Connect Deeply with Othe

This was another tough choice as Paul is a prolific writer, one of the earliest researchers and writers on the importance of compassion in healing. In this book, Paul teams up with a former Buddhist monk, Choden, to skillfully blend evolutionary and Buddhist psychology. Repeatedly, we are shown how compassion can be a powerful motivational force bringing about real, lasting change to end toxic self-criticism, heal trauma and shame, help us feel worthy and loveable, and be kinder to ourselves and others.  


Who am I?

I am someone whose trauma history came out of the blue…while living in a yoga ashram, meditating, and training for triathlons. After almost seven years of ashram life I left, went to graduate school, and explored trauma, attachment, and wisdom traditions in inpatient and outpatient hospital settings, my private practice, and beyond.  I amassed skills sets in trauma treatment (as a supervisor under the guidance of Bessel van der Kolk and Janina Fisher), attachment theory (with Daniel Brown, PhD), compassion (Compassion Focused Therapy & Mindful Self-Compassion), body therapy (as a trainer for Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, practitioner in LifeForce Yoga and Self-Awakening Yoga), and Internal Family Systems.


I wrote...

Becoming Safely Embodied: A Guide to Organize Your Mind, Body and Heart to Feel Secure in the World

By Deirdre Fay,

Book cover of Becoming Safely Embodied: A Guide to Organize Your Mind, Body and Heart to Feel Secure in the World

What is my book about?

It’s the essence of skills used with groups in person and online over the past twenty-five years; as Janina Fisher, PhD said, using the BSE skills “people got better faster.”  Whether you are healing from abandonment issues or from pain or from grief or other trauma/attachment wounding—or whether you are helping someone else to heal—Becoming Safely Embodied is your map and guidebook to finally feeling at home in your internal world, cultivating a body, mind & heart that’s a safe place for rest, reflection, and wellbeing giving you the life you want to live, instead of living in the life your history catapults you into. I can’t wait to share it with you!

The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD

By Kimberley Quinlan,

Book cover of The Self-Compassion Workbook for OCD: Lean Into Your Fear, Manage Difficult Emotions, and Focus on Recovery

If you’re looking for an insightful step-by-step action plan to help overcome OCD or anxiety disorder and all the unwanted struggles that come with them, this is the book to read. Kimberely is extremely knowledgeable in this space and what this book offers that many don’t, are actionable tools and techniques that you can implement straight away. 


Who am I?

A self-confessed anxiety disorder nerd, I have a deeper level of understanding beyond the textbooks and training. I grew up in Manchester, UK, and was once diagnosed with crippling anxiety; suffering from panic attacks, agoraphobia, health anxiety, and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), as well as intrusive thoughts, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and all the other fun stuff that comes with a nasty anxiety condition. I’m now a qualified psychotherapist and it is my mission to help as many people as I can recover from anxiety disorder and live happy, healthy lives.


I wrote...

Untangle Your Anxiety: A Guide To Overcoming An Anxiety Disorder By Two People Who Have Been Through It

By Joshua Fletcher, Dean Stott,

Book cover of Untangle Your Anxiety: A Guide To Overcoming An Anxiety Disorder By Two People Who Have Been Through It

What is my book about?

Do you struggle to understand your anxiety? Are your days often consumed by worries that have no clear answers? Perhaps you don't feel like your usual self? Untangle Your Anxiety was written by psychotherapist and best-selling author, Joshua Fletcher (@anxietyjosh), and the owner of Instagram's largest anxiety community, Dean Stott (@DLCanxiety), to help you overcome excessive anxiety. Having both been diagnosed in the past with anxiety disorders, then successfully overcoming them, Josh and Dean have written this honest and powerful self-help book as a reassuring aid in your recovery.

Lovingkindness

By Sharon Salzberg,

Book cover of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

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.


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.

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