What Are The Best Books On Life And Meaning You Should Have A Copy Of?

On my desk, there are a few stacks of books that surpass the kindle test. While I am a huge believer in the beauty of physical books, I also put an equal amount on my tablet. But beyond the bookshelves and the kindle — among the thousands of books my husband and I read — there are a few books that creep past the stacks and find a special space on my desk.

What does it take to pass this test, and become a beloved book, a treasure?

And what books do I recommend more than any other?

There are a couple stacks of books, depending on the nature of the topic, that I think are relevant for people to read. They speak to the human condition, to what it means to have a mind and live a life, and they aren’t how-to books.

Business books only take you so far. What then? What do you make of life?

For me, it’s less about knowing the right answer at the right time (as most business advice books are apt to do), but rather, finding solace and finding my own way when I feel lost. Below are the books I have on my desk as my personal bible — there to open and reference, time and time again, to reassure me, to remind me of the bigger picture.

These are books that talk about the human condition, the bigger picture to which we’re all a part, the ideas of finding meaning, purpose, identity, and dealing with ourselves — as we are, right here and right now. I read them, highlight them, dog-ear them, note in them, and then pass them along. These books are treasured as physical beings, markers for my life, wayfinders for my journey into my own mind. I’ve included a few quotes from each that carry weight for me:

1. When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chödrön

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.

“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

2. Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

3. Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

4. Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.”

“Perhaps the most “spiritual” thing any of us can do is simply to look through our own eyes, see with eyes of wholeness, and act with integrity and kindness.”

“Life on earth is a whole, yet it expresses itself in unique time-bound bodies, microscopic or visible, plant or animal, extinct or living. So there can be no one place to be. There can be no one way to be, no one way to practice, no one way to learn, no one way to love, no one way to grow or to heal, no one way to live, no one way to feel, no one thing to know or be known. The particulars count.”

5. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

“The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”

“So the fact that I’m me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay in order to be independent.”

6. The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer

“When a problem is disturbing you, don’t ask, “What should I do about it?” Ask, “What part of me is being disturbed by this?”

There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it.

“Only you can take inner freedom away from yourself, or give it to yourself. Nobody else can.”

“We are constantly trying to hold it all together. If you really want to see why you do things, then don’t do them and see what happens.”

7. The Bible —

While there are a lot of lines (or chapters) you may or may not agree with, and you might not be involved in the religion associated with the Bible, there’s something humbling about reading poetry and Psalms from thousands of years ago, and hearing the echo of humanity beat again in today’s world.

We are here.

8. A Return To Love, by Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


What would you add to this list? What books have changed your life, your mind, or your perspective?


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