When things fall apart, which they inevitably do at one point or another, it's human nature to search for some solid ground. Death, illness, job loss, the loss of a romantic relationship, or even a close friendship — it can all send the mind into a tailspin. In these tough situations, all the brain wants to do is make sense of everything, when often, there is no sense to be made. Things just... happen. And sometimes, what we need most in those moments is comfort.
For me, comfort and solid ground have always come in the form of words on a page. A few years ago I went through a particularly bad breakup, and in the wake of it I asked the questions most of us ask when experiencing loss: What could I have done better? How can I stay strong? How do I feel normal again? These questions can be applied to anything — they are the questions people ask when they want to feel better but can't.
During this time, my well-meaning friends suggested I read various self-help books. I'm a reader, so I read them all. For about a summer, this list of recommended nonfiction became my bedtime reading. Some of the books, particularly the ones with "breakup" in the title, were crap, but hilarious crap that made me laugh nevertheless. Others contained just the insights I needed.
Since I've weeded through so many of them, I'm passing on a list of nine that I found worthy of keeping on my shelves. The advice in them was worth holding onto, and, sometimes, it's nice to have a wise voice at your fingertips.
If you want to become less reactive and more loving...
Read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Ruiz's points are simple, direct, and useful: be impeccable with your word, don't take things personally, don't make assumptions, and always do your best. The book inspired me to question our culture's tendency to react from a place of fear rather than act from a place of love. According to Ruiz, when we are acting from that love-centric place, we become less reactive to situations that simply don't matter in the grand scheme, and we will become more aligned with our true path. That sounds pretty good to me.
If you want to be at peace with anything difficult...
Read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, Ph.D
Brach says that feeling the negative feelings about an unfair situation is what we need to do to finally be at peace. For some people, the natural tendency is to resist emotion, so the pages come with guided meditations that help you actually get down to this cathartic "feeling of the feelings" business. For me this book was a winner because of Brach's writing — she is very open about her own struggles to be at peace with several hardships, and that helps the reader to open up, too.
If you want to lose your fear of change...
Read Taking the Leap by Pema Chödrön
In the voice of a wise grandmother, Chödrön teaches her readers how to live with abandon. She inspires us to look closely at our habits and our environments and change what isn't working. Because at the end of your life — which she does encourage you to think about in a not-at-all-morbid way — you don't want to say that fear of change held you back, right?
If you want to learn about your romantic attachment style...
Read Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller
Unfortunately no one had a perfect childhood, but according to this book, that's OK! As Levine and Heller explain, once you know your attachment style (it's either secure, anxious, or avoidant), you can seek out an appropriate partner and communicate your needs to him or her in simple language. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to improve her relationships.
If you want to learn how to deal with your attachment style...
Read Wired for Love by Stan Tatkin
This is the book to buy if you are in a budding relationship. With clearly written explanations of each attachment style (presented as "anchor, island, or wave" in this book), Tatkin guides you to create a relationship "bubble" or safe zone that works for you and your partner. Hint: Communication is key.
If you want to learn why certain things really bother you...
Read The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
Singer encourages his readers to face their "thorns," i.e. those parts of their life that they don't want to face. The reason for this? He is convinced that these points of discomfort actually guide our souls toward what they need most. Next time you want to say "don't go there" to protect yourself from a memory, a feeling, or a familiar anxiety, pick up this book instead.
If you want to be comforted by someone with faith despite the odds...
Read Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
Lamott discusses her journey — from alcoholism to single motherhood, to navigating a friend's death via euthanasia, to everything in between — in this unique collection of essays. Through it all she discusses her faith in a higher power, but never in a preachy way. She is an in-your-face writer, revealing truth after truth, but in an uplifting (never depressing) manner. In fact, the book feels like a giant hug despite the harrowing journeys the author has been on.
If you want to learn how to deal with stress...
Read Positive Energy by Judith Orloff, M.D.
If you are a little on the earth-mother side, this book might be just the ticket. With medical knowledge only an M.D. can possess, plus mediation expertise, Orloff guides her readers to use their intuition to eschew the stress-causing people, foods, and environments that may be holding them back from living their best life.
If you want to feel out your next career/life move...
Read The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Life Goals by Daniele Laporte
I brought this book with me on a plane during a career transition and couldn't put it down. No, seriously. Laporte's book is a manual-slash-workbook for anyone doing some soul searching. There blank lists, inspirational stories, and fun exercises to unlock your intuition, so that you can start living the life you really want.