Let’s be honest: not all of us jumped feet-first into the new year with a sigh of relief and a smile, just grateful that 2016 was finally, finally over. In fact, I’d bet that a lot of us (and yeah, OK, I might be projecting a little here) greeted 2017 with a weary groan and some major eye rolling — and while I’ll be the first to tell you that your chagrin is totally justified, I’ll also be the first to admit when I myself need a little help finding a more positive attitude about life. For me, between all the half-hearted resolutions I’ve already broken and the fact that starting this year off with a bang just seems plain exhausting, now is the perfect time to check out some of these books that will help you find a more positive outlook.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: reading a stack of cheery self-help books about happiness and gratitude sounds about as fun as running a 10K in those heels you kicked off the minute the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve. And I totally hear you. Which is why there is not a single book on this list that will knock you out with forced joie de vivre — I promise. Instead, the books on this list keep it real, offer some very refreshing sass and sarcasm, are totally relatable, and will actually give you some helpful tips for shaking off the dust of last year and powering yourself forward — in positivity and light. (And sass, when needed.)
1‘The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World’ by Pema Chödrön
Bestselling author and American-Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön is a writer I look to whenever I need a little perspective, a little positivity, and a little help accepting life as it comes to me — and of her many books The Wisdom of No Escape: How to Love Yourself and Your World is one of my absolute favorites. The Wisdom of No Escape is all about finding stillness wherever you are in the present moment — good or bad, not trying to change suffering but learning to walk through it, embracing pain and joy in equal measure and learning important lessons from both, and experiencing the ups and downs of the world with an open heart. You can’t really ask for much more than that in one little book.
2‘Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed’ by Glennon Doyle Melton
If you haven’t yet discovered author and blogger extraordinaire Glennon Doyle Melton, then the time to pick up one of her bestselling books is definitely long-overdue. Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed is a collection of essays and personal anecdotes about life and love, womanhood and friendship, motherhood and marriage, humor and forgiveness, and becoming the beautifully imperfect warriors of our own lives. Carry On, Warrior reads like a conversation with your best friends, and Doyle is just hilarious; willing to share the mishaps and missteps that fill her own life, as well as the moments of grace.
3‘Sorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today’ by Tracy Dimond
Currently only available in PDF via the Ink Press Productions website (the print chapbook is sold out — because yeah, it was that good) Tracy Dimond’s poetry in Sorry I Wrote So Many Sad Poems Today might just be the exact dose of dark humor, wit, and sincerity you need to shake off the negativity of 2016 and reconnect with your own sense of humor as you move forward into the new year. You’ve heard about the power of positive thinking, right? Well Dimond’s poetry is all about the power of cultivating a sense of humor, perspective, and even optimism about your own negative thinking — refreshing and oh-so-relatable.
4‘52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy’ by Moorea Seal
Forget reading a book in order to find a more positive outlook — grab that metaphorical bull by the horns and just write your own. Nobody loves a good list more than I do, and Moorea Seal’s beautifully bound, hardcover journal is the perfect place to start listing your way to happiness. 52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy is the book you need to reset your attitude as this new year begins, while discovering all the tiny bits of happiness already present in your own life. The journal offers 52 listing prompts — one for every week of the year — that’ll have you bursting with joy in no time. Plus there is a picture of sprinkled donuts. Nobody can be sad looking at sprinkles. Especially when they're on donuts.
5‘The Fran Lebowitz Reader’ by Fran Lebowitz
I’ll be honest — sometimes when I’m feeling especially low about the future, all the books in the world about happiness, acceptance, and positive thinking just aren’t going to do a whole lot for me. Sometimes what I really need is a healthy dose of bemused,disgruntled sarcasm. And that’s when I turn to Fran Lebowitz. The Fran Lebowitz Reader is a collection of the notoriously sarcastic (and witty, sharp, sassy, hilarious) author’s essays about modern, and in particular urban, life. Although first published over 20 years ago, Lebowitz and her unparalleled sense of humor about people and the absurd, foolish things we do are as relevant and relatable today as they were when she first put pen to page.
6‘Hope for the Flowers’ by Trina Paulus
Trina Paulus’s Hope for the Flowers — written way back in 1972, long before children’s books for adults had their own hashtag — is one of my all-time favorites. Hope for the Flowers tells the story of two caterpillars named Yellow and Stripe (because one is yellow and the other is striped) who fight their way to the top of the caterpillar ladder, (I assume you’re following the metaphor here) thoughtlessly stepping on all their fellow caterpillar friends as they go, only to realize that life at "the top" isn't all it's cracked up to be, and then must learn to think about life and success a little differently. A healthy reminder for everyone.
7‘Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian’ by Howard Zinn
This was the first book I read after election day, and it was exactly what I needed to put on my big girl pants and move forward. Historian and radical truth teller Howard Zinn dedicated his life to activism, education, and telling the kinds of comprehensive histories we don’t often read in our textbooks. Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian is a collection of Zinn’s essays on activism and social change, detailing how crucial it is that we never give up our belief in the inherent goodness of the human spirit, nor should we quit our relentless pursuit of justice. As a writer who witnessed a lifetime of history, and studied decades more, Zinn’s is definitely a voice that’ll put the events of your own life into perspective.
8‘Man's Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl
As the survivor of four different Holocaust concentration camps, where he lost his entire family, if psychiatrist and author Viktor Frankl can find beauty and positivity, just about anyone can. His memoir, Man's Search for Meaning, is the kind of book that stays with you long after you’ve turned the last page,illuminating Frankl’s belief that while suffering is an unavoidable fact of life, and that fighting it will only lead to more suffering, meeting suffering with hope, purpose, and acceptance is the key to cultivating resilience and strength. This book beautiful, while painful, and will teach you about the kind of outlook that'll help get you through anything.
9‘Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar’ by Cheryl Strayed
This is my go-to book for everything: whenever I need a little advice on love, loss, life, death, growing pains, loneliness, anger, regret, forgiveness, sex, hope, confusion, family, friends — and on, and on, and on. Filled with new and previously-published advice columns written by my favorite Yoda-like writer Cheryl Strayed. Tiny, Beautiful Things is filled with Strayed’s heartfelt, straightforward, sometimes-funny perspectives on any little (or big) thing you could ever want perspective on. I have never walked away from a Strayed column, book, article, interview, or podcast without feeling about a million times better than I did before.
10‘Rising Strong’ by Brené Brown
This past year — and especially this past fall — was marked by a lot of fear: fear of a failing political process, fear of our neighbors, fear of those who are supposed to be leading our country, fear of the numerous disheartening events taking place in the rest of the world, fear for our collapsing environment, and just a general fear for our own futures and the futures of those we love. Brené Brown’s Rising Strong is all about moving past fear: allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, trying for something with unrelenting hope, accepting what comes if that which we aimed for failed, and rising from failure and defeat stronger than ever. This book is about owning the truths of your life, whatever those truths may be, finding the meaning in them, and pushing forward into a more empowered, less fearful future.
11'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding
Last, but certainly not least on this list, if you can read Bridget Jones’s Diary without discovering a renewed sense of humor, acceptance, and self-confidence in your own life, then there might be no hope for you (just kidding — try reading the sequel too. Then we’ll talk.) Bridget Jones’s Diary takes readers on Bridget’s day-to-day, folly-filled journey of weight loss and weight gain, cutting down on alcohol and cigarettes, (or, not so much) and struggle to become the best Bridget Jones she can be (even though, if you ask me, she’s already totally there.) Every gal needs a BFF like Bridget Jones to bring a little perspective into their life,but if you’re short a Bridget-like bestie, reading this book is the next best thing.