Books That Changed Me

I make no secret of my sometimes-sub-par mental health (c’mon brain, get it together), and whilst reading has been a real difficulty sometimes as part of that, I have managed to flail away my demons for long enough to read a few cracking books over the years. I could talk forever about powerful works of fiction that have shaped me since I first started to read, but instead I’ve decided to select three books which are much more specific to the vast field of happiness, and how to find it.

Mindfulness- a Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman

Described on the cover as ‘the life-changing bestseller’, put to proper use and practical application, it can really live up to these glowing credentials. I must confess, I have a slightly love-hate relationship with this choice. Largely due to being pestered into reading it for months by my mindfulness-convert dad, and feeling slightly guilty for never actually doing so. I’m so glad he did. The eight week course the book takes you through gives you real, practical tools, to change your mindset. Like every other book with as grand a promise as this one makes, the act of simply reading it will do very little. But practical application of the advice it gives, and real, honest attempts to try and integrate this advice into your daily life, gave me, personally, a perspective on life I could never have hoped to achieve elsewhere. The most notably powerful element of this book for me, was one of the meditations entitled ‘Exploring difficulty’. Guided by the CD, I had what I can only describe as some kind of mini-epiphany that would be pointless in me trying to explain to you if you haven’t tried it.

It's All Absolutely Fine- Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead, by Ruby Elliot (Rubyetc)

Before I start - follow rubyetc on Twitter. She’s witty and fab. I bought her book on a complete whim and didn’t actually realise how rooted in mental health issues it was. I thought I was just buying myself a frivolous early Christmas present. It sat on my bookshelf for weeks before I even considered flicking through it (completely shameful given it’s essentially a picture book). When I did pick it up, however, I didn’t put it down until I’d devoured every word and every pencil scribble. I was pleasantly surprised by the depth Ruby Elliot goes to, and just how comfortingly relatable her experience and style of expressing it is. It’s laugh-out-loud relatable and sometimes want-to-cry-out-loud relatable, just because of how beautifully real and human Ruby’s drawings are (except the ones that are of dogs and slugs, of course.) Out of the three of these books, this is by far the easiest to get a hefty dose of positivity from.

The Book of Joy. His holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

I saved the best till last, mostly because I could probably write about this book all day and I’m hoping wrist fatigue from typing the end of this article will prevent me from doing that. I am a self-confessed fangirl of this pair, as individuals and (at the risk of being condescending) in the frankly adorable friendship they share. The question that is so often brought to those who are religious, of how we can find joy in a world filled with such horrors, has refreshingly satisfying responses. Familiar questions have new explorative answers, interwoven with the fascinating histories of each of these remarkable men, create a moving and cathartic read. Calling it feel-good wouldn’t do it justice, but the positivity its pages breathe is just that. When the two (especially the Dalai Lama) start to get a tad too spiritual and idealistic, Douglas Abrams does a fantastic job of grounding the pair and bringing a real-life perspective to what they’re saying. He probes them with the questions you’re thinking as you read. I truly challenge anyone to read this book and not wander life in a happy, optimistic glow afterwards.