Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines the positive psychology movement he founded as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” The movement helps people cultivate the best in themselves so they can live more meaningful lives.
We have gathered together seminal books by many of the founding thinkers of the happiness movement, with subjects ranging from flourishing to flow; from resilience to why we love. Whether you've taken an online course in positive psychology or just want to be happier in your everyday life, reading the titles listed here will give you a running head start on your journey.
1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research of optimal experience revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. Learn how to tap into your flow—where you find the right mix between challenge and skill and lose track of time.
“A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.” ―Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
2. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want
by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.
Psychology professor Sonja Lyubomirsky’s guidebook and workbook include strategies, exercises and quizzes based on years of extensive research for understanding how to experience and sustain joy.
“Happiness is not out there for us to find. The reason that it’s not out there is that it’s inside us.” ―Sonja Lyubomirsky
3. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment
by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Forget about fixing your weaknesses. If you want to be happier, identify and focus on your personal strengths. By using your strengths more, you can experience the positive state of “flow” where you feel energized, engaged and in the zone. With self-assessment quizzes and tips, Martin Seligman shows you how to use your strengths to improve daily interactions with people and each aspect of your life.
“Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not rating yourself against others.” ―Martin E.P. Seligman
4. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being
by Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D.
Happiness on its own, doesn’t give life meaning. Martin Seligman shows how the five pillars of positive psychology work together to build a life of meaning and fulfillment. He calls it PERMA or positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.
“Happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth, better relationships—constitutes human flourishing.” —Martin E.P. Seligman
5. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.
Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied peak performance to discover how grit—a blend of passion and perseverance—is instrumental to achievement. What you say to yourself after a setback or failure can make all the difference.
“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” ―Angela Duckworth
6. Love 2.0: Creating Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection
by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D.
Love can help us live longer and with more meaning, writes Barbara L. Fredrickson, a social psychology scholar and director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory. With her decades of research funded by the National Institutes of Health, she shows us how to look for “micro-moments” when we truly connect with others to foster more love in our lives.
“Love is that micro-moment of warmth and connection that you share with another living being.” ―Barbara L. Fredrickson
7. Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth
by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, Ph.Ds.
Genetics contributes greatly to happiness while income makes little difference. Read the discoveries of three decades of research on happiness. What matters most, according to the authors? Relationships to friends and family.
“Psychological wealth includes life satisfaction, the feeling that life is full of meaning, a sense of engagement in interesting activities, the pursuit of important goals, the experience of positive emotional feelings and a sense of spirituality that connects people to things larger than themselves.” ―Ed Diener
8. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.
Carol S. Dweck, a Stanford University psychology professor, learned through her research that people with a growth mindset believe they can develop their brains, abilities and talents through hard work, while those with a fixed mindset believe their abilities are fixed and cannot be developed. Find out why it’s not just our abilities and talent that bring us success–but whether we approach them with a fixed or growth mindset.
“Becoming is better than being.” ―Carol S. Dweck
9. Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert, Ph.D.
You may not know what makes you happy after all, according to Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert. This best-selling book explains how the limitations of our imaginations can get in our way of our ability to know what happiness is.
“Our inability to recall how we really felt is why our wealth of experiences turns out to be poverty of riches.” ―Daniel Gilbert
Positive psychology research indicates happiness fuels success, not the other way around. Try these tactics to be happier at work: Train your brain to see patterns of possibility and opportunity; conquer small goals to gradually conquer bigger goals; invest in your social network.
“The person we have the greatest power to change is ourself.” ―Shawn Achor
11. Being Happy: You Don’t Have to Be Perfect to Lead a Richer, Happier Life
by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.
With an intense fear of failure, you could fall short of your potential. Welcome failure as a part of life that allows you to grow and enhances your well-being.
“The all-or-nothing mindset leads perfectionists to transform every setback they encounter into a catastrophe, an assault on their very worth as human beings. Their sense of self-inevitably suffers as their faultfinding turns inward.” ―Tal Ben-Shahar
12. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.
Our culture tells us that we have to feel special or above average to feel good about ourselves. Put down the constant comparisons to others and pick up self-compassion. Find out how to treat yourself as you would a best friend and lead a healthier and more productive life as a result. Let go of self-doubt to feel happier.
“This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” ―Kristin Neff
Sandra Bienkowski is a contributing editor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.