30 Best Self-Help Books That Will Inspire You to Make a Change
Whether you're looking to grow your finances, creativity, or self-love, these self-help books will get you on the right track.
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Give self-help a chance
The term “self-help books” doesn’t always inspire confidence. Some people look down on this genre as being poorly written or promising too much. In the sea of self-help titles, it can be easy to pick up a bad one, but there are some self-help books packed with wisdom that can help readers in every stage of life. In fact, if you choose wisely, you may end up classifying your pick as one of the best books of all time.
Since every reader is different, we combed through best-seller lists, reviews from critics, and ratings on sites like Goodreads and Amazon to gather some of the best self-help books across years and subject matters. Whether you’re looking to heal, grow, tidy up, understand racism, or improve your health or your finances, there’s a book on this list for you. We’ve included writing styles that are humorous, straight to the point, and even lyrical. From classics to new releases, these are our picks for the best self-help books of all time. If the genre still doesn’t appeal to you, check out our other roundups of nonfiction books, from astrology books to biographies to the best nonfiction books for kids.
1. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Even if you’re usually more into the best fiction books, this self-help book is worth your while. The New York Times best seller made it onto multiple “best of” lists, including Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2019. If you feel overwhelmed by all the technology demanding our attention, are looking for ways to be part of positive change, or just enjoy great writing, this is the book for you. How to Do Nothing begins as a self-help book, showing readers how to opt out of the “attention economy” in order to recharge and focus on things that are more meaningful and fulfilling. Author Jenny Odell, an artist, writer, and teacher at Stanford University, then pivots to showing readers all that can be done outside of our various tech addictions. What begins as a book of self-improvement becomes a plan for world improvement.
2. My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem
A national best seller, this book has been on a mission since it was published in 2017 to help not just individuals but the nation as a whole. Therapist Resmaa Menakem brings his deep understanding of how trauma moves through generations and offers readers healing exercises for wherever they are coming from. He also delves into explanations based on neuroscience and history, illustrating how racial inequities have hurt all of us. This is a restorative book for every reader.
3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo
This number one New York Times best-selling book has been sparking joy and a simpler, cleaner lifestyle across the globe since 2010. You may have seen Marie Kondo, with her bright smile and bright outfits, on her two Netflix shows, which help people make fresh starts. These shows followed the movement she started with the KonMari Method of tidying. If mess or clutter has been weighing down your life, the gentle guidance in this book can help you make a change for good. Her approach shows compassion for the person decluttering and gratitude for the items that she helps them let go of. You’ll never look at objects the same way after you read this book. For a preview, check out this Marie Kondo folding guide to reorganize your drawers and make your life much easier.
4. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
If you’ve ever wanted to change something about your life but found it overwhelming, Atomic Habits can get you to the other side, step-by-step. With more than two million copies sold since it was published in 2018, it’s one of the most popular self-improvement books, and a great book to gift. Habit formation expert James Clear helps readers think about their goals in terms of little shifts they can make that can be broken down into more and more manageable pieces. By incorporating one tiny habit at a time, you can create real and lasting change.
5. Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
Shonda Rhimes has given us some of our favorite television shows, like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She’s also written one of the best self-help books around. Like all of her best work, 2015’s Year of Yes is touching, generous, funny, and affirming. A perfect book for introverts like Rhimes herself, it encourages readers to venture outside their comfort zones by saying yes. Rhimes explains why her go-to answer was always no and shows how her year of saying yes opened up her world to new possibilities. What can a year of yes do for you? Here are more books by female authors that will inspire and entertain.
6. Clever Girl Finance: Ditch Debt, Save Money and Build Real Wealth by Bola Sokunbi
Clever Girl Finance is a popular personal finance website founded by Bola Sokunbi to empower women with financial knowledge and resources. On the online platform, you can find free courses, articles, podcast episodes, and more. In this 2019 book, the first of a series of three, Sokunbi illustrates with real-life examples what to do (and what not to do) to make the most of your finances. She generously shares her own financial mistakes and how she turned them around, and she encourages her readers like a trusted friend. Anyone who is looking for a stronger foothold financially will be glad they bought this friendly and practical self-help book. If you love reading personal stories, you’ll also enjoy these fascinating biographies.
7. The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
If you’ve heard of the term “radical self-love” but haven’t practiced it yet, this 2018 New York Times best seller is waiting for you. We’ve all experienced negative self-talk or insecurity about some aspect of our appearance. Where does this come from? Sonya Renee Taylor, an activist and poet, uses beautiful prose to help us identify the societal constructs that tell us we are not good enough and walks us on a path of love and acceptance that allows us to also love and accept others. A quick read with lasting impact, this is a self-development book that has the power to heal more than just the self—it’s a book that can lead to unity across communities.
8. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
If you’ve watched Brené Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability (and chances are you have, as it has more than 56 million views), then you won’t be surprised to see one of her books on this list. Published in 2012, Daring Greatly is a book that can be applied to all parts of one’s life. Not only is it full of the positive affirmations and quotable passages Brown has become known for, but it also weaves research and personal narrative to show us how vulnerability can be wielded as our greatest asset. If you’re feeling fearful about your next steps, shameful about the past, or just need a bit of courage on your life’s path, Daring Greatly can help.
9. The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo
One of Oprah’s favorite things, The Book of Awakening (published in 2000) reads like a journal, dedicating one chapter to each day of the year. Each chapter contains a story or a lesson that teaches us to see what surrounds us more clearly, as well as simple exercises that bring the reader into the present moment. This book isn’t meant to be consumed all at once. Rather, each day’s pages take just a few minutes, making it ideal for the busy reader who wants to feel more gratitude and joy. Looking for more quick reads? Check out our list of the best short books.
10. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
You’ve probably heard the saying that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. In the 2016 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth shows us just how important hard work is. Duckworth is a psychologist and winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, often referred to as a “genius grant,” and in her deeply researched book, she argues against the idea of genius. Grit, she says, is far more important than talent. This is an inspiring self-growth book for anyone pursuing their interests with determination. For real-life examples of grit, you’ll want to add these gripping memoirs to your must-read list.
11. What Would Frida Do? A Guide to Living Boldly by Arianna Davis
This is not your typical self-help book. Published in 2020, it’s at once a biography of the iconic artist Frida Kahlo and a call to embrace life as fully as she did. Arianna Davis, author and digital director of O, The Oprah Magazine, brings Frida’s example into modern-day life, inspiring readers to live their truths and create their own stories. If you’ve been feeling uncertain, worn down, or afraid to make a change, let Frida guide you in this celebratory book.
12. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
The success of this book—it reached number one on the New York Times best-seller list in 2012 and was listed as a Best Book of the Year by multiple publications—points to how many of us are introverts looking to better understand our place in a society that rewards extroversion. Author Susan Cain, a self-described introvert and former Wall Street lawyer, started the Quiet Movement, and her TED talk on this topic has received more than 40 million views. In Quiet, she maps how the “extrovert ideal” came to be, helps us understand how to harness the strengths of being more solitary, and introduces us to a variety of people who model different manifestations of introversion and paths to success. This is one of the best personal-growth books for those who are often overlooked and is illuminating for anyone interested in social dynamics.
13. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
Whether you’re a painter, a poet, a musician, a filmmaker, or any other kind of creative soul, The Artist’s Way will open up and support your creative practice. Published in 1992, this book continues to be an influence for established and up-and-coming artists. Author and artist Julia Cameron packs each page with advice and tangible exercises to keep you going on your journey. With praise from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Anne Lamott, it’s a must-read for anyone with artistic or creative desires. You don’t need to be an artist to enjoy the best adult coloring books, which will help you relax and unwind.
14. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
If you’re a writer or you hang out with writers, chances are you hear Bird by Bird referenced on a regular basis when encountering barriers. Lamott is a celebrated novelist and writing teacher, but you don’t have to be a writer to gain insight from this book. It’s been considered one of the most motivating and instructive books since it was published in 1994. The title comes from an anecdote Lamott tells about her brother procrastinating on a school assignment. He’d had three months to write a report on birds and now was overwhelmed by the looming task. His father had encouraged him by saying, “Just take it bird by bird,” advice that any of us can use when life seems like too much.
15. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you’ve hit blocks in your work, home, or creative life, this book is for you. It reminds us how to open ourselves to possibility and enjoy the process. Whether or not you’re a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous memoir Eat, Pray, Love, you’ll fall in love with Big Magic and its ability to shift your perspective. Gilbert shows how any life can be viewed as a creative life and how “no pain, no gain” doesn’t have to be the mantra we live by. Rather, we can appreciate the creativity that lives in every being and let ourselves be surprised by what we make, instead of attaching it to a specific goal or outcome. A favorite self-development book since it was published in 2015, Big Magic will provide comfort and inspiration that lasts a lifetime.
16. Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Some readers want lessons and accompaniment on their journeys but can’t stand self-help books. For those people, a personal narrative that includes applicable wisdom is far more helpful than a traditional self-help book. Glennon Doyle’s 2020 best seller, Untamed, and the next two books on our list do just that. Doyle studs her life story with quotable insight like “When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself” and her mantra, “We can do hard things.” For more stories by authors in their own words, check out our list of the best autobiographies of all time.
17. Carrying My Father’s Torch: From Holocaust Trauma to Transformation by Gail Weiss Gaspar
Another personal narrative that also acts as a self-help road map, Gail Weiss Gaspar’s book details how her family’s trauma made her unforgivingly hard on herself, pushing always for productivity and silencing her own needs. Her father was a Holocaust survivor, and Gaspar thought this made it her duty to take on suffering in her own way. Published in 2020, this book encourages readers to use its story to better understand the power of a difficult family legacy. Rather than carrying the burden of the past, Gaspar hopes readers will use what their family has come through to light the way to an empowered future. Learn more about this difficult point in history with these Holocaust books.
18. Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging by Anne Liu Kellor
One more for fans of first-person stories that teach self-help lessons: Heart Radical is at once a lyrical memoir and a lesson in journeys toward selfhood. Published in September 2021, it will resonate particularly for multilingual or multiracial readers. Kellor navigates between cultures, languages, and roles in this story of discovery and belonging. Her journey encourages readers to find their own paths rather than try to fit what others expect of them. Sometimes the best self-help books are the ones that don’t intend to fit the genre at all. Such is the case with Heart Radical, which is beautifully written, honestly told, and immensely helpful.
19. Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
If you Google “Who is the toughest man in America?” David Goggins’ name is the first result. A man who has completed training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller, Goggins was also dubbed “The Fittest (Real) Man in America” by Outside Magazine. In 2018, he released Can’t Hurt Me as a self-published book. It became the number one–selling independent book for the next three years, and the audiobook version has now sold two million copies. His story of growing up oppressed by racism, poverty, and abuse and painstakingly reshaping his life has made an immeasurable impact on those who have applied his lessons to their lives.
20. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
If you’re not one of Luvvie Ajayi’s 500,000 monthly blog readers, you’re missing out on her sharp and hilarious insights into pop culture and modern life. Never fear, though: You can catch up by reading her 2016 debut book, I’m Judging You. A New York Times and Washington Post best seller, this self-help book will have you laughing, nodding along in agreement, gasping, and learning. In the introduction, Luvvie points to the times we may wonder, Did some of us not get a limited-edition handbook with instructions on how not to suck? By the end of the book, you’ll realize you just read that handbook and picked up a lot of common sense, social media etiquette, and better habits along the way.
21. Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong
Another one for fans of comedy, 2019’s Dear Girls is written as letters to Wong’s daughters. You may have seen these daughters as baby bumps in Wong’s two Netflix comedy specials, both which she performed while pregnant. These letters hold life lessons for all of us about dating, partnership, parenthood, identity, ambition, and more. Told in the unfiltered, laugh-out-loud, and often raunchy manner that her fans love, these personal stories hold an element of tenderness that is not as evident in Wong’s stand-up comedy. There is also inspiration to gain from her incredibly hard work to make it as a comedian and her honest take on it all.
22. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Changing tones, let’s get into some classic books. After its debut in 1989, Women Who Run with the Wolves spent 144 weeks on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list, and it continues to be relevant today. Through this deeply researched, timeless book, Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a poet, author, and Jungian psychoanalyst, reconnects women of all ages with their power by reminding them what is innate and what has been forced upon them by society. For any woman who has felt trapped, tamed, or pushed into a persona that felt unnatural, this empowering book is here to set you free.
23. Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
Published in 1946, this unique book has been in continuous print since then and has sold more than four million copies. Many of those copies were likely purchased by Steve Jobs, who is said to have read it every year and given copies as gifts. He respected this book so much, he even arranged for it to be handed to each guest at his memorial service. As the title says, the book is an autobiography of a yogi, specifically Paramahansa Yogananda. Yogananda was a spiritual teacher who has been credited with popularizing yoga in the United States. Yoga in American pop culture today is often thought of as a means to physical fitness, but in these pages, readers will find a guide for cultivating inner life and deep introspection.
24. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
Published in 1997, The Power of Now remains one of the most sought-after and paradigm-shifting personal-growth books. Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher who emphasizes being present and letting go of ego. Oprah lists it as one of her “Super Soulful Reads,” contributing to its staying power. For anyone who is interested in spirituality and open to learning from a range of spiritual practices, from Buddhism to Christianity, this book will be an enlivening addition to your bookshelf. Not sure what type of book you’re in the mood for? These are the best books for you, based on your zodiac sign.
25. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
This classic by businessman and educator Stephen R. Covey may have been published in 1989, but it’s still one of the most popular self-development books for people looking to make improvements in both their professional and personal lives. Just over 30 years after its first publication, it has sold more than 40 million copies. In seven sections that are really organizing principles, Covey outlines how to have agency in your life, think positively, have a vision, and approach life with a learning mindset.
26. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
When we said we gathered a list of the best self-help books of all time, we meant it. This book was first published in 1936, nearly a century ago. A popular graduation gift for generations now, this classic has sold more than 30 million copies. Its author, Dale Carnegie, not only wrote about self-improvement—he also founded a school, the Dale Carnegie Center for Excellence, attended famously by Warren Buffet. So many have been influenced by this book and expanded upon its teachings over the years, so its information isn’t exactly groundbreaking anymore, but advice like “show sincere appreciation” will never become outdated.
27. The Conscious Bride: Women Unveil Their True Feelings About Getting Hitched by Sheryl Paul
While the classic self-help books are great for general advice, you may be going through something more specific. To wrap up our roundup, here are a few titles for more niche issues. The Conscious Bride is a groundbreakingly honest book for anyone entering marriage who may feel alone in needing to work out complex feelings before the big day. Societal norms put so much pressure on only expressing joy about marriage, but bridal counselor Sheryl Paul tells us that post-wedding depression hits nearly 90 percent of women. She explains how anyone entering into a union, no matter how loving and joyful, has parts of their identity to mourn and part with at their wedding, and she shows couples how to do this in a healthy way that will benefit the marriage.
28. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles
For those who have aging and longevity on their minds, researchers García and Miralles interviewed residents of a Japanese village that has the highest percentage of centenarians. Readers can apply practical lessons from this international best seller (including diet and exercise) to their lives. More importantly, there’s a Japanese saying that “only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years,” which they connect to one’s “ikigai,” or life purpose. By the end of this book, you’ll have the tools to identify and pursue your life’s purpose, too, no matter what age you are.
29. Saaya Unveiled: South Asian Mental Health Spotlighted by Mrinal Gokhale
There is often a stigma around the topic of mental health in many communities of color, and mental health resources specifically for South Asians are few and far between. In the 2021 book Saaya Unveiled, former freelance journalist Mrinal Gokhale interviews Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrants about their mental health journeys. Through these conversations, interviewees destigmatize struggling with mental health, making readers feel less alone, regardless of their background. They also provide a range of approaches and methods for making mental health more accessible and helping older generations understand the need for it.
30. The Migraine Relief Plan: An 8-Week Transition to Better Eating, Fewer Headaches, and Optimal Health by Stephanie Weaver
If frequent headaches slow you down, this 2017 book will be your new best friend. Author Stephanie Weaver draws from her professional expertise as a certified health and wellness coach and her personal experience as a migraine sufferer to give readers a clear plan to a healthier life. This self-help book provides not only behavioral advice, but also tested recipes (more than 75 of them!) to help ensure you aren’t eating foods that trigger migraines. If you’re looking for a different type of read, these online book clubs will point you in the right direction and keep you going all year long.