Happy Books: A Comparison

I’ve been reading several self-help books lately to help me through some tough times, and I’ve reached a decision. Actually, multiple decisions. One: job hunts are not fun. (Fortunately, mine just ended. Yay!) Two: talking things out with close family, friends, and good therapists helps me a lot. Three: all self-help books are different from each other. No one should go to any one self-help book and expect a definitive answer or answers to all of their challenges. That being said, every self-help book that I’ve read has offered a piece of what I’ve needed. To help you find whatever help you might need, I provide a short description of seven self-help books and a comparison of how they rank on a few important features, which I’ll explain.

The Value(s) of a Self-Help Book

In this context, a self-help book is any nonfiction book that deals primarily with the improvement of self-perception in the reader. This could be for the purpose of helping that reader have a better marriage, career, or family life. The list I’ve compiled here is no more a representation of all the self-help books on the market than I am a representation of all humanity, or even of all book reviewers. But this list is comprised of books that focus on self-improvement for the sake of improving happiness.

I rank them on these metrics:


Some of the best general how-to books I’ve read were by people who weren’t PhDs but had lots of personal experience and had done a lot of research. Conversely, some of the worst how-to books I’ve read have been by people with PhDs. So the credibility of a self-help book’s author(s) isn’t necessarily their education level in the subject matter, although that is a factor. It’s also determined, in my mind, by their personal experience with the topic, the amount of research they’ve done on it, and the types of source material they draw from for that research. If an author quotes several Huffington Post articles as their main documentation, if you will, for humanity’s depravity, they aren’t as credible as one who pulls from multiple academic studies, original pieces discussing patterns of depravity over time, and from current events as related by people who were present at those events.

Personal Examples

Personal examples from the author’s own life or from those with those he or she has interacted go a long way in convincing me that what they are saying is true or that they truly understand me and why I’m reading their book. Those examples also have value if they show how someone successfully applied a principle from the book


some self-help books offer nugget after nugget of golden wisdom, and while they have value just for that, they’re much better and more valuable if they provide workbook pages, quizzes, call-outs with questions that make you think (and better yet write down) of ways you can implement what they’re saying in your life the very next day. Others are more workbook than they are wisdom.


Especially on the subject of improving one’s outlook on life, a little bit of humor can go a long way.


Some self-help books can leave you more overwhelmed than when you began. The most effective ones are the ones that break things down into manageable chunks, and encourage you from wherever you are.

The Books and Their Rankings

Without further ado, then, I provide rankings between 1 and 5 (with 1 being the highest or best and 5 the lowest or worst) on the above metrics for the following self-help books:

The Self-Esteem Workbook by Glenn R. Schiraldi, Phd






You Are a BadA* by Jen Sincero






Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, MD







What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter, PhD







The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey





The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW




Strengths Finder by Tom Rath





Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW




I don’t rank them in comparison to one other, but rather on a scale of how much value they’ve been to me and how much I think they’ll offer to you. They’re not in any particular order, and I leave it up to you to determine which one is the best for you.

I’ve also looked at the website of five different book retailers to find the best deal on each of these books for you. Those retailers were:


Barnes & Noble




You’ll find the links to those deals if you click on the titles of the books in the table below. They are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click through and buy a book, but it doesn’t change the price of the book for you.


Personal Examples
Self-Esteem Workbook ($5.92) 1 (recommended by my therapist) 4 1 5 1
You Are a BadA* ($8) 2 1 5 1 (warning: guffaws are possible) 2
Feeling Good ($3.79) 1 1 3 5 3
What to Say When You Talk to Yourself ($3.79) 4 5 4 5 2
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ($1.99 Kindle) 1 1 1 (especially if you get a Franklin Day Planner) 4 2
The Gifts of Imperfection ($10.99) 1 1 (so good) 4 2 3
Strengths Finder ($25.63) 1 2 2 4 1
Braving the Wilderness ($14.95) 1 1 5 2 3


What books would you add to this list, and why?

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness, a Fantastic Read

Fans of self-help books seeing this book in their section of a bookstore or at the top of their Amazon search results might wonder what the wilderness that this book’s title refers to, and how “braving it” will help them lead a better life, at least in ways that other self-help books do. Though it may not be apparent from the title, Brene Brown’s most recent book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, is indeed a self-help book of the best kind not only for the individual, but for society as a whole. One that is sorely needed, I might add.

Brown’s definition of the wilderness as a metaphorical place where “belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone…[in] an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching…,” is one that can only be understood in the context of the rest of humanity: one cannot stand alone without a group of “others” to stand away from. This book is an explanation of how very much we all need one another, and to feel like we truly belong, and how sometimes, in order to get that feeling, ironically, we have to let it go. We have to be brave enough to be true to ourselves, to stand out in what could be a “vast and dangerous environment” in which we are alone and vulnerable, but also perhaps on an emotional or spiritual quest. “Belonging,” Brown says, “is real connection that [isn’t] at the cost of one’s authenticity and identity, [and that acknowledges our] shared humanity. It’s saying: ‘we’re different in many ways, but under it all, we are all inextricably connected in love and compassion.”  The wilderness is “a place of true belonging, and the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

So…What is the Wilderness in Real Life?

This message really resonated with me, as I’ve tried to wrap my brain and soul around the divisiveness and hate that are swarming the internet these days, and spilling out into real life in very hurtful, sometimes even deadly ways. It seems to me that this is caused, at least in part, by people who are trying to express themselves by tearing down others, in their own misguided attempts to “belong to themselves.” And it also seems that, if I may be so bold as to shrink the cause of all that into one small, all-inclusive phrase, many people are horrible at being civil, particularly online, and when people are voicing their opinions right and left with the microphone of social media at their mouths, again in an attempt to be true to themselves, but still not taking into account or inviting others to express theirs because they have yet to find or make a truly safe space on the internet. At a time when communication has never been so easy and had such a wide-ranging and immediate effect, we are still very much in our infancy in terms of communicating–and thus, connecting–with others online. The internet seems like it might be that wilderness, that place of danger and vastness. But it is not. the internet is the chaos of civilization, the thick of thrown words. The wilderness is the place one goes to clear one’s head of that chaos, to plumb the depths of one’s soul and find the courage to not only be comfortable with that soul, but to love that soul enough that you can love others. To truly belong.

How Did She Determine How People Truly Belong?

Discussing true belonging, Brown defined four main questions that she used to analyze data that she had gathered at the University of Houston about people who fit the profile of truly belonging:

  1. What is the process, practice, or approach that the women and men who have developed a sense of true belonging share in common?
  2. What does it take to get to the place in our life where we belong nowhere and everywhere, where belonging is in our heart and not something that others can hold hostage or take away, where belonging is not a reward for perfecting, pleasing, proving, and pretending?
  3. If we’re willing to brave the wilderness to stand alone in our integrity, do we still need that sense of belonging that comes from community?
  4. Does the current culture of increasing divisiveness affect our quest for true belonging? If so, how?

Four Elements of True Belonging

In Braving the Wilderness, she found that, after analyzing her data and answering those questions, there were four elements of true belonging that she spends a good part of the book talking about:

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in. For those of you who are Christians, maybe this is why Jesus said that we should love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). He didn’t just say: “love people.”
  2. Speak truth to b.s. Be civil. This is Brown’s wonderful, no-nonsense, even snarky way of saying “it’s not just about being nicer to people, on-line and off. It’s about calling things out for what they are while still being respectful and maybe even constructive.” For those of who wondering how to be civil, there’s this wonderful book called Crucial Conversations that has some very good guidelines for that.
  3. Hold hands with strangers, which can be scary, especially if they have vastly different opinions and lifestyles. But we are all, ultimately, human, and will be able to find something in common. It takes an element of spirituality, which she defines as “recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than us.”
  4. Strong back, soft front, wild heart. Strong spine, open mind, brave heart.

Truly belonging, says Brown quoting Maya Angelou, is belonging “everywhere and nowhere.” It’s a truly powerful dichotomy that I hope to one day experience.

Ten stars, by the way. And then some. And I highly recommend you get the audiobook version, which Brown herself narrates.