Welcome to the third installment of the Big Topic column, where I take a super big topic – past months explored life and love – and explore it through two fiction books and two nonfiction books. This month, I’m going to look at happiness. It’s mental health awareness month, and one of the biggest misunderstandings about diseases like depression is that they stop you from being so-called happy. But what is happiness anyway? How do we achieve it? Is happiness an accumulation of joy? Is it a state of being that is constant? Is it a myth? These questions and more are explored in the following reads.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
This is one of my very favorite books of all time. The Little Prince deals with existential happiness in terms of what it means to be human. The narrator is a pilot who gets lost in the Saharan desert. While there, he meets a young man – a little prince. This young man comes from far away, from a planet that astronomers have dubbed 612B. He’s come to earth to escape a rose who loves too harshly and to discover what makes humans happy. He doesn’t understand us very well, but he sheds a whole lot of light on the existential nature of happiness.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
It’s truly hard to find fiction about happy people, and Fredrik Backman’s books aren’t precisely about that, but they are about people learning happiness and joy. So though Ove, whom this book deals with, is a total curmudgeon, he becomes lovable super quickly. He’s quirky and cartoonish but everyone around him is in such good spirits! And, inevitably, poor Ove’s spirits rise as well. Everything Fredrik Backman writes will leave you feeling truly good, which is a kind of happiness in and of itself.
The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler
Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler spent a week with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, and their talks and interviews is the basis for this book. The Dalai Lama approaches happiness as the purpose of life, and Cutler has helped distill this wisdom into digestible lessons and methods that we can readily approach and try to understand. From the larger spiritual notion of happiness down to the nitty gritty of daily anxieties and concerns, this classic happiness guide covers a whole lot of ground.
The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Memoirs of success can be wearying, but Shonda Rhimes didn’t write your usual how-I-made-it-and-you-can-too book. Instead, her memoir is vivid and personal and shows you how she overcame her own boundaries and fears. Although she was already successful, Rhimes was still afraid of public appearances. She hired a publicist so she could avoid them! But in her year of yes, Rhimes agreed to things she was scared of, and discovered her truer self. Brave, unflinching, and powerful, Rhimes reaches happiness through action and self-exploration.
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