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9 of the Best Gentle Self-Help Books

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CJ Connor

Contributor

CJ Connor is a cozy mystery and romance writer whose main goal in life is to make their dog proud. They are a Pitch Wars alumnus and an Author Mentor Match R9 mentor. Their debut mystery novel BOARD TO DEATH is forthcoming from Kensington Books. Twitter: @cjconnorwrites | cjconnorwrites.com

As a writer, I feel constant pressure to keep improving however I can. Most of the time, this means reading craft books and setting high standards for absorbing their lessons as quickly as possible. But recently, when I came across Gentle Writing Advice by Chuck Wendig, I wondered if there was a better way. Striving for growth is a meaningful part of life. But does it have to mean berating yourself for improving on a different path than others?

Self-hatred doesn’t have to be a catalyst for change. In fact, self-respect and a desire for a better life can lead to healthier growth. These gentle self-help books recognize that and encourage readers to take ownership of their lives without ignoring their personal circumstances or putting themselves down when they make a mistake.

This doesn’t necessarily mean these books shy away from difficult topics. Many, if not all of them, address painful and complicated things their readers may be facing. The difference is that these authors treat their readers with respect and kindness as they offer suggestions for growth, recognizing that it isn’t always a linear process and takes time.

To explore the complexities of the genre, read Jeffrey Davies’ essay “Healing My Relationship with Self-Help Books.” In it, Davies reflects on how his relationship with self-help books changed from believing they can solve all his problems to using them as a support in his own actions. Plus, check out Yashvi Peeti’s “Do Self Help Books Work? Do They Actually Help?” essay for a research-oriented analysis of the genre and whether a book’s promises lead to measurable outcomes.

There is No Right Way to Meditate cover

There Is No Right Way to Meditate by Yumi Sakugawa

This pick is helpful if you’re often too hard on yourself and struggle with grounding yourself in the present. Artist Yumi Sakugawa offers advice for everyday mindfulness with calming illustrations and the reminder that it’s okay if you don’t get everything right the first time you try it.

Your Turn cover

Your Turn: How to Be an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims

As the former Stanford dean of freshmen, Julie Lythcott-Haims has a lot of experience mentoring young adults. She shares advice for building the confidence and resilience needed to cope with challenges as they come and choose a path in life that brings you joy.

I Am More Than My Body cover

I Am More Than My Body: The Body Neutral Journey by Bethany C. Meyers

Many people have complicated feelings about their bodies, and the pressure to ignore that — as sometimes encouraged in the body positivity movement — can feel impossible as they work through those emotions. Recognizing this, body neutrality advocate Bethany C. Meyers teaches readers how to build a relationship with their bodies that’s grounded in respect and compassion rather than shame or a measure of self-worth.

Grand cover

Grand: A Grandparent’s Wisdom for a Happy Life by Charles Johnson

No matter their age, anyone can benefit from the wisdom, kindness, and perspective this grandparent brings. In this memoir, National Book Award winner Charles Johnson draws on lessons he’s learned in his own life and while mentoring his grandson Emery to offer advice on building a fulfilling life.

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Goblin Mode: How to Get Cozy, Embrace Imperfection, and Thrive in the Muck by McKayla Coyle

Goblincore has been best described to me as similar to cottagecore’s love of simplicity and nature but with a greater tolerance for the quirks and imperfections that make us who we are. Learn how to find joy and beauty in everyday life, even the messy parts.

soul archaeology cover

Soul Archaeology: A (Totally Doable) Approach to Creating a Self-Loving and Liberated Life by Sarah Sapora (August 8)

As people face traumatic experiences and external pressures throughout life, it’s easy to lose track of a person’s inner self and values. Public speaker Sarah Sapora guides readers on building a foundation of self-accountability, authenticity, and kindness to find lasting fulfillment beyond another person’s expectations of what their lives should look like.

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The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki

Empathy is sometimes viewed as an inherent trait: you’re either empathetic or you’re not. Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab director Jamil Zaki believes otherwise. Building empathy is not only possible but one of the most important things a person can do. Zaki offers research-based strategies for treating others with more kindness in everyday life.

Big Friendship cover

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

With loneliness on the rise, many want to make more friends without knowing where to start. Podcast co-hosts and best friends Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman share research, anecdotes, and advice for building lifelong friendships (including advice for existing friends as they go through ups and down in their relationship).

Book cover of Wintering

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

When traumatic things happen, our first reaction can often be to overcome our emotions as soon as possible. Anything else can be viewed as lazy and regressive. Author Katherine May offers another perspective, exploring how rest and acceptance of painful emotions over repression can lead to healing.

For more books that offer practical advice instead of cliches, try these 9 self-help books that actually help, including Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones.