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Happiness: 4 Books on a Big Topic

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Ilana Masad

Staff Writer

Israeli American, queer, chronically ill, and forever reading, Ilana Masad is a book critic and fiction writer. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Tin House, McSweeney's, Joyland Magazine, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast that features new, emerging, and established fiction writers. Twitter: @ilanaslightly Blog: Slightly Ignorant

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-ExupéryThe 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 BackmanA 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 LamaThe 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 RhimesThe 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.

What books do YOU associate with happiness? Tweet us or comment here!