We asked Kay Smythe, a successful writer, social scientist, former model, and editor, what books encouraged, inspired and made a positive difference in her life. Below are the books she recommends and the reasons why. Neither Kay nor the site have been paid in any way to advertise or endorse the following books on her list. However, we do get a small commission if you use any of the following links to purchase something. That commission assists us in running this site. With that out of the way, take it away Kay.
13 Books That Will Inspire, Motivate, and Improve Your Life
The following list has been shortened to my top picks, and encompasses everything from financial stressors, to love, and to the importance of selfishness. Even if just one of these texts makes a difference in your life, please let me know!
1.You Can Be Right (or you can be married) – Dana Adam Shapiro
In this book, one can learn from others mistakes in a way that is both hauntingly surreal, and wonderfully honest. With only a moderate amount of bias, Dana Adam Shapiro’s You Can Be Right (or you can be married) tops my list of self-help books. Shapiro probably never set out to turn this excellent work of non-fiction into a self help book, but he’s certainly created one. Built from stories of broken love, the morals that arise from such text are hard to ignore. Let’s take, for example, marrying someone that you don’t really have fun with. Laughter is key to any marriage, and entering into such a union with someone that doesn’t care for your sense of humor is likely a recipe for disaster. Anyone that struggles with relationships should pick up a copy of this New York Times Best Seller. You’ll read it in a day.
2. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
For those of you struggling with a sense of loss, or a phobia of change, or even those of you who may feel stagnated in their real lives, Wild is the perfect way to redesign your misery, and put yourself out there in the world. I like to describe it as Trainspotting meets Into The Wild meets Eat, Pray, Love, except it’s way better than Eat, Pray, Love – and a far more affordable way to find oneself.
3. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey
If I could go back in time and gift my younger self with one thing, it would be this book. Direction. Selflessness. How to work with others. These are all things that I wish I had mastered at a far younger age. Hands-down, this is one of the most practical self-help books one can buy.
4. Zen & The Art of Happiness – Chris Prentiss
This. Book. Changed. My. Life. When I first read Zen & The Art of Happiness, I was in my final year of university. I was stressed to the point of a mental breakdown, and my roommates were sick of my “bullshit” – typical scientists. However, my roommate gave me a copy of this book, and told me that she used it to make her life significantly happier. I read it in one sitting, and then I read it again.
I think the reason it’s stuck with me is because, as a Brit, I was raised to complain. If something goes wrong, most Brits choose to wallow in their misery, instead of using the “oh well, whatever” mentality. I live around the corner from Passages, Prentiss’ outpatient facility in Venice. Every time I cycle past the center, I am reminded to accept all of the bad things that come my way, and use them as a learning mechanism, and to wait in anticipation for the good thing that comes next. For example, I recently had to leave my job, due to a fairly psychotic and racist boss. Before reading this book, I would have branded myself a failure and given up on finding joy in my work. Instead, I used this life change to look at the great things in my life. If you buy any book on this list, it should be this one. It really will revolutionize your life.
5. His Needs, Her Needs – Willard F. Jr. Harley
As a ghost writer of PhD dissertations, I write a great deal about the human condition, and how unexpected behaviors can result both positively and negatively on the world. His Needs, Her Needs, is a great example of a rich sociological text, not built from science but from experience. You might not like all of the undertones, but it’s hard to fault the fact that it hasn’t ever been topped.
6. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
To massively over-simplify, this book is about happiness. Gilbert asks us to define our happiness, and take time in each day to practice this happiness. For me, my happiness is in the early evening after I’ve finished eating. I take an hour or so to sit on my sofa, watch my shows, drink a hot cup of tea, and not think. My job revolves around thinking, and I love that, but just not all the time.
Another person I know, who also read this book, basically described how their version of happiness is controlling people. Sure, it was a fairly round-about way of describing it, but the overarching concept always fell back to her love of control. Needless to say, if you want to know who you should be spending your time with, get them to read this book!
7. Unshakeable – Tony Robbins
Financial literacy is KEY to a successful life. One in three seniors in America lives in poverty. Almost ninety percent of Millennials in America depend on their parents for some sort of financial support. For the first time in my life, I am not one of those Millennials, and I owe that to Tony Robbins. If you want some practical, real-world, usable advice, then this is the book for you. He might not want to be your guru, but Robbins can basically sort your shit out when it comes to money.
8. Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed
I read Tiny Beautiful Things over one particularly miserable Christmas. Having just gone through a rude awakening into adult life, a break-up, and a move to a new continent, I needed some tough-love advice from a woman that I could look up to. Usually, I do this with my mother, but she was a continent and an ocean away, so Cheryl Strayed took on her role. Whether it’s toughening the fuck up, or letting yourself be sad for a while, Strayed’s advice column is both riveting and life changing.
9. A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
You’ll learn more than you could possibly believe, and also have the bonus of having read one of the most intelligent pieces of writing that this planet has seen since Darwin. Bryson, I love you. Our world needs more Brysons!
10. How to Speak Money – John Lanchester
Let’s be honest, the world revolves around money. I hate when people say that money can’t buy happiness, because it does. Money allows you to live the life you want to live, and it’ll also instill you with a work ethic to match. The importance of financial literacy is, for me, on par with regularly literacy. Simply put, this is a brilliant work of educational value.
11. The Selfishness of Others – Kristin Dombek
If you or a loved one are a Millennial, you need to read this book. If you or a loved one are finding that your friends are flittering away from you at the speed of sound, you need to read this book. If I had the time or money, I would buy this book for about fifteen people in my life. You’d be amazed at how humbling it can be.
12. Into The Wild – Jon Krakauer
Everyone that is everyone has heard of Into The Wild. It’s arguably one of the most prolific reads of the last three decades and continues to impact on the lives of individuals across the world. For whatever reason, I always take this book on holiday with me.
I always thought I needed my own personal Into The Wild adventure, and part of me still does, but this book is so much more than a story about a troubled young man. It is a tale that can show you that you’re not alone. You’re not the only person that feels miserable, despite having everything one should possibly want. Into The Wild is about courage, disaster, and self-reliance. It’s about life, love, and excitement. It’s everything and it’s more, and it should be an essential read for everyone.
13. Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
If you ever feel like you’re stagnating or lost in your own reality, Into Thin Air will bring you crashing back to reality like no other work of non-fiction can. You may never find yourself stuck in a storm on slopes of the largest mountain on the planet, but pain is relative, and for you it may be breaking a leg, or being trapped inside of a closet, or something else that is so inherently terrifying for you personally, that it forces you to the brink of your own sanity. If you’ve read Into Thin Air, then you’ll forever know that you are not alone in your pain, and that you’ll get through it all, eventually.
Kay Smythe, The British Bitch in America.
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