In our fast-paced and overloaded world, alone time has become a rare commodity. In contrast to the typical hustle and bustle of everyday life, extended time in isolation has allowed for some serious self-reflection. Although I adamantly dislike time alone with my thoughts, there is a lot of good that can potentially grow from these less-than-ideal circumstances. We often find ourselves mindlessly going through the motions in our daily lives, without investing time to reflect on where we are devoting our energy. This is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate the way we are living our lives. As we prepare to head back out into the world, it can be worthwhile to take stock and look at the places where we invest our time and energy. In doing this, I found the following books to be instrumental to creating a life more firmly-centered around mindfulness, intentional living, and overall well-being.
Notes on a Nervous Planet— Matt Haig. Following the publication of his highly-lauded memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig wrote Notes on a Nervous Planet, a book about the ways in which modern society fosters anxiety and unhappiness. His book consists of bite-sized tidbits (that are somewhat chaotically arranged) to advise people on managing their anxiety in the twenty-first century. Haig likens our planet to a sentient being on the brink of a breakdown and explains how the modern world is one that deteriorates our mental well-being. This book is especially versatile in that it is broken up into small segments that are easy to digest and put into practice. The sections I found particularly useful include ‘Maybe,’ which speaks to the transient nature of happiness, ‘an excess of everything,’ in regards to our overloaded lives, and ‘What I tell myself when things get too much,’ a list of reminders when we are feeling overwhelmed.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—Marie Kondo. While this may seem redundant give the title of the book, I can’t stress enough that this book will change your life. As a firm believer that the state of your living space reflects the state of your mind, Kondo’s book is revolutionary in that it offers tips and tools to create both an organized house and mind. On the surface, this book seems like it would have nothing interesting or practical to offer other than, you know, don’t make a mess. The KonMari method goes far deeper than this, though, and introduces a lifestyle centered around intentionality and mindfulness with your physical possessions. She urges you to only surround yourself with belongings that “spark joy,” and that doing this will simplify every aspect of your life.
Tuesdays with Morrie—Mitch Albom. Mitch Albom tells the story of his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from ALS. Instead of being angry or saddened by this news, however, Morrie chooses to focus on the wonderful gift of knowing that he is dying, and the freedom this grants him to live intentionally. Morrie spends his last months teaching Mitch—and, by extension, us—about where we should focus our attention in our lives. Tuesdays with Morrie is a book that I think everyone could benefit from owning and finding time to read once a year. Every time I come back to this book, I learn something new that I can apply to my current situation in life.
10% Happier—Dan Harris. Dan Harris was a newscaster with ABC when he suffered from a panic attack on live television. This event sparked a period of self-reflection in Dan’s life, and, through this, he found his way to meditation. A lifelong skeptic and nonbeliever in meditation, Harris’s book is written specifically for skeptics and lays out in no-nonsense, scientific terms how meditation can be beneficial for the mind and body. Instead of professing the life-changing nature of this practice, however, Harris remains a realist—he explains that engaging in mindfulness activities will make you 10% happier. When the stakes are so low, it’s hard to find a good reason not to introduce meditation as a habit in your life.
The Little Prince—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book might seem like an odd addition to the list, given that most of the other books here are of the self-help variety. Personally, I tend to be a bit skeptical of books that tell me how I should live my life, and that’s why I added Saint-Exupéry’s children’s book. The Little Prince is a well-loved classic, and for good reason—this story reminds us in the simplest possible terms where we should be focusing our attention in our lives. We as humans have a tendency to overcomplicate things, and this book is the perfect way to recenter and remind ourselves that “what is essential to the heart is invisible to the eyes.” A simple, oft-stated message, but one that is sadly kicked to the curb in our hurried and fast-paced lives.