15/01/2017 13:28 GMT | Updated 14/01/2018 05:12 GMT

Five Books That Genuinely Improved My Happiness And Mental Health


Reading itself has been proven to be good for your mental health, but it was only recently I realised that reading about improving your mental health can do wonders.

I usually get lost in crime fiction or romantic novels that are easy to read, rather than non-fiction books that could teach me a little bit about life. But, after seeing a series of books cropping up on social media with claims they could "improve my life for the better", I took the plunge and bought some.

After the first book, I started to crave this insight I was getting into my life, my happiness, and why I felt I was at a bit of a dead end. I wanted to read more. It wasn't because I was incredibly unhappy, it was just that everything in my life was fine. Just fine. And fine wasn't good enough for me.

Young perfectly described how I was feeling in her book 'Sane': "I have, in short, everything. Except - and here I hesitate, because I'm aware of where this would rank if placed on the spectrum of psychological suffering - except this: My mind is all over the place."

So here are my top five. The books that have given me guidance I still follow on a daily basis, as well as the best piece of advice I've taken from them all.

1. 'The Happiness Project' by Gretchen Rubin

It might be old, and perhaps one of the books that paved the way for the stream of happiness books launched in 2016, but I use Rubin's advice every single day. She gave herself a year to make herself happier in every aspect of her life, from work to family and friendships. On the outside, it looked like she had everything she'd ever wanted, but in reality she wasn't as happy as she knew she could be. Rubin writes the book like a diary, month-by-month, and gives realistic and practical things you can do daily that will improve the way you look at life, including chatting to experts to get their views.

Best advice: 60% of the overall happiness of an event is the journey leading up to it. If you've booked a holiday in six months time, enjoy that 'looking forward to it' feeling as much as you can.

2. 'Big Magic' by Elizabeth Gilbert

Known for 'Eat, Pray, Love', Gilbert wrote 'Big Magic' with the aim to help her readers creatively. Initially I thought, being in a creative job myself, that the book would inspire me with my writing - but it was so much more than that. 'Big Magic' celebrates a creative life in general - not just creative activities - but a view of the world that takes you out of your comfort zone and opens you up to new experiences. The way she talks about her creative life is infectious and it's the type of book that gives you that get up and go feeling.

Best advice: Bravery in life means doing something scary. If your goal in life is fearlessness, then you're already on the wrong path.

3. 'F**k It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way' by John Parkin

Using the Eastern spiritual ideas of letting go, Parkin takes something very simple - the idea of saying "Fuck it" - and turns it into a whole book, or sort of therapy to a completely new way to life. As Parkin rightly puts it, we attach a lot of meaning to things in life ("Our lives are too meaning-full") and when we do, we're more open to being hurt by something. It's a book for those of us stuck worrying about things that aren't really important in the grand scheme of things (Twitter is down, we've spent too much money one month, our phone has broken). It made me realise some of us are living in these tight-knit prisons of our own making ("prisons of perfectionism" as Parkin puts it) of self doubt and anxiety. But we've built them in our minds, so only we can kick down the walls and start saying fuck it.

Best advice: Given perspective, all the little things in life seem pathetically irrelevant. Our mind is constantly addicted to the fears around the things that matter. So just say fuck it, let out a sigh of relief, and see what happens.

4. 'Sane' by Emma Young

Much like 'The Happiness Project', Young goes on a quest to strengthen her mental resilience and find new ways to cope with everyday life. She journals her findings in the book, including expert advice from people she meets along the way. The personal problems she has to solve are not unsurmountable: she wishes she didn't lose her temper, she wants to stop her negative thinking and tone her mind just like her body. She goes through different stages to exercise, nourish, rest, retune and toughen her mind, telling the reader how she manages to do it each time.

Best advice: Giving your mind time to rest is just as important as giving your body time to rest after a workout. You can't improve your mental strength and find calm if you are constantly tired and irritable and don't give your mind time out.

5. 'The Secret' by Rhonda Byrne

By far the most beneficial for me, but a book that some people might not get on with. I'm not religious and I've never seen myself as being spiritual, but 'The Secret' is something I've 100% got on board with. The book isn't one you'd binge read, it's the type you want next to your bed when you're feeling defeated and need some motivation. Byrne delves into the law of attraction: the idea that having positive thoughts will attract positive experiences in our life and negative thoughts will attract negative experiences. Byrne goes through every aspect of our lives - including career, body image and money - and explains how we can use our thoughts to help pan out our life as we hope it would be. It's not for everybody, but it's definitely for me.

Best advice: We achieve nothing by starting each day with a negative attitude, but we could achieve something by starting the day with a positive one.