On some level, we all seek to be the best versions of ourselves. Self-actualization books line the shelves of most libraries and bookstores. The top five impactful books for me, and from an informal poll of my colleagues, are the following:
Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
Frankl survived three years in concentration camps during World War II. He thereafter was professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School, founding what has come to be called the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy (after Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology)—the school of logotherapy.
His book, Man's Search for Meaning, has sold millions of copies worldwide. He describes the inhumane conditions he and others endured in the concentration camps, and leaves us with profound lessons, like "everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." He illustrates this point with heart-breaking examples.
Another famous quote from his book is, "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." This powerful message has stuck with me for many years and has taught me the important difference between reacting and responding. There is great value in life in practicing the pause in most situations in life.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz
Toltec Shaman Don Miguel Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple yet effective code of personal conduct in this bestselling book. The four agreements he describes are these: (1) Be impeccable with your word; (2) Don't take anything personally; (3) Don't make assumptions; and (4) Always do your best. His description of how self and societal judgment take over our psyches is compelling, as is his simple, yet often overlooked, message that we all have different realities that affect our behavior. The more I adhere to the four agreements, the better my life becomes.
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk, a renowned Zen master, a poet and peace activist. His Miracle of Mindfulness teaches readers the practice and utility of mindfulness and serves as a wonderfully gentle introduction to meditation. The health benefits of meditation have been highly touted, as more people learn about it. Hanh's work increased my ability to be fully present—and even joyful—during even the most ordinary moments in life. From washing the dishes to answering the phone, he reminds us how each moment holds within it an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and past president of the American Psychological Association, is a leading motivational expert and father of the new science of positive psychology. Seligman draws on more than twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. The techniques I learned from his book helped to ease my depression. My interpretation of events in my life has been forever changed by the more positive interior dialogue I learned in this book. I found this book to be both profound and practical.
A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles, by Marianne Williamson
A Course in Miracles is a self-study spiritual thought system that teaches forgiveness as the road to inner peace. Acclaimed author, speaker and activist Marianne Williamson's best-selling Return to Love is a spiritual guide in which the author shares her reflections on A Course in Miracles and her insights on the application of love in the search for inner peace. Williamson shows us how love is a potent force, the key to inner peace, and how by practicing love we can make our own lives more fulfilling, while creating a more peaceful and loving world. I also enjoyed Gabrielle Bernstein's modern take on Williamson's work in Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles, in which Bernstein shares the story of how she transformed her life, offering her spiritual journey as a guidebook for overcoming fear, changing perceptions, and creating a fulfilling life. Bernstein maintains that she became a student of A Course in Miracles and since then has been guided to teach those spiritual principles to the next generation of seekers. I was struck by her lessons on the role of ego in life's challenges.