The 7 Best Self-Help Books of 2021

Find yourself in one of these versatile, mind-changing reads

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Our Top Picks

A New Earth

"Helps readers learn how to turn their suffering into peace."

You Are a Badass

"What sets this self-help book apart from the others are the engaging end-of-chapter exercises."

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

"The author breaks up the text with cartoons, quotes, brainstorming ideas, and stories from real teens to bring the book together."

What Are You Hungry For?

"This book offers a lot of intention-setting tips to help readers determine the motives behind their goals. "

Declutter Your Mind

"This book offers hands-on exercises that engage your mindset and helps you turn negative thoughts into positive ones."

Big Magic

"The author's honest, conversational, no-BS tone will light a fire in your soul and help you be upfront with yourself."

The Wisdom of Sundays

"The book has 240 pages full of snippets from what Oprah refers to as 'life-changing insights.'"

Until proven otherwise, it’s safe to assume that—as the saying goes—nobody’s perfect. That means we have room for at least some improvement in our lives. And no, we’re not talking about getting a higher-paying job or a new haircut: we’re referring to inner improvement. This involves working on managing some of our less-than-desirable habits and traits—things like being unable to trust other people, having difficulties with interpersonal communication, or lacking self-confidence. 

That’s where self-help books can come in handy. It’s basically like someone has thought extensively about the general challenge you’re facing, and then walks you through steps to help you figure it out—or at least think about it more clearly. To be clear: self-help books are not a replacement for working with mental health professionals. If you’re dealing with a mental illness, seek out a credentialed person you can speak with in person (or over a video call). But for situations without a clinical element, a self-help book can make a difference. 

To help you narrow down your options, here are the best self-help books according to the experts.

A New Earth

What We Like
  • Can be helpful to reivist certain passages, as needed

  • Discusses how to effectively process and find meaning in suffering

What We Don't Like
  • A lot of overlap with content found in the author's previous book

Many consider Eckhart Tolle one of the great thought leaders our time. Prior to "A New Earth," Tolle wrote "The Power of Now," a best seller and must-read. The reason "A New Earth" makes this list is quite simple: it goes beyond teaching how to live in the moment and helps readers learn how to turn their suffering into peace. All types of suffering are addressed in the book, from anger and grief to jealousy and anxiety.

Tolle talks a lot about the ego and how to separate ourselves from it. His examples and recommended exercises are not just hocus pocus; they really work and are something anyone can do. Whether your suffering is rooted in jealousy, anger, grief, sadness, anxiety, or depression, Tolle will help you see life from varied perspectives, awakening you to your life’s purpose.

This book is great as a reference point, too. Those who pick up a copy will read it front to back then revisit Tolle's words over and over again. Others will keep it by their nightstands and flip to a chapter when they’re feeling some excess baggage creep in and could use some words of wisdom.

You Are a Badass

You are a Badass

Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Engaging exercises

  • Accessible writing style

What We Don't Like
  • Not the most empathetic towards people with depression

  • Contains some microaggressions and fat shaming

Far too often, fear gets the best of us. Jen Sincero helps readers go beyond that fear in her New York Times best seller "You Are a Badass." What sets this self-help book apart from the others are the engaging end-of-chapter exercises.

Instead of casting the book aside and letting it collect dust after you read the last page, you'll be inspired to go back and reflect on the previous exercises you responded to. The exercises also drive home the points Sincero makes through her writing. When you feel a dip in your confidence, going back to your entries will put a positive spin on your day and remind you why you should show yourself more self-love. Also make sure to check out Sincero's follow-up book, "You Are a Badass at Making Money."

Dr. Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry.

Some self-help books include daily therapeutic activities and provide comfort and guidance to individuals who are suffering. I recommend individuals meet with a psychiatrist and therapist, and concurrently utilize self-help books to expedite their healing.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens

What We Like
  • Text is broken up using cartoons and quotes

  • Could be beneficial for both teens and parents

What We Don't Like
  • Updated in 2014, but still can feel outdated

  • Unnecessary references to dieting and losing weight

Many have read, or at least have heard about, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. Covey's son Sean followed in his footsteps, making a spinoff version for teenagers that uses the same principles to help young adults master formative areas of their lives.

To make this self-help book age-appropriate and downright fun to read, Covey breaks up the text with cartoons, quotes, brainstorming ideas, and stories from real teens to bring the book together. "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens" covers topics like body image, friendships, relationships, goal-setting, peer pressure, bullying, internet safety, and so much more. Gift this book to your teenage son, daughter, niece, nephew, or grandchild. It's the perfect keepsake to pass down to future generations of teens too.

What Are You Hungry For?

What We Like
  • Helps readers understand their reasons for certain types of eating

  • More than simply a guide to healthy eating

What We Don't Like
  • Even though it’s not a traditional weight loss book, that component being included at all might turn some people off

  • Can feel like any other book on weight loss and our relationship with food

Deepak Chopra is the self-help guru of our time, and any one of his books could be recommended for various reasons. "What Are You Hungry For?" will help you see your relationship with food in an entirely new light.

While this self-help book could be considered a guide to help with weight loss, it’s really so much more. Chopra does talk about losing weight and also gives a pretty regimented recommendation on what to eat. But he also digs deeper into the reasoning behind our desire to seek this transformation, and fulfillment is at the center of this argument.

Since change isn’t easy for most, the book offers a lot of intention-setting tips to help readers determine the motives behind their goals. Attaching an emotion to the things you want in life, health-related or otherwise, makes it easier to stay the course when the going gets tough.

Declutter Your Mind

What We Like
  • Tackles negative thinking patterns—something a lot of people struggle with

  • Includes helpful, actionable exercises

What We Don't Like
  • May not feel as applicable to people who aren’t self-employed

  • Writing can feel self-promotional at times

The subtitle of this book provides great insight into the heart of the book: How to stop worrying, relieve anxiety and eliminate negative thinking. "Declutter Your Mind" is a book that is very hands-on with its reader and full of various exercises to engage your mindset. You will learn the causes of mental clutter, how to change negative thoughts to positive ones, strategies to help with rocky relationships, how to identify what’s important to you, the importance of meditation, how to goal set, and much more.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress, worry, or anxiety, this powerful book will do its part in offering various techniques, tips, and tricks to cope with an overactive mind. Reviewers consistently note how much they enjoy the actionable exercises in the book and that the co-authors offer more than a sermon on the importance of living mindfully and in the moment.

Big Magic

BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR
Courtesy of Walmart
What We Like
  • Great for creative people (or those who want to be more creative)

  • Accessible and conversational writing style makes it easy to read

What We Don't Like
  • Gilbert’s “tough love” approach doesn't always translate

  • Reads more as a memoir than a self-help book in parts

For one reason or another, some were turned off by Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling "Eat Pray Love". But don’t let that turn you away from reading her other material, in particular, "Big Magic". If you’re an artist or creator of any type and have struggled with a blockage that prevents you from pursuing your calling to its fullest, you’ll want to give this a read.

From creating new habits (and ridding yourself of old ones) to overcoming fear and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, Gilbert hits the nail on the head as she dissects the obstacles a creative person may face in pursuing their dreams. Her honest, conversational, no-BS tone will light a fire in your soul and help you be upfront with yourself about what you want from life. A highlight of this book is the usage of real-life examples from regular men and women across the country who have endured in their creative feats.

The Wisdom of Sundays

What We Like
  • Full of what Oprah Winfrey considers “life-changing insights”

  • It’s like sitting in on a conversation between Oprah and major thought leaders

What We Don't Like
  • Print can be small and hard to read at times

Oprah is the queen of interviewing spiritual gurus, world leaders, therapists, doctors, and other thought leaders. "The Wisdom of Sundays" takes the best-of-the-best from these conversations and combines them into one uplifting read.

The book has 240 pages full of snippets from what Oprah refers to as "life-changing insights". Authors in The Wisdom of Sundays include Shonda Rimes, Cheryl Strayed, Tony Robbins, Thich Nhat Hahn, Wayne Dyer, and so many more. Take your time with each individual page to make sure you don't skim over any of the wonderful and thought-provoking insights inside.

Final Verdict

This one’s tricky, because a self-help book that one person hated could be the one that changed another person’s life. Having said that, if you’re new to the genre, you probably want to stick with a book with a broader appeal, like "Declutter Your Mind" (view on Amazon). While not everyone is looking to mold a highly effective teen, everyone does have something that makes them anxious, and this book provides a manageable way of identifying and addressing some of the ones that are holding you back. 

What to Look for in a Self-Help Book

Selecting a self-help book is, for the most part, a highly personal decision (with the exception  being cases when a book is so popular you feel the need to read it, even if you wouldn’t have done so on your own). Given that this genre is not one-size-fits-all—and that people respond to a wide range of styles, topics, and tones—finding the right self-help books for yourself can be a process of trial and error. But, to help guide you through that process, here are a few general things to look for when purchasing a self-help book:

Writing style and tone:

First, think about what kind of book that is likely to be the most helpful in your current situation, as well as the kind you’d actually like to read. These two categories don’t necessarily overlap. For example, you may think you want a clinical-sounding, research-backed guide through a particular condition or situation, but in reality, would find it so boring that you’d never pick it up. And a self-help book just sitting on the shelf isn’t helping anyone.

If you think you’d respond well to something funny, or that it would help hold your interest, look for a self-help book that injects humor into its pages. (And yes, highly qualified experts with fancy degrees can also be hilarious.)

Something your therapist recommends:

If you are working with some type of therapist or counselor, ask them for recommendations for self-help books. Not only are they probably very familiar with this genre, but they also have gotten to know you during your sessions, and may have a good idea of the type of book that you’d benefit from the most.

Format:

In addition to tone, self-help books also come in several different formats. “Some individuals fare better with more structure and guidance, while others excel with more creative and fluid feedback,” Dr. Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry explains. “Some people enjoy reading about concepts, while others prefer completing daily tasks and worksheets.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do self-help books work?

    Like many things in life, what you get out of self-help books depends on the time and effort you put into not only reading them, but also doing the work. And no, that doesn’t necessarily include actual worksheets: the “work” also involves taking what you’ve read, sitting with it, processing it, and figuring out how you can use it in your own life (if applicable). 

    “Self-help books can, in truth, be very helpful if an individual puts forth the effort to integrate the information learned from the book into their daily life,” Summer R. Thompson, DNP, PMHNP-BC, a mental health nurse practitioner at Community Psychiatry explains.

  • What are the benefits of self-help books?

    When someone finds the right self-help book and puts the time into reading it and doing the work, it can have a number of benefits. One is that they can “provide a concrete blueprint for an individual who has identified an issue in their life to navigate addressing it in a healthy manner on their own,” Thompson explains.   

    In addition to providing a general blueprint for how a person can approach some of their biggest challenges, self-help books can add structure to individuals’ day-to-day life. “They can motivate individuals to try different strategies and venture into uncomfortable territory,” says Dr. Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry.

    Beyond that, Magavi notes that self-help books can lead to more fluid and healthy communication at work and at home, and many allow individuals to remain introspective and practice self-compassion. “It helps individuals identify ways in which they can respond to inevitable stress in a more positive way, and reiterates the fact that they have the power to write their own story and determine their own emotional experience,” she explains.

What the Experts Say

“Self-help books have helped many men and women initiate the often-daunting task of processing their thoughts and assessing their insecurities and weaknesses. Self-help books allow individuals to try different techniques and find what works the best for them to assuage anxiety and confront tumultuous times with grace.” Dr. Leela R. Magavi, MD, psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry

“When looking at self-help books, it is important to look for books that provide clear and attainable goals in the context of the issue you are addressing. If a book makes recommendations that you do not feel are achievable in the context of your life, the book will likely not be very helpful to you and end up collecting dust rather than being an effective self-improvement tool.” Summer R. Thompson, DNP, PMHNP-BC, mental health nurse practitioner at Community Psychiatry

Why Trust Verywell Mind?

Erinne Magee is a freelance writer covering health, wellness and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more.

Additional reporting by Elizabeth Yuko

As a seasoned health writer and editor with a special focus on mental health and well-being, Elizabeth Yuko understands how powerful stress-relieving activities can be for many people—as well as the fact that they’re not one-size-fits-all. With decades of first-hand experience dealing with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, she’s always on the lookout for new (and research-backed) products, techniques, and services that can help people cope with stress and other mental health challenges. 

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