Books Worth Reading

Books Worth Reading

Ten Good Books on Happiness


Instead of reviewing one book, why not present ten good books on happiness, I thought. Looking at lists found on the Net, I found hundreds of titles.

Please do not take anyone’s list as the Gospel truth. You may go ecstatic over a book, which does not impress me, or vice-versa. What you and I are looking for, may be different.

Having mentioned this caveat,   let me present a list of ten good books which many people have found useful and inspiring.

One more word of caution: Reading a book will not make you happy, just as reading a book on fitness will not make you physically fit. You need to DO what the book talks about. Happiness is not something a person or a book can bring us. People or books can tell us what they found helpful in their pursuit of happiness. Becoming happy is my choice and responsibility. Books and experts cannot give it to me.

Want to learn more? Here are ten books, in alphabetical order.

1. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama is a simple and practical exposition of the Buddhist philosophy of peace and compassion as a foundation of “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” (Available also in Indian languages.)


2. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin Seligman. Seligman is the “father” of what is known as Positive Psychology, which explores the positive aspects of life rather than focus on what goes wrong.


3. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. She calls herself a “researcher-storyteller” who has researched, written and spoken about vulnerability, shame and ways of leading happier


4. Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a very popular course on happiness at Harvard University, which thousands of students have attended. The author sees happiness as something we can learn to cultivate. One of the chief obstacles Ben-Shahar sees to happiness is perfectionism.


 5. Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard. He has a degree in molecular genetics, and later turned his attention to Buddhism. Became a monk, and lives in Nepal. His book combines the wisdom of the Buddhist tradition with the findings of Western science.


6. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom,   Jonathan Haidt unearths ten great theories of happiness from ancient times until today. Combines ancient and perennially valid spiritual teachings with the insights of contemporary science.


7. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin is based on her experiences which she wrote down in a blog. It is humorous, practical and also based on scientific data.


8. Stumbling On Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbertis rated by some as the best-researched yet easily accessible book on happiness. It explains some of the common misconceptions about happiness and ways in which we limit ourselves in our quest.


9. The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. Her current research addresses three critical questions: 1) What makes people happy?; 2) Is happiness a good thing?; and 3) How and why can people learn to lead happier and more flourishing lives? Why Are Some People Happier Than Others?


10 % Happier by Dan Harris. A straight-forward, humorous, intelligent book on what meditation did for his busy media man. He shares his struggles and the changes he has noticed in himself as the result of meditation. According to Harris, even a few minutes of meditation can make a difference.

(Apart from these books, it is worth watching the videos of the TED talks by Seligman, Ricard, Brown and Gilbert, which are among the highest-rated TED talks ever.)

 Deeper and more lasting guidelines for finding happiness and peace are found in the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions. The Beatitudes given by Jesus, for instance, are a blueprint for happiness very different from the ways of the world. The lives of the saints, who lived out these gospel teachings best, are vivid illustrations of happiness. People found deep joy in the midst of rejection, pain, illness and when facing death. There are far deeper truths about human life than what psychology can explore or teach. Thus, a person who has never read any book on happiness, nor heard of therapy or positive psychology, may be deeply happy because of a profound sense of God or a deeply committed life. Such lives are probably the best “books” on happiness. Meet them! Read them!

 – Fr. Joe Mannath SDB is the National Secretary of CRI and the editor of this magazine

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Books Worth Reading

The Journey of the Wind


An unusual, beautiful book. Each page carries an exquisite colour painting of a flower and a touching verse. The human story behind the book is even more gripping.

Tomihiro Hoshino, the Japanese author, had just started his career as a gymnastics teacher when tragedy struck.  He suffered a fall, which left him totally paralyzed from the neck down. He became deeply depressed, and lost interest in everything.

Then came nine years of treatment and extreme suffering, during which he came close to death, and often wanted to die. All he could do was lie on his back and gaze at the ceiling. His mother looked after him with tender love.

One day someone passed a hat around, and invited Tomihiro to paint something on it, holding a brush in his mouth. He tried.

Encouraged by his mother, he learnt to paint—holding a brush in his mouth. He has published several illustrated books of poems and essays. The beautiful flowers you see in Journey of the Wind are the work of a man who is paralyzed from the neck down.

Each page, as I said, carries the colour painting of a flower, together with a verse. Here is the moving verse Tomihiro wrote it to his nurse, who became his wife.

“I do not need a wedding ring, you said,

When I wash your face in the morning

It might hurt you

And I don’t want to hurt you

When I lift you up.

No, you said,

I do not want a wedding ring.

Morning light filters through the lace curtain.

You are my wife now.

You scoop up water from the washbowl.

The drops of water falling from your ten fingers

Are more beautiful than silver or gold.”

Near a Corn Poppy: “Flowers bloom facing upwards. I am lying on my back, face up. Both these seem quite natural, but in them I can feel God’s deep love.”

By the side of flower called “Mother’s Heart,” Tomihiro wrote: “If God would allow me to move my arm only once, I’d like to pat and thump my mother on the shoulder to ease her pain.”

Above a bunch of Chrysanthemums: “Clusters of sorrow I feel are closer to real happiness than clusters of joy. Crowds of weak people I feel are closer to truth than crowds of strong people.”

And this gem is beneath a Sasanqua flower: “I felt someone was looking at me. I turned my wheel chair. A small flower was blooming.”


Have you had shattering experiences when you “touched rock bottom”? What new creative energies did you discover through them?

Listen to Tomihiro: “Looking back on my nine years of hospital life, I remember the encouragement of the nurses and my friends rather than any hardship, the warm letters of my pupils rather than sorrow, the flowers near the window rather than the ceiling of the hospital. I was strongly impressed by the word ‘Live!’—from my mother or from the Bible, rather than by my own idea—‘Let me die.’

“We often realize the value of things after we have lost them…

“My dream…is not an encounter with success in life or being promoted to a high position—which I dreamed of in my boyhood. I had the illusion that I could live by my own power alone. The reality is this: my existence is very small, but it encounters great love. And I think now that such a wonderful encounter as this is worth more than anything else in the world.”

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Books Worth Reading

An Interrupted Life: The Diaries of Etty Hillesum


Everyone who has read this book remains deeply affected. Practically every review on the Web gives it a five-star rating. Etty Hillesum was a young Dutch Jewish woman who was killed in a notorious Nazi concentration camp at the age of 29. In the last three years of her life (from March 1941 to August 1943), she kept a diary, into which she poured the deepest part of her life. When the diary begins, Etty is a frightened, confused young woman very aware of her intellectual interests, her vibrant sexuality and the terrifying persecution of the Jews which has started. The diary shows her transformation from a frightened, sensual, insecure young woman to becoming the “loving heart of the barracks,” a source of hope and support for the desperate people around her—right up to the day she was sent to the extermination camp. Here are short excerpts from her diary, which was discovered in 1981, and took the world by storm.

This is a painful and well-nigh insuperable step for me, yielding up so much that has been suppressed to a blank sheet of lined paper… The main difficulty, I think, is a sense of shame. So many inhibitions, so much fear of letting go, of allowing things to pour out of me,…

The erotic and the spiritual

(About Julius Spier, a group therapist, to whom Etty would become close) If someone makes an impression on me, I can revel in erotic fantasies for days and nights on end…For a few days I could do nothing but think of him…

More arrests, more terror, concentration camps, the arbitrary dragging off of fathers, sisters, brothers. We seek the meaning of life, wondering whether any meaning can be left. But that is something each one of us must settle with himself and with God.

For a moment yesterday I thought I couldn’t go on living, that I needed help. Life and suffering had lost their meaning for me…

There is really a deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then He must be dug out again.

Sometimes I don’t feel like going on.

There are moments when this is what I want: his [Spier’s] concentrated, undivided love… I want him to say, “Darling, you are the only one and I shall love you for ever more.” …I do have a strong erotic streak and a great need for caresses and tenderness.

It is a slow and painful process, this striving after true inner freedom. Growing more and more certain there is no help or assurance or refuge in others. That the others are just as uncertain and weak and helpless as you are…

Mortal fear in every fibre. Complete collapse. Lack of self-confidence. Aversion. Panic..

… God, take me by Your hand, I shall follow you dutifully, and not resist too much. I shall evade none of the tempests life has in store for me.. but now and then grant me a short respite…

Oh God, I thank you for having created me as I am. I thank you for the sense of fulfilment I sometimes have…

December 31: The last evening of a year that has been by richest and most fruitful and yes, the happiest of all… I listen to myself, allow myself to be led not by anything on the outside, but by what wells up from deep within.

What is it in human beings that makes them want to destroy others?… The rottenness of others is in us too.

….How rash to assert that man shapes his own destiny. All he can do is determine his inner responses.

Everything is no longer pure chance.. .I have a destiny… At the end of each day I feel the need to say: life is very good after all.

Somewhere, deep inside, all of us carry a vast and fruitful loneliness wherever we go. And sometimes the most important thing in the whole day is turning inwards in praying for five short minutes.

There are no wasted and boring minutes any longer…

The sexual and erotic element in me has gradually been conditioned to play a subordinate role to human warmth, although that warmth is intense and passionate enough….. A desire to kneel down sometimes pulses through my body.

Lord, help me not to waste a drop of my energy on fear and anxiety, but grant me all the resilience I need to bear this day… God, do not let me dissipate my strength on useless hatred against these soldiers. Let me save my strength for better things.

The threat grows over greater, and terror increases from day to day. I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall…

.. And yet, at unguarded moments, when left to myself, I suddenly lie against the naked breasts of life and her arms round me are so gentle and so protective and my own heartbeat is difficult to describe.

…Our greatest injury is one we inflict upon ourselves. I find life beautiful and I feel free. The sky within me is as wide as the one stretching above my head. Life is hard but that is no bad thing… True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself.

Meaning in the midst of terror

The English radio has reported that 700,000 Jews perished last year alone, in Germany and the occupied territories…And yet I don’t think life is meaningless. And God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another. We are accountable to Him.. I find life beautiful and meaningful, from minute to minute.

Somewhere there is something inside me that will never desert me again.

A new insight: …They are out to destroy us completely… Today I am filled with terrible despair, and I shall have to come to terms with that as well…I shall not be bitter… I find life meaningful… yes, meaningful…My love of life has not been diminished. I am not bitter or rebellious, or in any way discouraged. I continue to grow from day to day, even with the likelihood of destruction staring me in the face…

All that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well… We must help you and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last… No one is in their clutches who is in Your arms.

When I pray I never pray for myself; always for others, or else I hold a silly, naive or deadly serious dialogue with what is deepest inside me, which for the sake of convenience I call God…

To think that one small human heart can experience so much, Oh God, so much suffering and so much love. I am so grateful to You, God, for having chosen my heart, in these times. To experience all the things it has experienced.

From Westerbork (the transit camp or jail from which Jews were sent to the extermination camp in Auschwitz).

 …These two months behind barbed wire have been the richest and most intense months of my life…I have learned to love Westerbork… I am grateful to you, Oh God, for having made my life so rich.

…I feel at home. I have learned so much about it here. We are at home in every place on earth, if only we carry everything within us….

We have so much work to do on ourselves that we shouldn’t even be thinking of hating our so-called enemies…no one is really bad deep down…. Each of us must turn inwards and destroy in himself all that he thinks he ought to destroy in others.

When I hear women and girls say, ‘We don’t want to think, we don’t want to feel, otherwise we are sure to go out of our minds,’ I was filled with an infinite tenderness… and I prayed, ‘Let me be the thinking heart of these barracks.’ Alone for once in the middle of the night, God and I have been left together, and I feel all the richer and at peace for it.

 It all comes down to the same thing: Life is beautiful. And I believe in God. And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call “Horror” and still be able to say: Life is beautiful.

…My impressions are scattered like glittering stars on the dark velvet of my memory.

Oh God, I am grateful to you for having given me this life.

Healing Balm

Etty’s last diary entry before leaving Westerbork was:  We should be willing to act as a balm for all wounds.

…I feel perfectly able to bear my lot, but not that of my parents.

…. I always end up with one single word: God. And that says everything and there is no need for anything more. All my creative powers are translated into inner dialog with you; the beat of my heart has grown deeper, more active and yet more peaceful, and it is as if I were all the time storing up inner riches.

On September 7, 1943, Etty, her parents and brothers were put on the train to Auschwitz to be gassed to death. An acquaintance wrote to Etty’s friends: “Alas, she too has gone…Talking gaily, smiling, a kind word for everyone she met on the way, full of sparkling humour, perhaps just a touch of sadness, but every inch the Etty you all know so well.. I wish I could describe the grace with which she and her family left. I think she quite preferred to share the experiences they have prepared for us all.”

Out of a window of that train Etty threw a postcard, which was found and sent by farmers: “We have left the camp singing.” A Red Cross report states that Etty died in Auschwitz on November 30, 1943. Her parents and one brother died there too.

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Books Worth Reading

Tuesdays with Morrie


Here is a small book—easily available in bookstores or online—which all of us, especially teachers, would do well to read. If you would rather watch a movie than read, then see the lovely movie with the same title.

One of the wisest and most touching books I have read in the recent past is Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The movie based on it touches the heart and mind.

            It is a moving account of the conversations between retired Professor Morris Schwartz (Morrie) and his former student, Mitch, in the months after Morrie discovered that he was going to die soon.

            Morrie’s “death sentence” came in 1994, when he was diagnosed of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a serious neurological illness with no cure.

In this disease, the muscles become weaker one by one. You cannot walk, or stand, or later even sit. Finally, you are breathing through a hole in your throat—but your mind remains clear.

Morrie had a choice—either to wither and die, or to make the best of the time left. He decided to make the best of what was left.

He welcomed visitors. He held discussion groups on dying. When a friend died of heart attack, he went for the funeral, and came back sad, because people said nice things about the dead man, which they had not told him during his life.

In the interview, Morrie said how he had taken a decision to live, rather than just wither away.

 “I am on the last great journey here—and people want me to tell them what to pack.”

Let me quote some of the precious lessons found in this gem of a book. The words in quotation marks are Morrie’s.

“Dying is only one thing to be sad over…So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy.”

Love: “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep…This is because they are chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others…to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

“Now that I am suffering, I feel much closer to people who are suffering.”

“Can I tell you the thing that I am learning most with this disease? The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in.”

Death: Morrie told Mitch: “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

Money: We cannot, Morrie insisted, substitute material things for love or friendship. “Do you know what really gives you satisfaction? Offering others what you have to give.”

Morrie told Mitch it is not worth trying to impress people. Those who despise you will do so, whatever you do. Others will be envious.

Giving: Morrie shared why he spent time listening to others’ problems, although he was in constant pain. “Giving to other people is what makes me feel alive.”

“Do the things…that come from the heart. [Then] you won’t be longing for somebody else’s things.”

In the coming weeks, Morrie became weaker, and the pain increased. He knew he was nearing the end. “This is our last thesis together,” he joked. “We want to get it right.”

“Love is how you stay alive,” he said, “Even after you are gone.”

Mitch loved the way Morrie’s face would light up as he entered the room. In spite of his pain and rapidly worsening health, Morrie gave full attention to the person with him. “I believe in being fully present. That means you should be with the person you are with.” Morrie used to insist with his students that they learn to listen, Albom recalled. When people haven’t found a meaning in their lives, Morrie felt, they are constantly restless.

Forgiveness: The professor told Mitch how he had been hurt by a friend’s behaviour and didn’t forgive him. Then his voice choked: “Mitch, a few years ago, he died of cancer…I never got to see him. I never got to forgive. It pains me so much.”

“Forgive others. Don’t wait, Mitch. Not everyone gets the time I’m getting.”

With evident love, Morrie told his student, “I do not know why you came back to me. But I want to say this—and here his voice choked—“If I could have had another son, I would have liked it to be you.”

Morrie had chosen the place where he wanted to be buried: on a hill, beneath a tree, overlooking a pond. He asked Mitch to come and visit his grave, and talk to him when he had problems. “After I’m dead, you talk. I listen.”

Morrie brought up the topic of Mitch’s brother, from whom Mitch felt estranged. He insisted on the need to get back to him, and assured him he would find a way.

During their last meeting, gasping for breath, Morrie asked for Mitch’s hand, put it on his heart and said: “You are a good soul….touched me here.”

Then he looked at Mitch. “Love…you.” “I love you too.” “You always have.”

Morrie cried. Mitch held him, and stroked his hair. He put a palm against Morrie’s face. Here are Mitch’s next words: “I kissed him closely, my face against his…longer than usual, in case it gave him a split second of pleasure…I blinked back the tears…”

Mitch Albom got back in touch with his estranged brother. He told him: “You are my only brother. I don’t want to lose you. I love you.” Never before had he told him that.

He ends the book this way:

“Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a raw but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to proud shine?…

“The last class of my professor’s life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesday. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.

“The teaching goes on.”



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