8 Legit Self-Help Books You’ll Actually Want to Be Seen Reading

UPDATED: May 21, 2021
PUBLISHED: September 19, 2017

Bookstores stock countless tomes devoted to every facet of personal improvement possible: relationships and family, mental and physical health, making boatloads of money or learning to let go of material obsessions.

Too often, though, they seem like an empty promise. But rather than coming across like a con artist or a lecturing mom, some books seem written by wise besties you haven’t met IRL, and sometimes, they share invaluable advice and tips in books you wouldn’t necessarily be embarrassed to read in public.

Here are eight such awesome titles that just might help you get your life in order.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck

By Sarah Knight (Little, Brown and Company, $15.99)

You already know the KonMari method of decluttering, materially and mentally: Keep and organize that which sparks the joy; ditch the rest. Knight’s book expounds on Marie Kondo’s best-seller with her NotSorry Method.

Knight talks setting boundaries, hurting other people’s feelings (sometimes it’s necessary but “don’t be an asshole,” please), and dealing with family. This is a no-holds approach to putting yourself (mostly) first. Read it because life’s too short for worrying about what that nosy co-worker thinks about your sexuality/politics/tattoos.

Material Girl, Mystical World: The Now Age Guide to a High-Vibe Life

By Ruby Warrington (HarperElixer, $26.99)

If your life feels like a hamster wheel, this book may offer clarity. Warrington, founder of The Numinous website, chronicles her journey from high-pressure fashion journalist to creating an internet oasis that celebrates path over destination.

Chapters such as “Do Your Dharma, Fix Your Kharma” and “Your Period as a Sacred Goddess Code” use tarot, astrology, meditation, séances and good old-fashioned gut instincts to guide spiritual seekers toward fulfillment—whether the goal is career satisfaction, solid relationships or just a post-Burning Man detox. Throughout, Warrington writes with no-nonsense empathy: “One huge telltale sign that you’re about to go against your own intuition is when you have to keep asking other people if they think it’s a good idea or not.”

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person

By Shonda Rhimes (Simon & Schuster, $25.99)

Where Knight teaches the power of “no,” Rhimes advocates for the power of “yes.” Crafted as both memoir and self-help guide, it documents what happened when Rhimes challenged herself to a year of saying “yes” to panic attack-inducing requests.

While some of Rhimes’ personal anxiety mountains may seem Everest-esque to the rest of us (worried about accepting that Jimmy Kimmel Live invite?), her self-deprecating vibe makes for a must-read. This isn’t a book written to encourage dreamers, Rhimes cautions; it’s a book meant to get you off your ass. “A lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people… the really powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing.” Hell yes.

Tiny, Beautiful Things

By Cheryl Strayed (Vintage, $16.99)

Strayed is best known as the adventuring Wild hiker, but before she laced up those ill-fated boots, she wrote The Rumpus’s “Dear Sugar” advice column. This resulting collection is less traditional self-help stuff than shoot-from-the-hip ruminations—in short, it’s an advice book for those who don’t think they like advice books.

Tackling love, loss, anger and grief, often through her own prisms of failures and disappointments (her mother’s death, sexual abuse by a relative, drug addiction and myriad shitty relationships), Strayed writes unflinching “lessons in radical empathy” that enlighten and give insight into what it means to live an open, purposeful life.

“The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light,” she writes. “Look hard. Risk that.”

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead Books, $24.95)

The mega-popular Eat Pray Love author puts away her passport and takes on what could be the biggest mind-trip of all: harnessing the “magic” of creativity. “I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas,” she explains.

“Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life form.” OK, sure, it sounds a bit precious and mystical, but Gilbert keeps the advice relatable and down to earth. “Stop complaining,” she commands in one chapter, “Every artist complains, so it’s a dead and boring topic.” This is the book to pick up if you want to finally finish (or start) that novel, learn to play the guitar, start painting or launch that wildly profitable pop-up restaurant.

You Are a Bad-Ass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

By Jen Sincero (Running Press, $25)

If flowery motivational talks aren’t your jam, then try Sincero’s clear-eyed, blunt-tongued approach. This best-seller doesn’t disappoint, with chapters such as “Your Brain Is Your Bitch” and “How to Get Over Your BS.” Basically, this is a guide on how to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Sincero comes across as your wise, impossibly cool older sister dispensing been-there-lived-through-that advice in a razor-sharp yet loving voice.

Sincero imbues her lessons with chestnuts that explore tapping into overcoming one’s fears and self-doubts through spirituality and a higher power: “This is about your faith being bigger than your fear,” she writes.

How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life

By Heather Havrilesky (Doubleday, $24.95)

Much in the same vein as Tiny, Beautiful Things, this advice column collection tackles life’s questions with brutal wit and compassion. Culled from Havrilesky’s New York Magazine “Ask Polly” column, the dilemmas feel of-the-moment yet timeless.

Whether advising an ego-bruised reader to channel her inner Kanye, guiding a party girl away from chronic Game of Thrones-style drunken grandiosity (who among us doesn’t need to hear that?) or evoking Meatballs-era Bill Murray to consider the age-old question of career versus motherhood, reading Havrilesky feels like hanging with your BFF.

Work Life: A Survival Guide to Modern Life

By Molly Erman (Dovetail, $20)

Finally, a work guide that doesn’t suck. This colorful guide to office life doesn’t talk down with condescending advice and, even better, it doesn’t aim to pump you up with meaningless platitudes.

Rather, Erman offers the real-life tips they don’t teach you in college (but should). Be it email etiquette, decoding office culture (what the hell is “business casual” anyway?), quitting your job like a champ or acing performance reviews, Work Life is basic AF but in the best, most essential way possible.

Rachel Leibrock

This post originally appeared on Girlboss.com.

[fl_builder_insert_layout slug=”amazon-affiliate-disclaimer”]

Girlboss is redefining success for a new generation of women—our generation. A new kind of media company, we produce content, community, and experiences with a singular focus on serviceable content that women want to spend meaningful time with. Covering work, money, wellness, beauty and identity, Girlboss believes that ambition and wellness are not mutually exclusive. Most important, we create a space for two-way dialogue—where vulnerability meets real talk with a sprinkling of wit and humor.