The New Year, with its veritable vibe of fresh beginnings and ritualistic resolution setting, is the perfect time to read one of the numerous ‘self-help’ books you’ve probably overheard your enthusiastic colleagues or aunties talking about.

If you’re someone to whom the idea of taking advice from the pages of a book sounds clichéd and makes you cringe, never fear because I’ve managed to find five self-help books that actually don’t suck.

In the vein of the 2016 hit, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson, the following books don’t explicitly adhere to the traditional formula of a ‘self-help’ manual. They won’t nauseate you with a long list of dos and don’ts, nor will they make you feel like you’re being lectured or like you simply don’t have time to do all the things you ‘need to do’ in order to be successful.

I personally think stories from the heart are more helpful and relatable than how-to guides and these books are so full of poignancy, honesty and raw depictions of real-life experiences that they will make you laugh, cry, shake your head in wonder, and inspire you to be the best version of yourself simply through the emotions they evoke.

1. First, we Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson

First, we Make the Beast Beautiful is a candid, well-researched and beautifully-written story about anxiety that transforms cultural norms surrounding mental health. Journalist and author, Sarah Wilson, chronicles her own battle with anxiety and provides insight not only into how she deals with the affliction but how she has come to accept it, and how it can, in fact, make life beautiful. The statistics regarding anxiety in Australia are shocking. One in four people – one in three women and one in five men – experience anxiety in their lifetime, so whether you battle the beast yourself or not, this book is worth reading for the enlightenment it provides into the most common mental health condition in the country.

2. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for close to ten years, including before his run for election. Her intimate portrayal of both the president and life inside the White House as a woman who suffers from IBS is surprisingly relatable. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? is full of down-to-earth, frequently lol-worthy professional advice for people (especially women) in media, politics, government and policy. For everyone else, it provides a fascinating and personal insight into what it was like to work for one of the world’s most powerful people and the tools and skills she needed to develop in order to overcome the pressure and challenges inherent in her role.

3. The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell

All things Scandinavian – furniture, fashion, music, art, film – are, in my humble opinion, flawless. After reading The Year of Living Danishly, I became even more enviable of the legendary Scandi lifestyle. Denmark is the happiest country in the world and this humorous memoir by Helen Russell, former editor of MarieClaire.co.uk, provides a light and interesting insight into why this is the case. It journals her move from London to rural Jutland, where she used her background as a journalist to observe and interview locals, and write about the six lessons she learned: trust more; don’t complain about taxes; make time for hygge (which I interpret very roughly to mean fun, cosy time with loved ones, often over coffee and a delicious treat); make your home beautiful; find work-life balance; and embrace law, order and politics.

4. We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – who just so happens to be my favourite writer – is a powerful book-length essay that provides a nuanced definition of feminism in the twenty-first century. Adapted from her TEDx talk of the same name and based on personal experiences, including anecdotes about growing up in Nigeria, the essay eloquently expresses Adichie’s belief that sexism still exists and that feminism isn’t a bad word. It explores the role we each have to play in eliminating discrimination and the gender divide, which Adichie argues is damaging to men and women alike. It is written with humility, sincerity and a witty prose that is both enrapturing and accessible.

5. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Let me start by saying, if you haven’t read any Joan Didion, please make some time this year to introduce yourself to her lyrical prose. The Year of Magical Thinking is a heart-wrenching account of the year following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. It is an incredibly moving and exquisitely-written source of inspiration on how to be resilient, and vulnerable in your resilience, through hardship. Sometimes when I’m experiencing emotional stress, I think about this book and find myself wondering how Joan would react if she were in my shoes… and to me that is the hallmark of a truly valuable self-help book.

Feature image: Tiphaine Marie

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