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11 books to help you create a happier, more optimistic life

After spending my early working years staring at the walls of a cubicle and feeling absolutely miserable, I set out on a mission to find a more rewarding career. As you might expect, that kind of journey is a long one, but it has paid off for me.

When you’re trying to find happiness, whether in your career or in life, you do a lot of reading on the topic. I’ve built a successful career in marketing, with freelance writing gigs on the side, and I’ve been sharing pieces of what I’ve learned on my blog, Punched Clocks, to help others find happiness in their careers.

More: How I knew I needed to quit my corporate job

To help those like me, who are seeking happiness, here are 11 books to help you on your way:

1. The Happiness Advantage

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The Happiness Advantage is one of my favorite books — and for good reason. Shawn Anchor holds that our traditional perceptions of success and happiness are warped. He says success won’t make us happy, but rather, the opposite. Happiness breeds success — both at work and in our lives. Psychological research, including Anchor’s own research in addition to a Harvard study, demonstrate how seven principles can help us turn the common misconception on its head.

2. The Four Agreements

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The Four Agreements is a small, philosophical book exploring the roots of happiness, and the four agreements that happy human beings make with themselves. Don Miguel Ruiz uses Toltec wisdom and philosophy to lift someone out of their habits, and start them on the path to emotional and spiritual freedom.

3. Eat, Pray, Love

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Elizabeth Gilbert became a household name thanks to Eat, Pray, Love and the subsequent film, but the book is actually chock full of inspiration. Too often, our successes are judged in terms of the things we have: a nice house, lucrative job or stable relationship. Leaving behind her husband, career and home, Gilbert set out to find herself and her own version of success in a year of traveling through three different cultures.

4. Thrive

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When Arianna Huffington collapsed from exhaustion and sleep deprivation, she was forced to take a step back. She took time to reevaluate her life, and what she thought was success and happiness. Huffington, as the editor-in-chief and founder of the Pulitzer Prize winning Huffington Post, was by all accounts one of the most successful women in the world. However, she soon realized that success is about more than just the corner office and a staggering paycheck, realizations she chronicles in Thrive.

5. Stumbling on Happiness

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Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts imagination and foresight under a microscope in Stumbling on Happiness, an inspection of the human imagination. Gilbert proposes that we all think we know what will make us happy, but that our imaginations limit us when we think of what happiness is. The book is about a simple concept: We don’t know how we will feel tomorrow, or the day after or the day after that. Our idea of happiness is just that: an idea.

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6. The Dash

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On our tombstones, regardless of when we’re born and when we die, the life in between is represented by a single dash. In The Dash Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson dive into that dash and explore the way that we choose to live our lives. The book can turn your perspective on a dime and make you think about how we make all of our choices.

7. The Happiness Project

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One day, Gretchen Rubin realized that time was passing, and that she was letting much of it slip by without making an effort to have it mean something. In her memoir, The Happiness ProjectRubin applies pop culture, spirituality and psychology to a year-long effort to be happier. Through her project, she realizes that happiness is contingent upon change, challenges — and even money. A great read, and an excellent starting point for your own happiness project.

8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (and It’s All Small Stuff)

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We all have those little things that drive us crazy, and the things that drive us crazy that we don’t even realize are little things. Richard Carlson’s book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, outlines a bunch of ways to let the small stuff go, and focus on what really matters. Among the things to realize are that perfection is impossible, you can’t fight every battle and it’s important to live in the now. Carlson outlines small changes to make that will help you lead a happier life.

9. The Magic of Thinking Big

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Even though it sounds like a cliché, believe it can be done, and it can be. In The Magic of Thinking Bigauthor David J. Schwartz gives readers useful methods for visualizing their successes, and then making them happen. Whether it’s your marriage, job or social life, learning to change your thinking about these aspects of life can also change the things that happen for you. It’s worth a read, and certainly worth trying some of these techniques.

10. Daring Greatly

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For women everywhere, Brene Brown is an inspiration and role model. Daring Greatly explores vulnerability and how uncertainty and emotional reactions commonly seen as weaknesses can, and should, be looked at as signs of true courage. Brown argues that there is nothing as hurtful or uncomfortable as looking back on our lives and wondering, “What if?”

11. 10% Happier

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After having a panic attack on national television, author Dan Harris embarked on an adventure to tame the constant voice in his head and get mental help. It came in the form of meditation, and 10% Happier spans the realms of self-help, neuroscience and spirituality to get there.

Really, no book can teach you how to be happy. What they can do is help you get on your way to being happy in both your life and your career. Most of the work is on you, but picking up these books is a great first step.

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