In times when life gets complicated and the news overwhelming, it’s important to stay grounded and, simply, sane. Therapy, outdoor activities and breath-work are all legitimate tools of mental health support, but let us not forget about the power of reading. BRIGHT has put together a list of the top-5 books that explore the subjects of peace and happiness – not as an external circumstance – but as an internal state that can be learned and preserved even through the most turbulent of times.
These books – inevitably – include reflections on war and conflict as well, in either historical or philosophical context. Like ying and yang, conflict is the flip side of peace and should be known and studied in order to be avoided. As Joseph Brodsky said in his acceptance speech for the Noble Prize in Literature (1987): “For someone who has read a lot of Dickens, to shoot his like in the name of some idea is more problematic than for someone who has read no Dickens.”
Article by Anastasia Sukhanova
The Art of Peace
by Morihei Ueshiba
The real way of the warrior is based on compassion, wisdom, fearlessness, and love of nature. So taught the great Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969), founder of the Japanese martial art of Aikido. He was well ahead of his time in preparing for a crowded, difficult world and his philosophy is extremely refined, non-dogmatic zen buddhism. Although the book won’t teach you Aikido itself, it will outline its founding principles that could be applied to all the challenges we face in life—in personal and business relationships, as well as in our interactions with society.
“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”
The Book of Joy.
Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu (with Douglas Abrams)
If you ever thought that reading a book that practically consists of a dialogue between two spiritual leaders sounds either pseudo intellectual or plain boring, think again. Anyone who has ever been to a lecture with the Dalai Lama or watched his interviews know that the man’s sense of humour transcend borders and hierarchy. The book is a testament to his friendship with Archbishop Tutu, documented during his visit to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharmsala, India. Filled in equal parts with wisdom and silliness, it’s an easy read cantered around a single burning question: how do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering? Guaranteed to bring the deepest of belly laughs, an unshakable desire to hug strangers and the skill of seeing the beauty in the simplest of things, “The Book of Joy” is there to be read as bedtime stories, quoted on postcards, and gifted to the closest of friends.
“The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
by Hector Garcia Puigcerver
If ever there was a book to help you step back, slow down and contemplate on the meaning of life, this would be it. The pace is unhurried and that is exactly how you should read the book: not in a single sitting but over a week or several weekends. Savour each chapter, make notes, write things down when they touch a chord. Ikigai helps you understand so many beautiful things in the sheer simplicity in which it’s conveyed. In an increasingly conflicted and cynical world, we all need some ikigai.
“Life is not a problem to be solved. Just remember to have something that keeps you busy doing what you love while being surrounded by the people who love you.”
Sensation. The new science of physical intelligence
by Thalma Lobel, PhD
Ever wondered why a cuppa is so useful in the times of extreme stress? Why torero’s cape is always red? Do people with a sweet tooth really seem kinder? We might think that our decisions and even emotions stem from some sort of rational mechanisms, but there’s scientific basis to slightly tilt the point of view – and it’s masterfully outlined in this book. Summarising a rather hands on approach to physical sensations, it is full of observations of human behaviour and tips on how to “hack” certain stimulus-response connections. If you’re curious and brave enough to experiment, “Sensation” will empower you to recognise external forces and hidden biases, as well as put them to use to improve your own life. No black magic – just straight up statistically sound research.
The world of yesterday
by Stefan Zweig
A classic of the memoir genre and the only novel in our selection, “The World of Yesterday” describes Vienna of the late Austro-Hungarian Empire, the world between the two world wars and the Hitler years. The reflections on the author’s friendships with intellectuals and artists of the time read like a collection of exquisite anecdotes that sum up the cultural life of the 20th century. Despite the political tragedy, Stefan Zweig manages to tell the story of European unity, art, and culture, and he does so with the mastery of a true poet. This book is a worthy reminder that life does not only go on, but provides space for inspiration and creativity, even in the most turbulent times.
“Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.”