I made a list for my young cousin of the seven books she must read after she underwent a massive heartbreak and uttered these words for the first time: wow, life is hard.

1- Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

A philosophical, spiritual and psychological novel by Nobel Prize winner Hesse. It’s a story of a young Indian Brahmin’s pursuit of enlightenment. It is the story of life, suffering and meaning, written as one of the most captivating novels of all time. 

Biggest takeaway: No amount of knowledge and learning can give me the true sense of peace or happiness unless it is enlivened by real first-hand experience. I am my own teacher.

2- Sapiens, a brief history of human kind, Yuval Noah Harari

Note: This is not self-help per se, but its impact on my personal growth was tremendous.

Harari an Israeli historian, tells the entire history of the human race, in a mere 400 pages. This book is enlightening, informative, and provocative.

Biggest takeaway: Zooming out and looking at my life from a species standpoint gave me perspective and grounding: how we came to be “special” through the cognitive revolution, and how having the ability to imagine allows us to organize at a big scale and accomplish advancements. Are we happier, though?

3- Loving what is, Byron Katie

Byron Katie is the spiritual teacher I respect the most. In this book, she shares her story of how she came to liberate herself from the story of the past and the future, and guides us through her simple yet powerful method to question our stressful thoughts and beliefs to be free from suffering.

Biggest takeaway: Everything my mind tells me is a story, and I should question it. We tend to project our own stories of ourselves onto others. I stopped blaming the other for my wellbeing and happiness since reading this book.

4Man’s search for meaning, Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, a doctor of psychiatry, survived Auschwitz but lost all his family. In this masterpiece, he ponders life, and shares his experience and story about how without meaning in our lives we cannot thrive.

Biggest takeaway: Completely shifted my life’s focus from happiness to meaning. Once you know your why you can survive anyhow.

5- The prophet, Gebran Khalil Gebran

The Lebanese genius Gebran’s masterpiece is a collection of poetic essays that ponder life’s biggest questions. It will transport you, inspire you and enchant you.

Biggest takeaway: I specifically enjoyed the sections on passion, love and pain. I often go back to the book when I feel stuck and re-read passages of it.

6- No mud no lotus, the art of transforming suffering, Thich Naht Han

The celebrated Zen Buddhist teacher and monk Thich Naht Han has the gift of transforming Buddhist teaching into accessible wisdom, soft like rose petals. In his one of his many books, he focuses on suffering, which is an inevitable part of our lives.

Biggest takeaway: How to continue finding joy in suffering, and how to cultivate compassion and understanding by staying with the hard feelings.

7- The art of living and dying, Osho

Why do we fear death? What is death? The controversial guru flips around death on its head and by the end of the book, you are left with a completely new approach to life itself.

Biggest takeaway: Aging became about maturing the soul. I felt a sense of peace about the process of dying when I realized that our societal limiting beliefs are what make it scary.

What are some of your favorite books for when things get hard? 

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Originally published at medium.com