A Couple of Self-Helpy Books that Changed the Way I Look at the World

           I seem to always start these blog entries by mentioning some day of importance because, apparently, Tuesday is a much bigger deal than I realized.

            And today is no exception: Happy Giving Tuesday!

            In case you’re not feeling flush enough to do any of that kind of giving, you should know that there are plenty of non-monetary ways to give today. You can:

  1. Hold a door for somebody.
  2. Smile at a stranger (has to be non-creepy or it doesn’t count).
  3. Pick up a piece of litter.
  4. Choose two conversations during your day and really listen to what the other person is saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.
  5. Write an email to someone you know telling them how cool they are and how happy you are that they are in your life. (I’m amazed more people don’t do this more often. I’m amazed I don’t do this more often. Think how meaningful it would be to receive an email like this, how much it would lift up your day. You could give that gift to someone, and it would only take, like, seven minutes! Maybe even less if you’re a fast typist who organizes your thoughts quickly!)

           I know the list I just made is fairly cheesy, but I am a sucker for shit like this, for reminders to focus energy outward onto other people.

            And yet it’s easy to forget to do that. Now more than ever, in the social media age, when we spend so much time measuring ourselves up against others’ posts, others’ photos, others’ accomplishments, and so much time thinking about the wittiest thing to write, the best way to present ourselves online, it’s so easy to sink into a gross Me spiral. My Me spiral days are always my worst days, and there’s usually at least a few a month.

            But I find that when I stop thinking about myself and start thinking about how I can help other people, it’s, ironically, one of the most selfish things I can do. Because it makes me feel so damn good!

            That’s why I’m a huge fan of books about spirituality, about being present, about slowing down my mind. I do my best to always be reading one alongside whatever other fiction/non-fiction is in my backpack. (Yeah, I wear a backpack. And I feel great about it.)

            So today, my gift to you is a list of my most favorite spiritual, self-helpy type books. It’s actually just the beginning of a list, since this entry got too long when I included all of them. But for starters, these are two books that changed the way I look at the world and the way I operate within it.

Ruling Your World, by Sakyong Mipham.


            This is an awesome book about a lot of things, mostly letting go of the need to think about yourself all the time. Sakyong Mipham is the current leader of Shambhala, an offshoot of Tibetan Buddhism established in the U.S. in the 1970’s that involves a form of mindfulness meditation which can be embraced in a religious or secular way.

            I know about it well because my dad has been a practitioner and teacher of Shambhala my whole life. Growing up, this was confusing for me. Technically my mom and dad are both Jewish, and everyone thought I was Jewish, but we weren’t practicing Jews, and my dad had a shrine room in the house that he meditated in every day. (If you’re interested in hearing me talk more about that confusion, feel free to watch this.)

            By the time I hit my twenties, though, I was embracing Shambhala more, doing a few of the weekend workshops, reading a lot of related books, and going through phases where I would meditate at least ten minutes a day. (And then there are also phases where I don’t do that at all. Like right now.)

            The book touches on some basic meditation instruction, which mainly boils down to sitting and focusing on your breathing. Every time your mind spins off to some other thought, you recognize that and come back to your breathing. It’s challenging and uncomfortable, but in the past, even just a week of consistent meditation has helped bring my mind to a much calmer place.

            But back to Ruling Your World: every time I read it, it makes me want to be a more compassionate person and more focused on helping others. And, if you get so into it that you want more Shambhala in your life, there are meditation centers all over the country. Huzzah!

 Sample passage that might blow your mind:

When we’re on the “me” plan, what others say about us has great power. A friend tells us we look good – our mind soars. A colleague tells us we’re not pulling our weight at work – our mind sinks. We are like children, one minute laughing and the next minute crying. In reality, praise and criticism are like echoes – they have no substance, no duration. But when we chase projections like a dog going after a stick, even words have the power to destabilize our mind. We think about what somebody said, over and over. We let it ruin our day.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff, by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.


    This book has become something of a cliché, but I swear it’s profound in a wonderfully accessible way. I’m in the middle of reading it for the second time right now, a chapter or two a day, and it never fails to put me in a good headspace. My list of five things above was very much in the spirit of what Richard Carlson has to say in here.

            Reading it is also kind of insane because it’s all about appreciating your life while you still have it, about not stressing so much because you could die at any moment, and this dude who wrote it died suddenly in 2006 from a pulmonary embolism that moved from his leg to his lung while he was on an airplane. He was 45, had a wife and two daughters, and he just died with no warning. It’s so heartbreaking and makes every chapter reverberate in this eerie, powerful way. One of the more profound chapters of the book is literally called “Imagine Yourself At Your Own Funeral.” I know. Richard’s wife Kristine wrote this beautiful and worthwhile piece about dealing with Richard’s death that will make you appreciate your life. Make sure you have some tissues.

            And, not to make this about me, but I’m realizing right now that, in the book I wrote, the protagonist Denton Little literally attends his own funeral. So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say this book had an impact on me.

Sample passage that might blow your mind:

One of the major reasons so many of us remain hurried, frightened, and competitive, and continue to live life as if it were one giant emergency, is our fear that if we were to become more peaceful and loving, we would suddenly stop achieving our goals. We would become lazy and apathetic. You can put this fear to rest by realizing that the opposite is actually true. Fearful, frantic thinking takes an enormous amount of energy and drains the creativity and motivation from our lives. When you are fearful or frantic, you literally immobilize yourself from your greatest potential, not to mention enjoyment. Any success that you do have is despite your fear, not because of it.

            Hope these two books can be as helpful for you as they’ve been for me. I’ll be writing about some others I love in a future post. And if you have any spiritual books that have meant a lot to you, I’d love to hear about them. 

          Thanks for reading, guys. Now get outa here and go smile non-creepily at some strangers.