How to Be Happier, According to These Smile-Inducing Audiobooks

The best audiobooks on happiness mine learnings from science, philosophy, and psychology to point the way toward a more joyful, carefree life.

In this fast-moving world, it can be hard to find time for ourselves. And when our lives are so busy—while also being, during a global pandemic, mind-numbingly routine—it seems nearly impossible to think of happiness as a top priority. "Happiness" seems like this abstract concept we keep reaching for but will never be able to actually grasp, right? Wrong—at least according to the following authors. Here is a list of the best audiobooks to help you find your pathway to happiness. Some are step-by-step guides; others are personal accounts of finding the way to a genuinely happy life. Whichever style you prefer, there's an audiobook about happiness that will fit your journey. 

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt always wondered what philosophy had to do with the psychological side of being happy, and so he set out to examine this age-old question in The Happiness Hypothesis. In the audiobook, Haidt examines ideas about happiness from some of the most famous thinkers throughout history (Jesus, Buddha, Plato, and Nietzsche among them) from a psychological point of view, using his formal training and experience to his advantage. Each chapter focuses on a central idea that has existed in the public consciousness for years (such as the Nietzsche-inspired “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”) and examines why that belief has lasted and been celebrated by generations. Haidt’s examinations of history, philosophy, and psychology help provide a deeper understanding of what happiness is, how we achieve it, and how we are more connected to ancient thinkers than we may realize. Narrator Ryan Vincent Anderson's voice sounds reassuring and informative, providing a calm delivery of the big ideas presented in the audio.

The Art of Happiness

Set up as a series of questions between psychiatrist Dr. Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness posits that the entire purpose of life is happiness and the pursuit of it. However, happiness cannot be achieved by external means alone: Your thoughts and internal processes contribute more to happiness than almost anything else. While the Dalai Lama provides answers to the author’s intimate questions, Dr. Cutler fleshes out the world in which these interviews take place, describing the setting and expressions of his subject. Each chapter investigates a component of finding and maintaining happiness, including what to do when you encounter suffering, how to deal with anger, and how to manage anxiety. This audiobook is narrated by Cutler, who speaks with the passion of a person who has enjoyed conversations with and truly befriended the Dalai Lama.

The Happiness Project

Following a realization that time passes more quickly than we think, Gretchen Rubin set out to live her life intentionally, starting by devoting a year to seeking joy wherever she could. During this year, Rubin tries out many different methods for achieving happiness—from ancient wisdom to pop culture advice—dedicating each month to one particular way of living. Throughout the year, Rubin learns about the meaning of true happiness and its place in her life. The Happiness Project is an interesting mix of personal narrative, exploration, and examination of what it means to be happy in our contemporary world. The audio is narrated by the author, and Rubin’s voice embodies the humor and playfulness in her writing.

The How of Happiness

Sonja Lyubomirsky brings a psychological approach to the pursuit of happiness in The How of Happiness, explaining how the 40% solution can lead to a happier, healthier life. Based on her years of experience as a research psychologist, Lyubomirsky defines happiness (explaining what it is and what it is not) while also providing a plan for what happiness might look like in your daily life. Most importantly, she provides a view of how to hold onto happiness once you’ve found it. This listen takes a scientific approach to happiness and uses research from experiments performed by the author and her colleagues. By exploring your happiness “set point,” and acknowledging what is and is not in your control, you too can achieve happiness. The audiobook is narrated by Lyubomirsky, whose calm, authoritative voice is soothing and instructive at the same time.

The Happiness Equation

This listen takes nine “secrets” to happiness and works through them to illustrate that happiness is something everyone can achieve. Each chapter challenges our perception of common ideas surrounding the concept of happiness, explaining how these widely held notions might be inaccurate and offering suggestions on how to shift our perspective to be happier. Pasricha offers specific suggestions and plans for how to achieve and acknowledge happiness in your life, providing clear ways to apply the information he lays out. Easy to understand and approachable, The Happiness Equation builds off of Pasricha’s acclaimed work The Book of Awesome and its spin-offs, encouraging others to see the good in the world. The audiobook is narrated by the author, who sounds like he’d be at home on a popular podcast or TV show. His voice is playful and engaging—a perfect combo for this listen.

Year of Yes

Written by Shonda Rhimes, one of the leading creators in television, Year of Yes follows a year of saying “yes” to every opportunity presented, a year of being fearless and open to new possibilities. After her sister observed that she never says yes to anything, Rhimes set out to spend a whole year agreeing to each opportunity she was presented, even if it meant confronting her anxiety and panic at press events and interviews. Eventually, Rhimes discovers that openly challenging her own insecurities helped alleviate them, giving new purpose to her year of yes. Written in an easy to understand and conversational style, Year of Yes shows what happens when you welcome what comes your way instead of fearing it. Narrated by the author, the audiobook highlights Shonda Rhimes’s charisma and charm as a narrator as well as a creator.

The Psychology of Happiness

In this 10-episode lecture series, Professor Jaime Kurtz outlines what the science says about happiness, from the tactical tools we can employ to achieve it to the real physical and emotional benefits a happiness boost can bring. Covering key areas such as mindfulness, exercise, social media, and money, the course provides clear, actionable tips on how to experience greater happiness in your daily life now—and how to make lasting changes that will stay with you through your life.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Even though Issa Rae has achieved massive success writing in TV by running and starring in her own TV show, Insecure, she still has memories of growing up as an awkward Black girl. This collection of essays tackles topics ranging from natural hair to shyness to cybersex, all from the perspective of someone who thinks they’re embarrassingly awkward. While these essays are reassuring, they’re also funny, marked by Rae’s wit and sharp eye for detail. Ultimately, the author reveals how she was able to find her own path to happiness, even when she often felt like she didn't belong. Issa Rae narrates The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with all the humor and brilliant timing she’s become known for in her comedy.

10% Happier Revised Edition

A lifelong skeptic of self-help programs, Dan Harris journeys through a variety of sources on happiness (including scientists, a former pastor, and, yes, a self-help expert) in a search for well-being. After having a nationally televised panic attack, Harris felt he needed to seek healing for himself and get to the root of what happiness actually means—and how he might experience it. So he sought out experts in the field to figure out how he could be a little happier in his daily life. The solution is simpler and more achievable than one might expect: meditation. In 10% Happier, Harris describes how he arrived at meditation as a daily practice and how others can benefit from the calming, grounding effects of sitting quietly. The audiobook is narrated by the author, who brings years of working on Nightline to his reading voice, presenting each chapter in a straightforward, news-anchor style with a little humor thrown in.

The Happiness Advantage

After years of studying happiness and the science behind it at Harvard, Shawn Achor brings his expertise to the public with The Happiness Advantage. Pulling information from his own research and other studies in his field, he debunks the myth that success begets happiness. Instead, he theorizes that happiness is the key to success, and achieving happiness first unlocks a world of potential. Achor breaks down different approaches to happiness and success, like the Tetris Effect (changing your perspective to find different opportunities and think ahead) and the Zorro Circle (focusing on smaller tasks in order to accomplish big goals). Each approach is supported by scientific research and explained in an approachable format. The audiobook is narrated by the author, whose bright, inquisitive tone helps propel the work forward.

Ikigai

"Ikigai" can be roughly translated as a purpose for living, and the people of Japan's Okinawa island archipelago have seemingly found it. Okinawans are among the longest-lived people in the world and have been frequently studied for their longevity. This listen examines some of the reasons why, and what purpose Okinawans find in their day-to-day existence. Modeled after The Little Book of Hygge, Ikigai provides information about how Japanese culture views individual purpose, all in a compact, inspirational listen. The audiobook is narrated by Walter Dixon, who has a steady, calming tone perfect for both long car rides and falling asleep at night.

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt always wondered what philosophy had to do with the psychological side of being happy, and so he set out to examine this age-old question in The Happiness Hypothesis. In the audiobook, Haidt examines ideas about happiness from some of the most famous thinkers throughout history (Jesus, Buddha, Plato, and Nietzsche among them) from a psychological point of view, using his formal training and experience to his advantage. Each chapter focuses on a central idea that has existed in the public consciousness for years (such as the Nietzsche-inspired “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”) and examines why that belief has lasted and been celebrated by generations. Haidt’s examinations of history, philosophy, and psychology help provide a deeper understanding of what happiness is, how we achieve it, and how we are more connected to ancient thinkers than we may realize. Narrator Ryan Vincent Anderson's voice sounds reassuring and informative, providing a calm delivery of the big ideas presented in the audio.

The Art of Happiness

Set up as a series of questions between psychiatrist Dr. Howard Cutler and the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness posits that the entire purpose of life is happiness and the pursuit of it. However, happiness cannot be achieved by external means alone: Your thoughts and internal processes contribute more to happiness than almost anything else. While the Dalai Lama provides answers to the author’s intimate questions, Dr. Cutler fleshes out the world in which these interviews take place, describing the setting and expressions of his subject. Each chapter investigates a component of finding and maintaining happiness, including what to do when you encounter suffering, how to deal with anger, and how to manage anxiety. This audiobook is narrated by Cutler, who speaks with the passion of a person who has enjoyed conversations with and truly befriended the Dalai Lama.

The Happiness Project

Following a realization that time passes more quickly than we think, Gretchen Rubin set out to live her life intentionally, starting by devoting a year to seeking joy wherever she could. During this year, Rubin tries out many different methods for achieving happiness—from ancient wisdom to pop culture advice—dedicating each month to one particular way of living. Throughout the year, Rubin learns about the meaning of true happiness and its place in her life. The Happiness Project is an interesting mix of personal narrative, exploration, and examination of what it means to be happy in our contemporary world. The audio is narrated by the author, and Rubin’s voice embodies the humor and playfulness in her writing.

The How of Happiness

Sonja Lyubomirsky brings a psychological approach to the pursuit of happiness in The How of Happiness, explaining how the 40% solution can lead to a happier, healthier life. Based on her years of experience as a research psychologist, Lyubomirsky defines happiness (explaining what it is and what it is not) while also providing a plan for what happiness might look like in your daily life. Most importantly, she provides a view of how to hold onto happiness once you’ve found it. This listen takes a scientific approach to happiness and uses research from experiments performed by the author and her colleagues. By exploring your happiness “set point,” and acknowledging what is and is not in your control, you too can achieve happiness. The audiobook is narrated by Lyubomirsky, whose calm, authoritative voice is soothing and instructive at the same time.

The Happiness Equation

This listen takes nine “secrets” to happiness and works through them to illustrate that happiness is something everyone can achieve. Each chapter challenges our perception of common ideas surrounding the concept of happiness, explaining how these widely held notions might be inaccurate and offering suggestions on how to shift our perspective to be happier. Pasricha offers specific suggestions and plans for how to achieve and acknowledge happiness in your life, providing clear ways to apply the information he lays out. Easy to understand and approachable, The Happiness Equation builds off of Pasricha’s acclaimed work The Book of Awesome and its spin-offs, encouraging others to see the good in the world. The audiobook is narrated by the author, who sounds like he’d be at home on a popular podcast or TV show. His voice is playful and engaging—a perfect combo for this listen.

Year of Yes

Written by Shonda Rhimes, one of the leading creators in television, Year of Yes follows a year of saying “yes” to every opportunity presented, a year of being fearless and open to new possibilities. After her sister observed that she never says yes to anything, Rhimes set out to spend a whole year agreeing to each opportunity she was presented, even if it meant confronting her anxiety and panic at press events and interviews. Eventually, Rhimes discovers that openly challenging her own insecurities helped alleviate them, giving new purpose to her year of yes. Written in an easy to understand and conversational style, Year of Yes shows what happens when you welcome what comes your way instead of fearing it. Narrated by the author, the audiobook highlights Shonda Rhimes’s charisma and charm as a narrator as well as a creator.

The Psychology of Happiness

In this 10-episode lecture series, Professor Jaime Kurtz outlines what the science says about happiness, from the tactical tools we can employ to achieve it to the real physical and emotional benefits a happiness boost can bring. Covering key areas such as mindfulness, exercise, social media, and money, the course provides clear, actionable tips on how to experience greater happiness in your daily life now—and how to make lasting changes that will stay with you through your life.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

Even though Issa Rae has achieved massive success writing in TV by running and starring in her own TV show, Insecure, she still has memories of growing up as an awkward Black girl. This collection of essays tackles topics ranging from natural hair to shyness to cybersex, all from the perspective of someone who thinks they’re embarrassingly awkward. While these essays are reassuring, they’re also funny, marked by Rae’s wit and sharp eye for detail. Ultimately, the author reveals how she was able to find her own path to happiness, even when she often felt like she didn't belong. Issa Rae narrates The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with all the humor and brilliant timing she’s become known for in her comedy.

10% Happier Revised Edition

A lifelong skeptic of self-help programs, Dan Harris journeys through a variety of sources on happiness (including scientists, a former pastor, and, yes, a self-help expert) in a search for well-being. After having a nationally televised panic attack, Harris felt he needed to seek healing for himself and get to the root of what happiness actually means—and how he might experience it. So he sought out experts in the field to figure out how he could be a little happier in his daily life. The solution is simpler and more achievable than one might expect: meditation. In 10% Happier, Harris describes how he arrived at meditation as a daily practice and how others can benefit from the calming, grounding effects of sitting quietly. The audiobook is narrated by the author, who brings years of working on Nightline to his reading voice, presenting each chapter in a straightforward, news-anchor style with a little humor thrown in.

The Happiness Advantage

After years of studying happiness and the science behind it at Harvard, Shawn Achor brings his expertise to the public with The Happiness Advantage. Pulling information from his own research and other studies in his field, he debunks the myth that success begets happiness. Instead, he theorizes that happiness is the key to success, and achieving happiness first unlocks a world of potential. Achor breaks down different approaches to happiness and success, like the Tetris Effect (changing your perspective to find different opportunities and think ahead) and the Zorro Circle (focusing on smaller tasks in order to accomplish big goals). Each approach is supported by scientific research and explained in an approachable format. The audiobook is narrated by the author, whose bright, inquisitive tone helps propel the work forward.

Ikigai

"Ikigai" can be roughly translated as a purpose for living, and the people of Japan's Okinawa island archipelago have seemingly found it. Okinawans are among the longest-lived people in the world and have been frequently studied for their longevity. This listen examines some of the reasons why, and what purpose Okinawans find in their day-to-day existence. Modeled after The Little Book of Hygge, Ikigai provides information about how Japanese culture views individual purpose, all in a compact, inspirational listen. The audiobook is narrated by Walter Dixon, who has a steady, calming tone perfect for both long car rides and falling asleep at night.


Emily Martin earned her Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi. She also works as a contributor for Book Riot and as a blogger/podcaster at Book Squad Goals.

 

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