10 books that changed my life — permanently and for the better [part 1]

In Growth, Spirituality by Ken2 Comments

Audiobooks have been a game-changer for me. I opened my Audible account in 2013, and I‘ve never looked back. For me, it’s much easier to listen to books as I’m commuting to work or eating lunch, rather than trying to absorb printed pages in the half-hour before bed when my eyes are already drooping.

In the decade since I’ve opened my account I’ve read (listened to) 347 books. No world record, but impressive to me at least. In 2017 alone, I completed 61 total audiobooks. Back in my printed word days, I was lucky to get through four books in a year.

Now, as I go through daily life, I often find myself thinking back to an idea or quote from a particular book. Even if I can’t remember the specific context or author, I’ve managed to absorb a great deal of knowledge that has not only enhanced my life, but changed my mind — and my life — for the better

It’s not easy to reduce my audio library to a Top 10 list, but for this post I’ve settled on 10 books that have undeniably impacted my life, permanently and for the better. Maybe they can do the same for you.

1] Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl

Why the book matters. A powerful chronicle of Frankl’s experience as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner during World War II, the book explores the importance of finding purpose in life, even in the most deadly and demoralizing of circumstances. Both a memoir and a philosophical treatise on the human condition, it argues that humans can endure almost anything if we have a reason to live and that finding meaning in suffering is essential to human existence. 

How it changed me. Six years after reading it, I can still picture Frankl in grimy pajamas, watching his fellow prisoners fall dead around him, yet nurturing the tiniest shred of hope to survive one more day. Life matters. Meaning matters. One cannot exist without the other. Looking back on Frankl’s suffering from our own position of relative ease and privilege, it’s now my responsibility to find my own meaning and to help others do the same.

2] Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles, by Rivvy Neshama

Why the book matters. Neshama explores the everyday spirituality through the lens of Jewish tradition, presenting 52 “recipes” that offer practical ways to infuse daily routines with meaning and purpose. Ranging from gratitude and forgiveness to prayer and mindfulness, the recipes include reflections on Jewish texts or teaching, a personal story, and a suggested practice or ritual. Through engaging anecdotes, Neshama invites us to cultivate a deeper connection with yourself, others, and the divine.

How it changed me. As a spiritual seeker, it’s always fascinating to observe someone else on their spiritual journey. I loved seeing how the nuggets of wisdom gained from her life’s experiences fit together for Neshama, and how she was able to use them to shine a light forward on her path. This book spoke to me at the right time, reminding me that joy and miracles are all around us if we can cultivate a life that embraces them.

3] The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt

Why the book matters. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the intersection between ancient wisdom and modern science, exploring the nature of happiness and wellbeing. Drawing on psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience, he offers ten “great ideas” that are essential to human happiness, such as the role of love and relationships, the power of meditation and mindfulness, and the importance of finding meaning and purpose in life.

How it changed me. I didn’t understand until reading Haidt’s book that I’ve been chasing something that doesn’t exist. “Happiness” isn’t real, and when I thought about it, I realized I couldn’t even define the word. Happiness is an illusion, something peddled by influencers and retailers and drug companies. Thanks to this book, instead of seeking to be happy, I’m now doing this instead.

4] The Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels

Why the book matters. An insightful exploration of early Christian texts excluded from the New Testament, this book focuses on the Gnostics, a sect of early Christians who claimed secret knowledge about God and the nature of reality. Pagels examines their beliefs and practices, as well as the political and theological reasons why their texts were excluded from mainstream Christianity. Through exhaustive research, she sheds light on the diversity of early Christianity and challenges the notion of a monolithic, unified church.

How it changed me. Growing up as a mainstream Christian, I always suspected that Jesus’ true message resided primarily in his red (quoted) words in my childhood Bible. The stories surrounding those quotations were of course beautiful, but often seemed inconsistent. Pagels’ book confirmed this for me, highlighting a group of early Christians who focused much more on the meaning behind Jesus’s words than the dogma that was added to them. This book gave me permission to move past my childhood beliefs and into a wider — and more complete — view of Jesus’ message.

5] One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters, by Larry Dossey, MD

Why the book matters. This book explores the idea that consciousness is not solely an individual experience but is instead a universal, interconnected phenomenon that encompasses all living beings. Drawing on scientific research, spiritual traditions, and personal experiences, Dossey argues that this shared consciousness has profound implications for our understanding of health, healing, and the nature of reality itself. He proposes that by recognizing our interconnectedness, we can cultivate greater empathy, compassion, and cooperation, leading to a more peaceful and sustainable world. 

How it changed me. This isn’t the only book challenging the traditional “bottom-up” view of consciousness as residing only in the brain. It just happens to be the first one I read. But as I listened to example after example of “non-local” consciousness, I had to close my jaw multiple times. There was just too much evidence here to continue to believe that consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon of complex neuronal activity. It’s now obvious to me that we live in a “top-down” Universe made of “mind stuff,” where everything emerges from consciousness itself, rather than the other way around. This book — along with Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis — were the main reasons I began a meditation practice to further explore that consciousness.

Up next: The remaining 5 books in my Top 10 list of life-changing reads.

Photo credit: Blaz Photo on Unsplash


  1. Great suggestions! Man’s Search for Meaning is such an incredible story about finding meaning and the will to go on even in the darkest times imaginable. Reading Frankl and his profound insights into the human condition also changed my life.

    Thank you for the recommendation for One Mind, that’s a subject that fascinates me and aligns with my own personal experience so I’m going to read that one soon.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the comment, Kyle. It’s interesting that Frankl’s book gets negative reviews…the current generation seems to have a hard time reconciling the horrors of the Holocaust with today’s social media culture. If you read One Mind, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I think humans are finally starting to understand the limitations of materialism and that we have to move beyond dualism to improve our condition.

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