If you’re looking to get beyond the hurly-burly of holiday consumerism, here are three books that will put you in a more thoughtful and reflective frame of mind. I’ve recommended them before, and I’m happy to do so again.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (1956; many different editions)
One of the most personally influential books I’ve read is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1956). Frankl was a psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor who lost almost all of his immediate family in the Holocaust. The first part of the book details his concentration camp experiences. The second part explains his theory of logotherapy. Frankl believed that life’s essence is about a search for meaning: “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.” Logotherapy is based upon these premises.
In 1991, the New York Times reported that, according to a survey conducted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man’s Search For Meaning belongs to a list of “the ten most influential books in [the United States].”
Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (2010)
Karen Armstrong is a noted author on religious affairs. Her 2010 book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, mixes faith, philosophy, and self-help. In it, she offers a 12-step program to help make the world a more compassionate place:
- “Learn About Compassion”
- “Look at Your Own World”
- “Compassion for Yourself”
- “How Little We Know”
- “How Should We Speak to One Another?”
- “Concern for Everybody”
- “Love Your Enemies”
This is not easy stuff. Armstrong’s program requires introspection, honest self-evaluation, and conscious effort.
Charles D. Hayes, The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning (2004)
Charles Hayes is a retired, largely self-educated writer and practical philosopher whose books and essays on finding meaning in life are hidden classics. Here’s the opening to his Preface from The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning, my favorite among his wonderful books:
When thoughts of our own mortality begin to crop up with increasing frequency, it’s time to pause and contemplate our legacy. We’re reminded to ask ourselves what of value we intend to leave for posterity. After the tangibles of the estate are settled, what will our successors remember about us? Is there something we can do now that will generate a lasting, positive effect in the lives of our descendants?
Some of the most instructive and inspirational books are written by folks a generation (or two) ahead of us who graciously share their life lessons with their successors. Hayes writes especially for those in the “September” of their lives, but anyone can benefit from his wisdom.