I would say that all the books I read in 2021 helped me grow into a better person, but these 6 books stuck out when I spent time reflecting on the past year.
At the beginning of 2021, I researched books on happiness because I wanted to learn about creating a joyful environment in my life going into a new year of this pandemic. These books vary from spiritual, nonfiction, memoirs, and a workbook. The books are in no particular order because what I learned from was different and of diverse topics entirely.
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A Rhythm of Prayer – Sarah Bessey
I go back to A Rhythm of Prayer weekly. This book is a collection of curated prayers and meditations by a diverse group of authors. The diversity of the prayer topics and their format is what has helped in my spiritual growth. My own prayer life has grown because of this book and I really felt connected to prayer formats that I had previously not considered. The book invites you to write your own prayers and that space in the book carried me through some difficult times this year. The authors are extremely vulnerable in the prayers they wrote and I love how each one approaches a different topic honestly in their life. A short excerpt of one prayer:
“Keep our anger from becoming meanness. Keep our sorrow from collapsing into self-pity. Keep our hearts soft enough to keep breaking. Keep our outrage turned towards justice, not cruelty. Remind us that all of this, every bit of it, is for love.” – Laura Jean Truman
My prayer life has been blessed because of this book and as a result I have grown as a person. There are prayers on reconciliation, anxiety, injustice, and much more. I normally rent books from the library but I knew I needed to purchase this book
1. Sarah Bessey is one of my favorite faith writers.
2. I knew I was going to be referencing it often.
The Courage To Be Disliked
The Courage To Be Disliked is set up as a conversation between a philosopher who follows the Adlerian theory of psychology and a young man. The young man approaches the philosopher with questions and the philosopher responds with Adlerian ideas, but in a plain spoken way. The overarching topic is happiness and if it is something you choose for yourself. There were many ‘conversations’ that after reading I paused and reflected on. There were parts I did not quite agree with and if you read the book I would be happy to discuss but I will not bore you with that here. Instead, I will include a piece I did enjoy and helped me grow in my interpersonal relationships:
“The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked. When you have gained that courage, your interpersonal relationships will all at once change into things of lightness.”
Ichiro discusses that if you are disliked by someone, it is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom, and a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles. Now hear me out, I do not ‘desire’ to be disliked by anyone and I am not trying to encourage you to do things to make others dislike you. Instead, the way I read his thoughts is you will make decisions in your life that others may not agree with, and that is okay. It is about having the courage to be confident in your choices.
The Happiness Project
I often veer away from self-help books because it is not my favorite genre. The Happiness Project felt more like a memoir than a self-help book, where Gretchen takes you on an honest journey with her. I learned so much from this little book, even down to some packing tips. I enjoyed listening to her journey to seeking happiness because isn’t that what we are all searching for anyways? happiness and joy in our life? My favorite quote from the book is:
“I enjoy the fun of failure. It’s fun to fail, I kept repeating. It’s part of being ambitious; it’s part of being creative. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”
As a creative, this thought process spoke to me and helped me shift my perception of failure. I realized I get to define what failure is in my life solely based on what my goals are. This book inspired me to create my own ‘happiness project’ and begin to address things in my own life that I wanted to improve or change. I started it in November and chose a small task each day to set me up to have an amazing 2022.
Travel As A Political Act
How it helped me grow as a person: Travel As A Political Act is a collection of essays by Rick Steve’s on how travel has shifted his worldview. This book completely absorbed me because this is why I love to travel and explore new places. Not only does it present me with a different worldview, I get to experience the beautiful diversity we have in this world in people, food, and culture. Rick sums this up by saying:
“Ideally, travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically. Suddenly, the palette with which we paint the story of our lives has more colors.“
It is true, my personal and political views have changed tremendously after having traveled to near and far places. This book really inspired me to be even more of a ‘pilgrim’ when traveling and open my mind when I do travel new places and not arrive with preconceived notions. He uses the phrase in the book ‘travel as a temporary local’ and I think that perfectly sums up how I want to experience new places, people, and cultures.
101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think – Brianna Wiest
How it helped me grow as a person: This is the second and last self-help book on the list. I recommend anyone in their 20s to read this book. The book is a collection of essays on a variety of topics ranging from relationships, goals, life, loss, and everything in between. There were many ‘aHa’ moments while reading this book where Brianna presented a new perspective that I had never thought of before. Her philosophical way of writing is captivating, and I guarantee at least one essay will speak to you. There are many excerpts I could put in here but I will include this simple piece:
“When you start considering things not as obligations but as opportunities, you start taking advantage of them rather than trying to avoid them.”
On social media (especially Tiktok) I see many people actualizing this using the term ‘romanticize your life’. Romanticizing your trips to the grocery store, thrift shop, cleaning your home, or cooking dinner. It is a mental shift to consider these things opportunities, because it is easy to check them off as obligations. One way I shifted my obligation to opportunity was choosing new recipes to try for weeknight dinners from all around the world. My husband and I would cook them together and it was fun to discuss the history of the food and also try new ingredients. At the root of this is gratefulness for opportunities you have in your life and after reading this book I took time to reflect on how grateful I am for my life. This is only one of the many essays in this book, I could probably write a whole post on this book…and maybe I will one day.
Me & White Supremacy
In Me & White Supremacy I appreciate how Saad lays out specific examples on acknowledging and combating racism. Saad asks some hard questions and encourages the reader to keep a journal to answer. Journaling is an important part of this read and it really makes you unpack your biases. During my college studies as a part of coursework I had to complete bias exercises of this sort for my Intelligence Studies degree. When looking at the world and subsequently writing about it people have inherent biases that affect how you speak, write, and treat other people. Not only that, indifference to injustice perpetuates it.
“Antiracism work that does not break the heart open cannot move people toward meaningful change.”
“There is no feel-good reward at the end other than the knowledge that you are doing this because it’s the right thing to do. You will not be congratulated for it. You won’t get any ally cookies for it. You won’t be celebrated for it. You will have to learn to wean yourself off the addiction to instant gratification and instead develop a consciousness for doing what is right even if nobody ever thanks you for it.”
I am still learning and will be for the rest of my life. You would need to read this book with an open mind, and if the title of it alone makes you uncomfortable I would encourage you read it. In order to make the world a better place, it starts with us as an individual.