Values of the Wise is a unique and helpful source when it comes to motivational books! It features three inspirational books that help one access wisdom and understand their values better, which can lead to personal growth, fulfillment, meaning, happiness, success, and excellence. In addition to those in-house, in this blog I will also include seven others that you may be interested in checking out. The goal is to help the person who is looking for a great book to begin to read or place on their bookshelf find what they’re looking for. As we know from the Tony Robbins of the world, there are millions of persons interested in learning what to do to be [insert adjective here], and quite a few motivational books written by modern-day Svengalis that could be critiqued as long on pronouncement and claims, but short on substance. Yet, on the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty of original-source philosophy texts, psychological treatises, and theological works which are just too dense or complicated for me (and 95% of the population) to make good use of.
The three books in The Values of the Wise Series are, in my opinion, the “sweet spot” between glib/superficial/markety on the one hand and abstruse/inaccessible/difficult on the other. It is not really necessary to “reinvent the wheel” by trying to read psychological studies and philosophical treatises yourself; classics by William James or Aristotle can be hard to digest, and there must be 10,000 studies on motivation in scholarly sources. On the other hand, there are hundreds or thousands of “get rich quick” books that ought to be considered like snake oil: buyer beware!
Here are some books that I think draw a nice line between too difficult and too simplistic. I admit, I want to sell you three of these books, and I know you will take that into account. However, I would probably prefer that you just get ahold of a book that really does it for you – mine or anyone else’s. Reading is a boon, and with only maybe 50% of the population reading after they finish high school, clearly the world needs more educated individuals.
- Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, by Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D. This is a great title! This man is a professor, researcher, and from all accounts, the real deal. His book is meant to help one get to the source and avoid superficialities: “Haidt’s remedy for the modern glut of frivolous self-help literature is to review and revise the classics, examining the ideas of thinkers like Plato, Buddha, and Jesus in light of modern research into human behavior. Along the way, Haidt, a social psychologist, provides practical advice for parenting, romance, work and coping with the political and cultural divisions currently preoccupying the country. The new science he outlines mostly confirms ancient wisdom, but Haidt finds several instances where the two disagree, suggesting that the surest path to happiness is to embrace and balance both old and new thinking” (Psychology Today review). Definitely worth a try if you’re looking for motivational books, I say.
- Building a Life of Value: Timeless Wisdom to Inspire and Empower Us, by Jason Merchey (yours truly). In a similar vein to Dr. Haidt (#1 above), I attempt to help a person harness ancient wisdom and classical philosophy in a way that is useful and accessible. The heart of the whole enterprise can be summed up with: “Ancient wisdom and progressive thinking brought to life.” The backbone of the book is quotations – hundreds of well-thought-out insights on wisdom, values, ethics, personal growth, and simply how to live well. I build a case chapter after chapter that certain values are those which the wise support – and that one can get closer to wisdom by studying such persons. Consider the inspirational quotes, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (Eleanor Roosevelt), or “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (attributed to Gandhi). They are consummate examples of words of wisdom which fit beautifully into the scheme Values of the Wise created for easier understanding. The diversity of opinion in the book is most unique. Three of the fifteen chapters are entitled: Creativity, Ingenuity & Vision; Passion, Willingness to Risk, and Self-Awareness; and Fulfillment, Meaning & Optimism. Watch the video introduction to the book here. View praise for this book (and other VOW publications as well as myself) here.
- One of the all-time most successful motivational books out there would probably be 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People. It’s getting into the realm of “one size fits all” and “buy this because I am a guru” but stops short of, say, a Tony Robbins book. Heck, for some people, even a How to Win Friends and Influence People is what they are looking for. Norman Vincent Peale and Jack Canfield didn’t cheat – they really sold millions of books. My concern would be that these self-help books tend to make a guru out of the author such that the reader feels they absolutely, certainly ought to do what this learned and charismatic individual suggests. On the other hand, this book is a secular approach to finding greater wellness and success, so it’s at least not religious dogma – a la The Purpose-Driven Life. That book I couldn’t recommend in good conscience because, though popular, it comes from a perspective that I think thousands of wise persons would object to because it relies heavily on human interpretations of alleged revelation. If you are considering this, take a look at this write-up first.
- Do It Scared is another of the motivational books I recommend. It posits that one of the challenges we all face is overcoming fear, dealing with anxiety, and dealing with obstacles to happiness, success, joy, prosperity, and relationship. I know I have had fear and anxiety, and I think to some degree we create a little pearl out of the grain of sand that is irritating our tender parts. Allen asks: “Feeling paralyzed from taking action because you’re afraid of a negative outcome? Bad habits holding you back from trying? Afraid to take that first leap towards your dreams?” An example of one of his prescriptions for courage is: “This belief that before we try it, we have to be totally perfect, full of confidence, and bursting with courage is one of the biggest lies that keeps us from doing anything, scared or not.” Exercising rationality and courage have been a cardinal task since Aristotle, and I know – I’m a miserable perfectionist.
- Values & Ethics: From Living Room to Boardroom (also by me). This unique new book combines classic and incisive quotations with interesting interviews conducted by Jason Merchey. It aims to address big-picture topics such as values, virtues, ethics, and wisdom. The interviewees are learned, eloquent individuals who engage in questions and answers on the big questions of life. The goal is to encourage original and critical thinking about enlightenment, personal growth, progressivism, and more. The book extols the power of philosophy and of learning to make one’s life better—more interesting, more profitable, more livable, more meaningful. This impressive work covers many subtopics — from economics to politics, from philosophy to personal growth. Capitalism, liberty, character education, progressive politics, and integrity are but a few of the subtopics explored. Not probably a big fan of motivational books, philosopher Tom Morris feels that it is “A great exploration of wisdom, virtue, and values for our day.” This is the book in which I access more of my own voice; it is 470 pages and a lot of me comes through. Ruth Westreich, a Doctor of Humanities (hon.) and President of the Westreich Foundation (a philanthropic organization) says: “Jason is a wonderful writer; he has a gift.”
- Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by the Dalai Lama and Alexander Norman. “Ten years ago, in his best-selling Ethics for a New Millennium, His Holiness the Dalai Lama first proposed an approach to ethics based on universal rather than religious principles. Now, in Beyond Religion, the Dalai Lama, at his most compassionate and outspoken, elaborates and deepens his vision for the nonreligious way. Transcending the mere ‘religion wars,’ he outlines a system of ethics for our shared world, one that gives full respect to religion. With the highest level of spiritual and intellectual authority, the Dalai Lama makes a stirring appeal for what he calls a ‘third way,’ a path to an ethical and happy life and to a global human community based on understanding and mutual respect” (the publisher). Anything the Dalai Lama writes is worth listening to. I suppose that in his motivational books he borders on “guru” status, but I am not one who besmirches his character and claims he is just in it for the money or the fame. I think he is ahead of the Deepak Chopras of the world in regard to class and gravitas.
- Daring Greatly, by social work professor Brene Brown. “In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities” (from the book). It is well-regarded on the typically-austere Goodreads website. The fans are probably a tad bit “cultish” though. Similar to Do it Scared, Daring Greatly takes the perspective that we must overcome barriers such as shame if we want to move forward. I would probably say that this is one of the most psychological and time-bound motivational books. When I say “time-bound,” I mean less into classical wisdom and applied philosophy. She borrows from Teddy Roosevelt with the title, but I am not sure she brings a lot of breadth and depth to this book.
- Why We Do What We Do is a look a well-credentialed psychologist (and co-author) at the psychology of motivation. “In a book that challenges authoritarian thinking about motivation, a distinguished social psychologist offers an alternative to current reward/punishment theory, which, far from anarchy, espouses our ordered, internalized sense of freedom, responsibility, and commitment.” Quite a few motivational books are short on substance, but this one seems to avoid that tragic flaw.
- Living a Life of Value (Jason Merchey). In this thick tome, I marshal the resources of 75 thinkers, artists, businesspersons, thought leaders, psychologists, writers, progressive leaders, and so on – some famous, some not. I try to provide the context and process enough to highlight questions such as:
- Do you value Education?
- Do you think of yourself as Creative?
- Is Integrity important to you?
- Is Humor one of your greatest qualities?
- What do Passion, Justice, and Kindness mean in the real world?
- Have you thought about what you value, and why?
It can be very helpful to have a chorus of voices speaking about values: it subverts the “guru effect.” Even the Bible or Shakespeare are not “complete.”
Praise for the books in The Values of the Wise Series can be found here.
- Learned Optimism, by famed psychologist Martin Seligman. This man brings research and theory to the table and presents readers with a pretty dignified and high-minded attempt book. Though the pioneer of the psychological concept learned helplessness, Seligman’s foray into the relatively new and fairly scientifically-validated approach to happiness called positive psychology is a useful one for readers who want to steer clear of self-help books that annoy and preach and come on too strong. If you are considering this, take a look at this write-up first.