6 Psychology Books That Will Improve Your Understanding of Life

These books reformed the way I think.

As a psychology student and as a person who's interested in the way her and others’ minds work and what influences our thinking, decisions, and behaviors, I like to dive deep into informative and treasure-like books that reveal all the hints to these questions.

Rather than cheesy self-help, I try to read scientifically based books that will make me comprehend and also offer action plans to improve myself and my life. Here are the 6 books that helped me tremendously in that route and which I believe have the power to change your perspective on your life if you read them with care.

Reinventing Your Life — Jeffrey E. Young, Janet S. Klosko

Don’t get hung up on the title so fast, this book is far from cliche self-help books. It’s written by prominent psychologists Jeffrey Young and Janet Klosko and has a foreword from one of the most pioneering psychologists, the founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Aaron Beck.

The book introduces you to “Schema Therapy”, a therapy technique founded by Jeffrey E. Young that utilizes different types of psychological therapies but mainly cognitive therapy, and the substantial concept of your “schemas” or “life traps”.

We all have our personal schemas that don't serve us well anymore. Those schemas were our coping mechanisms when we were little kids, so they stuck around and now we bring those rusty schemas to every situation in our daily lives. Because they are habitual.

But they are clearly outdated and do more harm than they do good in our present lives. In this manner, the book lists the 11 dysfunctional schemas you can be inclined to have to varying degrees and presents you with a scale to identify your ingrained schemas.

After you’ve identified your schemas — you can have different schemas in varying degrees of strength — it serves you the resources to cope with all of those schemas. The book is a rich toolbox filled with real-life clinic stories of real-life people, and a brilliant guide with very helpful exercises and strategies to help you understand your and other people’s schemas and work on them.

If you want the optimal effect, put this book on your bedside table, get back to it and read it multiple times, and do the exercises inside it if you harbor the desire to transform your life and overcome your life’s challenges in the most fulfilling way.

Breaking Negative Thinking Patterns— Gitta Jacob, Hannie van Genderen, Laura Seebauer

Similar to the book I’ve talked about above, this book is based on the Schema Therapy approach. But it also introduces a brand new concept called “modes” that further elaborate on your schemas. That’s why I think it’s best to first read “Reinventing Your Life” and learn about your schemas first and then read this book, to learn about and work on your schema “modes”.

In this short but compact book, you’ll find out about your modes or thinking patterns such as the vulnerable, angry, impulsive, or happy child, and different parent modes such as the demanding, punishing, and guilt-inducing, and the healthy parent. Why are these modes important?

These modes surface due to our thinking patterns that were ingrained through our upbringing, and now they invade our minds in situations we encounter without notice, driving us to a vicious cycle of negative thinking and consequently, undesirable outcomes. Again, you can think of those modes as coping mechanisms we utilized as kids, but in our adult life, they don’t do us any good anymore.

That’s why, beyond introducing these modes that some of are will be quite familiar to you, the book gives you the resources and tools to break those negative thinking patterns induced by your unhealthy modes and tries to instill your healthy modes instead, such as the happy child and healthy parent modes.

Throughout the book, you can find many case analyses of real-life patients and exercises to work on your modes and have a grasp of other people’s modes too. This is a book to read with a pen to highlight the sentences, and not just read once but return multiple times to work on yourself.

Changing your ingrained thinking patterns is not an easy task, it requires practice, but it’s definitely worth it, and this book supplies you with all you need in that route.

The Undoing Project — Michael Lewis

This isn’t a psychology book per se, yet it tells the story of two trailblazing psychologists and their amazing contributions to psychology, and beyond psychology, their contributions to economics, medicine, government regulations, studies of Big Data, and more, through unlocking the mystery of our decision-making processes.

It also narrates the incredible friendship story between these two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and their story of how they changed the way we think. It was maybe the most influential collaboration in the history of psychology. So this book tells the story of that friendship and its collective effects on the world.

This powerful duo fit many sensational papers into their friendship, found amazing findings in how people make judgments in the face of uncertainty, are the founders of heuristics — the mental shortcuts we use to make quick estimates —, revealed how our decision-making is full of systematic errors, and how all of this impacts our lives.

They are the founders of the prominent “Prospect Theory” which burgeoned the field of behavioral economics and won them a Nobel Prize in economics! (sadly, Tverksy died before he could get the Nobel Prize with Kahneman). They had amazing contributions to the field of cognitive psychology. The impact of this friendship and collaboration can still be traced everywhere today.

If you want to witness how the fusion of two phenomenal minds and a strong friendship changed our understanding of the world and the way we see reality and learn more about the influential findings they found and their implications, then you should definitely pick up this book!

Thinking Fast and Slow — Daniel Kahneman

As noted above, I’m a big fan of the work of the trailblazing psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Especially after reading “The Undoing Project”, I was more than excited to read “Thinking Fast and Slow”. This book is like a fun encyclopedia of the psychology of decision-making and the inner workings of our thinking processes.

The book introduces readers exciting concepts, theories, and ideas all related to our thinking, judgments, and decisions, and explains them with prominent psychology research, both Kahneman’s own experiments, his experiments with Amos Tversky, and experiments of other prominent psychologists, economists, and scientists. Besides scientifically explaining these concepts, Kahneman gives many examples from our daily lives so the concepts solidify in your mind.

It’s a comprehensive book with a lot packed inside, that’s why reading it slowly, trying to digest what you learn, and perhaps rereading it would be the best practice to get the most out of it. But it’s not a hard read as Kahneman structured the book in such a way that he characterized our thinking procedures as System 1 and 2 that we can more easily relate to.

The book is divided into parts and short sections, making it easier to get through the pages without getting bored. I especially love the “speaking of …” sections at the end of each 10-page chapter, explaining the mentioned concept in worldly dialogues and turning scientific concepts into daily applicable concepts that we can utilize in our day-to-day lives.

12 Rules for Life — Jordan Peterson

Jordan Peterson is probably the most controversial psychologist of our age. Leaving behind all the controversy, he has made amazing contributions and touched people’s lives with his lecture videos he uploaded on Youtube, in which he talks about miscellaneous subjects and explains them with mastery.

That’s why I was driven to read his book “12 Rules for Life” in the first place. I liked his eclectic perspective on issues and how he tied different concepts and events together. Indeed, this book combines tidbits from psychology research, biology, philosophy, literature, culture, politics, religion, and incorporates fields to explain the life rules he purported in an elaborate way.

The most common complaints about this book are that it’s verbose and relies too much on Christianity and religion, which I agree with to some degree. Apart from these criticisms, I look out at what I took from this book, and I think it has the power to motivate you, get you out of that rut, make you work on yourself, and ultimately support you in your route to betterment rather convincingly.

It’s an uplifting book in the way that it motivates you to become your better version, in a non-cheesy self-help book kind of manner but a scientific, friendly, and realistic guide, and encourages you to find meaning and purpose in your life and diverge from your nihilistic thoughts.

Man’s Search for Meaning — Viktor Frankl

This one’s a classic, and I’m sure 90% of you who are reading this article stumbled upon this book already. But I still want to talk about it because it is a book worth talking about and has the potential to change how you view your life if you decide to change your perspective.

In that manner, in the first part of this book, you are offered a heartwrenching story that will immediately make you feel grateful for the life you lead. Frankl starts the book by telling you his story in the concentration camps during World War 2. He lived through one of the direst, most cruel conditions any human could face, and except for his luck, he was able to survive because he found meaning in all that pain.

In the second part of the book, he introduces his therapy approach “logotherapy” and elaborates on it. This therapy approach focuses on finding one’s meaning in life. Indeed, this book encourages you to find meaning in your life to be resilient in the toughest of situations you can face, because your found meaning will shield you from your suffering.

Your perspective on situations is the only thing no one can ever change, you have the ultimate power over it; so use it to your advantage. This is the message this book tries to instill so powerfully. Situations change when your view on them changes. Don’t take that power for granted.

There are a lot of wonderful psychology books worth reading, but the books I listed especially can help you change your view on life, your unhealthy thinking patterns, reconsider your quick and error-prone judgments, decisions, and shift your perspective toward finding meaning.

By reading these, you can improve your understanding of yourself and others and the world you live in through grasping the relevant psychological phenomena and findings and work on yourself to improve the quality of your life.

But don’t forget that even if these books are wonderful guides, ultimately, you need to show effort to see perspective shifts and changes in your thinking patterns and to mold a meaning to yourself. But it’s a challenge definitely worth taking!
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