Best Books About the Meaning of Life (Shortform’s Picks)

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Why do you get up in the morning? What gives your life meaning and purpose? 

Many people can’t answer these questions. Even worse, they’re stuck in dysfunctional lifestyles that prevent them from ever finding out what their purpose is. If that sounds like you, a good starting point is to explore different perspectives by reading books on the subject.

With this in mind, here are our picks of the best books about the meaning of life. 

The Meaning of Life

Most people lead fragmented and empty lives full of suffering, driven by a variety of conflicting impulses because their life lacks meaning. This sentiment is getting increasingly common as people adopt a more secular worldview where science—not God—prevails. 

How do you find meaning in a universe that’s meaningless by design? The following books about the meaning of life offer perspectives worth exploring.

12 Rules for Life

Author Jordan Peterson argues that modern secularism and reliance on science has left a void in answers to important existential questions: What is the point of living? Why do bad things happen to good people? What am I supposed to do to make myself happier? 12 Rules for Life addresses these questions and gives a set of life principles to live by. Learn why you should stop telling lies to others and yourself, why you should stop doing things you know are bad for you, and how to pursue what is truly meaningful for you.

The Art of Happiness

In The Art of Happiness, you’ll walk with the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize winner and spiritual leader of Tibet, down the Buddhist path toward happiness. According to him, you have the power to bring more happiness into your life by simply training yourself to be happier. He discusses four forms of happiness training, which will improve your outlook on life, interpersonal relationships, resilience in the face of suffering, and infuse your everyday life with more meaning. 

Man’s Search for Meaning

Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the best books about the meaning of life you can read. It recounts Viktor Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps of WWII and the school of therapy he invented to help us confront this very question. Frankl set out to write a book that analyzed the mindset of the average concentration camp prisoner and how it reflected, adapted to, and either succumbed to or transcended beyond the torments of the camps. He wanted the book to serve as concrete proof that humans can find meaning under any conditions, even the most horrific. 


In Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, author and blogger Héctor García (author of A Geek in Japan) and novelist and self-help writer Francesc Miralles teach you to apply the Japanese concept of ikigai, or life purpose, to your own life. Drawing on lessons from the people of Okinawa, who live longer than anybody else on earth, as well as on insights from art, science, and psychology, they show you how to find and follow your own ikigai and cultivate a happy, healthy lifestyle to sustain it.

Daring Greatly

Most of us want Wholehearted, meaningful lives. What stops us? In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown suggests that what holds us back the most is the widespread belief that vulnerability is a weakness. If you can embrace your vulnerability, you’ll find that it’s actually your greatest strength. In Daring Greatly, you’ll learn how to live a Wholehearted life and become a better leader, parent, and spouse in the process.

The Untethered Soul

In The Untethered Soul, spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer, founder of the Temple of the Universe meditation center and a pioneering figure in the world of medical software, teaches you how to use your direct self-knowledge as an intuitive tool for spiritual awakening. Combining powerful principles with practical techniques, he shows you how to free yourself from false identities and live an enlightened life of peace, joy, creativity, and divine love.


Meditations, by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, is one of the definitive texts on Stoicism. In Meditations, Aurelius shares his thoughts about the importance of logic over emotion and helps you to start training your mind to think rationally. By following Stoic teachings, you can live with purpose and die with dignity.

The Daily Stoic

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday and translator Stephen Hanselman share insights from the ancient Stoic philosophers on how you too can live a good life. It was a bestseller in 2016 and has since been expanded into a thriving podcast and website.

The Fifth Agreement

In The Fifth Agreement, don Miguel Ruiz and don Jose Ruiz describe five “agreements” to make with yourself that adjust the way you see the world and your place in it. According to the authors, these agreements are a series of intuitively common-sense principles we are all aware of, but which few of us actually practice. Those who have mastered the five agreements, the authors say, completely accept themselves as they are, and accept everyone else as they are—and the result is eternal happiness.

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, is a distillation of his life lessons and experiences. Written with reporter Jeffrey Zaslow, the best-selling book is an expanded version of a “Last Lecture” Pausch gave in 2007, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The “Last Lecture” series was a tradition in which professors presented their philosophy of life, as if it were their last chance to share what was important to them. It truly was a last chance for Pausch, who had only months to live. His book and lecture, which went viral and has been viewed by millions, are about living your dreams.

Designing Your Life

Everyone wants to make a living doing meaningful work that aligns with their values and makes them happy. However, many people feel stuck in the wrong life doing unfulfilling work. They hope that once they find their “passion,” everything will magically fall into place. In Designing Your Life, Burnett and Evans share principles from their popular life design courses to help you explore multiple paths and purposefully plan a balanced life in which you can truly thrive.

Final Words

The question of the meaning of life has both plagued and motivated humans for centuries, and it’s probably crossed your mind once or twice. If you’re ready to give it some serious thought, these books about the meaning of life will help you get off to a good start. 

Best Books About the Meaning of Life (Shortform’s Picks)

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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