There are a lot of ways for one’s shit to fall apart. As such, I’ve attempted to assemble a comprehensive collection of books that I found quite useful in helping me get my shit together. Here you will find all sorts of resources to help you get your shit together in love, life, money, and more. I’m only recommending books I have personally read, some quite recently.
If you’re looking for some help in getting your shit together, here are the books I recommend.
SuperBetter by Dr. Jane McGonigal
Anyone who puts up with my Twitter account knows that I love video games. Most game lovers have fantasized about living a life just like a game. In fact, between activities like LARPing and apps like Habitica and Nerd Fitness, plenty of people are actively turning their life into a video game. It sounds fun but can gamifying your life actually make your life better?
I come bearing good news, nerds. In her book SuperBetter, game designer and researcher Dr. Jane McGonigal talks about just what games are capable of doing for us while also teaching readers how to turn their life into a game. As it turns out, games have remarkable power to generate positive change in our lives. Games can reduce our pain, increase our focus, help us solve problems, and turn post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The book itself is even structured like a game, which has a companion app of the same name that you can play for free. Truthfully, I didn’t get much out of the app—it’s a but clunky and… 90s Geocities for me—but if you care less about the theory or don’t like reading, the app might be better-suited to your needs. I’d suggest pairing it with McGonigal’s companion TED Talk, “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life.”
You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham
When you grow up poor, you don’t expect to ever break out of that cycle. I expected to work for minimum wage my whole life, have simple taxes, and live paycheck to paycheck until I die.
So, when I got a Big Kid Job and suddenly found myself with a comma in my bank account, I panicked. I realized I was in completely uncharted waters and, to be frank, I’m bad at math even on my best days. I needed help. In spite of my worst fears, I needed a budget.
You Need a Budget managed to ease all my fears by supplementing the math with something I am good at: philosophy. Specifically, Jesse Mecham helped me confront my priorities with one simple but deeply profound question: What do I want my money to do for me?
It sounds a bit foolish but that question completely changed my perspective on money. Money, I realize now, is a tool. It’s a means to an end. It’s a way to solve problems. And what I want my money to do for me doesn’t have to look typical. I don’t have to adhere to what my money “should” or “can” do for me. If I want a budget just for zines, that’s my right. If I want to save for retirement, I can do that, too. It’s my money. I can do whatever the fuck I want with it.
YNAB also has companion software of the same name, though it costs money to use. You don’t need it if you read the book and don’t mind doing the labor yourself, but I’ve decided it’s worth the 12 bucks a month for me. And it is completely, totally worth it. You can quote me on that. YNAB did, as a matter of fact.
Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns
I’ve talked about Feeling Good on my blog before, so I won’t harp too much on what it’s about but if you’d like a summary, check out Dr. Burns’s TED Talk, which I’ve also posted on this blog before. It’s really good and it also encapsulates the contents of his book nicely.
Put simply, Feeling Good is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) guidebook designed for patients rather than doctors. The distinction is important: rather than being chock-full of incomprehensible Doctor-ese that only medical professionals (and hypochondriacs like myself) can understand, Feeling Good is the depression and anxiety treatment guidebook for the layperson.
And it lives up to its promise, though you don’t have to take my word for it. Burns actually did a study when he first published Feeling Good to see how it compared to traditional talk therapy. He found out that it worked great in tandem with talk therapy… but also worked just as well by itself. People who read this book—and did the work within it—reported mood improvements on par with people who went to an actual-ass therapist.
It’s DIY CBT! DIY is still cool, right?
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
I know, I know. I’m five years late for Kondo-thon. Tidying Up is a book that needs no introduction, but if you’ve somehow managed to miss Konmari Mania, I’m happy to catch you up.
Marie Kondo is a professional tidier. Tidying and organizing is her life and greatest passion. She is so obsessed with mess that she wrote a whole book on vanquishing it, which has since exploded into a whole franchise comprising a manga, a subreddit, a Netflix series, and more. Marie Kondo even has a verb named after her: Konmari, or the process of tidying something using Kondo’s specific method.
Plus, she’s just so freaking adorable.
And she’s far more deserving of a spot in the Wholesome People Pantheon than Elon Musk, who for the record is a certified tool.
But Life-Changing Magic is more than just a tidying manual. Between the tips on how to fold your socks and why you should tidy by category rather than room, Kondo manages to teach readers a rather radical approach to assessing the worth of our belongings. She asks us to physically pick up, touch, or hold each item in our hands and ask ourselves: Does this spark joy?
Language Nerd Side Note: the word she actually uses is tokimeki, a Japanese word with no English equivalent, but roughly translates to the beating or fluttering of the heart, or palpitations. She's asking you to ask yourself: does this thing make my heart race with happiness when I hold it? When I think about it? When I acknowledge that it's mine?
It’s a great way to sort through your crap, sure, but you can apply it seamlessly to all sorts of other areas of your life. Does this friendship spark joy? Do I feel tokimeki when I smoke cigarettes? Does this negative thought pattern truly make me happy?
If not, thank it for its service—because even the garbage in our life once had purpose—and discard it.
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
I’ve written about Dan Ariely a lot these past couple of years because he’s the founder of Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, which incubated the company I now work for. I’ve never met him, but he’s kind of my career grandpa in that I definitely wouldn’t be here without him.
One of my first projects as a Fabulous writer was to write about Ariely’s first and most famous book, Predictably Irrational. In it, Ariely talks about how human behavior is weird… and yet, remarkably consistent in its weirdness.
Have you ever wondered why it’s so much harder to quit a project after we’ve spent some time on it, no matter how much we’re not enjoying ourselves? Or why we want options but tend to freeze up when presented with too many? Why is our shit “stuff” but everyone else’s stuff is “shit”? Ariely uses behavioral economics to answer all these questions and more.
You may be wondering: What exactly makes this book good for getting your shit together? The predominate theme of Predictably Irrational is unraveling the mystery of the human decision-making process. Because, as you may have noticed, people do some outright nonsensical shit, often against our best interest. But, as Ariely explains, there are reasons we behave in these seemingly irrational ways. Once you understand why you can’t resist free shit no matter how much you don’t need it, you can use that knowledge to make better decisions going forward.
Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft
Another repeat offender on this blog, Why Does He Do That is the book I stand by as one of nonfiction’s most valuable contributions to society. Lundy Bancroft expertly profiles one of the world’s most nefarious, calculating, and dangerous groups of people: abusers.
Because we live in a heteronormative, cisgendered world, Bancroft’s book reflects this, referring to abusers by male pronouns and victims by female ones. However, he acknowledges that this perspective is limited and taken more out of grammatical convenience than for the sake of accuracy.
That caveat aside, Bancroft has created a masterpiece work that answers any and all questions you might have about abusers, those they abuse, and the relationship dynamics at play between abuser and abusee. Though it’s written with romantic partnerships in mind, the psychology at play also applies to any form of abuse: schoolyard bullies, abusive parents, even internet trolls will all find themselves laid out bare in black and white in this book, whether they like it or not.
I suggest this book to anyone and everyone. If you are being abused, Why Does He Do That will help validate your fears and teach you how to get out of your abuser’s clutches. If you are an abuser, this book may help show you the error of your ways. And, if you have never experienced any kind of abuse or cannot even fathom having that kind of experience, this book will teach you what to watch out for in case it happens in the future. You may even discover or realize some shocking things about relationships you’ve had in the past.
The Bad News: Books Can’t Get Your Shit Together for You
Books are a great teaching mechanism when it comes to helping you get your shit together. They can help point out the parts of your life that might need some work and teach you how to improve your health, your happiness, and how you organize everything from your money to your underwear.
But no book, not even Lundy Bancroft’s, can fix you. You have to be the one who does the actual work. Reading your car’s manual will not change your tire. There’s a major difference between theory and practice.
You may find that the chasm between what these books teach you and what you can actually apply to your life is simply insurmountable at this point in your journey, and that’s okay. Alternatively, you may find that one of these books is the bridge you’ve been needing. That would be super awesome!
But at the end of the day, books are just tools. And like any other tool, they’re only as useful as those who wield them. So if you’re planning to get your shit together, don’t think you can half-ass the process and get whole-ass results. It doesn’t work that way.
Getting your shit together is also not a linear process. In my experience, it’s trial and error. Mostly error. But I’m also discovering that the rewards far outweigh the trials. I am clinically mentally ill, physically unhealthy, and live in poverty… and yet, I am still happier than most people I know, which I owe in part to the books listed above.
Is my shit together? No. But I’m no longer regularly contemplating suicide, my bedroom is clean, and I have hobbies again. I’m getting there. And you’ll get there, too, with a little elbow grease. Some gentle reassurance from a demure Japanese woman probably won’t hurt, either.