17 Good Books to Read to Help You Through a Tough Time

Pain and hurt are inevitable. They have a way of making their presence felt no matter how hard you try to escape them. So your best bet is to face the pain, deal with it, and move on. During these tough times you will need a best friend, unflinching support system and, a not-giving-up-on-you guide. You will find all of these in a good book. So here are 17 good books to give you direction, ease your pain and help you emerge out of a difficult phase of your life.

17. When Bad Things Happen to Good Peopleby Harold S. Kushner

First Published: 1978

​What It’s About:

This is a book that deals with human losses, death, fear of losing a loved one, failures and innumerable doubts that cross a human mind in a lifetime. Kushner’s three year son gets diagnosed with a degenerative disease, and has mere few years to live. Kushner’s world comes crashing down. The inevitable ‘Why me ?’ and ‘Why God’ occur to him too. But years later he writes this soul-stirring and soothing book, that is a very different, real and comforting perspective, and explanation to why tragedy strikes each one of us, and how we can swim through the pain, and the loss, the hopelessness and the resentment.

Why You Should Read It:​

​Rabbi Kushner takes you on an journey where you will see, touch and understand life and suffering and yet not be cynical, and bitter towards life. Read it to make sense when your world comes crumbling down. Read it to find comfort when, ‘everything happens for the best’ just does not suffice. Read it to reassert your faith on God when all is lost. Kushner in his own eloquent style makes you feel better and more in touch with your life. He simply make you believe what you already know, catastrophes and tragedies happen, but what matters and can change the direction of our life is our approach to the tragedy. No one wants life to stop, or spent, engulfed in gloom and despair. So why not learn a lesson or two from your tragedy, and focus on improving your life, and knowing that if there is pain and confusion knocking at your door, joy, love and beauty are also lurking around in the corridors. Find them and keep them with you.

Best Quote:​

‘What do we do with our pain so that it becomes meaningful and not just pointless empty suffering?’

16. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

First Published: 1992

​What It’s About:

The Artist’s Way is a guide to unleash your inner creativity and live a fuller life. In this book, Cameron gives us powerful insights into the creative process and how it can make us immensely successful in all aspects of our life. She draws on all of this from personal experiences and delivers a compelling guide to live a creative and artistic mind. In the book, she treats each one of her readers as an artist, pushing us to push our boundaries, become more aware of our potential and nurture it. It’s a book that will help you find a purpose of life and living, and unshackle your mind when you are sunk in gloom, depression and monotony.

Why You Should Read It:​

This is not a self-help book at all. Yet as you read it, you find bits and pieces of yourself scattered in these pages. Everyone should read this book, and especially more when you are going through a time of insecurity, powerlessness, and vulnerability. It helps you rid yourself of self-destructive behavior, envy, fear, and the much talked about artist’s block. It will be your own guide to realizing your potential, achieving your dreams and leading a more fulfilled, and in-control life. The Artist’s Way is not just a book for artists, but for everyone who wants to open up the can of creative juices, independence, potential and ardour for happiness. Read it, because there is an artist hidden in each one of us and there is no better time to bring that artist to life, than during a life-changing adversity.

Best Quote:​

‘Pray to catch the bus, then run as fast as you can.’

15. Full Catastrophe Living, by John Kabat-Zinn

First Published: 1990

​What It’s About:

We surround ourselves with stress and make the act of living itself a tough job. Sure there are stressors all around us, things going wrong all the time. But, this book both compels and encourages you to pay attention and take in the moments, focus on the present, and not dread the future and regret the past. This book urges readers to adopt ‘mindfulness’ as a virtue, habit and purpose of life. This groundbreaking narrative on mindfulness, meditation and healing helps its readers to deal with unforeseen adverse circumstances in a way that they can eliminate stress, anxiety and effects of trauma.

Why You Should Read It:​

We are all spinning out of control in a way where we are sabotaging our own life goals and purpose. This guidebook on meditative healing, and mindfulness as a life purpose will help you live an enriched and calmer life, where you are not only able to cope up better, when the going gets tough, but keep negativity, cynicism, depression and anxiety at bay. You should read this work to stay fully prepared for the catastrophe called life. Whether you are young or old (I firmly believe that age is just a number though), a corporate honcho or a country farmer, stress is all around us. This overwhelming presence of stress makes this book an absolute necessity for all of us, to stay calm, stress-free and motivated in life.

Best Quote:​

‘Life only unfolds in moments. The healing power of mindfulness lies in living each of these moments as fully we can, accepting it as it is as we open to what comes next – in the next moment of now.’

14. Replay, by Ken Grimwood

First Published: 1986

​What It’s About:

We spend a lot of our time dwelling over our past mistakes and decisions. We give up precious time of our present wishing to go back in time and make different choices. This dissatisfaction with our past actions continuously and naggingly pulls us down, and hampers our confidence and ultimately affects our present decision making ability too. 43 year old Jeff Winston wakes up as an 18 year old again and again, and tries on a different life everytime, from ruling the stock market to undoing past mistakes. An enchanting and wittily written story that in the process of making you laugh teaches you important life lessons.

Why You Should Read It:​

Read it to feel blessed and grateful, when ghosts of the past haunt you and you indulge in self-blame. This is a book that will reassert the power of you in you. Sounds complicated? Simply put, it will make you believe that there is a purpose and reason attached to every action of yours and all those actions-good, bad, and ugly make you who you are. It is your guidebook to adopt peace and forgiveness as a way of life for others as much as yourself. This book gives you that much-needed but gentle nudge, we all need when our chosen paths gets difficult to traverse, and we are consumed in depression and doubt.

Best Quote:​

‘I got so used to the endless possibilities, the time…never being bound by our mistakes, always knowing we could go back and change things, make them better. But we didn’t, did we? We only made things different.’

13. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh

First Published: 1998

​What It’s About:

The book is a simple and meaningful rendition of Buddha’s teachings and how observing and understanding those truths can help you endure suffering and create compassion, inner calm, peace, liberation and even joy from it. Hanh introduces the reader to the Four Noble Truths, the Three Doors of Liberation, the Three Dharma Seals, and the Seven Factors of Awakening. Whatever the reason, when great adversity falls on us, we succumb to negativity and cynicism. This book draws on Buddha’s teachings and will help you do the seemingly impossible- walk high when the days get darker and embrace compassion and kindness when the going gets tough.

Why You Should Read It:​

This book provides that reclusive thing called peace of mind and heart. This is one book that will transform your life and is a must-read during difficult times. Surprisingly, but delightfully it makes you believe that indeed there is goodness all around. It takes away that all-consuming and gripping fear that we all try to hold on to so hard- fear of death, disease, failure, and instead fills your soul with unconditional happiness and contentment. Once you read this book, the Buddhist tenets will stay with you forever, and guide you to restore your inner calm and peace when their is turmoil and chaos outside.

Best Quote:​

‘The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.’

12. Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

First Published: 2006

​What It’s About:

Eat Pray Love is a memoir by a thirty-something woman who feels shattered and devastated after her divorce and embarks on a trip around the world. She reaches three different lands in this quest- Italy, India and Bali. She discovers worlds completely unknown to her- one of unfettered pleasure- Italy, divinity and spirituality-India and a perfect balance between the two- Bali. In this journey, of leaving her past, and luxuries behind, she finds the peace and solace that always deserted her, and sees life in a positive light, in all its richness and color.

Why You Should Read It:​

Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love will make you live life once again. As you read through the book, you will find, balming words that will heal your wounds gradually, reclusive wisdom that will finally make you realize the futility of the material conquests, and a friend that understands you in the loneliest of times. Read this poetic and visual masterpiece to learn the art of finding and embracing joy in the midst of darkness. It is a must-read piece of contemporary literature that takes you on a journey of the flamboyant land of Italy, transcendent plains of India and the happy and wise land of Bali. But most importantly it takes you on a journey of finding happiness, contentment, and friendship in the simplest of things.

Best Quote:​

‘This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.’

11. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne

First Published: 2002

​What It’s About:

Pressfield gets into your skin, he becomes that tough friend and shrink who lays down the real and imaginary obstacles and excuses your mind is always giving, that deter success and ambition, and help you stay in your rut. Pressfied tackles each one of these important and inevitable excuses for you in this book, and adopts a no-nonsense and terse approach to get you off your couch and start creating, dreaming and living your dream now. The War of Art is basically a practical guide that all of us need, to do some serious introspection, and muster the courage to lead a life less ordinary, creatively satisfying, and filled with brilliance and vision. Pressfield identifies the enemy in this book that stops us from achieving all the greatness that each one of us are destined to achieve.

Why You Should Read It:​

Simply because you need a push or kick to get out of your day-dreaming and conflicted reality. Your creative potential has got snubbed somewhere and you need to retrieve, revive and make it soar now. This book will make you ask the tough questions and give you the grit and determination to not give in to excuses and pursue one’s goals and life fearlessly. With its compelling and life-transforming narrative, you will well be on the path of something extraordinary and great by the time you are done with this book. Most importantly you will have come closer to your real self, will know how to fight self-sabotaging resistance, and be fearless in the pursuit of your goals and ambition, no matter what.

Best Quote:​

‘If you find yourself asking (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.’

10. The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel, by Garth Stein

First Published: 2008

​What It’s About:

A poetic and beautifully written narrative by a dog with a wise old man’s soul on the eve of his death. Racing in the Rain charters and chronicles the blessings, wonders, abnormalities, uniqueness, happiness and despair of human life in its myriad hues. This New York Times bestseller gives you a new perspective of life. You will see through the insightful eyes of this dog friendship in its purest form, human spirit in its most admirable and incredible form, and life as much more than a race to reach the top. Enzo, the adorable mutt and Denny , a racing car driver will make you laugh, cry, get your pulse soaring, and imprint compassion, love and kindness in you, while you tug on to your box of tissues.

Why You Should Read It:​

This is a moving read with a surprise ending. You will experience an ocean of emotions while reading it and be compelled to think again, once you go through the book’s powerful take on despair, hopelessness, patience and endurance. Through Enzo and Denny, you will discover in your darkest hour, the multiple meanings and layers of life. You will be left behind with an aching but uplifting feeling of knowing, loss exists but do so does love, betrayal exists but so does loyalty, tragedies exist, but so do miracles. This is one book that will help you to embrace life in its gusto and never give up on the magical beam of hope.

Best Quote:​

‘You should shine with all of your light all the time.’

9. Tiny Beautiful Thingsby Cheryl Strayed

First Published: 2012

​What It’s About:

Tiny Beautiful Things brings together the best of Dear Sugar (the once anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus) to give you all that advice you ever needed when life turns completely upside down and you are running into blank walls and cold spaces. Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of best Dear Sugar columns or Cheryl Strayed’s columns. The book also contains some never-before-published columns. Strayed’s insightful and incisive writing helps you understand failure and heartbreaks, and emerge out of them enlightened, and positive. Loaded with humor, wit, honesty and empathy it seeps the message straight into you- life will only get better, if you make it so, and communication no matter how awkward, is the key to solve all problems in life. Overthinking and keeping things bottled up never helped anybody. It is not going to help you either, so go and put your scared, vulnerable self out there. Communicate your feelings, your thoughts.

Why You Should Read It:​

It’s not easy to forget someone you loved and lost. A heartbreak is devastating, and life is a canopy and bed of thorns pricking you from everywhere. Strayed gets you. But she does not allow you to get comfortable in self-pity and sorrow. Gently but firmly she takes you up on the path of hope, love, desire and expectations, basically she becomes that confidante who listens to you patiently, but then nudges you out of hopelessness and thrusts you back into life. This is not some superficial self-help book that promises miracles in your life. What you will get here is some real, no-frills advice that if you follow can lead you to something close to happiness.

Best Quote:​

‘Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.’

8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff, by Richard Carlson

First Published: 1996

​What It’s About:

An honest self-help book that takes on the small stuff we are always stressing about, that ultimately snowball into major stress and turbulence sources. Carlson in a lucid and conversational tone guides the readers to learn to let go only sometimes, up the self-belief and confidence quotient, and move towards a calmer, happier and more productive life. In short and crisp chapters of two-three pages he conveys so much. We get so tensed and bothered about simple things in life. Carlson is for those tense and stifling moments. In his book, he shows us how to hold your composure in such heavy, conflict-ridden situations.

Why You Should Read It:​

We often forget the basic solutions in search of the mighty and miraculous. We surround ourselves with stress and problems. I guarantee you, Carlson will change all that and make you smile more (some of his prescriptions are real fun) , appreciate, be grateful, enjoy life, love and most importantly know that troubles are never forever and with the right attitude and perspective, they will pass away sooner than you think. What you will also definitely be taking back is the strength to pick your battles wisely, realize the strength of thoughts, and develop compassion, humility and the ability to ignore negativity.

Best Quote:​

‘One of the mistakes many of us make is that we feel sorry for ourselves, or for others, thinking that life should be fair, or that someday it will be. It’s not and it won’t.’

7. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

First Published: 1868

​What It’s About:

A Classic spanning through generations, Little Women is a story of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, who are as different from one another as chalk and cheese, yet deeply connected through their bond of love, care , friendship and shared life experiences. Their life and their journey make a delightful read for everyone from 8 to 80. In this heart-warming story about the sisters, and their family, a loving mother, a father at war and a dozen other people who go to and fro in this novel, you will find resilience and acceptance to deal with the most straining and difficult situations in life.

Why You Should Read It:​

Classics should be read, especially ones like this, that teaches us significant life-lessons and makes us more complete human beings. The novel tugs at your heart and is a great read, when you are going through a rough time. From abject poverty to a permanent wait for their father, the four girls will make you cry, laugh, and believe that life is about pains and anguish, and suffering, but it is also about conquering that despair, hope, and overcoming challenges. Little Women imparts important lessons of life to its readers without being preachy. It is that book you should read and keep by your side when you are facing testing times and difficult luck. I can guarantee this book will render you a silent courage and make you smile even in the most trying times. A must-have in your library.

Best Quote:​

‘I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.’

6. Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, by Dr. Seuss

First Published: 1990

​What It’s About:

When Dr. Seuss addresses, the world waits and listens. In this book, Seuss talks to all graduates from all ages and stages of life. Full of pep-talk that will want you to move mountains, and swim across oceans, accept obstacles, and fight difficulties , this book is a great read to fill your soul with courage and pump your heart with exuberance and energy. It is a collection of Seuss’ illustrations and verses that capture the most important aspects and moments of life in a humorous but razor-sharp manner. It takes the readers on a journey of all the places and moments they have been to, the crazy ones, the beautiful ones, the silly ones and the proud ones, and finally takes them to the destination, where you come face-to-face with your inner potential and finally realize that success lies within, not outside.

Why You Should Read It:​

The title, ‘Oh! The Places You’ll Go’ is a big reason why you should read it. Doesn’t it make you feel inspired, and happy, and raring-to-go the moment you read it? That’s what it does to me. I start imagining all the places I will go, the pinnacles I will reach, the horizons I will conquer, and I immediately feel better. When times are tough, sometimes seriousness and sermons does not work. What works are advices and assertions tinged in a little humor, and bonhomie. Dr. Seuss does that for you. This book will keep you grinning and blushing. Exactly what you need, when you are going through a tough time. Read this book to understand life not as a complicated labyrinth of worries and problems, but as a straight road where it is cold and rainy sometimes, but the sun shines bright too.

Best Quote:​

‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And You are the one who’ll decide where to go…’

5. The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank

First Published: 1947

​What It’s About:

A Jewish teenager’s personal journal where the Holocaust is documented in detail. Hitler’s horrors come alive through the voice of the young girl. A personal and moving account of constant fear, captivity, hunger, atrocities, and death during World War II. It is a diary of courage, inconsolable tragedy, and ultimately the power and triumph of human spirit. Anne Frank was incredible in her approach to life. Shaken but not stirred, tormented but not hopeless, and managing to smile, and make her readers smile in the most difficult of times is no easy feat. We start empathizing, loving, and respecting this girl, and often realizing that our troubles are not as big as we make them out to be, and there is always hope and light at the end of the tunnel for us, which this girl never had.

Why You Should Read It:​

We often miss the courage to get up and strive when the going gets tough. Despair and hopelessness seem obvious and comfortable choices in the face of tragedy. This novel shakes you up and wakes you to human courage in a way so striking and thoughtful, that you won’t be able to stay sad and do nothing for long. It compels you to take a good straight look at life and do all you can to preserve its integrity. It makes you realize the wonderful miracle that life is. You start living differently post this book, and embrace it in all its clouds, rain and sun. You don’t look for the sunny days anymore, but learn to put out an umbrella, and, smile, and be grateful for the rainy days as well.

Best Quote:​

‘It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, i still believe that people are really good at heart.’

4. Life Was Never Meant to be a Struggle, by Stuart Wilde

First Published: 1987

​What It’s About:

A laconic and sharp book on eliminating negativity, conflict and struggles in life. Wilde coaxes and pursues his readers to not struggle so much in life, at least not about the myriad minute things we ponder and worry about. This book is about identifying those countless things that rob us of our mental peace, and eliminating them. He tells his readers that life was never meant to be a struggle and he enlists eight ways to defeat struggle and live a life of calm, peace, and happiness. Wilde gets into our minds, and our lives, and shows us the countless ways, we bring stress, pain, and conflict into our lives. And you will know how to identify these silent killers and uproot them to lead a better life.

Why You Should Read It:​

Your desperation, emotional outbursts, and constant worry is not going to help anyone. This is the undiluted truth. With this in mind, take your life as it comes. Learn to simply accept sometimes, know that letting go is not a sign of weakness but wisdom. Don’t fight against the flow of your life all the time. Read this when you are especially in a place of conflict, chaos and confusion. A little bit of acceptance and calmness of mind can make life much simpler. Don’t you want to evade the struggles, and arguments, and happiness sabotaging thoughts? Don’t you want to not struggle? Then you should read this book.

Best Quote:​

‘Never be afraid to let people go if they’re not right; often that’s the only way you can make room for the right person.’

3. This Ain’t No Self-Help Book, by Jack A Terry

First Published: 2012

​What It’s About:

How many times do we wake up feeling ‘this is not where I am supposed to be’. How many times are our dilemmas and predicaments a realization of the fact that we messed up ? Terry woke up to this thought once too. Extremely disturbed, but not bereft of purpose, he documents his journey backwards from that point on. From the small changes he makes to return on track, to the steps he takes to become a better person, to the mistakes he corrects, and finally be where he wants to be, this is a powerful read and a call-to-action.

Why You Should Read It:​

The title says it all. This is not a self-help book and neither does it promise to be one. Yet you finish it feeling, you have taken away important nuggets of information. Read it because Terry’s sojourn will give you many helpful tips, and simple lessons of life, to traverse difficult situations in life, especially the ones where you feel lost and helpless. The thing is, there is a Terry in each one of us. And one fine day, we all wake up realizing that the years have gone by, and our goals have only gone further, and this is not where we were supposed to be. What do we do then? Resorting to this book is a good idea.

Best Quote:​

‘We feel that there is something missing, not something material or physical, but the life that we may be leading isn’t necessarily the one that we feel we should be. The challenge then becomes figuring out what to do about it, or even if there is anything that can be done.’

2. How To Keep A Journal For Beginners, by Sarah Miller

First Published: 2012

​What It’s About:

As the name suggests , this is a book that tells you all about journal writing, how to get started, how to continue, what techniques to follow and why keeping a journal is so relevant for each one of us. With its step-by-step guides on journal importance and entry, it inches you closer to a more fulfilled, better understood and happier life. Sarah Miller makes the process of journal keeping so lucid and enjoyable for you, that after reading this book, you will want to keep a journal and write in it daily, gain perspective from it and just start viewing life differently.

Why You Should Read It:​

Writing as a practice itself can eliminate much of the tangles and tribulations of our lives. But most of us don’t find the time or inclination to do it on a daily basis. However, writing when you are in a difficult spot can actually prove to be therapeutic, enable you to get out of the problematic state and help your nerves calm down. You will find solutions, reflect and learn important lessons of life. Though we know all these benefits of writing, we often don’t end up maintaining a journal after all. Chances are high that you will want to and actually do maintain a journal after reading Miller. This itself will enable you to be an advantaged and more powerful situation when you face tragedy. Words are powerful tools, and your own can be the most soothing to you.

Best Quote:​

‘Famous people in history kept journals and these journals are now considered as part of history.’

1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

First Published: 2010

​What It’s About:

A book filled with engaging and interesting stories about individuals and companies who dared to make a change when routine, comfort and resistance, all worked against them. It decodes the fight of the mind and the heart, of logic and emotion, and tells stories, where, those who manage to overcome this conflict of the two and bring about a change, succeed dramatically. Switch is strikingly conversational and original in its approach. This makes it quite a page-turner. And what can possibly be better than a page-turner that gives you life-transforming lessons.

Why You Should Read It:​

An unforeseen adversity is the best time to change old unhealthy habits and adopt new ones. Reading this book will give you a new perspective towards life and its circumstances. The Heaths hold your hand in your difficult time and make sure you make the changes gradually but definitely to a more successful and fulfilled life. Every adversity is a knock to open the door of opportunity, prosperity and fulfillment. We just need to choose the correct doors and open them. Switch will make sure you pick your doors and your choices wisely. Changing your life, achieving happiness, is not as tough as we make them out to be. Switch not only makes you realize that, but also roots in you thought processes and habits that will make you a smarter and better person.

Best Quote:​

‘Failing is often the best way to learn, and because of that, early failure is a kind of necessary investment.’

To Wrap it Up

​These 17 good books will surely provide you some comfort and care in your times of distress. However, they are great reads even on a normal day to understand the true nature and meaning of life. Let me know in the comments section if these books could be your healing potion when things got rough and most importantly don’t stress, don’t break down and believe that your story will have a happy ending.

Keeping sharing simple