A list of 49 best positive psychology books compiled by Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout, you need to read if you are looking for authentic change in your personal and most preferably professional life (The way you think and the way you work). Everything from philosophy and cutting-edge neuroscience, to brain hacks and ancient wisdom is covered.
Indeed! Best list of psychology books ever compiled for early stage to experienced marketing professionals!
He’s tried to include something for everyone who’s interested in this field – from marketing professionals, to first-year psychology majors, to interested laypeople.
While all of the books below will deal with the human mind, not all of them are purely scientific. Some books deal on persuasion or look closely at social interaction. With that caveat, let’s begin.
1. The Social Animal
The greatest general overview of social psychology ever written.
This book seems to be in such high demand that the Amazon prices are often outrageous.
The demand is warranted however, few books will give you as in-depth, interesting and just a generally well written overview of social psychology quite like Elliot Aronson’s classic.
A must-read if you can obtain it, consider it the best presentation of “social psychology 101” ever.
2. Influence: Science and Practice
This is considered the gospel on the psychology of persuasion.
Cialdini’s now infamous work deserves the amount of praise it gets.
Not only is the book easy to follow with tons of excellent examples (explained in laymen terms), Cialdini also spends the time to go into why these studies played out as they did.
Lastly, he addresses how to defend yourself from persuasion techniques that wish to harm you rather than ethically convince you (scammers, people selling faulty products knowingly, disingenuous attempt to persuade, etc.)
A true classic!
3. Yes! (50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive)
While the book is informative, the studies are grazed over pretty quickly, not much depth is given to any individual study.
It does make for a great “rabbit hole” read.
This is where you find out about a study, look up more about it, find more related studies, and “go down the rabbit hole” searching for new material.
A great starting point to getting your feet wet in a variety of persuasion related studies.
4. Thinking, Fast and Slow
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of my all time favorites.
Trying to go over what this book digs into would take me a whole post in itself, so allow me to just gush…
This book is damn awesome, read it!
Seriously though, for behavioral research, there are few books that touch the scope and breadth that Dan Kahneman dives into with this masterpiece
Mr. Kahneman holds a Nobel Prize in economics as well, and this aspect shines through in the book’s many examples.
5. Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard
The Heath brothers’ book Switch aims to answer the question: “Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?”
Specifically, why is it so hard to change things that have become commonplace?
The book is structured very well (as is their other entry on this list) and incredibly readable; you can tell that a lot of effort was put into breaking the book down into appropriate sections and making it easy to pick up by anyone.
6.) The Art of Choosing
This is the quintessential read on how human beings make choices and what external influences affect those choices.
It’s a fantastic read and very enjoyable all the way through.
Human beings have zero understanding of intrinsic value.
We are heavily influenced by contextual clues when we examine things like “price” and “cost.”
This has been shown via a number of studies, and this book offers a superb analysis of the literature.
You’ll be very surprised to see just how easily marketing departments can influence our perception of things with subtle tweaks to pricing (making this an important read for every consumer… aka everyone!)
8. Stumbling on Happiness
Despite the title of this book, this isn’t a “self-help” book by any means.
It is more concerned with the process in the mind than on ways you can “be your best self!”
One commentor pointed out a quote that fits the book well: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”
9. Predictably Irrational
Few books will make you question your own decisions quite like this one; Ariely shows how seemingly mundane or meaningless changes can greatly impact our behavior when we don’t realize what’s going on.
As a sample, check out his famous pricing study on the Economist, you’ll see how small changes can really play with our perception of things.
10. Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation
The book often tries to take more established ideas and make them sound entirely new.
It’s hard to title a book with the word “Fascinate” if it’s not a page-turner, and Sally’s writing will definitely hook you until the end.
She also leaves readers with an actual gameplan when ideas are brought up.
11. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
A quote from Mark Twain is included in the book’s description: “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on”, and the authors offer an explanation as to why these ideas can stay with us for so long.
Diving a little deeper than the answer of “better marketing”, this book aims to address (and largely succeeds) the 6 ways certain ideas just stay with us while others slip away.
12. Numbers Rule Your World
This book is probably the most unique of all of the books on this list.
Whether you’re a “numbers guy” (or gal) or just want to take a laymen’s look at statistics and their involvement in the current affairs of the world around you, you’ll enjoy this book thoroughly.
13. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone
There are some bold claims in this book (that, perhaps, honesty is but a choice between benefit from cheating and our psychological motivation), but Ariely makes some compelling arguments to back up each point addressed.
As with Predictably Irrational, you’ll come away with a lot of questions, but in a good way: you’ll begin to re-think things that were formerly “obvious” in the context of what you just learned from Ariely.
14. The Power of Habit (Why We Do What We Do)
While the author does a great job of splitting up habits into appropriate sub-groups (habits of individuals, habits of successful organizations, habits of societies) and in showing how habits actually operate in the brain there is one shortcoming…
The book doesn’t show you how to break any habits! But is a very easy read and a great look on how habits manifest in the brain.
15. Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince
This is another book that focuses more on serving up “bite-sized” analysis of multiple studies rather than diving deeply into a few.
16. Neuromarketing: Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain
This is, frankly, one of the best beginner books for those interesting in neuromarketing or “brainy marketing” as it is so affectionately referred to.
17. The Branded Mind
This book is not an easy read. That being said, it is a rewarding read if you can make it through.
If you’re willing to put in the effort, you’ll get a lot out of this book, this is definitely one of the most compelling & challenging books on the list.
18. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less
Schwartz argues that decision-making was a lot simpler years ago, and while the majority of the book focuses on a “buying angle” (see things like buyer’s remorse and others which are closely related to choice), the lessons here can be carried to many of life’s aspects.
An abundance of choices has a tendency to trick our brain into thinking a lot of choice is a good thing, when that is not necessarily the case.
While Schwartz is very much an academic, the book reads quite fluidly and won’t trip you up with an abundance of scientific terms, although each point made is backed up quite eloquently.
19. Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds
This is one of those amazing crosses between understanding marketing to utilize it for your entrepreneurial endeavors or to simply understand how brands try to persuade you.
Some of the examples aren’t so mind-blowing (groceries using crates to make fruit seem “farm-fresh”) but others are really interesting.
20. The Compass of Pleasure
The subtitle of this book is just too damn good…
How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good
If you’ve ever wanted to know why cigarettes are one of the most addictive substances of all time or how dopamine can turn your brain into a slave for pleasure, this is the book for you.
21. The Buying Brain
There is another book by Lindstrom (2 above) called Buyology that often comes highly recommended when discussing books of this ilk… but I would say that you should skip that book and get this one instead.
This book avoids this problem by giving “actionable” (even though I hate that word) steps for implementing.
22. The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us
This book digs into how language can reveal a lot about a person.
Some archetypes that are focused on include gender, affluence, liars, sadness, introverts vs. extroverts, and a variety of others.
23. Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
This book exposes how everyone is at risk of refusing to admit to their mistakes, even when the evidence is conclusive.
The research is accurate and cited appropriately, the book is still an easy, enjoyable read, and it’s from the guy who wrote my favorite social psych book of all time.
24. Social Engineer: The Art of Human Hacking
While this book specifically addresses social engineering (surprise), there are many psychological aspects that turn this into a very intriguing read on influence.
The book definitely has a very antagonistic approach, but that’s because of the subject matter (people are referred to as “victims” and the activities are defined as “exploits” and “attacks” because that’s what they are).
Except with this book, manipulation is the subject at hand.
25. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
This book focuses on the findings from the legendary Stanford prison experiment.
It’s a compelling look at how even “normal” people fall into the roles of situations that many of us in the first world can hardly imagine happening.
The last chapter is also quite intriguing for those familiar with the experiment: the author outlines a program intended to build resistance to mind-control strategies.
26. Obedience to Authority
Another book that is a “tell all” about fascinating, provocative, even horrifying psychology study known as the Milgram experiment.
It details many accounts of participants showing signs of severe distress, yet continuing on with the applied shocks as actors in another room screamed cries of pain.
This book is a necessary read in understanding the construct and inherit dangers in authority.
27. The Optimism Bias
Tali Sharot’s in-depth look is one of the better efforts to analyze the current research (along with Sharot’s own research) on optimism, memory, and their connections to our emotions and actions.
This is no pop-psy self-help book, this takes a look at some incredible research from a leading expert.
Definitely worth picking up if you’re interested in neuroscience and studies on memory.
Harvard Professor Ellen Langer would assert that “robotic” behavior can lead to a lot of pain in life.
I would agree, and the fact that so many other books on this list show just how susceptible we are to that sort of behavior, I’d say it’s a problem worth worrying about.
The aim of this book is therefore to be more “mindful” of our actions and to notice when automatic behavior begins to take over.
29. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
This book can serve as a fantastic “rabbit-hole” read that helps you find a TON of other great studies to check out.
The content is also quality stuff and will be new to you if you aren’t an avid reader of psychology books, so don’t be afraid to give this one a go.
This book, being all about subtlety and subtle changes, does a good job in giving relevant examples that make somewhat opaque descriptions a lot easier to relate to.
This is a very interesting book and one of few that strays into the positive psychology territory, definitely worth checking out.
31. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving
Funnily enough (or perhaps not), this book often appears on leadership lists, despite not being an outright leadership or management book.
I’d say that it’s main two topics seem to hinge on productivity and relationship management, so it is easy to see why a business and leadership oriented crowd would enjoy this book.
For everyone else, it is a very easy read and very much worth checking out.
32. You Are Not So Smart
Call it pop-psy all you want, this is one of the funniest books on this list!
If you’re interested in how your brain is sabotaging you and in finding out more about the delusions we all hold, this book is the perfect place to start.
33. What Makes Your Brain Happy (and Why You Should Do the Opposite)
Take this as a more serious version of the book above.
Largely concerned with cognition and specifically with cognitive biases, David DiSalvo makes this book stand out in quite a few ways.
The research isn’t rehashed like many books you’ll find in this space. Not only that, there are tactics and resource materials included in the book.
An overall exciting book with a lot to offer, I’ve read this one very recently and was happy that I did.
34. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain
Eagleman has put together a seriously fascinating list of studies that I will shamelessly steal and write about here!
Seriously though, the writing is captivating, if nothing else, you’ll learn how to write attention-grabbing headlines as Eagleman sends you page after page into highly interesting findings on our unconscious.
35. The Game
This book is more on practice of some sound science in action; That doesn’t mean everything here is 100% backed by science, or that you should be courting your customers out on hot dates, but it’s hard to deny this book’s close ties with influence when it comes to a very specific spectrum.
36. Out of Character
Living a humdrum life often makes understanding these crazy acts hard (not necessarily a boring life, but one less extreme by comparison), and this book takes a look at a lot of examples that show us that if we were in similar circumstances, we’d be very likely to act in a similar manner.
Great examples, great research, and a great focus make this a must-read.
That’s fine for books like “75 Ways to blah”, it’s an acceptable writing structure, but this book isn’t about that, and when in comes to this cohesion, it falls flat.
Putting that aside, the different sections are far too interesting to pass up for this general lack of unity.
38. The Person and the Situation
This book is very straightforward! It’s obviously about situational influence and the effects on our decision-making process.
That being said, the authors (Gladwell is one) do a great job in demonstrating the many types of faulty logic that we are prone to in a variety of environments.
This book almost reads like one of those great textbooks that you had in college: the one’s that you actually enjoyed, even though they were supposed to be academic.
39. The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence
Book takes a very scholarly approach to the psychology of influence but is perhaps a little bit less practical than Cialdini’s work.
For a true academic understanding of persuasion though, this book is fantastic.
40. Situations Matter
This book is not for everyone. The research, however, is enjoyable by academic or laymen readers alike in my humble opinion.
One of those books that has a knack for getting your brain to ask intriguing questions… about itself!
41. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works
This actually is a book that falls squarely into positive psychology, but it is, bar none, one of the best out there.
If you are interested in applying psychology to improve yourself and your mind, this is the book for you.
If not, you’ll still walk away with a great understanding of how self-control works in our minds.
This book is practical, the science is sound, and the author (McGonigal) is highly recognized: I have no hesitation recommending this one.
42. Beyond Culture
This book is almost the opposite: it’s not actionable in any way, but the understanding provided by it is enormously important.
This book is largely concerned with cross-cultural human psyche and it’s implications on our interactions.
43. The Tipping Point
Gladwell would suppose that there are 3 types of gifted people who are essential to “sticky” ideas: Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople.
While all of the information is great on explaining that there are critical aspects of things that become “epidemics” or “go viral”, he doesn’t really get into how that happens, just that it does.
Now, it’s not like I was looking for a “how to create a viral campaign” from this book, but the examples are lacking in that area.
Still, a highly important book, and it references the monkey sphere, so I needed to include it.
44. The 48 Laws of Power
This book is a great example of fantastic book marketing: the ideas in this book are sound, and as mentioned, although it is one of the books on this list that aren’t particularly “sciencey”, the ideas discussed are often backed by REAL research elsewhere.
What the book does well in its marketing is that it creates this book ideal that these are some secret laws for the inner Machiavelli in us all. Some of the ideas are not all that devious, it’s just smart interpersonal relationship & persuasion advice.
45. How to Win Friends and Influence People
With the reach that this book has had in it’s long lifetime, it’s unlikely that you’ve never encountered it before.
The reader should keep in mind the context within which this book was written intended primarily as a companion book to Dale Carnegie’s classes on how to be a good salesman.
Interesting stuff to consider before you dig in!
46. Strangers to Ourselves
Your conscious mind isn’t always in control.
If many of these books on the brain teach you anything, it’s probably this.
This book is one of the biggest jolts in this category of understanding that concept; it’s definitely a psychology book, but the questions it brings up almost make it feel like the book was written for philosophy majors.
47. Sleights of Mind
The main issue that this book tackle is more on how we are influenced, with the author taking a very specific look at the tricks of “magic” and some related neuroscience studies.
This book, therefore, reads like “The Psychology of Magic”, and if that sounds interesting to you, this is a must-read.
48. Why We Buy
Took is a fun read. Be sure to verify claims by checking the actual studies, as this is definitely the ‘fun’ side of science.
It’s interesting to see some data on how people shop.
49. The Invisible Gorilla (How Our Intuitions Deceive Us)
Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself—and that’s a good thing.
Authors (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons) in this book use remarkable stories and counterintuitive scientific findings to demonstrate an important truth: Our minds don’t work the way we think they do. We think we see ourselves and the world as they really are, but we’re actually missing a whole lot.
Even if the study didn’t “get you”, you’ll still enjoy the book.
First of all, thanks for stopping by and for reading this post! I hope you found this list of books useful.
Other than that, feel free to recommend any other good social psychology books on your bookshelf!
Thanks for reading, please share the post if you enjoyed it.