“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
When was the last time you picked a book, not because you were required to do it in a class or a workshop but because you were genuinely interested in wanting to know more about something? Last week, last month, last year, or never? If the concept of reading for pleasure is alien to you, we don’t blame you! In this world of technology and easy access to information, people are busier than ever before on their phones, tablets, and laptops whether it is to do work or watching Netflix or just casually surfing the internet. It’s not uncommon for people to say “who’s got time for reading?” but they usually wouldn’t think twice about scrolling endlessly on Instagram, for example.
If you read our last post on the importance of personality development (if you haven’t, do check it out; we think you will really like it: Personality Development and its Importance), you would know how important reading is for developing your personality. Books are great not just for the sake of acquiring knowledge, but they can serve as a wonderful tool to develop a lot of aspects of your personality. You can get valuable insights into the lives of great people by reading their biographies and autobiographies for example. And you can use these insights to inspire you, motivate you to achieve great things in your own lives. If you are still not convinced, then let us give you a few reasons after which you will be a convert for sure:
Knowledge:This is the first because this is the most obvious one. The best way to acquire knowledge on any subject is books. Want to learn about an interesting concept? Want to acquire a new skill or sharpen an existing skill? Want to understand a complex topic in a complex field? No problems, books got you covered! The best part: you can apply all this knowledge to everyday life situations.
Diction:The more you read, the more you expose your mind to new words (you can even keep a journal and keep adding all the new and exciting words you are learning everyday). These could either be words you have never heard of before or ones whose meaning you cannot recollect. Regularly visiting your journal could help you keep it fresh in your memory.
Memory:You are wondering, how can reading books help my memory, but reading directly helps your memory because when you read a book, you are able to remember events, incidents, methods etc. described in the book and you tend to retain a lot more because this time nobody is forcing you to remember anything, you are doing it for the sheer pleasure of it.
Analysis:Yes, you read that right! When you will make reading a habit, you will realise that you are able to analyse and understand things a lot better. You also start to understand yourself and others a lot better because when you read about the lives of other people, you realise how everyone is similar at a human level and that makes you a more empathetic person, which helps you improve your own relationships, both personal and professional.
Focus:It’s a very familiar feeling amongst readers. If you are not a reader, ask your friends who are! It’s very easy to get lost in a book you care about. And because you are doing an activity for a prolonged period of time without any distraction, it improves your focus and concentration.
Communication:It must be obvious now that improved communication is bound to happen more you get into reading as a habit, which, in turn, makes you a more confident individual.
Relationships:Reading books to your kids (even if it’s bedtime stories), reading aloud to your spouse or just recommending a book you read to a friend or colleague would foster better relationships.
Now that you are convinced of the many ways in which books can have a positive impact on your personality, let’s discuss our top 5 books that will help improve your personality:
1. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach
“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for your doubting too.”. No these are not the words from Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, but from one of the most popular Rudyard Kipling poems, If. But this Kipling quote is the ideal precursor to Jonathan Livingstone’s Seagull. The book forces us to explore the possibilities when we start living as our true selves. While they may be some fear in starting to become that person, but that is the book’s central message. The essence of the tale is a seagull’s desire to fly and his understanding of what flying means.
The story begins with a seagull named Jonathan who dreams of flying better than any seagull has ever flown before, instead of spending his days looking for scraps of food (like it’s been taught to him). The author writes:
“Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight—how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. More than anything else, Jonathan Livingston Seagull loved to fly…. This kind of thinking, he found, is not the way to make one’s self popular with other birds.”
Jonathan finds that there are certain benefits to living like he had been taught: “He felt better for his decision to be just another one of the flock. There would be no ties now to the force that had driven him to learn, there would be no more challenge and no more failure.” But he soon realizes that he would prefer exile to conformity. In this exile, however, he finds one or two beautiful and skilled seagulls who join him and tell him that they have come to take him “home” to begin a new kind of learning. It is in this home where Jonathan finds like-minded seagulls who experience the freedom of flight. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull is a parable about a seagull that teaches us to never compromise the pursuit of freedom of our true selves, irrespective of the obstacles. We cannot recommend this enough!
2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Marcus Aurelius
Meditations by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius is a collection of twelve books. Reading this would be an ideal introduction to the stoic philosophy, the concept of logic, self-discipline and to the idea that the course the world runs is not good or bad but it is just the way it is. Marcus Aurelius based his Meditations on ancient Greek stoicism. Contrasting with the Epicureans, who sought as much pleasure in the here and now, the Stoics believed in the goodness of things, no matter how unpleasant they may seem at the time. Let’s share with you the three central ideas in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:
Lesson 01: Logic may not make sense all the time, but everything happens for a reason. The word logic (as used today) comes from the word logos which meant reason to the stoics and it wasn’t just a word, it was a force of life. It is the essence of all life and the underlying master plan for everything that happens in the world and for that reason, anything that happens, whether good or bad, happens for a reason and there is a comfort to be had in this realisation.
Lesson 02: Life is too short to waste even a moment complaining. This follows from Lesson 01: since everything is exactly right the way it is, complaining becomes utterly useless then, doesn’t it? We all have limited time on this earth so we should make it worthwhile.
Lesson 03: The only pain you suffer is the one you inflict upon yourself. Marcus Aurelius believed that physical pain was part of logos’ grand design, He lost 8 of his 13 children before him and a wife, but he never lost the trust in the purpose, which allowed him to remain calm in the worst of times. He did not believe that any harm from an external source is under any human control and therefore can’t be harmful. The only real harm comes when you allow it, when you start blaming yourself, question why things happen, or complain about how unfair everything is. The bottom line is: whatever situation that you are facing, you always have a choice.
3. Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
This book was originally published in 1937 but every single word in this book is as relevant today as it was more than eighty years ago when it was written. This book talks about why some people amass great fortunes while others fail to make ends meet. For this book, Napolean Hill researched more than forty millionaires to find out what made them the men they are. The book is the distillation of his research. Too often we hear about people talking about books that will transform your life, trust us, this is definitely one of them. We would like you to pick this book the first chance you get. Still not convinced? Let us share with you the five big ideas in the book:
- Starting point of all achievement is desire
- You are the master of your destiny
- When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans were not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your goals
- Your greatest success will often come just one step beyond the point at which defeat has overtaken you
- Set your mind on definite goal and observe how quickly the world makes way for you
4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
This is the life story of one of the visionaries of our times who revolutionised six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing. The biography is based on more than forty interviews with Steve Jobs conducted over two years, as well as interviews with over more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors and colleagues. Trust us you would be hard-pressed to find a more interesting biography, one that will inspire you to think, question and doubt the things we have all accepted as given. In that sense, it has a lot in common with Jonathan Livingstone’s Seagull. We will leave you with the following quote from Steve Jobs which we think captures the essence of this book.
“If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.”
5. As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
This is an essay and a self-help classic that argues that the key to mastering your life is harnessing the power of your thoughts and helps you cultivate the philosophy and attitude of a positive successful individual. Here are three great lessons that we think you would really enjoy from this book:
Lesson 01: What you do is a result of what you think. Just like the tiny seeds turn into big plants, a single thought often turns into a major decision, which makes your thoughts the roots of your actions.
Lesson 02: You shape the world as much as it shapes you. The reason your thoughts and actions are so deeply connected is that they live in a constant cause-and-effect relationship with the outside world. Your thoughts, your actions, your character, they all take at least as much influence on the world as the world does on you.
Lesson 03: Be careful what you think, it might make you age faster. Yes, you read that right! What you think massively impacts your heart rate, sleep, chronic pains such as migraines.
There are many aspects of personality development that we have talked about in other articles on this website. Even if you look it up on the internet, you would find a lot of articles/blogs talking about the importance of body language, verbal and non-verbal communication etc., but you would not find many articles/blogs that talk about how important reading is for personality development. But we are here to tell you that there is no other habit that is going to have a greater effect on your personality as a whole. If you are feeling daunted by some of the books on this list, then don’t be, start with our number one recommendation (Jonathan Livingstone Seagull) and we promise once you begin, there will be no looking back. Good luck!