From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on the philosophy well-being and the good life. This page contains books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on well-being. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on well-being and the good life in no particular order.
The Philosophy of Well-Being: An Introduction – Guy Fletcher
Publisher description: Well-being occupies a central role in ethics and political philosophy, including in major theories such as utilitarianism. It also extends far beyond philosophy: recent studies into the science and psychology of well-being have propelled the topic to centre stage, and governments spend millions on promoting it. We are encouraged to adopt modes of thinking and behaviour that support individual well-being or ‘wellness’.
What is well-being? Which theories of well-being are most plausible? In this rigorous and comprehensive introduction to the topic, Guy Fletcher unpacks and assesses these questions and many more…
How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing your Personal Philosophy – Pigliucci, Cleary, & Kaufman
Publisher description: A collection of essays by fifteen philosophers presenting a thoughtful, introductory guide to choosing a philosophy for living an examined and meaningful life.
Socrates famously said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but what does it mean to truly live philosophically? This thought-provoking, wide-ranging collection brings together essays by fifteen leading philosophers reflecting on what it means to live according to a philosophy of life. From Eastern philosophies (Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism) and classical Western philosophies (such as Aristotelianism and Stoicism), to the four major religions, as well as contemporary philosophies (such as existentialism and effective altruism), each contributor offers a lively, personal account of how they find meaning in the practice of their chosen philosophical tradition.
Together, the pieces in How to Live a Good Life provide not only a beginner’s guide to choosing a life philosophy but also a timely portrait of what it means to live an examined life in the twenty-first century.
The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being – Guy Fletcher
Publisher description: The concept of well-being is one of the oldest and most important topics in philosophy and ethics, going back to ancient Greek philosophy. Following the boom in happiness studies in the last few years it has moved to centre stage, grabbing media headlines and the attention of scientists, psychologists and economists. Yet little is actually known about well-being and it is an idea that is often poorly articulated.
The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being provides a comprehensive, outstanding guide and reference source to the key topics and debates in this exciting subject….
The Good Life – Charles Guignon
Publisher description: Organized around themes such as harmony with one’s self and with the world, right relation to God, the use of reason, self-exploration, and living in a disordered world, the selections in this anthology explore traditional philosophical thought from Plato to de Beauvoir on the topic of human flourishing.
The Republic – Plato
Publisher description: The revised edition of Grube’s classic translation follows and furthers Grube’s noted success in combining fidelity to Plato’s text with natural readability, while reflecting the fruits of new scholarship and insights into Plato’s thought since publication of the first edition in 1974. A new introduction, index, and bibliography by Professor Reeve are included in this new rendering.
Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
Publisher description: The Nicomachean Ethics is one of Aristotle’s most widely read and influential works. Ideas central to ethics—that happiness is the end of human endeavor, that moral virtue is formed through action and habituation, and that good action requires prudence—found their most powerful proponent in the person medieval scholars simply called “the Philosopher.” Drawing on their intimate knowledge of Aristotle’s thought, Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins have produced here an English-language translation of the Ethics that is as remarkably faithful to the original as it is graceful in its rendering.
Aristotle is well known for the precision with which he chooses his words, and in this elegant translation his work has found its ideal match….
Philosophy and the Good Life – John Cottingham
Publisher description: Can philosophy enable us to lead better lives through a systematic understanding of our human nature? John Cottingham’s thought-provoking study examines three major philosophical approaches to this problem. Starting with the attempts of Classical philosophers to cope with the recalcitrant forces of the passions, he moves on to examine the moral psychology of Descartes, and concludes by analyzing the insights of modern psychoanalytic theory into the human predicament. His study provides a fresh and challenging perspective on moral philosophy and psychology for students and specialists alike.
The Best Things in Life – Thomas Hurka
Publisher description: For centuries, philosophers, theologians, moralists, and ordinary people have asked: How should we live? What makes for a good life?
In The Best Things in Life, distinguished philosopher Thomas Hurka takes a fresh look at these perennial questions as they arise for us now in the 21st century. Should we value family over career? How do we balance self-interest and serving others? What activities bring us the most joy? While religion, literature, popular psychology, and everyday wisdom all grapple with these questions, philosophy more than anything else uses the tools of reason to make important distinctions, cut away irrelevancies, and distill these issues down to their essentials. Hurka argues that if we are to live a good life, one thing we need to know is which activities and experiences will most likely lead us to happiness and which will keep us from it, while also reminding us that happiness isn’t the only thing that makes life good….
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Contemporary Moral Theory, Topic: Well-Being – Phil 4110 | University of Colorado Boulder
- Ethics – Cambridge University (see ‘Theories of the Good’)
- Theories of Well-Being – FILA 9 | University of Tampere
- The Good Life – HNRS 332 | University of San Diego
- The Good Life and philosophical perspectives – request for suggestions/resources
- What are the core components of a good life?
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Philosophy Books on Happiness
- The Best Philosophy Books on the Meaning of Life
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- Find the best philosophy books on a wide variety of topics with this collection of over 120 philosophy reading lists.
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.