Books on running a business tend to fall into a few broad categories: money, productivity and leadership. So far, so capitalism. However, unless you’ve got ChatGPT secretly pulling the levers of your work life, Wizard of Oz style, there’s a key element of being a business owner that doesn’t get talked about much, and that’s feelings. Sorry to the Tim Ferrisses and James Clears of the world, but we think the best books on emotions can do so much more for your productivity and job satisfaction than eliminating all the distractions in your life or creating systems to 10x your output.
What’s the point in growing a business and making loads of money if you’re absolutely miserable whilst you’re doing it? Knowing what makes your heart sing and how to fill your day with joy is a real superpower and one of the privileges of being your own boss. Equally, if every email exchange makes you feel sad and you reach the end of the week feeling emotionally drained, it’s a gift to yourself to figure out why.
Disclosure: If you buy any of the best books on emotions linked below, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.
Here are some of the best books on emotions that have helped us to get to grips with our big feelings…
Best Book on Emotions for… Understanding How You Feel
Step one of working with your emotions is to be able to label them – in fact ‘Name It To Tame It’ is a recognised mindfulness technique for overcoming intense emotions and getting out of spirals. Identifying your specific emotions also helps with communicating your needs to others. Here’s a book that will help you explore your emotional landscape…
Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Dr Brene Brown (Buy it here)
We couldn’t write a list of books about feelings and not mention Brene Brown – her research into shame, courage and empathy has made her a household name. Atlas of the Heart is the book on understanding your feelings, exploring a vast and diverse landscape of 87 emotions that shape the human experience. If you aren’t familiar with Brene’s work, give her TED talk on vulnerability a watch.
Best Books on Emotions for… Adding More Joy to Your Day
Work doesn’t have to be miserable, especially if you’re the boss. Studies from the UK, the US and Belgium all concluded that self-employed folks are generally happier than their employee counterparts, and being in charge of your own time means you can supercharge that advantage. Learn how to add even more joy into your day with these books on happiness…
Choose Joy: Relieve Burnout, Focus On Your Happiness, And Infuse More Joy Into Your Everyday Life by Sophie Cliff (Buy it here)
Positive psychologist Sophie Cliff ditches quick-fix formulas for happiness and, instead, provides a gentle, practical guide to nurturing joy in your everyday life. The book is grounded in science and informed by Sophie’s own journey through grief and burnout. We’d also highly recommend following her on Instagram (@sophiecliff) for regular doses of positivity.
Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee (Buy it here)
Why do rainbows feel so cheering? How does light affect our mood? Designer Ingrid Fetell Lee explores the aesthetics of joy and how our environment impacts how we feel. In a world where the colour palette is increasingly greige, this book will certainly encourage you to bring some colour back into your life.
Best Book on Emotions for… People-pleasers and Worriers
Boundary setting is an underrated skill when it comes to running your own business. Without an HR department or traditional office hours, it can be easy to find late-night email answering or project scope creep seeping into your work-life balance, especially if you find it hard to say no. This book offers practical tips on building your self-worth and resilience so you can set boundaries with confidence.
Know Your Worth: How to Build Your Self-Esteem, Grow In Confidence And Worry Less About What People Think By Anna Mathur (Buy it here)
Psychotherapist Anna Mathur offers a compassionate and practical guide to feeling better about yourself and believing in yourself more. Anna unpicks why saying yes to everyone is actually doing them (and you) a disservice and how to unlearn the damaging behaviours we were unconsciously taught in childhood. There are even emergency pep talks at the end of the book, for if you’re feeling a little wobbly in your new boundaries.
Best Books on Emotions for… if You’re Feeling Burnt Out
Although their job satisfaction is higher, a 2020 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that self-employed people are much more likely than the traditionally employed to feel burnt out. Before you reach the point of being unable to work, here’s a book that can help with managing stress and avoiding emotional and mental exhaustion.
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski (Buy it here)
If you feel trapped in a cycle of overwhelm and exhaustion, constantly stressed and frustrated, then this is the book for you. Researchers (and sisters) Emily and Amelia Nagoski explore the impact of chronic stress (particularly on women) and give scientifically based strategies to manage life’s stressors. The chronic stress that causes burnout is a serious issue, and you may need support from a professional if you feel like there are ongoing challenges to your well-being.
Real Self-Care: Powerful Practices to Nourish Yourself From the Inside Out by Dr Pooja Lakshmin (Buy it here)
The idea of self-care has become a little tarnished in recent years, reduced to memes about cancelling plans and listicles of very expensive face rollers you can buy on Goop. But true self-care is an ongoing internal process that involves listening to our needs and respecting your values. Psychiatrist and women’s mental health specialist Dr. Pooja Lakshmin offers a sustainable and compassionate framework to truly look after yourself.
Best Book on Emotions for… Those Craving Something Different
Doing things your own way is a huge perk of running your own business, but societal conditioning can make that really hard. Capitalism makes us think we only have value if we’re productive, and internet culture tends to offer a very narrow view of what a successful entrepreneur looks like. This poetic read offers some great inspiration for creating a life that feels good to you.
The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself by Yrsa Daley-Ward (Buy it here)
Poet Yrsa Daley-Ward presents the reader with meditations and discussions on dismantling old ideas about identity, providing affirmations and prompts to encourage conversation with yourself and those around you. Through a mix of lyrical passages and poetry, she encourages you to undo decades of social conditioning and meet the truest version of yourself.
A Bonus Book Recommendation for if You’ve Ever Struggled with Feeling Highly Emotional…
Britney Spear’s autobiography The Woman In Me gives a brave and honest account of the big feelings that the pop princess struggled with through her years of fame, motherhood and survival. Our very own highly-sensitive person Sophie wrote a blog about how it’s 100% ok to be sensitive and emotional while working as a copywriter. Read Sophie’s blog here.