Whilst books are no substitute for therapy, think of them as supplements to therapy, that can help you to sustain your progress.
Here are the best books, especially for a local Asian context, like Singapore.
Why most books don’t work
Often when we read those books from a Western context, we may not find them as emotionally resonant.
Especially if you’re a young adult growing up in Singapore. Whilst Singapore does seem aesthetically similar to places in the West, the culture is very much different.
Singapore is still ruled by an Asian, conservative value base that can be hard to shift.
Thus, if you have authors that recommend that you simply open up and talk about your mental health, that may not always work.
Don’t read those who try to preach
Secondly, many self-help books are written by people who try to preach to you. They tell you techniques to use, but they don’t tell you their own journey.
And they don’t realise that the techniques that worked for them, may not work for you. Because you’re born in a different context, place, and history. You’ve had different parents.
This means that the tools that they give you might just not work. It’s like asking you to use a cheese knife to cut cheese, when you might not even be living in a place that allows you to eat cheese.
Biographies might work better
An entrepreneur friend once told me,
Humans are a closed loop system, and what works for one may not work for the other.
It’s much better to read biographies where authors share the wider context that shape their thinking.
These are the books that work better.
Take Heart (John Lim)
If you’ve felt topsy turvy whenever you’ve needed to make a decision, me too.
You know the times when you’re deciding what to study. Or where to work. Or whether you should take this offer or that offer.
All these aren’t easy decisions, but they are complicated by the fact that we project into the future, and the limitation that we all have.
As humans, we can only be in one place at one time.
That’s why this book largely concentrates on key decisions I had to make such as choosing a university, and later a job. And it shares a better framework to think through this issue.
Secondly and more importantly, it tackles the big complex questions such as what you should do with your emotions, especially when they appear big and scary. The feelings of anxiety that can arise whenever you think of a big project, or the sense of low self-esteem that comes when your boss says your work is not up to standard.
This book shares how you can do emotional first aid to work through those issues.
You can get it here.
Indistractable (Nir Eyal)
Whilst we don’t wish to broad brush and throw the baby out with the bath water, the truth is that social media has played an indiscriminate role in our declining mental health.
From the times when you could survive in peace, alone, you currently have millions of input points about how badly your life sucks because of how social media feeds you a live feed of how well everybody’s life is compared to yours.
Indistractable shares the behavioural hacks that the likes of Facebook and Instagram have employed to make you more addicted to their screens, but also how you can better deal with these hooks.
What Color is Your Parachute (Richard Bolles)
If you’re a young adult, you would struggle with some version of this.
You don’t know what you really want to do with your life.
And that was the reason why I initially struggled with depression. I had no clue about what I was supposed to do with the 50 years ahead of me.
I was looking for pastors, friends, whoever would give me an answer, any answer, about how to choose a degree I wanted.
But it was only after I made my decision that I found this book.
This book gives a clear framework to work through, together with accompanying exercises for how to find a meaningful job.
It’s immensely practical and probably one of the best I’ve found.
The Happy Student (Daniel Wong)
When I met Daniel Wong, I was depressed, binge eating, and lost. In the previous month, I had gained 8kg in a single month after stuffing myself with food to fill the anxiety within me.
It was Daniel who put me back on track.
He handed me this copy of his book, and with it, he helped me to find my way again.
Daniel Wong graduated with the prize every Singaporean student wants. An overseas scholarship. Yet even that didn’t bring him happiness.
In this book, Daniel shares the 4 questions every young student should think through:
- What is your definition of success?
- What do you want to be remembered for when you die?
- What are your values?
- What is your life purpose?
If you feel lost, hopeless, and purposeless, this book is for you.
My Voice Overcoming: A Journey of Hope (Chua Seng Lee)
This is a hugely readable book that shares the story of 10 different individuals and their journeys through depression.
Emotional First Aid (Guy Winch)
This book can change your life, because it helps you to recognise that the small emotional cuts are just as important to deal with as the crises in our lives.
He shares practical strategies we can all use to grow from cuts such as:
- The sense of rejection you feel from being rejected by yet another job
- The sense of low confidence you have after hearing from your boss that your work is not up to standard
Guy Winch presents it in a relatable, easy to read manner, which is not easy considering that what he says is deeply backed up by research evidence.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb)
Whilst Lori shares about her emotional heartbreak through this book, it’s a relatable book that allows you to see what it does mean to suffer through grief, and loss, and how one can make meaning out of it.
And perhaps today, that’s you.
You’re dressed to the nines, and wondering what went wrong again in your date, for her to so painfully ghost you and toss you away like a beanbag.
Or you have tears running down your face, as you ruminate over and over again about what the date said.
I Had a Black Dog (Matthew Johnstone)
I read this as someone struggling with depression – and found it immediately relatable because of how it characterised depression, for the first time, as something I could see, touch and identify with.
For many of us who deal with complex emotions, it can be abstract trying to put your emotions into words and pictures, especially when it sounds so big and complicated.
Matthew teaches us how this black dog is like and how to be friends with it.