5 book recs for seekers of social change and joy

5 book recs for seekers of social change and joy magenta text over lightened image of a green grassy field with a rainbow
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With so much going on in the world, it can feel both daunting and necessary to take a stand. It feels equally necessary to find our joy and hold tight to it. How to do both? How to be good, engaged citizens bearing witness to the violence of country and planet, and be happy at the same time? How to be versed in history while envisioning a better future, but also present in the moment?

Read good books.

Activism and joy do not have to be mutually exclusive. Here are five book recommendations for those pursuing both social change and joy.

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, by Greta Thunberg

This collection of speeches by a young Swedish climate change activist might be a few years old, but how can we not be inspired by the passion and verbal eloquence of young changemakers? Greta Thunberg shone a light on climate change that few before her were able to, sparking a global conversation and reminding us not only that we have a responsibility to course-correct on protecting the environment, but also, that the kids are alright.

The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy, by Karen Walrond

For those of us engaged in and committed to social change efforts, it can sometimes feel impossible to focus on the positive. Walrond’s book uses practical exercises and conversations with thought leaders to reframe our stances and show that activism can be rooted in joy, not despair. First, what is joy, and how do we cultivate in our lives? How do we even recognize it? How do we work from light, not simply towards it? How do we fortify ourselves against burnout to keep that light shining? Let this book be your guide.

How We Show Up: Reclaiming, Family, Friendship, and Community, by Mia Birdsong

If this one sounds familiar, it’s because we already recommended it as a must-read for 2022. It’s that phrase, “show up,” that feels so vital, because in the face of sweeping rollbacks to bodily autonomy and human rights, sometimes showing up is all we have. What’s more important than family, friendship, and community, those institutions that shelter and sustain us when the larger institutions fail us? Birdsong reminds us of what’s required for individual and collective wellbeing: vulnerability, accountability, and leaning on one another.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, by Jenny Odell

Time is our most precious commodity, but do you ever feel like you give too much of your time to things that just don’t matter? Do you ever feel drawn to, then distracted from, creating and spending time in an interior world of your own making? The New York Times called Odell’s treatise “an eloquent argument against the cult of efficiency.” The author advocates for slowing down and reserving our noticing for anything but the endeavor of productivity or the service of capitalism. She opens with, “Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” then unfolds her argument about why we should all try. In the spirit of living a creative life, the advice is critical.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Plants and animals, Native botanist Kimmerer posits, are our oldest and most important teachers. Learning to slow down, notice, and listen to them, to open to “the generosity of the earth,” will not only bring us invaluable gifts but also teach us how to impart our own, in the form of ecological consciousness and activism. This gorgeous book is part nature lesson and part poetry, lyrical and instructive with a contemplative, uplifting tone that makes us feel perhaps all the wisdom of those who lived here first is not lost, but waiting for us to discover and, finally, revere it.

Have you or will you read any of these books? Which one intrigues you the most? Do you have another book you’re excited to read and want to recommend to us? Share with us in the comments.

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