| | |

15 of the best feel-good books of all time to brighten your day

Some posts contain affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I may earn a commission.

Young woman in field of flowers illustration
Illustration by Xuan Loc Xuan

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’ve written before about the best feel-good classic novels, but that leaves so many uplifting books that have been published more recently.

For this post, I thought about my favourite feel-good books of all time, including the last few years. Some are lighthearted and funny books, and others are wholesome comfort reads.

Here’s my selection of the best feel-good books to lift your spirits when you’re feeling low, remind you of the good in the world, and bring a smile to your face.

(P.S. If you love reading new books, you might also like to complement this with my list of the best new feel-good books for 2023. Enjoy!)

The best feel-good books ever written for happy reading

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

Read The Shell Seekers for… one of the most warming, cozy, and feel-good books ever written, about one English family’s bonds, divisions, and long-hidden pieces of art that have the power to change their futures.

The Shell Seekers feels like a vacation in a book, offering a sedate adventure between English villages and the country’s south-west coast.

In this wonderfully cozy novel, we meet artist’s daughter Penelope Keeling, who looks back on her rich and varied life as she contends with her three children and refuses to settle into pensioned-off old age.

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

Read How to Be a Good Creature for… Sy Montgomery’s wholesome memoir of her life with animals, complete with stunning illustrations and timeless life lessons.

In this gorgeous reminder of the beauty of life, Montgomery beautifully shares the bonds she has grown with pigs, dogs, and even an octopus during her life so far. It’s also a memoir about the plethora of ways her animal friends have helped her to be a good creature, too.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

Read The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living for… a full-hearted and easygoing read about new beginnings for Olivia Rawlings, a big-city pastry chef extraordinaire.

In this feel-good read, Olivia Rawlings discovers the true meaning of home when she loses her job and escapes from the city to the most comforting place she can think of – the idyllic town of Guthrie, Vermont.

This is meant to be just a short getaway, until Margaret Hurley, the cantankerous owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, offers Livvy a job.

Broke and not sure what else to do next, Livvy accepts – and realises that the most unexpected twists and turns in life can be the best things to happen to you.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Read The Housekeeper and the Professor fora beautiful, unpretentious, and clever masterpiece of Japanese fiction that turns mathematics into an elegant art.

Each morning, the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to one another. Although the Professor’s mind is alive with mathematical equations, his short-term memory is a mere eighty minutes after an accident changed his life and ended his academic career some years ago.

With the clever maths riddles he devises – based on the Housekeeper’s birthday, her shoe size, or other little details – the two are brought together in a beautifully geeky classic love story that forms a bond deeper than memory.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Read A Psalm for the Wild-Built for… what Martha Wells describes as “an optimistic vision of a lush, beautiful world”, offering feel-good vibes and hope for the future.

If you love Studio Ghibli-inspired books, I’d recommend grabbing a copy of A Psalm for the Wild-Built. In its hopeful sci-fi world, it’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered together into the wilderness, and faded into myth and urban legend.

But one day, the life of a tea monk is turned upside down by a robot at their door. And most problematically, the robot wants an answer to the question of “what do people need?”

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

Read Circle of Friends for… a heartwarming and wholesome book that feels like coming home.

If you love Rosamunde Pilcher’s feel-good writing, definitely try reading Maeve Binchy next. Circle of Friends is a great place to start, weaving an uplifting tale of growing up, friendship, and love in small-town Ireland and Dublin.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Read The Penguin Lessons for… a heartfelt and uplifting memoir about a young man and a penguin in Argentina.

Tom Michell is in his twenties, free as a bird, and seeking adventure in South America around his teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school.

What happens next is a little less ordinary: he rescues a penguin from an oil slick, and the penguin (who is soon named Juan Salvador) refuses to leave his side…. and returns back to school with him.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Read The Rosie Project for… a clever, warm, and delightfully weird love story that I have such fond memories of reading back in 2013 when it was first published.

Don Tillman is a brilliant yet completely socially inept professor of genetics who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. So he designs the Wife Project to find his ideal candidate, starting with a sixteen-page survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, and the late arrivers.

Unfortunately, Rosie Jarman drinks, smokes, and arrives late. She should be immediately disqualified as a candidate. And yet, somehow, Don is swept into the whirlwind that is Rosie as they collaborate on her own project to find her biological father.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for… a modern classic that’s easy to read and a lot of fun, too.

As one of the most popular feel-good books of all time, this beautifully silly classic follows the galactic (mis)adventures of Arthur Dent, beginning one Thursday lunchtime when the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot

Read All Things Wise and Wonderful for… the Yorkshire vet’s heartwarming memoirs that have entranced generations of animal lovers since they were published.

In my selection of the best feel-good classic books, I knew I had to include All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot.

In this sequel, James is training as an RAF pilot in bustling London. He’s far from the rolling hills, moody cattle, and curmudgeonly farmers of his day job as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales. He misses his dog, but most of all he misses his wife, Helen, who’s pregnant with their first child.

The questions of whether he’ll go to the front and when he’ll get home are serious, but with its reflections of the land he loves and of friends old and new, this wonderfully cozy book is charming, uplifting, and wonderfully funny.

The No. 1 One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Read The No. 1 One Ladies’ Detective Agency for… a cozy and uplifting book following the investigations of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective.

In a Reddit thread about the best feel-good books, user bprflip shares: “When someone asks for a male-author-who-can-actually-write-a-female-lead, this book lands. It’s about someone getting by and making the world better, in incremental yet personal ways”.

If you enjoy The No. 1 One Ladies’ Detective Agency, you’re in luck: this is the first in a series of twenty-three books by Alexander McCall Smith.

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

Read Under the Whispering Door for… a warm hug of a book for troubled times, by the bestselling author of The House in the Cerulean Sea.

This wholesome book is perfect for fans of the feel-good hit A Man Called Ove or NBC’s The Good Place.

Wallace spends his life at the office, working and correcting colleagues. Then a reaper collects him, and his time is up. Now he wonders if he should do things differently.

With just one week until he must pass through the door to the other side, Wallace sets about living a lifetime the right way.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Read Where’d You Go, Bernadette for… one of the best lighthearted books to get lost in, about a quirky main character who flees the anxieties of everyday American life for Antarctica.

This bestselling novel by Maria Semple is the perfect laid-back, easygoing book to immerse yourself in while imagining your own escape. I also think it’s one of the best books to help you fall back in love with reading if you haven’t picked up a book in a while.

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Read The Garden of Small Beginnings for… a book that manages to be lighthearted but also thoughtful and poignant, from the bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.

As an intimate journey of a young mother moving on from loss, this quirky novel unlocks the door to Lilian Girvan’s life as an illustrator, parent, sister, budding gardener, and widow as she puts the pieces of her life back together.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

Read The Kitchen Front for… what author Cathy Kelly describes as “an enchanting hug of a novel” with The Great British Bake Off vibes.

In this gentle and inspiring book from 2022, it’s two years into wartime and Britain is feeling her losses. With the country in the midst of rationing, this is the hopeful story of a cookery competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

For more feel-good reading, enjoy these new feel-good books for 2023, retreat into a wholesome book, or stock up on the best beach reads for 2023.

Looking for laugh-out-loud books? I’ve also shared my pick of the best lighthearted and funny books of all time. Enjoy!

If you adore books, need a bit of a boost, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, check out The Sanctuary, a seven-day course from Tolstoy Therapy.