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Experts warn that we’re experiencing an “empathy deficit” due to the pandemic. Here are 6 books that can help, as recommended by psychologists.

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We spoke to 3 psychologists to find the best nonfiction books on how to have more empathy, from self-help books to memoirs.

Crystal Cox/Insider

  • Some experts warn that we may be collectively experiencing an “empathy deficit.”
  • Research suggests that empathy can help us cope with events like the pandemic better.
  • We spoke to 3 psychologists to find the best nonfiction books on how to have more empathy.

Between dealing with burnout and self-isolation for the past few years during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people may struggle to have empathy for others while we continue to be in survival mode. But empathy is incredibly important to continue to have, both for ourselves and others. This is why it is important to tackle what some consider to be a growing “empathy deficit.” 

Some research even suggests that having empathy for others can help us better cope with the COVID-19 pandemic: A May 2021 study found that having empathy for more high-risk populations helped people manage lockdowns. 

To learn more about the best books on empathy, I spoke to three experts:

  • Jessica January Behr, PsyD, a New York City-based psychologist
  • Bethany Cook, PsyD, MT-BC, and author of  “For What It’s Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0-2”
  • Michele Goldman, PsyD, and Hope for Depression Research Foundation’s media advisor

Here is what they recommended on better understanding empathy, which you can implement in your life. 

Learn more about how Insider Reviews tests and researches books.

The 6 best books on empathy, according to psychologists:

“Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness” by Sharon Salzberg"Lovingkindness- The Revolutionary Art of Happiness" by Sharon Salzberg book cover

Bookshop

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.59

Lovingkindness is a traditional Buddhist concept that encourages people to spread kindness to themselves, those around them, and people they do not yet know.  

“Written by a spiritual leader drawing on Buddhist principles, this book focuses on enhancing a deep sense of connection with self and others by addressing our fear of intimacy with ourselves,” Goldman said. “It includes exercises and meditations to connect with love, joy, and compassion and cultivate empathy within.”

“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl"Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl book cover

Bookshop

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.35

Frankl wrote this book about his experiences in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He described how identifying purposes in life helped him both have hope and empathy. 

“Dr. Frankl’s prolific writing shows how love, empathy, compassion, and meaning can be found even amongst depravity and despair,” January Behr said. “Anyone looking to have more empathy for themselves and others should read this book.”

“Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered” by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz"Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered" by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz book cover

Bookshop

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.55

Co-written by a child psychiatrist and a journalist, “Born for Love” highlights the importance of raising children to have compassion for others. “This book is a beautiful blend of research and clinical cases from a child psychiatrist that demonstrates the development of empathy in children,” Goldman said. “It speaks to the root of our ability to love and connect with others.”

“The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World” by Jamil Zaki"The War for Kindness- Building Empathy in a Fractured World" by Jamil Zaki book cover

Bookshop

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.64

Written by Stanford University psychology professor Jamil Zaki, “The War for Kindness” highlights stories of people, ranging from a former Neo-Nazi to NICU nurses, of how they make sure to practice empathy for themselves and those around them.  

“This book takes the reader on a life-changing journey weaving science, stories of empathy, and success with some of the author’s personal experiences to offer a complete understanding and appreciation of empathy and the lack of it in society,” Cook said. “It’s written as a call to action to shift the course of humanity towards one of kindness and compassion.”

“The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self” by Alice Miller"The Drama of the Gifted Child- The Search for the True Self" by Alice Miller book cover

Amazon

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $11.41

Childhood trauma can affect how we view the world and interact with others. For people with repressed anger and pain, “The Drama of the Gifted Child” can help people evaluate their worldview now. 

“Understanding how yourself and others may repress their own needs for the sake of others can help to build both self-compassion and greater empathy for those around you,” January Behr said.

“Leading with Empathy: Understanding the Needs of Today’s Workforce” by Gautham Pallapa"Leading with Empathy- Understanding the Needs of Today's Workforce" by Gautham Pallapa book cover

Amazon

Available at Amazon and Bookshop, from $21.18

While the COVID-19 pandemic has stretched many workers to their limits, it is still important to practice empathy with your colleagues. Pallapa’s book illustrates why this is important for both official and unofficial leaders in the workforce. 

“This book will help anyone in the workplace learn, develop and implement the necessary skills to improve their relationships and emotional experiences on the job,” Cook said.

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