15 Must-Read Empathy Books for Cultivating Kindness

empathy booksEmpathy involves the ability “to feel or imagine another person’s emotional experience” (McDonald & Messinger, 2011, p. 2).

This powerful emotion inspires compassionate behavior that may mean the world to another person. Indeed, empathy in which positive emotions are shared is associated with increased prosocial behavior and happiness (Morelli, Lieberman, & Zaki, 2015).

This article highlights numerous books and PositivePsychology.com resources that will guide readers in practicing greater empathy and, ultimately, contributing to a more loving and harmonious society.

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

Leo Buscaglia

Before you continue, you might like to download three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises will explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

Empathy and Kindness Books

Books for Adults

The following five informative books provide readers with the rationale for becoming more empathetic, along with suggestions for how to go about it.

 

1. The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World – Jamil Zaki

The War for KindnessAuthored by a professor of psychology at Stanford University, this book provides a unique perspective on empathy – sharing both anecdotes and research findings.

The importance of empathy as “one of the animal kingdom’s most vital survival skills” is articulated by Zaki (2020, p. 5), who also describes stories of people who have overcome violent pasts to become role models of kindness.

By presenting empathy as a malleable construct, readers are provided with evidence of the ways in which empathy and kindness may be strengthened.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. The Empathy Edge: Harnessing the Value of Compassion as an Engine for Success – Maria Ross

The Empathy EdgeAs a marketing and branding expert, Ross has written a book that demonstrates the essential nature of empathy in business (e.g., leadership, culture, advertising, etc.).

The book includes research, case studies, and author recommendations that illuminate the link between empathy and occupational success in multiple areas such as hiring decisions, productivity, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

Ross applies her knowledge as a brand strategist and her personal experience of surviving a brain aneurysm to articulate the many ways in which practicing empathy leads to greater success and satisfaction in the workplace.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. The Power of Empathy: A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Lasting Love in Your Life – Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham

The Power of Empathy A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Lasting LoveThis book is cowritten by Arthur Ciaramicoli a psychologist and Harvard Medical School professor,  and Katherine Ketcham, a prolific nonfiction author in areas such as addiction, recovery, spirituality, and empathy.

It is designed to help readers experience greater empathy in areas such as listening, relationship building, intimacy, finding love, and trusting others.

The book contains personal stories of the authors’ relationships with patients, colleagues, and students. It also incorporates honesty, acceptance, faith, gratitude, humility, hope, tolerance, and forgiveness as they relate to ‘empathy in action’.

In doing so, the book aids readers in developing the necessary skills to incorporate empathy into everyday life.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

4. The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy Is Essential in Everyday Life – Brian Goldman

The Power of KindnessThis unique book is written by an ER physician who takes an honest look at his sense of empathy and compassion as a doctor.

He goes in search of his lost compassion by meeting with a variety of people (e.g., a neuroscientist, a personality researcher, and some highly empathetic and inspiring individuals) from around the world.

Along with clarifying key terminology (e.g., empathy versus sympathy, emotional empathy, cognitive empathy, etc.), Dr. Goldman (2018, Chapter 1) uses wisdom and storytelling to describe his personal experience in creating this book as a “journey into empathy as witnessed through my eyes…Sometimes I’m the guinea pig for a test of empathy, sometimes a vessel for you to experience and learn how to be kinder in a world that could use a bit more kindness.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

5. Empathy: Why it Matters, and How to Get it – Roman Krznaric

EmpathyThis book is written by a social philosopher who founded the world’s first Empathy Museum.

Krznaric is a leading researcher and writer on the importance of empathy for social connection and societal equality. Krznaric is an excellent storyteller who describes the many ways in which empathy leads to greater fulfillment in life.

The book also includes Krznaric’s description of the six habits of highly empathic people:

  1. Ability to switch on the empathic brain
  2. Ability to make the imaginative leap
  3. Ability to seek experiential adventures
  4. Ability to practice the craft of conversation
  5. Ability to travel in one’s armchair
  6. Ability to inspire a revolution

These and other ideas are insightfully described, along with a call for action.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Books for Parents and Teachers

For adults who wish to create classroom and family climates characterized by empathy and kindness, there are some terrific books to guide the way.

Here are five examples:

 

1. Be the Difference: 40+ Ideas for Kids to Create Positive Change Using Empathy, Kindness, Equality and Environmental Awareness – Jayneen Sanders

Be the DifferenceWritten by an experienced teacher and author, this book is packed with ways in which children may contribute to a more positive, kind, and empathetic world.

It is appropriate for kids to read by themselves, with parents, or as a classroom activity.

With discussion questions in the back, the book provides an abundance of ways for children to make a positive difference by promoting empathy and kindness, care for the environment, and racial and gender equality.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. Kindness Starts With You – Jacquelyn Stagg

Kindness Starts With YouAuthored by a new mother and graphic designer, this book is designed to teach kindness to kids.

The story follows a little girl throughout her day as she learns how to spread kindness in a variety of relatable ways (e.g., sharing toys with her sibling).

The book contains weekly kindness challenges, examples of situations when kindness would make a difference, and ‘lightbulb lessons of kindness.’ Overall, Stagg has created an entertaining and easy way to teach young children about the importance of kindness.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. Teaching Children Empathy, the Social Emotion: Lessons, Activities and Reproducible Worksheets (K-6) That Teach How to “Step Into Others’ Shoes” – Tonia Caselman

Teaching Children Empathy, The Social Emotion

The author of this book is a clinical social worker with a doctorate in human development.

By applying her extensive clinical and academic background, Caselman has produced an empathy-enhancing resource for teachers and parents.

Regarding empathy as a ‘fundamental social emotion,’ the book contains numerous lessons, activities, and worksheets intended to aid children in feeling empathy for others and behaving with kindness, compassion, and acceptance.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

4. The Kindness Curriculum: Stop Bullying Before It Starts – Judith Anne Rice

The Kindness Curriculum

Written by an experienced early childhood family education teacher, this book tackles the serious issue of bullying.

The book is especially applicable for teachers intending to prevent bullying before it even begins.

The author includes numerous activities aimed at enhancing conflict resolution, compassion, respect, and other adaptive qualities that promote kindness and supportive learning environments.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

5. A Little SPOT of Kindness! – Diane Alber

A Little SPOT of Kindness!

Created by an artist and mother, this book follows the lead character, SPOT, as he learns how to practice kindness in everyday life (e.g., sharing, being polite, etc.).

The story provides a fun way for kids to learn simple acts of kindness towards family members, classmates, and peers.

Both teachers and parents have found the book useful for inspiring kindness and understanding in children.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

Picture Books for Kids

One of the best ways to communicate positive messages to kids is through picture books, especially since many children will read their favorite books many times over. Not only are picture books a fun way to learn, but reading to children also promotes parent–child bonding.

The following five picture books provide valuable and fun lessons in kindness:

 

1. Tomorrow I’ll Be Kind – Jessica Hische (ages 3 and up)

Tomorrow I'll Be Kind

An award-winning illustrator created this inspirational picture book.

It uses colorful and fun illustrations of animals to remind children of the many simple but powerful ways in which kindness, compassion, and empathy make a meaningful difference in everyday life.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

2. Superbuns – Diane Kredensor (ages 4 to 8)

Superbuns!

The author and illustrator of this book is an Emmy Award-winning artist and successful producer of educational programs for children.

Superbuns is an adorably illustrated book in which a bunny dreams of being a superhero.

As it turns out, Superbuns already is a superhero, given her special power to be Super Kind. The pictures are colorful, fun, and easily relatable to young children.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

3. It’s Brave to Be Kind: A Kindness Story and Activity Book for Children – Natasha Daniels (ages 5 to 7)

It's Brave to Be Kind

Drawing from her extensive background as a child therapist, Daniels has created a combined story and activity book about the value of kindness.

With its inspiring story and terrific role model, the book shows children fun ways to practice kindness and also provides advice for parents on how to teach empathy and kindness to kids.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

4. Listening With My Heart: A Story of Kindness and Self-Compassion  – Gabi Garcia (ages 4 to 8)

Listening with My Heart

Written by a mom and experienced school counselor, this book tells the story of a young girl who finds a heart-shaped rock that she perceives as a reminder to spread kindness.

The book teaches young readers the importance of self-compassion and being kind and loving to oneself and others through its meaningful story and mindfulness activities. It is also available in Spanish.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

5. Be Kind – Pat Zietlow Miller (ages 4 to 10)

Be Kind

This New York Times bestseller is written by an award-winning children’s book author.

Miller uses gentle and engaging text to describe how a young girl considers thoughtful ways of responding after a friend spills grape juice on her.

The book uses beautifully illustrated vignettes to teach children the power of kindness, civility, and empathy.

Find the book on Amazon.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Relevant Resources

When it comes to promoting empathy and kindness, PositivePsychology.com is loaded with tons of helpful information and exercises. For example, the following blog articles and activities from the PositivePsychology.com Toolkit seek to promote kindness, empathy, and healthy relationships:

 

Articles

Can Random Acts of Kindness Increase Well-Being? – Erika Stoerkel

This informative article describes what it means to practice random acts of kindness and the positive impact of such actions on emotional wellbeing.

The author explains the position of kindness within positive psychology, as well as methods for putting kindness theory into action. Lesson plans for teachers, along with useful books, YouTube videos, quotes, and apps, also are included.

Overall, the article contains tons of resources designed to support readers in practicing random acts of kindness throughout their lives.

 

What Is Loving-Kindness Meditation? (Incl. 4 Scripts) – Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury

This article delves into loving-kindness meditation, whereby we focus on extending generous and selfless love toward ourselves and others.

With helpful instructions, tips, and suggestions for mantras, the author guides readers through the research, fundamentals, and benefits of practicing loving-kindness. Also included are all the science-backed ways that meditation in general – and loving-kindness mediation in particular – can benefit our health and wellbeing.

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta, can infuse a deep sense of self-worth and gratitude, which can then be extended to others.

 

Exercises from the Toolkit

Fostering Admiration in Couples

Fostering Admiration in Couples helps couples not only foster admiration, but also learn how to better express positive feelings in relationships. Readers first identify three qualities they appreciate about their partner.

They then meditate on a time their partner demonstrated one of the above characteristics. The third step is to jot down the memory that came to mind during meditation. These steps are repeated for each of the three qualities. Readers then join with their partner to share the things they appreciate about each other.

The final step is to individually reflect on the feelings that came up during the exercise. Ultimately, this process enhances relationship satisfaction by cultivating mutual appreciation and fondness.

Brief Nonviolent Communication Exercises

The goal of this exercise is to familiarize readers with nonviolent communication and teach them how to practice it in daily life. The tool contains several brief nonviolent communication exercises.

Readers first observe and write down any judgments they made about themselves or others that day. They are then instructed to turn the judgments into observations.

For step two, readers observe other people and write down thoughts and evaluations about the people around them. They are asked to examine their thoughts further (e.g., by questioning whether such thoughts are observations versus evaluations).

Readers then consider a variety of situations (e.g., feeling irritated, being drawn into gossip, dealing with customer service, etc.) in which they may have experienced negative emotions.

They are then asked to reflect on what happened, how it made them feel, and how they might respond more positively next time. Overall, this exercise provides readers with the tools for practicing more empathic communication.

Breathing Together

This breathing together exercise uses a mindfulness approach to deepen interpersonal connection and empathy.

Readers sit face-to-face and respond to a series of mindfulness prompts such as focusing on breath and relaxation, observing and naturally connecting with a partner, breathing in sync with a partner, accepting distractions and feelings, and sharing feelings about the experience with a partner.

Couples engaging in this exercise benefit by practicing personal mindfulness and an enhanced interpersonal connection with their partner.

 

A Take-Home Message

The world could always use more empathy and kindness. Along with being the right thing to do, practicing empathy cultivates compassion, love, and kindness towards family members and neighbors.

There are myriad tools for enhancing these essential qualities, including the books we’ve highlighted for adults wishing to become more empathetic, as well as resources for teachers and parents wanting to promote kindness and compassion in children.

Tools from PositivePsychology.com as well as some engaging and fun empathy-promoting picture books for kids can further develop these qualities.

We hope you will be inspired to practice greater empathy and kindness, making a positive difference in the world around you.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

If you wish for more, our Positive Psychology Toolkit© contains over 300 science-based positive psychology exercises, interventions, questionnaires, and assessments for practitioners to use in their therapy, coaching, or workplace.

  • Alber, D. (2019). A little spot of kindness! Independently Published.
  • Buscaglia, L. (n.d.). Retrieved on September 5, 2020, from https://www.brainyquote.com.
  • Caselman, T. (2007). Teaching children empathy, the social emotion: Lessons, activities, and reproducible worksheets (K–6) that teach how to “step into others’ shoes.” Chapin, SC: Youthlight.
  • Ciaramicoli, A. P., & Ketcham, K. (2000). The power of empathy: A practical guide to creating intimacy, self-understanding, and lasting love in your life. Independently Published.
  • Daniels, N. (2020). It’s brave to be kind: A kindness story and activity book for children. Emeryville, CA: Rockridge Press.
  • Garcia, G. (2017). Listening with my heart: A story of kindness and self-compassion. Austin, TX: Skinned Knee Publishing.
  • Goldman, B. (2018). The power of kindness: Why empathy is essential in everyday life. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
  • Hische, J. (2020). Tomorrow I’ll be kind. New York, NY: Penguin Workshop.
  • Kredensor, D. (2019). Superbuns. New York, NY: Aladdin.
  • Krznaric, R. (2014). Empathy: Why it matters and how to get it. New York, NY: Perigee.
  • McDonald, N., & Messinger, D. (2011). The Development of empathy: How, when, and why. Retrieved on September 4, 2020, from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniel_Messinger/publication/267426505_The_Development_of_Empathy_How_When_and_Why/links/5460d5f20cf295b561637ca6.pdf
  • Morelli, S., Lieberman, M., & Zaki, J. (2015). The emerging study of positive empathy. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 9(2), 57–68.
  • Rice, J. A. (2013). The kindness curriculum: Stop bullying before it starts. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
  • Ross, M. (2019). The empathy edge: Harnessing the value of compassion as an engine for success. Vancouver, BC: Page Two Books.
  • Sanders, J. (2019). Be the difference: 40+ ideas for kids to create positive change using empathy, kindness, equality, and environmental awareness. Victoria, Australia: Educate2Empower Publishing.
  • Stagg, J. (2019). Kindness starts with you. Independently Published.
  • Zaki, J. (2020). The war for kindness: Building empathy in a fractured world. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
  • Zietlow Miller, P. (2018). Be kind. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.

About the Author

Heather Lonczak holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a focus on Positive Youth Development. She has published numerous articles aimed at reducing health disparities and promoting positive psychosocial youth outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, cultural identity, mindfulness and belief in the future). Heather is also a children’s book author whose publications primarily center around the enhancement of child resilience, as well as empathy and compassion for wildlife.

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