The world is a mess—no further details required—so let’s welcome 2024 with a heavy dose of positivity, hope, and inspiration. These five books, which all received starred reviews, provide the spirit we need to begin the year in the right mental frame of mind.

Let’s start with a delightfully odd book about human connection. Rental Person Who Does Nothing: A Memoir (Hanover Square Press, Jan. 9), by Shoji Morimoto, translated by Don Knotting, describes how the author started a business where people could hire him to do nearly anything, from attending a divorce proceeding or visiting someone in the hospital to simply going out for ice cream. Morimoto charges a small fee for most of his services, but the most important element is the act of helping someone. Often, it involves easing loneliness, which has reached epidemic proportions. Our reviewer calls it “an eccentric, charming book, showing how humans can connect in the strangest of circumstances.”

Decades ago, Hannah Arendt provided significant philosophical guidance about making the world a better place. In We Are Free To Change the World: Hannah Arendt’s Lessons in Love and Disobedience (Hogarth, Jan. 16), Lyndsey Stonebridge resurrects her lessons about morality and the urgency of battling against a society’s descent into authoritarianism. That lesson couldn’t be more timely, and Stonebridge’s book, “a splendid, ever-so-timely consideration of Arendt and her thoughts on how nations sink into tyranny,” according to our review, is lively brain food.

I recently turned 44, so Chip Conley’s Learning To Love Midlife: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better With Age (Little, Brown Spark, Jan. 16) is a welcome breath of fresh air as I contemplate my next chapter. The author takes on the youth-focused elements of American culture, showing readers how they can profitably reconsider their journeys with the wisdom of age. From staying physically active to maintaining strong personal relationships, Conley has the answers, and his “enthusiasm for grasping the full potential of the midlife years is contagious and inspiring,” our reviewer says.

Enthusiasm and energy are on full display in Infectious Generosity: The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading (Crown, Jan. 23), by Chris Anderson, which we call “an inspiring, timely book about ways to bring out the best in people rather than focusing on the worst.” The author, who’s helped launch more than 100 magazines, asks us to turn away from predatory capitalism and toward helping others, providing concrete examples of people engaging in acts of true generosity. The book is vibrant, uplifting, and, in today’s chaotic culture, maybe even necessary.

In her new book, Ijeoma Oluo, bestselling author of So You Want To Talk About Race, also provides numerous examples of people doing good via focused activism. Be a Revolution: How Everyday People Are Fighting Oppression and Changing the World—And How You Can, Too (HarperOne, Jan. 30) is “an urgent plea for individual and collective action,” says our reviewer—an important handbook for any activist, whether fighting for justice regarding gender, race, education, incarceration, disability, the arts, or the environment. It’s all about transformative justice, and Oluo is just the guide we need right now.

Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction editor.