The return from your work must be the satisfaction which that work brings you and the world's need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get. Without this with work which you despise, which bores you, and which the world does not need this life is hell.


Do You Like Your Job?

Mr. Du Bois knew whereof he spoke: this message was given to his newly born great-grandson on the occasion of Mr. Du Bois's ninetieth birthday. He loved his work (he was, among other things, a founder of the NAACP) and didn't give up the ghost (or his work) until he was ninety-five.

Most people tend to think of the division between work and play the way Mark Twain saw it: "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do."

Some people, however, have discovered, as Shakespeare pointed out, "If all the year were playing holidays/To sport would be as tedious as to work." Or, as Jerome Klapka Jerome put it, "It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do."

If you go to a job you despise, filled with things you hate to do, populated with people you don't like, find another job. "If you cannot work with love but only with distaste," Kahlil Gibran tells us, "it is better that you should leave your work."

I don't like work --no man does-- but I like what is in work the chance to find yourself. Your own reality for yourself, not for others; what no other man can ever know.


Work takes up entirely too many of our waking hours for us to let it be a drudgery. "Every really able man, in whatever direction he work," wrote Emerson, "if you talk sincerely with him, considers his work, however much admired, as far short of what it should be."

Get a job you enjoy. Before finding that job, you may have to find your career first--your calling, your avocation. "Blessed is he who has found his work," said Carlyle. "Let him ask no other blessedness."

"In order that people may be happy in their work," John Ruskin tells us, "these three things are needed: They must be fit for it. They must not do too much of it. And they must have a sense of success in it."

The idea of "work" implies there is something you do that you would not do without the reward. For most people, the reward is money. If you see the primary reward of work as money, I suggest you change the reward. Try loving, maybe. Or service--knowing you are providing people with something they really need. Or creative expression. ("That's entertainment!")

Sometimes you don't need to change your work--all you have to change is your attitude about work. Many good things have been said about work and working over the years: "Back of the job--the dreamer who's making the dream come true!" (Berton Bradley) "Work keeps us from three great evils: boredom, vice, and need" (Voltaire).

If you want to make your dreams come true, it will require work--doing something you're not necessarily thrilled about doing for the sake of a desired goal. Thomas Alva Edison told us, "There is no substitute for hard work."

Some people get religious about their work. The motto of the Benedictine order is, "Orare est laborare, laborare est orare." ("To pray is to work, to work is to pray.") Some, such as Carlyle, wax poetic: "All work is as seed sown; it grows and spreads, and sows itself anew." While others, such as Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, are downright gruff: "In the morning, when you are sluggish about getting up, let this thought be present: `I am rising to a man's work.'"

I doubt if that thought would get me out of bed, but this one, from Gibran, might: "Work is love made visible."

If we think of work as a way of manifesting our love, then whatever job we do can be fulfilling.

If you're working at McDonald's, instead of thinking, "Oh god, not another busload of tourists with a Big Mac Attack!" you can think, "I'm helping provide food so that these people can enjoy their journey." Either way, you'll be wrapping the same number of burgers and boxing the same number of fries. With one attitude, however, you'll feel miserable; with the other, you'll feel useful.

I will work in my own way, according to the light that is in me.


So, if you hate your job, either change your job or change your attitude about the job. One or the other. Don't indulge in negative thinking about it.

You may say, "I can't afford to be without this job." If you're hopelessly mired in disliking the job, you can't afford to keep it.

If you have a life-threatening illness, regaining your health is Job #1. Until Job #1 is done, everything else is just filler.

What You Do Strengthens You

The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigor and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates.


A strong mental attitude is built the same way physical strength is gained--by repetition. Manipulating weights builds physical strength. Manipulating thoughts builds mental strength.

You may have a habit of negative thinking, built over years of repeating negative thoughts. This repetition has made the habit strong.

Focusing on the positive may not be as strong yet; it may, in fact, be a 97-pound weakling. The way to make it strong is to exercise it. Use it often. Unlike physical exercise, if you do too much positive focusing, you will seldom wake up sore the next morning.

Decide what you want to become stronger in. Become strong by doing it.


If you want to be happy, keep all of your commitments--and don't expect other people to keep any of theirs.

I am different from Washington; I have a higher, grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won't..


When we make a commitment, we "give our word." Giving something as valuable and as powerful as our word should not be taken lightly. When we don't fulfill our word, a part of us begins to mistrust ourselves. Over time, the effects of broken commitments build up. One begins to have serious self-doubts and uneasy feelings.

This self-doubt feeds the unworthiness, causing tiredness, confusion, lack of clarity, and a general sense of "I can't do it."

Parallel to this disintegration in our relationship with ourselves is the deterioration of our relationships with others. If you make a series of commitments and don't keep them, people--at best--don't trust you. At worst, it's a great deal of Sturm und Drang--hurt feelings, anger, betrayal, accusations, abandonment.

It's easy to see that if you've been, shall I say, freewheeling in your commitments--either with yourself or with others--you have plowed, irrigated, and fertilized the soil in which negative thinking thrives.

To reverse this--and encourage a crop failure--I have a few suggestions:

  1. Don't make commitments you're not sure you can keep. If you're not sure, say you're not sure. If a definite maybe is not good enough, it's better to tell the other person no.

    There's one way to find out if a man is honest-- ask him. If he says, "Yes," you know he's a crook.


  2. Only make commitments that are important to you. If a commitment is important enough, you'll keep it. If it's not important enough to keep, don't make it.

  3. Learn to say no. Don't make commitments that are important to others but not important to you just because you're afraid of "hurting their feelings." In doing this, you will either (a) break the commitment later, causing more hurt feelings, or (b) keep the agreement, hurting your own feelings. It's better to say, "No, thank you" up front.

  4. Communicate. As soon as you think you might not be able to keep a commitment, let the other person know. Don't just say, "Sorry, can't make it." Renegotiate. Changing a commitment is asking for a favor. Do it nicely.

  5. Write down your commitments with others. Keep a calendar and note your appointments. This (a) helps you remember them and (b) avoids scheduling conflicts.

  6. Write down commitments with yourself. Write this on the first page of your calendar: "All commitments with myself will be put in writing. Everything else is just a good idea." This keeps you from thinking the "good idea" to go jogging tomorrow at 6 a.m. is actually a commitment. If it is a commitment, write "Jogging, 6 a.m." in your calendar. And do it.

  7. Declare things finished. If you have a half-dozen half-read books lying around open, gathering dust, declare your reading of them finished. Put book marks in them and put them away. Tell yourself, "I'm done with this for now." You can always go back and pick them up again, but for now, release yourself from any implied commitment you have with yourself to read them. The same works with commitments with others. When you know you're not going to be taking part in something people expect you to be taking part in, let them know that, until further notice, you won't be there. It's amazing how much energy declaring things finished can free up within you.

  8. Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for any broken agreements in the past. Forgive yourself for judging yourself for having broken those agreements. While you're at it, forgive yourself for breaking any agreements you may make in the future. (More on the technique of forgiveness later.)

    We can secure other people's approval, if we do right and try hard; but our own is worth a hundred of it.



    It may help you keep your agreements--and not make agreements you don't plan to keep--if you understand the four primary reasons people break agreements. They are

    1. Approval. We say we'll do something we really don't want to do because we're afraid someone might disapprove of us--then we don't have time to keep all the conflicting agreements.

    2. Comfort. It often seems more comfortable not to keep the commitment. This is actually a false sense of comfort. Usually greater discomfort is the result. We also tend to make agreements we don't want to make because we don't want the discomfort of saying no. Learn to say no.

    3. Rebellion. Breaking agreements for rebels is a knee-jerk reaction to feeling hemmed in, limited, or tied down in any way. Rebels especially feel rebellion toward (a) authority figures and (b) ultimatums. Unfortunately, rebelling against the "doctor's orders" (ultimatums issued by an authority figure) can be fatal.

    4. Unconsciousness. Unconsciousness is a reason people break agreements. There are other important things to say about this, but I forgot them. Maybe I'll remember later.

    Keeping agreements (and not making agreements you don't plan to keep) is a good way to learn about your need for other people's approval and how to replace it with self-approval; how to expand your "comfort zone" so you'll have more freedom; and how to move from automatic, unthinking rebellion into conscious, voluntary cooperation.

    The second part of this little "secret of happiness" is simple--whenever anyone breaks an agreement with you, let it go. In your mind, let the other person out of the agreement at once. Imagine that the person called with the best reason and apology in the world.

    Love truth, but pardon error.


    Let it go.

    Expecting human beings to keep their agreements is (a) not realistic, and (b) an invitation to irritation.

    When someone breaks an agreement--especially someone important to you--it may bring back earlier images and feelings of being let down, betrayed, and abandoned. Use the opportunity to heal these memories from the past, not to add further injury to yourself in the present. (More on the healing of memories later.)

    INTERVIEWER: You've been accused of vulgarity.
    BROOKS: Bullshit!


    The Thought-Feeling-Action Pyramid

    Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.


    In order to make progress, three things are necessary--a thought, a feeling, and an action. They form a pyramid:

    If we have a thought and a feeling, but no action, we're just spinning our wheels. If the thoughts and feelings are negative, this combination usually becomes worry, depression, and frustration. If the thoughts and feelings are positive, it's often just unproductive "positive thinking." (Meditation, contemplation, visualization, or spiritual exercises do not fall in the "unproductive" category. More on those later.) A physical action is required to make the thought and feeling tangible.

    If we have a thought and an action but no feeling, the action will probably not continue for long. Our feelings are our greatest motivators. For sustained physical action, we need to feel something about what we're doing.

    Do what you can, with what you have, with where you are.


    If we have a feeling and an action, but no directed thoughts, we're like a powerboat without a rudder. There's no logical, rational direction. This happens a lot with addictive behaviors--drug abuse, alcoholism, compulsive sex. The emotions say, "I want it." And the body says, "You got it," before the mind can even engage. Later, themind may say, "You know you shouldn't have done that." We knew, but we "forgot." Temporary insanity.

    If any one of the three sides of the pyramid is missing, the structure collapses. We cannot do productive work. We cannot accomplish what we want to accomplish.

    Knowing this, I offer the following advice: if you don't have a matching thought, feeling, and action all available at the same time, release yourself from whichever ones you do have.

    For example, if you have the thought, "I'd like to go swimming," and the emotions say, "Swimming! Oh boy, swimming!" but there's no available water, let the thought and the feeling go.

    If you're by a lake, in a bathing suit, and your mind says, "Swimming would be good for us," and the body says, "I'm ready," but the feelings say, "I am not at this moment emotionally equipped to deal with cold water," let go of the thought and the physical preparedness.

    If the emotions want to go swimming and the body is ready to go swimming, but the mind says, "I think this water is polluted and may not be safe," let go of the feeling and the physical readiness.

    You "let go" by refocusing on something the mind, emotions, and body are willing to do--and can do--together. Now.

    God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.


    Did you ever feel you were going in three directions at once? Maybe you were. Maybe your mind wanted one thing (let's clean the garage), the emotions wanted another (let's go dancing), and the body wanted another (let's take a nap). You cannot do all three things at the same time. Two of the three will have to go--or maybe all three will go, and the mind-body-emotions triumvirate will agree to do something else.

    It's as though the mind, body, and emotions have little "minds" of their own. Sometimes you have to ask the Inner Henry Kissinger to step in and negotiate for you. "First we'll take a nap, then we'll clean the garage, then we'll go dancing, okay?"

    Sometimes you simply have to lay down the law (lovingly) and tell the body, "No nap"; the emotions, "No dancing"; or the mind, "The garage is clean enough."

    However you work it, don't let yourself be caught in nonproductive thinking, feeling, or doing. The result is ineffectiveness, and ineffectiveness feeds a lack of self-esteem ("I knew I couldn't do it"), which leads to more negative thinking, which leads to a triggered Fight or Flight Response, which leads to--well, you already read that part of the book.

    If You Want to Feel Good about Yourself, Do Good Things

    One of the easiest ways to feel good about ourselves is to do good things. The operative word is do.

    The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.


    What's "good"? I'll let you decide. Whatever you think is good--as long as it doesn't hurt yourself or others--is fine with me.

    It could be doing good things for yourself--mentally (learning something new, focusing on the positive, reading a good book--well, you're already doing that), physically (exercise, massage, eating well) or emotionally (practicing forgiveness, spending time with a loved one, seeing a good movie).

    Or it could be doing something good for someone you know, or for someone you don't know, or for a group, or for nature, or for the whales, or for world peace, or for the planet as a whole.

    Again, the key is action, doing, involvement. We are, as Madonna was kind enough to point out, living in a material world. As Madonna's spiritual teacher, Olivia Newton-John, once said, "Let's get physical." Sending people nice thoughts is, well, nice, but sending them notes saying how nice you think they are is even nicer.

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