“Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg: Book Review

“Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg: Book Review

on Feb 4, 2014 in Livelihood+Financial Liberation | 15 comments


A new book from Sharon Salzberg is always a cause for celebration. 

In addition to being a wonderful meditation teacher, Sharon is a gifted writer and storyteller. Two of her books – Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness and Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience – sit on a special shelf in my casita dedicated to the few books I would grab if there were a fire or other natural disaster. They’re that good.

Sharon’s latest, Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace, caught my eye since a lot of what I do revolves around helping people to create what I call “liberation-based livelihood.” Last year, I was honored when Sharon asked me if she could include some of the exercises I developed for my “Fall in Love with Your Work” course in Real Happiness at Work. So I was in heaven when the new book showed up on my doorstep a few weeks ago (and how perfect that it arrived on the same day as Pam Slim’s Body of Work).

With Real Happiness at Work, Sharon has done a masterful job of taking classic Buddhist concepts such as equanimity and compassion and applying them to the contemporary world of work.

She offers “eight pillars of happiness in the workplace:” Balance, Concentration, Compassion, Resilience, Communication and Connection, Integrity, Meaning, and Open Awareness. Sharon skillfully illustrates each of those concepts by telling stories from her own life as well as stories about people that we can easily relate to.

For example, in the chapter on “Compassion,” Sharon tells the story of Tom, who was given six weeks notice to leave his job and finish a project that was close to his heart. He was struggling with strong emotions around what happened to him, feeling that he was scapegoated in his workplace and feeling angry at his supervisor. But he also realized that he cared deeply about the project he was responsible for and that he had to find a way through those toxic emotions.

Tom was lucky enough to have a meditation teacher who helped him find a skillful way through those six weeks. He said,

I needed to practice compassion for my employer as well as myself, in order to diffuse the anger. Resentment cannot thrive in the presence of the love and concern you develop in compassion practice, so I began to practice for the well-being of all the people I worked with, for my supervisor in particular. This is what is called ‘giving merit’ to others with the fruits of our meditation practice. Almost immediately, I noticed changes within me. Instead of being bound with rage, I felt liberated, almost relieved. These feelings motivated me to engage with my work with renewed creativity.

At the end of each chapter, Sharon provides detailed guided meditations to help you put each of the pillars into practice. “Stealth Meditations” pop up every few pages or so, offering us ideas about how to bring our meditation practice into our work day. For example: “Stop and follow your breath for a few moments as you’re heating up your lunch in the microwave. The ding is your conclusion.”

Real Happiness at Work is the perfect guidebook for anyone who is yearning to re-calibrate their relationship to work. For those of us with a Buddhist orientation, it offers an excellent map of how to practice with some of the most challenging situations that come up in our jobs (and in ourselves). In alchemical terms, this book can help us to turn lead into gold in the context of our workplace.

One of my concerns about the proliferation of mindfulness in popular culture is that it will lose its original radical edge – radical in the sense that as Shakyamuni Buddha taught it, the dharma is all about liberation in every sense of the word. There is a tendency for meditation and mindfulness to be watered down to a relaxation practice that has the effect of numbing people to unjust conditions. This can be particularly true when mindfulness is applied to business and other work settings.

However, when I saw that on the very first page Sharon acknowledged Ai-jen Poo as an inspiration, I knew I didn’t need to worry about that with this book. Ai-jen is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and an organizer for immigrant rights. As Sharon writes, “Her work is a reminder that respecting the dignity of all is the basis for a society to move forward in justice and in love.” I am grateful that, along with being a fantastic meditation teacher, Sharon is raising up justice as a value in the workplace.



We have a winner for the giveaway… thanks to all who entered!

But wait, there’s more! In September, when I open up registration for the group version of “Fall in Love with Your Work,” I’ll be giving away a free copy of Real Happiness at Work to the first 10 people who sign up for the course. You can get on the advance notice list to be notified when registration opens up here.


  1. Thanks to everyone for leaving your comments, sharing on Facebook, and tweeting! The “random name picker” has spoken and we have a winner. Even if you didn’t win, I do hope you’ll pick up a copy of Sharon’s book — it’s well worth it.

    Maia Duerr/Liberated Life Project

    February 11, 2014

  2. I’ve read and use Sharon Salzberg’s Insight Meditation Kit and try to integrate practice into my daily life, but making practice a part of work life is much harder because of the different responsibilities and requirements. This book sounds like exactly what I need. I’m looking forward to reading it.


    February 10, 2014

  3. Eek! I shared, then almost forgot to enter myself! 🙂 I’m so excited about this book – win or purchase. I just tweeted about this, for what it is worth …

    You know my struggles and joys with my world work, and I’ve no doubts that anything written by Sharon Salzberg would provide clarifications and contemplations galore. Thank you for doing this!


    February 10, 2014

  4. Any new book by Sharon is most welcomed! You enthusiasm for this new book is infectious!


    February 10, 2014

  5. Thanks for this great review, Maia. Looks like a fabulous read & book!

    Maryann HrichaK

    February 9, 2014

  6. This book looks like one that I really need to read. I found out on Thursday about a potential big decision I will have to make in the very near future about accepting a big promotion with a significant pay increase. I have worked very hard to build the program that I have built (at a major nonprofit organization). I love my job and don’t want to abandon my volunteers and the program I have worked so hard to develop; yet, this is an opportunity that I need to give serious consideration. Happiness at work is more important to me than money, but feeling fairly compensated is one ingredient in workplace happiness. I would love to read about Sharon Salzburg’s eight pillars.

    Sheri E Barnes

    February 9, 2014

  7. Thanks so much for writing about Sharon Salzberg’s new book – as someone who combines mindfulness practices and spiritual direction with entrepreneurial coaching – her book seems to bring everything together in one place, while maintaining a commitment to radical liberation that often gets lost when it seems to be just another method for “making it” in a dysfunctional system.

    Jesi Davis

    February 8, 2014

  8. Work is such a thorny issue for me, still. Today I made $6.17 in two hours while doing my absolute best. I look forward to seeing what Salzberg says about right livelihood.

    Sharyn Dimmick

    February 6, 2014

  9. Thank you for raising concerns about preserving the integrity and radical edge of mindfulness. I am deeply concerned that mindfulness is being used as a technocratic tool for self-improvement. This is not only evident in mindfulness initiatives in the business world but also in mindfulness initiatives in K-12 education. Mindfulness is being used to improve standardized test scores and help kids “calm down”. This feels more about control than liberation! Im glad that Sharon Salzberg is addressing these issues in her new book. Thank you for your review!

    Jen Cannon

    February 5, 2014

  10. you are such an inspiration for me and i value highly your recommendations! of course i’m sharing on FB too!

    Laura Hodge

    February 4, 2014

  11. Always looking for ways to bring happiness to the work place. Sharing on Facebook too.

    Amy Stevens

    February 4, 2014

  12. Sounds like a great bridge book, between spiritual work and world work. And a great complement to your Fall in Love with Your Work course. I shared the review and giveaway on Facebook. Hoping many people will read, be inspired, and will join Team Liberation too!

    Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo

    February 4, 2014

  13. Even though I do not work in the usual job sense anymore, I bet this new book from Sharon can help me navigate how to work in a volunteer capacity better and even to create the opportunities to be of service.

    Jane Steinberg

    February 4, 2014

  14. I absolutely LOVE this “stealth meditations” idea (and that clever name). This idea of a special shelf with books and items you would grab in a fire, fascinating! Made me spend a moment thinking about what I would put on such a shelf at my home… sadly, I don’t think I could get my two wild and amazing dogs to stay there – luckily a few other things came to me, too. I can’t wait to read this book based on your review, Maia. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    Michelle Barry Franco

    February 4, 2014


  1. “Real Happiness at Work” by Sharon Salzberg — book review and giveaway! | The Jizo Chronicles - […] can find the book review and contest details here — the deadline to enter is next Monday, February 10,…

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