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