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The Law of the Garbage Truck™

By on October 2, 2007 – 1:03 am  81 Comments

David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.

Special Note to Positive Psychology News Daily Friends

Book Cover for The Law of the Garbage Truck

This month I am posting a column that I wrote a number of years ago known as The Law of the Garbage Truck™.  My column is now widely traveling the internet in mass emails and blogs.  I want you to have it too.  You can find my original article at the following sites:

The Law of the Garbage Truck
Facebook site for The Law of the Garbage Truck

If you would also like to include my column in your blog, please send me an email.  Thank you for continuing to support and acknowledge my work. I am deeply grateful.

Best to you,



The Law of the Garbage Truck by David J. Pollay


garbage-truckHow often do you let other people’s nonsense change your mood? Do you let a bad driver, rude waiter, curt boss, or an insensitive employee ruin your day? Unless you’re the Terminator, you’re probably set back on your heels. However, the mark of your success is how quickly you can refocus on what’s important in your life.

Sixteen years ago I learned this lesson. And I learned it in the back of a New York City taxi cab. Here’s what happened.

I hopped in a taxi, and we took off for Grand Central Station. We were driving in the right lane when all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, the car skidded, the tires squealed, and at the very last moment our car stopped just one inch from the other car’s back-end.

I couldn’t believe it. But then I couldn’t believe what happened next. The driver of the other car, the guy who almost caused a big accident, whipped his head around and he started yelling bad words at us. How do I know? Ask any New Yorker, some words in New York come with a special face. And he even threw in a one finger salute! I couldn’t believe it!

But then here’s what really blew me away. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was friendly. So, I said, “Why did you just do that!? This guy could have killed us!” And this is when my taxi driver told me what I now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck™.” He said:

“Many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they look for a place to dump it. And if you let them, they’ll dump it on you.

So when someone wants to dump on you, don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Believe me. You’ll be happier.”

So I started thinking, how often do I let Garbage Trucks run right over me? And how often do I take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the street? It was then that I said, “I don’t want their garbage and I’m not going to spread it anymore.”

I began to see Garbage Trucks. Like in the movie “The Sixth Sense,” the little boy said, “I see Dead People.” Well now “I see Garbage Trucks.” I see the load they’re carrying. I see them coming to dump it. And like my taxi driver, I don’t take it personally; I just smile, wave, wish them well, and I move on.

One of my favorite football players of all time was Walter Payton. Every day on the football field, after being tackled, he would jump up as quickly as he hit the ground. He never dwelled on a hit. Payton was ready to make the next play his best. Over the years the best players from around the world in every sport have played this way: Muhammad Ali, Nadia Comaneci, Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Michael Jordan, Jackie Robinson, and Pele are just some of those players. And the most inspiring leaders have lived this way: Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King.

See, Roy Baumeister, a psychology researcher from Florida State University, found in his extensive research that you remember bad things more often than good things in your life. You store the bad memories more easily, and you recall them more frequently.

So the odds are against you when a Garbage Truck comes your way. But when you follow The Law of the Garbage Truck™, you take back control of your life. You make room for the good by letting go of the bad.
The best leaders know that they have to be ready for their next meeting. The best sales people know that they have to be ready for their next client. And the best parents know that they have to be ready to greet their children with hugs and kisses, no matter how many garbage trucks they might have faced that day. All of us know that we have to be fully present, and at our best for the people we care about.

The bottom line is that successful people do not let Garbage Trucks take over their lives.

What about you? What would happen in your life, starting today, if you let more garbage trucks pass you by?

Here’s my bet: You’ll be happier.

You have a choice.  Make it today.
Have a Garbage Free Day!

You’ve read The Law of the Garbage Truck™; now join people from more than 100 countries and take The No Garbage Trucks!™ Pledge with me.
Click here to take The Pledge.

The Trucks! Pledge

You can see people taking the fun and meaningful No Garbage Trucks!™ Pledge on the streets of New York City and around the world in the video below (also here, in case you want to send someone the link). The Pledge has now been translated into more than 50 languages.

See the No Garbage Trucks pledge on Youtube.

To learn more about my book, click here.


  • Chris says:


    I love this story! I have to admit that sometimes Garbage Trucks get the better of me, but my batting average has been improving over the years since I first heard you tell this story. I love the metaphor. It’s really easy to imagine people loaded down with all their garbage, and critical to remember to let all of it pass you by!

  • And particularly to remember that their garbage has nothing to do with you. You weren’t there when the garbage was made. Great metaphor.


  • Hi Chris,

    Good for you! It is great to observe how your “batting average” is increasing; it is fun to see your own progress! You are letting things pass you by that used to distract you from what’s important in your life. Congrats to you!

    Thanks for your post Chris.


  • Hi Kathryn,

    Yes! That is exactly right! Most often we do not know why someone is carrying garbage on a given day, and especially people we do not know. It is best to wish them well, move on, and stay focused on what we care about in our lives.

    Thanks Kathryn for the post.


  • Melanie says:

    David, great article! I have to say that in my house “if mama aint happy, aint nobody happy” and I know I have that power to change my surroundings! I choose to let the garbage go right by most days, some days are easier than others obviously, but boy what power we all have. As a mom and working in a Drs. office I am faced with people dumping their garbage all day long, what I gift I received when I finally realized that it is my choice as to whether I keep it or let it pass me by. So long garbage!!!

  • Katie B. says:


    I currently work with loads of wonderful volunteers who are doing tough work for a cause they believe in, but aren’t always interacting with people who share the same sentiments they have. Oftentimes, people will purposely engage my volunteers in arguments, or simply walk by and say negative things about the cause they’re devoting themselves to. The Law of the Garbage Truck helps the volunteers (and quite frankly, me) keep those moments in the right perspective, and helps us to keep on working for our cause. I handed a copy of your column to one of my volunteers this weekend(she loved it)–I wanted to let you know that this will travel with me and will become one of my go-to items in my volunteer kit!

  • Lillian says:

    Thanks David for the great article!

    I read your article when it first came out, and I have seen you share it with many audiences over the years.

    It was powerful when I first read it, and it continues to inspire me when I hear you tell the story in your speeches and seminars. I enjoyed reading it again today. Your Law of the Garbage Truck article has helped to make a positive difference in my life.

    Thank you David


  • mikey says:

    I love this article. I remember you telling me the story of your cab ride years ago. And you told it to me on a night that I need it most. It gave me so much confidence in a city that looked as if it were licking it’s chops, ready to devour me. Now I can see those garbage trucks everywhere and they are so very easy to avoid these days.
    Thank you David, who truely are a great man and a great healer.
    You pal and brother, Mikey

  • Alberto Casellas says:

    Thanks for the post and this new interpretation… I will act different now everytime I see or hear the garbage truck down the street…we all have limited time and resources to be wasted on these type of moods. Thanks again,

  • Bobby A says:

    Creative insights! Keep spreading the word – changing perspective and mood changes the outcomes we all achieve each and every day!

    Keep up the great work – look forward to reading your material.

  • Tamara says:

    I remember the first time you told me this story. I was having an extremely difficult time with a boss at work. It wasn’t so much what she asked of me; it was how it was asked, with contempt and in a demeaning way, you know what I’m talking about. After you told me the story, I chose to go back to work and smile inside when she was coming towards me. I would think, okay, I see a garbage truck coming my way. It was sort of an inside joke with myself. I was able to get through my time with her. Your stories are truly inspirational. thanks for sharing your gifts with the world….

  • Cari Jackson Lewis says:

    Thank you for your wise words, David. This is a very interesting and contemporary interpretation of a biblical concept with which I struggle. In “Garbage Truck”, you say “let go”. The concept to which I am referring is “let go and Let God”. We are supposed to release the garbage to God and let Him relieve us of the burdens of seeking revenge or closure or relief for past wrongs. However, I think by using your metaphor one can actually end up with less “wrongs” to be relieved of. Perhaps with time we could even end up helping those people with “garbage” stop dumping on others. It may be that we should teach our children some of these social concepts in school as part of a personal development module. If we teach young people how to deal with their frustrations or problems in a civilized and healthy way, this would go a long way toward restoring good manners in public. Instead of “dumping their garbage” on others, they can be taught to do other replacement activities that are more acceptable. I think you should develop these ideas for young people and spread the word! Thanks again for your cogent and introspective work! – Cari Lewis

  • Hi Melanie!

    There’s no doubt how important your role is at home and at the office. The people in your life are blessed that you are letting the garbage trucks pass you by! I love the “so long garbage” close to your post!

    Thanks Melanie!

    Best to you,


  • Hi Katie,

    What a great application of The Law of the Garbage Truck™! Your volunteers are lucky that you are helping them understand how important it is to focus on the mission of their work, and to let the less than positive reactions of others slide away. There’s too much good to focus on then to fixate on the unpleasant interactions.

    Best wishes to you on your mission! You will be successful!

    Best to you,


  • Hi Lillian,

    Thanks for your post! I appreciate your support very much. It has been my joy to share this message with others. The world is a better place when we all let the Garbage Trucks pass us by. And very importantly, we make the world a better place when we do not spread garbage to others.

    My best to you!


  • Hi Mikey,

    I remember sharing the message of The Law of the Garbage Truck with you many years ago. Thanks for your warm memory of that night. You sure have done great things with your life and it’s wonderful to be able to focus on what you care about. And to wish everyone (all people) well in the process.

    My best to you,


  • Hi Alberto,

    You hit it on the head Alberto! We only have so much time each day; why waste it on things that are not important to us, and only distract us from our best work and our most important relationships. Thanks for the post!

    Best to you,


  • Hi Bobby,

    Thanks for the support! I enjoy sharing my writing with our community. You can also find my columns at The North Star Writers Group (the syndication company that carries my weekly newspaper column) website: Or you can check out for another series of articles.

    Best to you,


  • Hi Tamara,

    I remember this situation well! You were able to determine what you could control in that situation and what was beyond your influence. Where you could help your boss do things more effectively, you did. And where you were faced with pure and simple garbage, you let it pass you by. I remember you were a leader among your peers in the way you handled a difficult situation.

    And good for you for privately acknowledging and celebrating your ability to let the Garbage Trucks pass you by!

    Best to you,


  • Hi Cari,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post! You have captured the essence of the power of The Law of the Garbage Truck™. When you do not take the garbage to begin with, you have less to forgive. The more you practice this approach to life, the fewer things hit your radar. Like Tamara said above, you almost feel a sense of joy that you are letting something go so you can stay focused on offering your best self to the world.

    Thanks also for the encouragement to bring this message to our children. My organization, The Momentum Project, began working with schools this year. We are currently starting with the leaders, administrators, and teachers in a year-long program. And as we go we are working to reach the children.

    Cari, I would be interested in hearing more about your ideas for reaching the children directly. Email me at

    Best to you,


  • Halle says:

    Thank you for this idea! As an accountant, I often have to work with people who are frustrated and downright angry about their money, thier lack of money, or the money they have to give over. I’m going to put up a picture of a garbage truck in my office just to remind me that its their garbage and not mine! Thanks so much, looking forward to many more insights!

  • Hi Halle!

    Thank you for your post! I can just imagine how challenging your role can be at times. The good news is that you serve people so much better when you let the garbage pass you by; you can then focus your energy on how you can really help them. You’ll also feel a lot better at the end of the day!

    Best to you,


  • David,

    I saw you deliver this piece in a speech you gave in Florida several years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it.
    Now I just need to follow your advice more often.

    Thanks for everything you do for people, David. You’re a force for good in the world.

    Steve Siebold, CSP

  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your continued support! You know my work with The Law of the Garbage Truck very well. It has always been fun connecting with you!

    And congrats to you for your new audio/video blog!

    Best to you,


  • Ellen says:

    I love the article and your philosophy. Funny…as an eternal optimist, I find that over time I only remember the good things and all the bad things fade away. We lived in South Africa for a couple of years and the violence all around us was very stressful at the time. However, as time goes on I find I only remember the beauty of the country, the many people who reached out to us in friendship, and the few very special people we met who are still a part of our lives. While it can be difficult to smile and wave in response to someone else’s intense anger, I totally agree that it takes away the Garbage Truck’s power to hurt.

  • Hi Ellen,

    Thank you for sharing your experience in South Africa. It is such a great example of The Law of the Garbage Truck in action. You clearly faced challenges while you were in South Africa, but you did not dwell on them. As a result it sure seems that you have a storehouse of wonderful memories from your time there.

    Ellen, thank you for your post!

    Best to you,



    Hi David,

    I love your story. I have found over the years that I don’t hold on to the garbage as long as I used to…the garbage truck is a great visual..Keep up the great work.


  • Hi Marsha,

    Thank you for your post and support! And good for you for not holding onto the garbage (and just letting it pass you by with no layover)! Have a great weekend!

    Best to you,


  • […] admin wrote an interesting post today on Beware of Garbage Trucks™Here’s a quick excerptWe were driving in the right lane when all of a sudden, a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, the car skidded, the tires squealed, and at the very last moment our car … […]

  • zihang says:

    dear david,

    i like this article n i think its worth to share with more n more ppl!!

  • Hi Zihang,

    Thank you Zihang for your support and encouragement!

    My best to you,


  • Kim Randall says:

    Fantastic — I received a modified version by e-mail from my beloved mother, and found you here online to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. What a fantastic metaphor the garbage truck is, a real visual depiction to allow us to see the unseen negative energy that surrounds us in so many forms. Thank you! I plan to see it in just the way you suggest, and expect I will, as it’s really such a perfect visual.

    Cheers, Kim.

  • Hi David,

    You have a great style of getting your message across to the readers by way of these fantastic stories. They are precisely upto the point and I can remember and recall them too. All the 3 articles of yours that I have read so far, there has been a learning and growth for me in it. This article has enabled me to understand all the down and grim talk that other employees talk whilst in office whereas I am trying to stay positive and enjoy whatever work that is I do. It is tough, but I suddenly now recall this story and the lesson learned out of it and I let the words off theirs just pass over my head. I move on maintaining my smile & get on with my work. I do not want their wordings, feelings about the workplace affect me & my work. I have tried to make them understand, but if they cannot, I realize that I have to move on.

    Best Regards,


  • David,
    I posted a little commentary from a Christian perspective on my own blog ( I love the article. Thank you so much for writing it!
    – Jamie

  • Hi Jamie!

    Great to hear from you! Thanks for your interest and support of the article. And thanks for spreading the word.

    Given your comments and your blog post, I think you would also like this column about “Love Cyclers and Clickers”:

    As you point out in your comments, you have to give love in this world.

    Best to you,


  • Hi Kim,

    Great to hear from you! Thanks for your post; I’m thrilled for you and how you plan to apply The Law of the Garbage Truck™ in your life.

    Please send my best to your mom!

    And thanks for looking me up and spreading the word!

    Best to you,


  • Hi Mihir!

    Thanks for your comments Mihir! I appreciate the support!

    And good for you for not taking other people’s approaches to work personally; you cannot control how they view and do their work. Your application of The Law of the Garbage Truck™ to keep you focused on what’s important to you is great. You are clearly on a successful and happy path in life.

    Thanks again for your post!

    Best to you,


  • […] Loyalty is Dropping.  A steady job and a decent salary are not keeping employees, especially the younger under-40 employees.  David J. Pollay pointed out that Hudson Research Institute, Walker Information, and the Gallup Organization all point to the data that only about 25% of people are loyal to companies. To hear David on business outlook, Senia on strengths, and Margaret and David on why companies should pay attention to these above reseach findings, click here:  Part 3 of the Interview.  —- Finally, to hear Margaret, David, Doug, and Senia on specific actions to take given the above results and to hear David speak about The Law of the Garbage Truck(TM), click here:  Part 4 of the Interview.  […]

  • […] David J. Pollay, MAPP,  is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group, creator and host of “The Happiness Answer™” television program, an internationally sought after speaker and seminar leader, and the author of “Beware of Garbage Trucks!™ – The Law of the Garbage Truck™.”  Mr. Pollay is the founder and president of, and is the associate executive director of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA).  He holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an Economics Degree from Yale University.  If you would like to reprint Mr. Pollay’s columns, or include them in your blog, please email  David J. Pollay’s bio.    David J. Pollay writes on the 2nd of each month, and his past articles are here. […]

  • […] I tried not to kutuk people in my department today. Start applying “Law of the Garbage Truck” by David J. Pollay in your life. If you can’t open the link, you can always google it out. […]

  • Amit says:


    Great Post! More important is the way you’ve characterized it “The Law of Garbage Trucks”! This small phrase can constantly remind us not to deter from our main objectives when we bump against a Garbage Truck!

    Most of us don’t realize the detrimental effect of banging our head against such Garbage Trucks.


  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hi Amit!

    Thank you for your post! You have captured the power of “The Law of the Garbage Truck.” Best wishes to you as you pursue the good and important things in your life, while letting the Garbage Trucks pass you by!

    Best to you,


  • […] 很高興能在正面心理學與您聯繫! 我給您們最大的新年貼士是:依循“The Law of the Garbage Truck™ 及享受2008年的每一天! ~ David J. Pollay […]

  • […] 很高兴能在正面心理学与您们联系! 我给您们最大的新年贴士是:依循“The Law of the Garbage Truck™ 及享受2008年的每一天! ~ David J. […]

  • […] you take back control of your life. You make room for the good by letting go of the bad." "Steer clear of those, who enjoy talkin trash." […]

  • Your writing is so true to life. Your illustration is great.
    Thank you.

  • David J. Pollay says:

    You are very welcome Koohasaneh S.! Thanks for your post.

    Best to you,


  • rick Mac Gregor says:

    hello David
    My sister sent your article to me about beware of garbage trucks. She added on it that cab Drivers Rule. That is what I do for work. the letter from her and her addition made my day. It is real nice to know that there are people in the world that actually listen to what their cabbie has to say, especially someone who actually acknowledges where they learned something. Some days work gets difficult driving through snow, ice and bad roads. When people such as yourself come about it makes it seem more worthwhile and that somehow in someways large or small Us cabbies make a difference in the world
    Thank You so very much.
    Rico Hooker Dog
    The cabbie

  • David J. Pollay says:

    Hello Rico Hooker Dog!

    Great to hear from you! I second your sister’s motion!

    Thanks for connecting with me, and thanks for doing what you do. You touch a lot of lives each day. Thanks for caring like you do. It makes a difference to everyone you meet.

    Rico, stay tuned; I have something you’ll love to see about The Law of the Garbage TruckTM.

    Best to you,


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