Book Review: Pollay, D. J. (2010). The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Respond to People Who Dump on You, and How to Stop Dumping on Others. Sterling Press.
In his new book, David J. Pollay backs up his “Eight Commitments” with findings from Positive Psychology and weaves in practical life experiences that everyone can relate to.
In fact, his No Garbage Trucks! Pledge has been translated into forty-eight languages, and people from more than one hundred countries have already taken it. Pollay has been teaching schools, businesses, churches, temples, charities, and community organizations how to create a No Garbage Trucks! Zone.
Following are highlights from a recent interview I conducted with him.
Pollay: The No Garbage Trucks! Pledge is something I’ve been sharing with people all around the world for years. It’s about focusing on increasing happiness, success, and civility in life and in business. “The Pledge” begins with each of us. Before we prescribe how everyone else should behave in the world, we need to start with ourselves.
Greenberg: Let’s begin by sharing The No Garbage Trucks! Pledge with our readers.
The Pledge centers our attention on bringing out our best. It focuses us on what’s important and on what we can control, and it guides us to let the negative things we cannot control pass us by.
Greenberg: Some people may think The Law of the Garbage Truck is just another self-help book. How is your book different?
Pollay: First, it’s more than a book. It’s a movement to increase happiness, success, and civility. People all over the world are committing to make the world a better place by not accepting garbage—needless and excessive negativity, anger and resentment—and by not dumping garbage on others. Second, The Law of the Garbage Truck is based in science. There are twenty-one pages of research notes and references in the book.
Greenberg: Tell us about some of the relevant research.
Pollay: What’s critical for readers to know is that how we respond to daily hassles is as important as the way we respond to the more dramatic events in our lives like divorce or bereavement.Psychologists Susan Folkman and Richard Lazarus have written that our response to daily hassles has a critical impact on our happiness and health. Research by Robert Sapolsky of Stanford has found that if we allow people and events to trigger our stress response system too often we degrade our cardiovascular health. One common result is that all this extra stress just leaves us feeling more tired and run down.
We also know from the social contagion research of James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis that our moods and what we share with others, either positive or negative, ripple through our networks within three degrees.
I also considered the research of Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues on what we can change and what we can’t. We know that fifty-percent of the variance in happiness levels across a population can be attributed to genes and ten percent to circumstances. But that leaves forty percent of the “happiness pie” within our control. That’s what The Law of the Garbage Truck is about. It’s about choice. It’s about not passing on the negative things we cannot control, but rather focusing on the important and positive things, and taking greater responsibility for the things we can influence.
Pollay: The difference between venting and dumping. Venting is permission and time-based. “Can I vent for a moment? Is that OK?”
Greenberg: What is one of the biggest take-aways from The Law of the Garbage Truck?
Asking permission shows concern and respect for the other individual. Dumping, on the other hand, starts without warning and shows no concern or regard for the other person.
Greenberg: In your second chapter “Let It Pass You By: Letting Go Is Not Good Enough,” you write about another important distinction.
Pollay: Yes, it’s critical that we understand the difference between “letting go” of something, and what I call “letting it pass by.” Letting something go means that we’ve already taken in, absorbed, and processed the negative experience. This is not the right strategy when we’re confronted by Garbage Trucks. Instead, we must let them pass by, and wish them well.This is a core distinction of The Law of the Garbage Truck. To the degree we can quickly identify the things beyond our control; it gives us more freedom to focus our attention and energy on what’s important to us and inside of our control. The more we let negative things pass by, the less we have to let go, and the less of a burden we have to carry.
Greenberg: You share a number of personal stories in the book. One of my favorites is the story about taking your girls to the Blockbuster Video store. Can you share with our readers the difference between The Garbage Cycle and The Gratitude Cycle?
Pollay: When we went up to the counter to pay for our movie, I could see that the clerk was on the phone with a customer who was being very difficult. The customer was dumping garbage, and I could tell the clerk was struggling. Meanwhile the check-out line was building up. When the clerk got off the phone she could have continued feeding The Garbage Cycle. She might even have felt justified to stay in a negative state and dump on us, but she chose not to. Instead she made the world a better place by focusing her energy and attention on helping a dad and his two girls. That’s living in The Gratitude Cycle.
Pollay: I wrote The Law of the Garbage Truck because wherever you go, people talk about how hard it is to be happy, how it’s harder than ever to be successful, and how incivility is getting worse. I wrote the book to show people that we can increase our happiness, that we can increase civility in the world, that we can achieve success, and it’s possible and not as complex as so many people think.
Greenberg: What inspired you to write the book?
The essence of The Law of the Garbage Truck is that human beings are not meant to be garbage trucks. We are not meant to accept and collect all that is bad in the world. We are not meant to take all that is negative personally, fill up on it, and then turn around and dump all this negativity on other people. Instead we appreciate and absorb the good in the world, and we confidently address the issues that matter. The mission of The Law of the Garbage Truck is to make our businesses more productive, our families more loving, and the world a better place.
Greenberg: What final message would you like to give our readers?
Pollay: People deserve to live a great life and it is within their reach. When we stop accepting garbage, when we stop focusing on the negative things we can’t control, we take control of our lives. Each time we stop dumping garbage on others, we change the world. Happiness is not out of reach and civility is not dead. The Law of the Garbage Truck helps make happiness and civility a possibility for all of us.
Author’s Personal Note: David and I were classmates in the inaugural class of the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) back in 2006 and served as the first officers of the MAPP Alumni organization.
Editor’s note: David J. Pollay was one of the authors who started PPND in 2007. He wrote an article titled The Law of the Garbage Truck™ here in 2007, and it is still our most visited and most commented on article. His other PPND articles, including two about Gratitude Cycles, can be found here.
Pollay, D. J. (2010). The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Respond to People Who Dump on You, and How to Stop Dumping on Others. Sterling Press.
Resources associated with the book can be found here.
Christakis, N.A. & Fowler, J.H. (2009). Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. New York: Little, Brown.
Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. New York: Springer.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York: Penguin Books.
Sapolsky, R.M. (2004). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, Third Edition. New York: Holt.
The images in this article are used with permission from the Facebook site of The Law of the Garbage Truck and The Law of the Garbage Truck blog. If you decide to reprint this article, please ask for permission from David J. Pollay before using his pictures.