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The 3 Promises (Book Review)

written by Sean Doyle 30 October 2014

Through speaking and writing, Sean Doyle, JD, MAPP '07, explores the poetry and science of well-being. Whether it's the work place, parenting, community, home, or hardship, Sean invites us to inject more hope, affection, and meaning into the world. Check out his chapbook, On Being Human. Another book is underway. Watch its progress and let publishers know you're interested via the book page on his website. Full bio. Sean's articles are here.

3 promisesI tend to be leery of books that promise “the 10 steps to” this or “the five principles of” that. Too often they get caught up in their own cleverness, rely on forced acronyms or become a mix of hyperbole and impotence. David J Pollay’s latest book, The 3 Promises is different. It is simple, honest, and has the potential to change your life.

David Pollay, one of the early leaders in applying the findings from positive psychology, asks us to make 3 simple promises to ourselves every day:

  1. Find joy.
  2. Do what you love.
  3. Make a difference.

A Challenge of Modern Life

One consequence of modern American life is busyness. We are brought up to believe that we can be anything, have anything, do anything if we only work hard enough. Technology and gadgets make everything so much easier and more convenient, so we can squeeze in more and more and more. But between work, taking care of kids, pursuing our passions and dreams, what so often gets squeezed out is our view of what makes life worth living. Time and time again, I have found that following Pollay’s structure brings me back again to the things that matter in life. These are the things that lead to the type of life you want to live.

  Make a difference to children

David doing what he loves
AND making a difference to children

Do What You Love

So with so many possible futures laid out before us, where do we start? There is so much we want to do, so much we should be doing. Pollay gets us moving by reminding us to spend a little time every day doing what we love. It does not have to be something thoroughly thought through or overly deliberate. Rather, we should start by doing something that energizes us, engages our strengths, and allows us to be who we are in our best moments. This energy then creates momentum that helps carry us the rest of the day.

Make a Difference

We all want our lives to matter. We don’t necessarily have to end world hunger or negotiate peace treaties, but we at least want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. We want to leave the campsite better than we found it. For most of us, it is not practical to quit our jobs and dedicate our lives to ending wars or saving endangered species. But we can smile at another person and give them hope. We can use our lunch hour to help at the local food kitchen. We can bring a bowl of soup to a sick neighbor. When we make a promise to ourselves to make a difference, we are not just helping others; it also reminds us that our lives matter. The things we do, the big things and the ephemeral, make a difference on a larger stage.

First promise

    First promise

Find Joy

I deliberately saved the first promise for last. Pollay starts the book with a quiz so you can see where you are on each of the 3 promises. My tendency, I was disappointed to see, was to drop joy. I am good at doing the good things. But too often I would neglect myself in the process. However, it only took a two word prompt, “Find joy,” for me to remember to love and enjoy life, too.

Stories and Promises

One thing that makes The 3 Promises effective is that each is framed as a “promise” to ourselves, not a “should” or an “area for further development.” They are gifts to ourselves. You want to do them. The guidance is simple. There is no need for lists, smart phone apps or spreadsheets to track your results. The 3 promises are not about comparing yourself to the progress of others. You do not need to quit your job, join a cloistered community, or spend hours in deep engagement.

Rather, Pollay asks you to make a promise to yourself that you will spend at least a few minutes each day finding joy, doing what you love, and making a difference. With easy to remember stories, Pollay offers thoughtful strategies and ideas for how to make the 3 promises a natural part of your day.

In The 3 Promises, Pollay illustrates a beautiful way of living and sets out a simple formula to help us get there.

Broad appeal

Broad appeal at Florida Atlantic University



Pollay, D. J. (2014). The 3 Promises: Find Joy Every Day. Do What You Love. Make A Difference.. Sterling.

Solomon, L. K. (2014, October 14). Delray Beach author David Pollay wants readers to seek joy every day. Sun Sentinel News

Images used with permission from David J. Pollay

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Margaret Greenberg 31 October 2014 - 5:35 am

I read a preview copy of David Pollay’s book and couldn’t agree more with your review Sean. I especially like how you point out that you don’t “…need any lists, smart phone apps, or spreadsheets to track your results” to really live the 3 promises.

Pollay brings the 3 promises to life by translating relevant research from the science of positive psychology and weaving in personal stories in a way that makes you reflect on your own life. I read Pollay’s book over 3 days and I now ask myself these 3 questions before I get out of bed in the morning — What’s one small thing that:

…will bring me JOY today?
…will honor what I LOVE TO DO?
…will MAKE A DIFFERENCE in the world?

Thank you Sean for so succinctly bringing The 3 Promises to life.

Kathryn Britton 2 November 2014 - 11:04 am

Louisa Jewell interviewed David Pollay here: http://louisajewell.com/the-3-promises/ — Check it out if you want to see the man’s thinking in action.


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