How To Be Happy Without Living Your Dreams

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My 16-year-old son is an achiever in a variety of fields. Near-perfect PSAT score, soccer goalkeeper, state champion debater, chess whiz …

So, I bought him a book for Christmas. Right away, the author outlines some of the goals.

“Be afraid.”

“Don’t be true to yourself.”

“Don’t follow your dreams.”

 Later, there’s an exhortation to “Have a poor self-image.”

The book, Humility Rules, is written by a Benedictine monk, J. Augustine Wetta.

The book’s subtitle:  Saint Benedict’s 12-Step Guide to Genuine Self Esteem.

The word “genuine” is key. Our current self-esteem trend is so out of control, when we regularly applaud mediocrity, while handing out participation trophies and A-pluses in abundance. We loudly declare that everyone is special … which means, of course, that no one is special.

Humility Rules seeks genuineness. Do you want trendy or the truth?

While this book is based on rules written by a monk over 1,500 years ago, it addresses today’s needs.

Father Augustine is no stodgy theologian. He is a high school teacher and coach (rugby) who has some stories to tell about his surfing days.

Father aims to attract youth – the group least likely to gravitate to rule; thus, the cover:  St. Benedict holding a crosier in his left hand, with his right arm curled around a skateboard. The book is filled with reproductions of monastic art, which Father Augustine has comically embellished.

But the book is legit because it translates the Rule of St. Benedict for a monastery, to rules for everyone, including 16-year-olds.

Father Augustine is not the first to apply Benedict’s rule to current life. Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is an excellent read (and resource), which I’ve previously recommended, and have slowly incorporated into my life.

And, like Dreher’s look, Humility Rules is counter-culture. Father Augustine writes:

“Everything St. Benedict has to say flies in the face of contemporary pop culture. He is not focused on self-praise, self-love, self-aggrandizement or self-promotion – not focused on the self at all, but how to relate to one another and to God, in light of our strengths and weaknesses.” 

Thus, to “be afraid” is to fear God. Not a run-away-from-God fear, but a respect of who God is, and who you aren’t.

And “Don’t be true to yourself” is really self-denial – which is a concept so foreign to our individualistic, self-determination mantras.

“What feels best for you may not be best for the people around you. For that matter, it may not be good for you either. Someone with genuine self-esteem understands that self-fulfillment is not self-satisfaction. Thus, he is willing to deny his own desires …”

No seeking self-satisfaction. Not giving in to desires … all for your own good and the good of those around you. Radical thinking.

The book is filled with wisdom:

“When it comes to living with someone, everything boils down to forgiveness.”

“Nothing will take the wind out of your sails like grumbling.”

“Never water down an apology with an excuse.”


“We judge acts, not people.”

There is also a hilarious account of how another monk taught chastity to his students (using the word NO a lot).

There are obviously many rules in Humility Rules. But it’s erroneous to think of this book in the negative. With anything, we improve with instruction. This is an instruction book. It does not fit the mold of other “self-help” books because it does not care about your feelings. It cares about you, and how you deal with others, and God. Seems to me that is more important than your feelings.

The funny part is, when you care less about your ranking in the world, and more about the person you are, it feels just fine.

That is why my son received this book. He ranks high in a lot of categories. I wanted to make sure he remembered his priorities. Call it a humble reminder.

Humility Rules makes a fine gift (we are still in the Christmas season), or a starting point for some serious New Year’s resolutions.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.