This Is Water

By David Foster Wallace
What a great book: the whole, hardcover 130-page read takes about half an hour thanks to its one-sentence-per-page layout, but it might change your life despite its brevity. Or at least save you a lot of time in figuring out what’s important in life. Originally written as a commencement speech for Kenyon College, This Is Water underscores the importance of consciously focusing your thoughts and attention – “learning to think” the late author likes to call it – to find True happiness. You’re not the center of the universe, and everybody worships something, the late author posits. The climax is a series of “default settings” that we as societal beings slip into, settings which destroy our happiness and fuel our consumption that, for me, were eye-opening. These “bromides” are the skeleton of every great parable, so commonplace as to be ignored for their banality, but we really need to consider them. So before I give Hendrick*, the traveling German whose life was changed by Water, his book back, I am going to quote them here in hopes of inspiring you toward a moment of reflection:

“If you worship money and things-if they are where you tap real meaning in life-then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough.

Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

Worship power-you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay.

Worship your intellect, being seen as smart-you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”

*Hendrick deserves a little more attention here. He and a friend are wrapping up a trip across the US. After reading This Is Water 3 times as he traveled by car and by bike he has been inspired to leave his job producing TV commercials in search of a more meaningful life, a life in which he is more than a cog in a giant machine. Congratulations, Hendrick, and thank you for your inspiration.