Excerpt from “How to sleep without pills”
Mrs. D., normally an optimistic girl, was married to an
ambitious young man who owned a small ice cream and
confectionery shop which he was determined to build into
something substantial. Long hours in the store, however,
yielded only dribs and drabs of money. There always seemed
to be the question of whether they could hold out or
whether they would lose the store.
After six years of scrimping, with three children now to
take care of, Mrs. D. found that thoughts of money seemed
to color her whole life. The slightest financial setback
was enough to make her lie awake contemplating their bad
These incidents were trivial, as Mrs. D. would be the first
to admit, but each one seemed the last straw. A library
book fell in a mud puddle and she had to pay for it; that
night she lay awake translating the money she had paid for
the book into shoes and food for the children. A glove got
lost, a storekeeper overcharged her a nickel, the gas bill
arrived; these were enough to send her into sloughs of
despondency resulting in sleepless nights.
Worrying over money has probably kept more people awake
than any other single cause. People who have money worry
over losing it; people who have no money worry about
The millionaire who loses half his fortune probably suffers
as acutely as the father of six children who loses his job.
Perhaps he suffers more. During the stock market crash, it
was the millionaires who jumped from tall office buildings
when they were wiped out. Yet, bankrupt though they were,
they were no poorer than the average working man without
savings who laughs at the idea of suicide.
The whole idea of wealth is relative. It is an old adage
that no matter how badly off you are, there are people who
aspire to your position. Millions of people in Europe and
Asia would trade places with the poorest American citizen.
I told this to Mrs. D., and pointed out that in India,
where they gather the starved dead from the streets as a
routine task each morning, there would be riots for the
privilege of getting the contents of her garbage can. I
told her also that a Hungarian woman might envy Mrs. D. her
peace of mind at not having to worry about her husband’s
being removed some night by the secret police.
Being poor, even in America, is a serious thing, and we
should all make strenuous and intelligent efforts to gain
security. But worrying will only impair those efforts and
sleeplessness will make success far more difficult to
When I explained these truths to Mrs. D., she was more
angry than impressed. “Look, I know there are people worse
off than I am,” she said, “but that doesn’t put food on my
table or put me to sleep at night. Should I go around all
day singing because I don’t have enough money?” she added
In a sense, I answered her, that is exactly what she should
do. Go around singing! Why not? Going around sorrowing was
only driving her toward a nervous breakdown.
But before Mrs. D. could go around singing she had to be
taught the habit of positive thinking. To do this I had her
make a list of the assets and liabilities of her life. The
assets were as follows: Her children were normal and
healthy. Her husband was healthy. She was healthy. Her
husband loved her. Her husband was well liked. She was well
liked. She had many friends. Her children were smart in
school. Her husband was still a young man.
Against these assets was the liability of being poor. Being
poor was their only liability. If they had money, Mrs. D.
said–and it wouldn’t take much–everything would be fine.
Being poor worried Mrs. D. and caused her sleepless nights
because, as she wrote down: They weren’t getting ahead–that
is, saving money. It looked as if they would always be
poor. They had no money should an emergency occur. They had
no money set aside for the children’s college education.
None of them had had new clothes for a long time. She was
tired of scrimping and counting every penny. She couldn’t
entertain her friends properly. They might lose the
business. They might not have enough to pay the bills next
month. Most of Mrs. D’s worry over money resulted not from
a lack of money to meet their immediate needs, but from
fear of not being able to meet their needs in the future.
Many of these fears might never be realized. Yet if Mrs. D.
allowed her thinking to make her a fear-ridden neurotic
about money and an anchor instead of an inspiration to her
husband, all these fears might be realized, for defeatism
like Mrs. D’s is contagious.
I instructed Mrs. D. to think of her assets instead of her
money worries. While she was baking a cake, she was to stop
thinking, “We’ll never have money for the children’s
college education,” and instead think, “I am fortunate to
have such healthy children,” or, “I am fortunate to have
such a fine husband.”
This is conditioned thinking, and until you acquire the
unconscious habit of thinking this way, you have to do it
consciously. There is no other cure for worry. Worry, like
any other habit, can be cured only by having another habit
substituted for it: the habit of positive thinking.
In addition to instructing Mrs. D. to acquire deliberately
the habit of positive thinking, I got her to learn the ABC
Round Robin and the Sleep Exercise. I taught her to take
advantage of lapses in the day’s activities to enjoy
fifteen or twenty minutes of relaxing sleep.
She turned out to be an apt pupil once she saw that there
was no desirable alternative to the course I presented to
her. To her amazement she found that when she forced
herself to think of the good things of her life, she felt
elated. Mrs. D. no longer spends hours worrying over money
when she should be sleeping. As a result, she is better
equipped to help her husband make the decisions necessary
to earn more money.
To sleep when you have money worries:
1.Don’t count sheep; count your blessings. Itemize on a
sheet of paper all the good things there are in your life.
If you are so down in the dumps that you can’t think of
any, begin by thinking of a neighbor with whom you wouldn’t
trade places. For instance, Mrs. R., who is well-to-do, but
whose child is not normal. Or Mr. Z., who has a nagging
wife. Or Mrs. Y., whose husband drinks. Then put down as a
blessing, “My child is normal and healthy,” or “I have an
understanding wife,” or “My husband doesn’t drink.”
2.Set aside definite periods for discussions of finances.
Give yourself all the time you need to consider a given
prob- lem adequately, but do not allow yourself to think
about money at any other time. When you catch yourself
thinking negatively about money, force yourself to think
about how well-off you are, by repeating your list of
assets. Do this faith fully; it is bound to make you feel
3.Learn the ABC Round Robin. Use it to make yourself relax
whenever you have a few spare minutes during the day. If
you are optimistic and relaxed during the day, you will
automatically sleep better at night.
4.Learn the Sleep Exercise and use it after the Robin at
night to put yourself to sleep. Just as you are about to
drop off to sleep, repeat some of your blessings. You will
be amazed at how much happier you will be when you wake up.
5.Remember: Although poverty is unpleasant, and al though
no normal person wants to be poor, you must think
constructively, instead of bemoaning your poverty.
Cultivate an optimistic frame of mind and you have gone a
long way toward improving your condition.