The Second Mountain David Brooks

The Second Mountain David Brooks

 Video Book Summary

Book Summary Notes

“Every once in a while, I meet a person who radiates joy. These are people who seem to glow with an inner light. They are kind, tranquil, delighted by small pleasures, and grateful for the larger ones." 

"These people are not perfect. They get exhausted and stressed. They make errors in judgment. But they live for others, and not for themselves. They’ve made unshakable commitments to family, a cause, a community, or a faith. They know why they were put on this earth and derive a deep satisfaction from doing what they have been called to do."

"Life isn’t easy for these people. They’ve taken on the burdens of others. But they have a serenity about them, a settled resolve. They are interested in you, make you feel cherished and known, and take delight in your good.

"Life, for these people, has often followed what we might think of as a two- mountain shape. They got out of school, they start a career, and they begin climbing the mountain they thought they were meant to climb." 

"Their goals on this first mountain are the ones our culture endorses: to be a success, to make your mark, to experience personal happiness. But when they get to the top of that mountain, something happens. They look around and find the view unsatisfying."

"They realize: This isn’t my mountain after all. There’s another, bigger mountain out there that is actually my mountain. And so they embark on a new journey."

"On the second mountain, life moves from self-centered to other-centered. They want the things that are truly worth wanting, not the things other people tell them to want. They embrace a life of interdependence, not independence. They surrender to a life of commitment.”

Which mountain are you climbing?

• David tells us there are two mountains in life. 
•  The first mountain is the one society markets to us and tell us is important; career, money and personal happiness. 
• The second mountain is the one we're talking about today; self centered to other centered, vanity and selfishness to kindness and understanding.Climbing the second mountain means commitment.

Four Specific Areas of Commitment:

1. Family

2. Vocation

3. Faith/Philosophy

4. Community

Why climb the second mountain?

• If you're someone who's tired with working your heart out and leaving unfulfilled. 

• If you've ever though 'there has to be more to this' about your career or life.

• Climbing the second mountain will be the most rewarding (and maybe difficult) journey of your life.  

• David is going to be our guide on that mountain today!  Giving us timeless wisdom on what's truly important and what to avoid.



“Happiness is the proper goal for people on the first mountain." 

"And happiness is great. But we only get one life, so we might as well use it hunting for big game: to enjoy happiness, but to surpass happiness toward joy."

"Happiness tends to be individual; we measure it by asking, ‘Are you happy?’ Joy tends to be self- transcending. Happiness is something you pursue; joy is something that rises up unexpectedly and sweeps over you."

"Happiness comes from accomplishments; joy comes from offering gifts. Happiness fades; we get used to the things that used to make us happy. Joy doesn’t fade. To live with joy is to live with wonder, gratitude, and hope." 

"People who are on the second mountain have been transformed. They are deeply committed. The outpouring of love has become a steady force.”

What are you looking for?

Happiness or Joy:

Happiness is something we've spoken about a lot on this channel. 

Books like:

• The How of Happiness 

• The Myths of Happiness 

• The Happiness Hypothesis

What have we learned?  Truly, that happiness isn't all it's cracked up to be!

Pleasure in the moment, derived from material success is not something that lasts.  Joy, I've come to realize is something much different.  

Books like: 

• How to Be Free 

• A Guide to The Good Life

• Flourish

Give us some deep insight into the meaning of joy and how it's different than happiness.  Specifically Stoic joy—the joy that comes from purpose, excellence, and duty.

How do you get started with joy?

As we've spoken about it starts with commitment.  The commitment we make to self-actualize and live up to our truest virtues.  How do we find our truest, most meaningful virtues?

Try this simple stoic exercise:

• Imagine your final day, you've got to write your own eulogy.

• What and/or who did you impact or change? Why?

• What character traits and values did you consistently demonstrate over your life? At your core, who were you?

• Who did you care for? How did you impact or change this person/these people?

• What were major accomplishments in your life? At the ages of 40, 50, 60, 70?

• What did you show interest in? What were you passionate or enthusiastic about?


“Our commitments allow us to move to a higher level of freedom."  

"In our culture we think of freedom as the absence of restraint. That’s freedom from. But there is another and higher kind of freedom. That is freedom to. This is freedom as fullness of capacity, and it often involves restriction and restraint."

"You have to chain yourself to the piano to practice for year after year if you want to have the freedom to really play. You have to chain yourself to a certain set of virtuous habits so you don’t become slave to your destructive desires—the desire for alcohol, the desire for approval, the desire to lie in bed all day."

"As theologian Tim Keller puts it, real freedom ‘is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.’ So much of our lives are determined by the definition of freedom we carry around unconsciously in our heads. On the second mountain it is your chains that set you free.”

Commitment isn't a bad word!

In fact, commitment leads to what we all want.

  • Freedom, but not the kind where you lay on a beach all day sipping tequila. (freedom from)
  • Instead, commitment leads you to a deeper kind of freedom.  (freedom to)

What is freedom to?

  • It's the freedom to self actualize, to live your highest life as in the eulogy exercise.  
  • This type of freedom might take long hours of practice, might be hard to accomplish and might not really feel like freedom at all. 
  • Side note: this is Jocko Willink's whole message 'Discipline Equals Freedom' is essentially, the commitments you make set you free. 

How commitment builds your character. 

  • "Gradually the big loves overshadow the small ones: Why would I spend my weekends playing golf when I could spend my weekends playing ball with my children?"
  • "In my experience, people repress bad desires only when they are able to turn their attention to a better desire. When you’re deep in a commitment, the distinction between altruism and selfishness begins to fade away. When you serve your child it feels like you are serving a piece of yourself. That disposition to good is what having good character is all about.
  • "In this way, moral formation is not individual; it is relational. Character is not something you build sitting in a room thinking about the difference between right and wrong and about your own willpower." 
  • "Character emerges from our commitments. If you want to inculcate character in someone else, teach them how to form commitments—temporary ones in childhood, provisional ones in youth, permanent ones in adulthood. Commitments are the school for moral formation. When your life is defined by fervent commitments, you are on the second mountain.”


“Then came World War II and the Nazi occupation."   

"[Viktor] Frankl found himself thrown into a concentration camp. He realized that the career questions—What do I want from life? What can I do to make myself happy?—are not the proper questions. The real question is, What is life asking of me?"

"Frankl realized that a psychiatrist in a concentration camp has a responsibility to study suffering and reduce suffering. ‘It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us,’ he realized."

"‘We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which life constantly sets for each individual.’"

"The sense of calling comes from the question, What is my responsibility here? Frankl went on to work as a psychotherapist in the camp, reminding despairing prisoners that the world still expected things of them. They still had responsibilities and purposes to pursue.”

The real question: what is life asking of me?

More important than finding the answers, is making sure you're asking the right question.

What can we expect when we're asking questions like: 

  • How can I make more money this year?
  • How can I gain more status in the workplace?
  • How can I make myself happy at work?
  • These are shallow questions that quite honestly, deserve shallow answers.  

Let's take a look at your vocation, by taking a page from Mastery by Robert Greene. 

“That may be fine if you’re willing to settle for something meager like a career."
"But if you are trying to discern your vocation, the right question is not What am I good at? It’s the harder questions: What am I motivated to do? What activity do I love so much that I’m going to keep getting better at it for the next many decades? What do I desire so much that it captures me at the depth of my being? In choosing a vocation, it’s precisely wrong to say that talent should trump interest." 
"Interest multiplies talent and is in most cases more important than talent. The crucial terrain to be explored in any vocation search is the terrain of your heart and soul, your long- term motivation. Knowledge is plentiful, motivation is scarce."

The questions to ask yourself:

1. What am I motivated to do?
2. What activity do I love so much that I'm going to keep getting better at it for the next many decades? 
3. What do I desire so much that it captures me at the depth of my being?

Now you might be thinking 'these sound an awful lot like follow your purpose' and you'd be right. 

• But not in some mystical type way, in the way that choosing something you feel deeply called to will propel you to work hard and become great. 

• Choosing this path is not easy though, you'll want to stuff down your impulses with a cushy office job and a nice house.  

• But the sacrifice you're making there will eventually show itself in a low grade depression.  


“During these low moments, it is helpful to remember that marriage is not just a relationship; it is a covenant." 

"It’s a moral promise to hold fast through thick and thin. Both people have vowed to create this project or cause, the marriage, that is more important than each person’s emotional weather."

"Of course, there are times when divorce is the right and only course, but there are other times when the sentiment that guides Parker Palmer comes in handy: ‘If you can’t get out of it, get into it!’ If you can’t easily walk away from something, then the only way forward is to double down.”

Any relationship has it's highs and lows.  

David points out here, that often what we need to do in those low points is recommit.  

  • It takes dedication, work and commitment to re-'fall in love' with your partner during tough times. 
  • This might even be going against what makes you 'happy' for the time being before you can push through and finally be in joy and love. 

Inside the book David talks about how marriage isn't just there to make us happy. 

  • It's important that it's there to make you grow.
  • Learning how to be interdependent within your relationship, so that together you're stronger is a lifelong journey.  One that's sure to have a few bumps. 
  • Commitment helps see you through those bumps!


“But God doesn’t seem to want the elimination of the will; He seems to want the training and transformation of it." 

"He doesn’t want a lack of will, but a merger between the will of the person and the will of God."

"A believer approaches God with a humble reverence and comes, through study and prayer and spiritual disciplines, to get a feel for the grain of God’s love. She gradually learns to live along the grain of God’s love and not against the grain. It is not a willful attempt to dominate life, nor is it a complete surrender and self-annihilation. It is an enthusiastic response. It is participation, the complex participation of a person’s will into God’s larger will."

"Faith and grace are not about losing agency. They are about strengthening and empowering agency while transforming it. When grace floods in, it gives us better things to desire and more power to desire them. When people talk about dying to self, they are really talking about dying to old desires and coming alive to a new and better set of desires.”

Where does faith fall into this?

David talks a lot about faith in this book, that's not my personal style. 

  • BUT I would say that philosophy/spirituality have been the antidote to my own over grown ego. 
  • Spending time in quiet meditation, thinking about my purpose here on life has helped me commit to things like:

• Spending my life helping others

• Sacrificing my short term happiness for long term prosperity of others

And I can say it's been one of the most transforming things I've ever done.  Whether you're faith is a belief in a particular religion or not getting in touch with your spiritual side is a worthy investment.

So how are you getting in touch with your spiritual/faithful side?

There are of course a lot of different ways, and if you've got yours that's great!

But if not, here are some books I've loved:

  • All the stoic books inside my playlist I think are great for the non-spiritual among us. 
  • Anything by Michael Singer is great for those that are spiritual, but fight back against organized religion. 



"The core flaw of hyper-individualism is that it leads to a degradation and a pulverization of the human person."

"It is a system built on the egoist drives within each of us. These are self- interested drives—the desire to excel; to make a mark in the world; to rise in wealth, power, and status; to win victories and be better than others."

"Hyper-individualism does not emphasize and eventually does not even see the other drives—the deeper and more elusive motivations that seek connection, fusion, service, and care."

"These are not the desires of the ego, but the longings of the heart and soul: the desire to live in loving interdependence with others, the yearning to live in service to some ideal, the yearning to surrender to a greater good. Hyper-individualism numbs these deepest longings. Eventually, hyper-individualism creates isolated, self-interested nomads who sense that something is missing in their lives but cannot even name what it is.”

Previously we spoke about happiness vs joy.

One of the main motivators of the ego is happiness/pleasure.

  • Again, that's where you're intently focused on yourself.  Making choices that help you find those two things.
  • But the ego is a short term thinker, it wants happiness and pleasure now and forgo's what might be truly important. 

So what is truly important?

  • The longings of the heart and soul!
  • The desire to love others
  • The desire to be of service
  • The desire to sacrifice for greater good
Back to blog