The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson (Book Summary)

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    CONTENTS
    CHAPTER 1: Don’t Try
    The Feedback Loop from Hell
    The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
    So Mark, What the Fuck Is the Point of This Book Anyway?
    CHAPTER 2: Happiness Is a Problem
    The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda
    Happiness Comes from Solving Problems
    Emotions Are Overrated
    Choose Your Struggle
    CHAPTER 3: You Are Not Special
    Things Fall Apart
    The Tyranny of Exceptionalism
    B-b-b-but, If I’m Not Going to Be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the Point?
    CHAPTER 4: The Value of Suffering
    The Self-Awareness Onion
    Rock Star Problems
    Shitty Values
    Defining Good and Bad Values
    CHAPTER 5: You Are Always Choosing
    The Choice

    The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy
    Responding to Tragedy
    Genetics and the Hand We’re Dealt
    Victimhood Chic
    There Is No “ How”
    CHAPTER 6: You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)
    Architects of Our Own Beliefs
    Be Careful What You Believe
    The Dangers ofPure Certainty
    Manson’s Law of Avoidance
    Kill Yourself
    How to Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself
    CHAPTER 7: Failure Is the Way Forward
    The Failure/Success Paradox
    Pain Is Part of the Process
    The “ Do Something” Principle
    CHAPTER 8: The Importance ofSaying No
    Rejection Makes Your Life Better
    Boundaries
    How to Build Trust
    Freedom Throug Commitment
    CHAPTER 9: . . . And Then You Die
    Something Beyond Our Selves
    The Sunny Side of Death
    Acknowledgments
    About the Author
    Credits

     

    CHAPTER 1
    Don’t Try
    Charles Bukowski was alcoholic, a womanizer, a chroni gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet. He’s probably the last person on earth you would ever look to for life advice or expect to see in any sort of self-help book.
    Which is why he’s the perfect place to start.
    Bukowski wanted to be a writer. But for decades his work was rejected by almost every magazine, newspaper, journal, agent, and publisher he submitted to. His work was horrible, they said. Crude. Disgusting. Depraved. And as the stacks of rejection slips piled up, the weight of his failures pushed him deep into an alcohol-fueled depression that would follow him for most of his life.
    Bukowski had a day job as a letter-filer at a post office. He got paid shit money and spent most of it on booze. He gambled away the rest at the racetrack. At night, he would drink alone and sometimes hammer out poetry on his beat-up old typewriter. Often, he’d wake up on the floor, having passed out the night before.
    Thirty years went by like this, most of it a meaningless blur of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitutes. Then, when Bukowski was fifty, after a lifetime of failure and self-loathing, an editor at a small independent publishing house took a strange interest in him. The editor couldn’t offer Bukowski much money or much promise of sales. But he had a weird affection for the drunk loser, so he decided to take a chance on him. It was the first real shot Bukowski had ever gotten, and, he realized, probably the only one he would ever get.
    Bukowski wrote back to the editor: “ I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy . . . or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
    Upon signing the contract, Bukowski wrote his first novel in three weeks. It was called simply Post Of ice. In the dedication, he wrote,
    “ Dedicated to nobody.”
    Bukowski would make it as a novelist and poet. He would go on and publish six novels and hundreds of poems, selling over two million copies of his books. His popularity defied everyone’s expectations, particularly his own.
    Stories like Bukowski’s are the bread and butter of our cultural narrative. Bukowski’s life embodies the American Dream: a man fights for what he wants, never gives up, and eventually achieves his wildest dreams. It’s practically a movie waiting to happen. We all look at stories like Bukowski’s and say, “See? He never gave up. He never stopped trying. He always believed in himself. He persisted against all the odds and made something of himself!”

    It is then strange that on Bukowski’s tombstone, the epitaph reads: “ Don’t try.”
    See, despite the book sales and the fame, Bukowski was a loser.
    He knew it. And his success stemmed not from some determination to be a winner, but from the fact that he knew he was a loser, accepted it, and then wrote honestly about it. He never tried to be anything other than what he was. The genius in Bukowski’s work was not in overcoming unbelievable odds or developing himself into a shining literary light. It was the opposite. It was his simple ability to be completely, unflinchingly honest with himself—especially the worst parts of himself—and to share his failings without hesitation or doubt.
    This is the real story of Bukowski’s success: his comfort with himself as a failure. Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about success. Even after his fame, he still showed up to poetry readings hammered and verbally abused people in his audience. He still exposed himself in public and tried to sleep with every woman he could find. Fame and success didn’t make him a better person. Nor was it by becoming a better person that he became famous and successful.
    Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing.
    Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend
    your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.
    But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time —is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you. You learn about the best ways to make money because you feel you don’t have enough money already. You stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations saying that you’re beautiful because you feel as though you’re not beautiful already. You follow dating and relationship advice because you feel that you’re
    unlovable already. You try goofy visualization exercises about being more successful because you feel as though you aren’t successful enough already.
    Ironically, this fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.
    After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.
    There’s a saying in Texas: “ The smallest dog barks the loudest.”
    A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident. A rich woman doesn’t feel a need to convince anybody that she’s rich. Either you are or you are not. And if you’re dreaming of something all
    the time, then you’re reinforcing the same unconscious reality over and over: that you are not that.

    Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more—buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. Give a fuck about a new TV. Give a fuck about having a
    better vacation than your coworkers. Give a fuck about buying that new lawn ornament. Give a fuck about having the right kind of selfie stick.
    Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.
    And while there’s nothing wrong with good business, the problem is that giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.

    The Feedback Loop from Hell
    There’s an insidious quirk to your brain that, if you let it, can drive you absolutely batty. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:
    You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious.
    Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious. Oh no! Doubly anxious! Now you’re anxious about your anxiety, which is causing more anxiety. Quick, where’s the whiskey?
    Or let’s say you have an anger problem. You get pissed off at the stupidest, most inane stuff, and you have no idea why. And the fact that you get pissed off so easily starts to piss you off even more. And then, in your petty rage, you realize that being angry all the time makes you a shallow and mean person, and you hate this; you hate it so much that you get angry at yourself. Now look at you: you’re angry at yourself getting angry about being angry. Fuck you, wall.
    Here, have a fist.
    Or you’re so worried about doing the right thing all the time that you become worried about how much you’re worrying. Or you feel so guilty for every mistake you make that you begin to feel guilty about how guilty you’re feeling. Or you get sad and alone so often that it makes you feel even more sad and alone just thinking about it.
    Welcome to the Feedback Loop from Hell. Chances are you’ve engaged in it more than a few times. Maybe you’re engaging in it right now: “ God, I do the Feedback Loop all the time—I’m such a loser for doing it. I should stop. Oh my God, I feel like such a loser for calling myself a loser. I should stop calling myself a loser. Ah, fuck! I’m doing it again! See? I’m a loser! Argh!”
    Calm down, amigo. Believe it or not, this is part of the beauty of being human. Very few animals on earth have the ability to think cogent thoughts to begin with, but we humans have the luxury of being able to have thoughts about our thoughts. So I can think about watching Miley Cyrus videos on YouTube, and then immediately think about what a sicko I am for wanting to watch Miley Cyrus videos on YouTube. Ah, the miracle of consciousness!
    Now here’s the problem: Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences—anxiety, fear, guilt, etc.—is totally not okay. I mean, if you look at your Facebook feed, everybody there is having a fucking grand old time. Look, eight people got married this week! And some sixteen-year-old on TV got a Ferrari for her birthday.
    And another kid just made two billion dollars inventing an app that automatically delivers you more toilet paper when you run out.
    Meanwhile, you’re stuck at home flossing your cat. And you can’t help but think your life sucks even more than you thought.
    The Feedback Loop from Hell has become a borderline epidemic, making many of us overly stressed, overly neurotic, and overly selfloathing.
    Back in Grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself, “ Gee whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s just life. Back to shoveling hay.”
    But now? Now if you feel like shit for even five minutes, you’re bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing fucking lives, and it’s impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you.

    The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

     

    The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
    When most people envision giving no fucks whatsoever, they imagine a kind of serene indifference to everything, a calm that weathers all storms. They imagine and aspire to be a person who is shaken by nothing and caves in to no one.
    There’s a name for a person who finds no emotion or meaning in anything: a psychopath. Why you would want to emulate a psychopath, I have no fucking clue.
    So what does not giving a fuck mean? Let’s look at three “ subtleties” that should help clarify the matter

    Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.

    Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

    Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

     

    So Mark, What the Fuck Is the Point of This Book Anyway?

     

    CHAPTER 2
    Happiness Is a Problem
    About twenty-five hundred years ago, in the Himalayan foothills of present-day Nepal, there lived in a great palace a king who was going to have a son. For this son the king had a particularly grand idea: he would make the child’s life perfect. The child would never know a moment ofsuffering—every need, every desire, would be accounted for
    at all times.
    The king built high walls around the palace that prevented the prince from knowing the outside world. He spoiled the child, lavishing him with food and gifts, surrounding him with servants who catered to his every whim. And just as planned, the child grew up ignorant of the routine cruelties of human existence.
    All of the prince’s childhood went on like this. But despite the endless luxury and opulence, the prince became kind of a pissed-off young man. Soon, every experience felt empty and valueless. The problem was that no matter what his father gave him, it never seemed enough, never meant anything

    So late one night, the prince snuck out of the palace to see what was beyond its walls. He had a servant drive him through the local village, and what he saw horrified him.
    For the first time in his life, the prince saw human suffering. He saw sick people, old people, homeless people, people in pain, even people dying.
    The prince returned to the palace and found himself in a sort of existential crisis. Not knowing how to process what he’d seen, he got all emo about everything and complained a lot. And, as is so typical of young men, the prince ended up blaming his father for the very things his father had tried to do for him. It was the riches, the prince thought, that had made him so miserable, that had made life seem so meaningless. He decided to run away

    But the prince was more like his father than he knew. He had grand ideas too. He wouldn’t just run away; he would give up his royalty, his family, and all of his possessions and live in the streets, sleeping in dirt like an animal. There he would starve himself, torture himself, and beg for scraps of food from strangers for the rest of his life.
    The next night, the prince snuck out of the palace again, this time never to return. For years he lived as a bum, a discarded and forgotten remnant of society, the dog shit caked to the bottom of the social totem pole. And as planned, the prince suffered greatly. He suffered through disease, hunger, pain, loneliness, and decay. He confronted the brink of death itself, often limited to eating a single nut each day.
    A few years went by. Then a few more. And then . . . nothing happened. The prince began to notice that this life of suffering wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t bringing him the insight he had desired. It wasn’t revealing any deeper mystery of the world or its ultimate purpose.

     

    The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda
    If I could invent a superhero, I would invent one called Disappointment Panda. He’d wear a cheesy eye mask and a shirt (with a giant capital T on it) that was way too small for his big panda belly, and his superpower would be to tell people harsh truths about themselves that they needed to hear but didn’t want to accept.
    He would go door-to-door like a Bible salesman and ring doorbells and say things like, “Sure, making a lot of money makes
    you feel good, but it won’t make your kids love you,” or “ If you have to ask yourself if you trust your wife, then you probably don’t,” or
    “What you consider ‘friendship’ is really just your constant attempts to impress people.” Then he’d tell the homeowner to have a nice day and saunter on down to the next house.
    It would be awesome. And sick. And sad. And uplifting. And necessary. After all, the greatest truths in life are usually the most unpleasant to hear.

     

    Happiness Comes from Solving Problems
    Problems are a constant in life. When you solve your health problem by buying a gym membership, you create new problems, like having to get up early to get to the gym on time, sweating like a meth-head for thirty minutes on an elliptical, and then getting showered and changed for work so you don’t stink up the whole office. When you
    solve your problem of not spending enough time with your partner by designating Wednesday night “ date night,” you generate new problems, such as figuring out what to do every Wednesday that you both won’t hate, making sure you have enough money for nice dinners, rediscovering the chemistry and spark you two feel you’ve lost, and unraveling the logistics of fucking in a small bathtub filled with too many bubbles.
    Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded.
    Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “ solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. If you feel like you have problems that you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable. The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place.
    To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action; it’s an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you, not something that you magically discover in a top-ten article on the Huffington Post or from any specific guru or teacher. It doesn’t magically appear when you finally make enough money to add on that extra room to the house. You don’t find it waiting for you in a place, an idea, a job—or even a book, for that
    matter.
    Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress—the solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on.
    True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.

    Sometimes those problems are simple: eating good food, traveling to some new place, winning at the new video game you just bought. Other times those problems are abstract and complicated: fixing your
    relationship with your mother, finding a career you can feel good about, developing better friendships.
    Whatever your problems are, the concept is the same: solve problems; be happy. Unfortunately, for many people, life doesn’t feel that simple. That’s because they fuck things up in at least one of two ways:

    1. Denial. Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place. And because they deny reality, they must constantly delude or distract themselves from reality. This may make them feel good in the short term, but it leads to a life of insecurity, neuroticism, and emotional repression.
    2. Victim Mentality. Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they in fact could. Victims seek to blame others for their problems or blame outside circumstances. This may make them feel better in the short term, but it leads to a life of anger, helplessness, and despair. People deny and blame others for their problems for the simple reason that it’s easy and feels good, while solving problems is hard and often feels bad. Forms of blame and denial give us a quick high.
    They are a way to temporarily escape our problems, and that escape can provide us a quick rush that makes us feel better.

    Highs come in many forms. Whether it’s a substance like alcohol, the moral righteousness that comes from blaming others, or the thrill of some new risky adventure, highs are shallow and unproductive ways to go about one’s life. Much of the self-help world is predicated on peddling highs to people rather than solving legitimate problems.
    Many self-help gurus teach you new forms of denial and pump you up with exercises that feel good in the short term, while ignoring the underlying issue. Remember, nobody who is actually happy has to stand in front of a mirror and tell himself that he’s happy.
    Highs also generate addiction. The more you rely on them to feel better about your underlying problems, the more you will seek them out. In this sense, almost anything can become addictive, depending on the motivation behind using it. We all have our chosen methods to numb the pain of our problems, and in moderate doses there is nothing wrong with this. But the longer we avoid and the longer we numb, the more painful it will be when we finally do confront our
    issues.

     

    Emotions Are Overrated
    Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. That’s it. They’re feedback mechanisms telling us that something is either likely right or likely wrong for us —nothing more, nothing less.
    Much as the pain of touching a hot stove teaches you not to touch it again, the sadness of being alone teaches you not to do the things that made you feel so alone again. Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.
    Look, I don’t mean to make light of your midlife crisis or the fact that your drunk dad stole your bike when you were eight years old and you still haven’t gotten over it, but when it comes down to it, if you feel crappy it’s because your brain is telling you that there’s a problem that’s unaddressed or unresolved. In other words, negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are
    rewards for taking the proper action. When you feel them, life seems simple and there is nothing else to do but enjoy it. Then, like everything else, the positive emotions go away, because more problems inevitably emerge problems inevitably emerge.
    Emotions are part of the equation of our lives, but not the entire equation. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good.
    Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. Therefore, we shouldn’t always trust our own emotions. In fact, I believe we should make a habit of questioning them

     

    Choose Your Struggle
    If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “ I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” your response is so common and expected that it doesn’t really mean
    anything.
    Everybody enjoys what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy, and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when they walk into the room.
    Everybody wants that. It’s easy to want that.

     

    This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “ no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and
    basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.

     

    CHAPTER 3
    You Are Not Special
    I once knew a guy; we’ll call him Jimmy.
    Jimmy always had various business ventures going. On any given day, if you asked him what he was doing, he’d rattle off the name of some firm he was consulting with, or he’d describe a promising medical app he was looking for angel investors to fund, or he’d talk about some charity event he was supposed to be the keynote speaker for, or how he had an idea for a more efficient type of gas pump that was going to make him billions. The guy was always rolling, always on, and if you gave him an inch of conversational daylight, he’d pulverize you about how world-spinning his work was, how brilliant his latest ideas were, and he’d name-drop so much it felt like you were talking to a tabloid reporter.
    Jimmy was all positivity all the time. Always pushing himself, always working an angle—a real go-getter, whatever the fuck that means.

    The catch was that Jimmy was also a total deadbeat—all talk and no walk. Stoned a majority of the time, and spending as much money in bars and fine restaurants as he did on his “ business ideas,” Jimmy was a professional leech, living off his family’s hard-won money by spinning them as well as everybody else in the city on false ideas of future tech glory. Sure, sometimes he’d put in some token effort, or pick up the phone and cold-call some bigwig and name-drop until he ran out of names, but nothing ever actually happened. None of these “ ventures” ever blossomed into anything.

     

    The deeper the pain, the more helpless we feel against our problems, and the more entitlement we adopt to compensate for those problems. This entitlement plays out in one of two ways:
    1. I’m awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special
    treatment.
    2. I suck and the rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special
    treatment.

     

    The Tyranny of Exceptionalism
    Most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re exceptional at one thing, chances are you’re average or below average at most other things. That’s just the nature of life. To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate shit-tons of time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.
    We can then say that it’s a statistical improbability that any single person will be an extraordinary performer in all areas of life, or even in many areas of their life. Brilliant businesspeople are often fuckups in their personal lives. Extraordinary athletes are often shallow and as dumb as a lobotomized rock. Many celebrities are probably just as clueless about life as the people who gawk at them and follow their every move.

    We’re all, for the most part, pretty average people. But it’s the extremes that get all of the publicity. We kind of know this already, but we rarely think and/or talk about it, and we certainly never discuss why this could be a problem.
    Having the Internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube, and access to five hundred–plus channels of television is amazing. But our attention is limited. There’s no way we can process the tidal waves of information flowing past us constantly. Therefore, the only zeroes and ones that break through and catch our attention are the truly exceptional pieces of information—those in the 99.999th percentile.

    All day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary.
    The best of the best. The worst of the worst. The greatest physical feats. The funniest jokes. The most upsetting news. The scariest threats. Nonstop.
    Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience, because in the media business that’s what gets eyeballs, and eyeballs bring dollars. That’s the bottom line.
    Yet the vast majority of life resides in the humdrum middle. The vast majority of life is unextraordinary, indeed quite average.
    This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. And because we’re all quite average most of the time, the deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough. So more and more we feel the need to compensate through entitlement and addiction. We cope the only way we know how: either through self-aggrandizing or through other aggrandizing.
    Some of us do this by cooking up get-rich-quick schemes. Others do it by taking off across the world to save starving babies in Africa.
    Others do it by excelling in school and winning every award. Others do it by shooting up a school. Others do it by trying to have sex with anything that talks and breathes.

    Anything that talks and breathes.
    This ties in to the growing culture of entitlement that I talked about earlier. Millennials often get blamed for this cultural shift, but that’s likely because millennials are the most plugged-in and visible generation. In fact, the tendency toward entitlement is apparent across all of society. And I believe it’s linked to mass-media-driven exceptionalism.
    The problem is that the pervasiveness of technology and mass marketing is screwing up a lot of people’s expectations for themselves.

     

    B-b-b-but, If I’m Not Going to Be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the Point?
    It has become an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to do something truly extraordinary. Celebrities say it.
    Business tycoons say it. Politicians say it. Even Oprah says it (so it must be true). Each and every one of us can be extraordinary. We all deserve greatness.
    The fact that this statement is inherently contradictory—after all, if everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary—is missed by most people. And instead of questioning what we actually deserve or don’t deserve, we eat the message up and ask for more.
    Being “ average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve. When a culture’s standard of success is to “ be extraordinary,” it then becomes better to be at the extreme low end of the bell curve than to be in the middle, because at least there you’re still special and deserve attention. Many people choose this strategy:
    to prove to everyone that they are the most miserable, or the most oppressed, or the most victimized.
    A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.
    This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless. And this mindset can quickly turn dangerous, to both yourself and others.

     

    CHAPTER 4
    The Value of Suffering
    In the closing months of 1944, after almost a decade of war, the tide was turning against Japan. Their economy was floundering, their military overstretched across half of Asia, and the territories they had won throughout the Pacific were now toppling like dominoes to U.S. forces. Defeat seemed inevitable.
    On December 26, 1944, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army was deployed to the small island of Lubang in the Philippines. His orders were to slow the United States’ progress as much as possible, to stand and fight at all costs, and to never surrender. Both he and his commander knew it was essentially a
    suicide mission.
    In February 1945, the Americans arrived on Lubang and took the island with overwhelming force. Within days, most of the Japanese soldiers had either surrendered or been killed, but Onoda and three of his men managed to hide in the jungle. From there, they began a guerrilla warfare campaign against the U.S. forces and the local population, attacking supply lines, shooting at stray soldiers, and interfering with the American forces in any way that they could.

     

    The Self-Awareness Onion
    Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you’re going to start crying at inappropriate times.
    Let’s say the first layer of the self-awareness onion is a simple understanding of one’s emotions. “ This is when I feel happy.” “ This makes me feel sad.” “ This gives me hope.”
    Unfortunately, there are many people who suck at even this most basic level of self-awareness. I know because I’m one of them. My wife and I sometimes have a fun back-and-forth that goes something like this:
    HER. What’s wrong?
    ME. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing at all.
    HER. No, something’s wrong. Tell me.
    ME. I’m fine. Really.
    HER. Are you sure? You look upset.
    ME, with nervous laughter. Really? No, I’m okay, seriously.
    [Thirty minutes later . . . ]

    ME. . . . And that’s why I’m so fucking pissed off! He just acts as if I don’t exist half the time.
    We all have emotional blind spots. Often they have to do with the emotions that we were taught were inappropriate growing up. It takes years of practice and effort to get good at identifying blind spots in ourselves and then expressing the affected emotions appropriately. But this task is hugely important, and worth the effort.
    The second layer of the self-awareness onion is an ability to ask why we feel certain emotions

     

    Rock Star Problems
    In 1983, a talented young guitarist was kicked out of his band in the worst possible way. The band had just been signed to a record deal, and they were about to record their first album. But a couple days before recording began, the band showed the guitarist the door—no warning, no discussion, no dramatic blowout; they literally woke him up one day by handing him a bus ticket home.
    As he sat on the bus back to Los Angeles from New York, the guitarist kept asking himself: How did this happen? What did I do wrong? What will I do now? Record contracts didn’t exactly fall out of the sky, especially for raucous, upstart metal bands. Had he missed his one and only shot?
    But by the time the bus hit L.A., the guitarist had gotten over his self-pity and had vowed to start a new band. He decided that this new band would be so successful that his old band would forever regret their decision. He would become so famous that they would be subjected to decades of seeing him on TV, hearing him on the radio, seeing posters of him in the streets and pictures of him in magazines.
    They’d be flipping burgers somewhere, loading vans from their shitty club gigs, fat and drunk with their ugly wives, and he’d be rocking out in front of stadium crowds live on television. He’d bathe in the tears of his betrayers, each tear wiped dry by a crisp, clean hundred dollar bill.

     

    Shitty Values
    There are a handful of common values that create really poor problems for people—problems that can hardly be solved. So let’s go over some of them quickly:

    1. Pleasure. Pleasure is great, but it’s a horrible value to prioritize your life around. Ask any drug addict how his pursuit of pleasure turned out. Ask an adulterer who shattered her family and lost her children whether pleasure ultimately made her happy. Ask a man who almost ate himself to death how pleasure helped him solve his problems.
    Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more
    anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed.
    Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose.
    And yet, pleasure is what’s marketed to us, twentyfour/seven.
    It’s what we fixate on. It’s what we use to numb and distract ourselves. But pleasure, while necessary in life (in certain
    doses), isn’t, by itself, sufficient.
    Pleasure is not the cause of happiness; rather, it is the effect. If you get the other stuff right (the other values and
    metrics), then pleasure will naturally occur as a by-product.
    2. Material Success. Many people measure their self-worth based on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive or whether their front lawn is greener and prettier than the next-door
    neighbor’s.

    Research shows that once one is able to provide for basic physical needs (food, shelter, and so on), the correlation
    between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero.
    So if you’re starving and living on the street in the middle of India, an extra ten thousand dollars a year would affect your
    happiness a lot. But if you’re sitting pretty in the middle class in a developed country, an extra ten thousand dollars per year won’t affect anything much—meaning that you’re killing yourself working overtime and weekends for basically nothing.
    The other issue with overvaluing material success is the danger of prioritizing it over other values, such as honesty nonviolence, and compassion. When people measure themselves not by their behavior, but by the status symbols they’re able to collect, then not only are they shallow, but they’re probably assholes as well.
    3. Always Being Right.Our brains are inefficient machines. We consistently make poor assumptions, misjudge probabilities, misremember facts, give in to cognitive biases, and make decisions based on our emotional whims. As humans, we’re wrong pretty much constantly, so if your metric for life success is to be right—well, you’re going to have a difficult time rationalizing all of the bullshit to yourself.

    The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their
    mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathize with others. They close themselves off to new and important information.
    It’s far more helpful to assume that you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed beliefs and promotes a constant state of learning and growth.
    4. Staying Positive. Then there are those who measure their lives by
    the ability to be positive about, well, pretty much everything.
    Lost your job? Great! That’s an opportunity to explore your passions. Husband cheated on you with your sister? Well, at least you’re learning what you really mean to the people around you.
    Child dying of throat cancer? At least you don’t have to pay for college anymore!

    While there is something to be said for “ staying on the sunny side of life,” the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.
    Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction.
    Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life’s problems—problems which, by the way, if you’re choosing the right values and metrics, should be invigorating you and motivating you.
    It’s simple, really: things go wrong, people upset us, accidents happen. These things make us feel like shit. And that’s fine.
    Negative emotions are a necessary component of emotional health.
    To deny that negativity is to perpetuate problems rather than solve them

    The trick with negative emotions is to 1) express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner and 2) express them in a
    way that aligns with your values. Simple example: A value of mine is nonviolence. Therefore, when I get mad at somebody, I express that anger, but I also make a point of not punching them in the face. Radical idea, I know. But the anger is not the problem.
    Anger is natural. Anger is a part of life. Anger is arguably quite healthy in many situations. (Remember, emotions are just
    feedback.)
    See, it’s the punching people in the face that’s the problem.
    Not the anger. The anger is merely the messenger for my fist in your face. Don’t blame the messenger. Blame my fist (or your face).

     

    Defining Good and Bad Values
    Good values are 1) reality-based, 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable.
    Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable.
    Honesty is a good value because it’s something you have complete control over, it reflects reality, and it benefits others (even if it’s sometimes unpleasant). Popularity, on the other hand, is a bad value. If that’s your value, and if your metric is being the most popular guy/girl at the dance party, much of what happens will be out of your control: you don’t know who else will be at the event, and you probably won’t know who half those people are. Second, the value/metric isn’t based on reality: you may feel popular or unpopular, when in fact you have no fucking clue what anybody else really thinks about you. (Side Note: As a rule, people who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty
    things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.)
    Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, selfrespect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.
    Some examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.

    You’ll notice that good, healthy values are achieved internally.
    Something like creativity or humility can be experienced right now.
    You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it.
    These values are immediate and controllable and engage you with the world as it is rather than how you wish it were.
    Bad values are generally reliant on external events—flying in a private jet, being told you’re right all the time, owning a house in the Bahamas, eating a cannoli while getting blown by three strippers. Bad values, while sometimes fun or pleasurable, lie outside of your control and often require socially destructive or superstitious means to
    achieve.

     

    CHAPTER 5
    You Are Always Choosing
    Imagine that somebody puts a gun to your head and tells you that you have to run 26.2 miles in under five hours, or else he’ll kill you and your entire family.
    That would suck.
    Now imagine that you bought nice shoes and running gear, trained religiously for months, and completed your first marathon with all of your closest family and friends cheering you on at the finish line.
    That could potentially be one of the proudest moments of your life.
    Exact same 26.2 miles. Exact same person running them. Exact same pain coursing through your exact same legs. But when you chose it freely and prepared for it, it was a glorious and important milestone in your life. When it was forced upon you against your will, it was one of the most terrifying and painful experiences of your
    life.

     

    The Choice
    William James had problems. Really bad problems.
    Although born into a wealthy and prominent family, from birth James suffered life-threatening health issues: an eye problem that left him temporarily blinded as a child; a terrible stomach condition that caused excessive vomiting and forced him to adopt an obscure and highly sensitive diet; trouble with his hearing; back spasms so bad that for days at a time he often couldn’t sit or stand upright.
    Due to his health problems, James spent most of his time at home. He didn’t have many friends, and he wasn’t particularly good at school. Instead, he passed the days painting. That was the only thing he liked and the only thing he felt particularly good at.
    Unfortunately, nobody else thought he was good at it. When he grew to adulthood, nobody bought his work. And as the years dragged on, his father (a wealthy businessman) began ridiculing him for his laziness and his lack of talent.
    Meanwhile, his younger brother, Henry James, went on to become a world-renowned novelist; his sister, Alice James, made a good living as a writer as well. William was the family oddball, the black
    sheep.
    In a desperate attempt to salvage the young man’s future, James’s father used his business connections to get him admitted into Harvard Medical School. It was his last chance, his father told him. If he screwed this up, there was no hope for him.

    But James never felt at home or at peace at Harvard. Medicine never appealed to him. He spent the whole time feeling like a fake and a fraud. After all, if he couldn’t overcome his own problems, how could he ever hope to have the energy to help others with theirs? After touring a psychiatric facility one day, James mused in his diary that he felt he had more in common with the patients than with the doctors.
    A few years went by and, again to his father’s disapproval, James dropped out of medical school. But rather than deal with the brunt of his father’s wrath, he decided to get away: he signed up to join an anthropological expedition to the Amazon rain forest.
    This was in the 1860s, so transcontinental travel was difficult and dangerous. If you ever played the computer game Oregon Trail when you were a kid, it was kind of like that, with the dysentery and drowning oxen and everything.
    Anyway, James made it all the way to the Amazon, where the real adventure was to begin. Surprisingly, his fragile health held up that whole way. But once he finally made it, on the first day of the expedition, he promptly contracted smallpox and nearly died in the jungle.
    Then his back spasms returned, painful to the point of making James unable to walk. By this time, he was emaciated and starved from the smallpox, immobilized by his bad back, and left alone in the middle of South America (the rest of the expedition having gone on without him) with no clear way to get home—a journey that would take months and likely kill him anyway

     

    But one night, while reading lectures by the philosopher Charles Peirce, James decided to conduct a little experiment. In his diary, he wrote that he would spend one year believing that he was 100 percent
    responsible for everything that occurred in his life, no matter what.
    During this period, he would do everything in his power to change his circumstances, no matter the likelihood of failure. If nothing improved in that year, then it would be apparent that he was truly powerless to the circumstances around him, and then he would take his own life.
    The punch line? William James went on to become the father of American psychology. His work has been translated into a bazillion languages, and he’s regarded as one of the most influential intellectuals/philosophers/psychologists of his generation. He would go on to teach at Harvard and would tour much of the United States and Europe giving lectures. He would marry and have five children (one of whom, Henry, would become a famous biographer and win a Pulitzer Prize). James would later refer to his little experiment as his “rebirth,” and would credit it with everything that he later accomplished in his life.

     

    Whether we consciously recognize it or not, we are always responsible for our experiences. It’s impossible not to be. Choosing to not consciously interpret events in our lives is still an interpretation of the events of our lives. Choosing to not respond to the events in our lives is still a response to the events in our lives. Even if you get run over by a clown car and pissed on by a busload ofschoolchildren, it’s still your responsibility to interpret the meaning of the event and
    choose a response.
    Whether we like it or not, we are always taking an active role in what’s occurring to and within us. We are always interpreting the meaning of every moment and every occurrence. We are always choosing the values by which we live and the metrics by which we measure everything that happens to us. Often the same event can be good or bad, depending on the metric we choose to use.

     

    The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy
    Years ago, when I was much younger and stupider, I wrote a blog post, and at the end of it I said something like, “ And as a great philosopher once said: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’” It sounded nice and authoritative. I couldn’t
    remember who had said it, and my Google search had turned up nothing, but I stuck it in there anyway. It fit the post nicely.
    About ten minutes later, the first comment came in: “ I think the ‘great philosopher’ you’re referring to is Uncle Ben from the movie Spider-Man.”

     

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 9 months ago by  JamesP.

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