We are all pursuing happiness. Including the hacks and shortcuts. Not sure if there are any. Happiness is hard work. Starting with knowing what to focus on. And more important, what not to focus on.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
In “The code of the extraordinary mind“, I first came across the term “unfuckwithable”. The book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life” brings it a few steps further.
Mark Manson is a stoic. Life sucks sometimes. Deal with it. Don’t be an asshole and be honest with yourself. He gives out about this ongoing pursuit of being constantly happy. You can’t. It would be very boring if it was. Pain is good. Don’t give a fuck and only give a fuck about what is important. Everything worthwhile in life is won by surmounting the associated negative experience.
Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as you will see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness. 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. 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. In short, no pain, no gain.
The unrealistic pursuit of happiness
In his view, our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Preferably on Facebook. Here is the thing. No truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is. 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. 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
Social media is giving us the feedback loop from hell. This feedback loop from hell has become a borderline epidemic, making many of us overly stressed, overly neurotic, and overly self-loathing. 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 not to feel like there’s something wrong with you. George Orwell said that to see what’s in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle. We have become victims of our own success. Stress-related health issues, anxiety disorders, and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the past thirty years, despite the fact that everyone has a flat-screen TV and can have their groceries delivered.
Struggling is essential
Wanting a positive experience is a negative experience; accepting a negative experience is a positive experience. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame. To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.
We are all average
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. This flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. You Are Not Special. You need to accept that the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as “Your actions actually don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things” and “The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.
The simple things
The knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations. It will create a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about. It is about the simple things in life.
1. Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different. The people who don’t give a fuck about adversity or failure or embarrassing themselves or shitting the bed a few times. The people who just laugh and then do what they believe in any way. Because they know it’s right. They know it’s more important than they are, more important than their own feelings and their own pride and their own ego. They say, “Fuck it,” not to everything in life, but rather to everything unimportant in life.
2. To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity. I once heard an artist say that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people, especially educated, pampered middle-class white people consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.
3. Whether you realise it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about. Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity.
We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. Our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they’re a feature.
Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change. In other words, negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something.
Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction. Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, not positive and painful.
Pain, in all of its forms, is our body’s most effective means of spurring action. Pain is what teaches us what to pay attention to. Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life and then consider changing course. Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen.
Sustain the pain
The question is not “How do I stop suffering?” but “Why am I suffering—for what purpose?” Because happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shit heaps and shame.
Pain is good
People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiselled abs. This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. It turns out that adversity and failure are actually useful and even necessary for developing strong-minded and successful adults.
You are in control
You are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. You don’t always control what happens to us. But you always control how we interpret what happens to you, as well as how you respond. Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. Your values determine the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone else. If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success. You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else.
Choice is pain
When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savour it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it. It is that simple. It’s just not easy. That, in a nutshell, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritising better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.
Rejection is a life skill
Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or (gulp) one person. You need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values. The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X. Rejection is an important and crucial life skill. There is freedom and liberation in commitment. Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous.
From now on
- You take responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault.
- You acknowledge your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own beliefs.
- You are willing to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon.
- You will both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life.
- You pay careful attention to your own death. It is perhaps the only thing capable of helping you keep all our other values in proper perspective.
Step into uncertainty
And then you just have to go out and do. The only way to achieve these things is to remain uncertain of them and be open to finding them out through experience. Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. Because despite dreaming about making a living through his art, the real potential of becoming An Artist Nobody Likes was far, far scarier than remaining An Artist Nobody’s Heard Of. At least he was comfortable with and used to being An Artist Nobody’s Heard Of.
Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head. Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it. If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself. That’s often all that’s necessary to get the snowball rolling, the action needed to inspire the motivation to keep going. You can become your own source of inspiration. You can become your own source of motivation. Action is always within reach. And with simply doing something as your only metric for success—well, then even failure pushes you forward.
Failure is essential
Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If you think about a young child trying to learn to walk, that child will fall and hurt itself hundreds of times. But at no point does that child ever stop and think, “Oh, I guess walking just isn’t for me. I’m not good at it.” Avoiding failure is something we learn at some later point in life. I’m sure a lot of it comes from our education system, which judges rigorously based on performance and punishes those who don’t do well. Another large share of it comes from overbearing or critical parents who don’t let their kids screw up on their own often enough, And then we have all the mass media that constantly expose us to stellar success after success, while not showing us the thousands of hours of dull practice and tedium that were required to achieve that success.
The Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome implored people to keep death in mind at all times, in order to appreciate life more and remain humble in the face of its adversities. Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life.
The author realised that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason not to do anything. That in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear of embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway. That by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, he had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.
In a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero. Focus on “immortality projects,” projects that allow your conceptual self to live on way past the point of your physical death. If you haven’t figured it out yet, our immortality projects are our values. They are the barometers of meaning and worth in our life. And when our values fail, so do we, psychologically speaking. Happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself, believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity, that your life is but a mere side process of some great unintelligible production.
You are great
People declare themselves experts, entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, mavericks, and coaches without any real-life experience. And they do this not because they think they are greater than everybody else; they do it because they feel that they need to be great to be accepted in a world that broadcasts only the extraordinary. You are great. Already. Whether you realise it or not. You are already great because, in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to. And the primary lesson is this: there is nothing to be afraid of. Ever.