The pursuit of happiness is, ironically, the source of all unhappiness, declares Mark Manson, the author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a f*ck“.
Living in this world, with all the modern facilities and instant entertainment, one should be very happy. We enjoy longer lifespan compared to our ancestors, we no longer face danger from the nature or animals, we have good medical care, we are 24×7 entertainment to keep us from being bored and all our basic necessities are being taken care of. So then, why so many of us are still unhappy?
That’s because we seek happiness too hard. We want people to love us, so we do what we think they would approve in order to buy their love; we feel that having a lot of money will make us happy so we chase after money; we are heartbroken when our favorite football team loses the European Champion League.
But these goals all have one thing in common, they rely on external factors as much as ( if not even more so) than internal ones. You can do everything right and yet the person would still leave you; you can work 25 hours a day, network as hard as you can, and the wealth still eludes you; shout as loud as you might, your team still loses no matter what.
So no wonder you are perpetually unhappy; because you are forever falling short of attaining your goals!
Instead of setting objectives that depend on external factors, the author advises that you focus on your progress, not the end goal. For example, you can’t control whether your love will be reciprocated, but you can definitely improve your behaviour and grooming so that you are more lovable; you can’t control when ( or if) a big breakthrough will come to your career, but you can always position yourself for it by working hard and smart. In that way, you can derive satisfaction from your progress, and not from some random external events.
As for the football team, there is probably very little you can do to make it win the ECL, so forget about it ( unless you are a sheikh from Middle East and can afford to buy it and remake it). It’s a terrible thing to tie your happiness to.
Another source of unhappiness is to think that you are special, that you are destined to achieve something great in this life. Maybe save the world, or invent the elixir of life? But I hate to break this to you, pal. You are not special. And this is a good news, because the key to greatness is to realize this and then work very hard to achieve something extraordinary. Believing that you are special invites a sense of entitlement, as if the whole world owes you a justice. The sense of entitlement breeds discontent, because you see life as unfair and is denying you of a platform that you can shine. Believing that you are just an average Joe means that you realize you have to do a lot of work, overcome a lot of unfairness and suffer a lot of setbacks just to have a slim shot at success.
It’s a lot more productive to think that you are not special, than the alternative. And it makes you more resilient in the face of challenges, and makes you happier too.
So how to tell what goals are worthy, how to tell what is the true desire of your heart? Ask what you are willing to suffer for that goal. We always get asked: “what do you want to achieve in 10 years time”, but this is actually a terrible question because it invites useless answers. “What do you want to achieve in 10 years time?” Of course I want wealth, health, love, recognition and everything, you idiot!
A more useful question is “what are you willing to go through in order to achieve that“? You want the girl so much? So are you willing to please her in every way possible, fulfill her every whims and debase yourself by becoming her maidservant? You want to get six-pack abs? Are you willing to wake up at 5am and hit gym day in and day out, and at the same time eating untastely food? You want to be rich beyond recognition? Are you willing to risk everything you have– your wealth, health or even your integrity and family– just to achieve that?
Asking “what are you willing to go through in order to achieve that” helps to clarify your thinking. Oh wait, maybe I don’t really want to be with her at all, she is just another spoiled baby doll. Maybe being rich at the expense of my integrity isn’t really for me, I’m fine with my 650 sq. feet flat with my family intact. Waking up at 5am is too hard, I’ll rather be a potato couch and binge watch my Netflix series.
And guess what, it’s all OK. It’s OK even if you accomplish absolutely nothing by the time you die. No one will give a ****. The universe just rolls on, as it already does for the last 13.8 billion years. Remember, you are not special, and no one really cares.
Realizing that you are not as important as you think, and you can choose not to give a ****, is a liberating experience. Kudos to him who works so hard and achieves so much, but one day he will die just like me, and he will be forgotten, just like me. In the cosmic settings where timeframe is measured in terms of billions of years, his achievement of decades is simply laughably negligible. I’ll made a damn fool of myself if I get jealous of him.
If you haven’t read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a f*ck” , please give it a try. Unlike self-help books that cheer you on all the way and constantly asserting that you are the greatest living things on earth, this irreverent, funny and foul-mouth book cuts through all the craps and lets you see life through a realistic lense. It’s the perfect antidote in today feel-good world.