20 September 2017
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
The Feedback Loop from Hell
Because here’s the thing that’s wrong with all of the “How to Be Happy” shit that’s been shared eight million times on Facebook in the past few years – here’s what nobody realizes about all of this crap: 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.
It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law” – the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.
As the existential philosopher Albert Camus said (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on LSD at the time): “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Or put more simply: Don’t try.
Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place?
The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. 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.
Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.
To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.
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.
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.
willingness to be different, an outcast, a pariah, all for the sake of one’s own values.
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. They reserve their fucks for what truly matters. Friends. Family. Purpose. Burritos. And an occasional lawsuit or two. And because of that, because they reserve their fucks for only the big things that matter, people give a fuck about them in return.
there’s no such thing as a lack of adversity. It doesn’t exist.
The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.
Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
The problem with people who hand out fucks like ice cream at a goddamn summer camp is that they don’t have anything more fuck-worthy to dedicate their fucks to.
Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.
As we get older, with the benefit of experience (and having seen so much time slip by), we begin to notice that most of these sorts of things have little lasting impact on our lives. Those people whose opinions we cared about so much before are no longer present in our lives. Rejections that were painful in the moment have actually worked out for the best. We realize how little attention people pay to the superficial details about us, and we choose not to obsess so much over them. Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity.
We now reserve our ever-dwindling fucks for the most truly fuck-worthy parts of our lives: our families, our best friends, our golf swing. And, to our astonishment, this is enough. This simplification actually makes us really fucking happy on a consistent basis.
CHAPTER 2: Happiness Is a Problem
As with being rich, there is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.
life itself is a form of suffering
People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family.
This isn’t to say that all suffering is equal. Some suffering is certainly more painful than other suffering. But we all must suffer nonetheless.
Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness.
The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda
This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. So no – our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they’re a feature.
Pain is what teaches us what to pay attention to when we’re young or careless. It helps show us what’s good for us versus what’s bad for us. It helps us understand and adhere to our own limitations. It teaches us to not fuck around near hot stoves or stick metal objects into electrical sockets. Therefore, it’s not always beneficial to avoid pain and seek pleasure, since pain can, at times, be life-or-death important to our well-being. But pain is not merely physical.
Don’t hope for a life without problems, there’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.
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
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.
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
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.
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. 2. Victim Mentality. Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they in fact could.
Emotions Are Overrated
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.
An obsession and overinvestment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last. Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never-ending pursuit of “something else”
This is why our problems are recursive and unavoidable. The person you marry is the person you fight with. The house you buy is the house you repair. The dream job you take is the job you stress over. Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice – whatever makes us feel good will also inevitably make us feel bad. What we gain is also what we lose. What creates our positive experiences will define our negative experiences. This is a difficult pill to swallow. We like the idea that there’s some form of ultimate happiness that can be attained. We like the idea that we can alleviate all of our suffering permanently. We like the idea that we can feel fulfilled and satisfied with our lives forever. But we cannot.
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.
A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
Most people want to have great sex and an awesome relationship, but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings, and the emotional psychodrama to get there. And so they settle. They settle and wonder, “What if?” for years and years, until the question morphs from “What if?” into “What else?” And when the lawyers go home and the alimony check is in the mail, they say, “What for?” If not for their lowered standards and expectations twenty years prior, then what for?
Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of that negative experience – not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.
I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love with not the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way. Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.
People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. 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. See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.
Things Fall Apart
It just means that you’re not special. Often, it’s this realization – that you and your problems are actually not privileged in their severity or pain – that is the first and most important step toward solving them.
The more freedom we’re given to express ourselves, the more we want to be free of having to deal with anyone who may disagree with us or upset us. The more exposed we are to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those other viewpoints exist. The easier and more problem-free our lives become, the more we seem to feel entitled for them to get even better.
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.
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.
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.
B-b-b-but, If I’m Not Going to Be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the Point?
People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great – they are mediocre, they are average – and that they could be so much better.
“The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.” This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it.
The Self-Awareness Onion
perhaps I don’t need to be close to my brother to have that good relationship that I value. Perhaps there just needs to be some mutual respect (which there is). Or maybe mutual trust is what to look for (and it’s there). Perhaps these metrics would be better assessments of brotherhood than how many text messages he and I exchange. This clearly makes sense; it feels true for me. But it still fucking hurts that my brother and I aren’t close. And there’s no positive way to spin it. There’s no secret way to glorify myself through this knowledge. Sometimes brothers – even brothers who love each other – don’t have close relationships, and that’s fine. It is hard to accept at first, but that’s fine. What is objectively true about your situation is not as important as how you come to see the situation, how you choose to measure it and value it. Problems may be inevitable, but the meaning of each problem is not. We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which we choose to measure them.
Rock Star Problems
Mustaine’s metric of being better than Metallica likely helped him launch an incredibly successful music career. But that same metric later tortured him in spite of his success. If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.
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.
Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends while struggling to make ends meet makes us happier than buying a new computer. These activities are stressful, arduous, and often unpleasant. They also require withstanding problem after problem. Yet they are some of the most meaningful moments and joyous things we’ll ever do. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair – yet once they’re accomplished, we look back and get all misty-eyed telling our grandkids about them.
these values – pleasure, material success, always being right, staying positive – are poor ideals for a person’s life. Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.
Defining Good and Bad Values
five counterintuitive values that I believe are the most beneficial values one can adopt. All follow the “backwards law” we talked about earlier, in that they’re “negative.” All require confronting deeper problems rather than avoiding them through highs. These five values are both unconventional and uncomfortable. But, to me, they are life-changing. The first, which we’ll look at in the next chapter, is a radical form of responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault. The second is uncertainty: the acknowledgement of your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own beliefs. The next is failure: the willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon
The fourth is rejection: the ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life. The final value is the contemplation of one’s own mortality; this one is crucial, because paying vigilant attention to one’s own death is perhaps the only thing capable of helping us keep all our other values in proper perspective.
We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.
The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy
Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.
Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.
In hindsight, I was able to look back and see warning signs of my ex-girlfriend’s character, signs I had chosen to ignore or brush off when I was with her. That was my fault. I could look back and see that I hadn’t exactly been the Boyfriend of the Year to her either. In fact, I had often been cold and arrogant toward her; other times I took her for granted and blew her off and hurt her. These things were my fault too. Did my mistakes justify her mistake? No. But still, I took on the responsibility of never making those same mistakes again, and never overlooking the same signs again, to help guarantee that I will never suffer the same consequences again. I took on the responsibility of striving to make my future relationships with women that much better.
Genetics and the Hand We’re Dealt
We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. And while it’s easy to get hung up on our cards, and feel we got screwed over, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and the consequences we choose to live with. People who consistently make the best choices in the situations they’re given are the ones who eventually come out ahead in poker, just as in life. And it’s not necessarily the people with the best cards.
“Victimhood chic” is in style on both the right and the left today, among both the rich and the poor. In fact, this may be the first time in human history that every single demographic group has felt unfairly victimized simultaneously.
The biggest problem with victimhood chic is that it sucks attention away from actual victims.
But part of living in a democracy and a free society is that we all have to deal with views and people we don’t necessarily like. That’s simply the price we pay – you could even say it’s the whole point of the system. And it seems more and more people are forgetting that.
There Is No “How”
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. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy. It’s not easy because you’re going to feel like a loser, a fraud, a dumbass at first. You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to freak out. You may get pissed off at your wife or your friends or your father in the process. These are all side effects of changing your values, of changing the fucks you’re giving. But they are inevitable. It’s simple but really, really hard.
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. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.
CHAPTER 6: You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)
When I was with my first girlfriend, I thought we would be together forever.
And then, when that relationship ended, I thought I’d never feel the same way about a woman again. And then when I felt the same way about a woman again, I thought that love sometimes just wasn’t enough. And then I realized that each individual gets to decide what is “enough,” and that love can be whatever we let it be. Every step of the way I was wrong. About everything. Throughout my life, I’ve been flat-out wrong about myself, others, society, culture, the world, the universe – everything. And I hope that will continue to be the case for the rest of my life. Just as Present Mark can look back on Past Mark’s every flaw and mistake, one day Future Mark will look back on Present Mark’s assumptions (including the contents of this book) and notice similar flaws. And that will be a good thing. Because that will mean I have grown.
Beliefs of this sort – that I’m not attractive enough, so why bother; or that my boss is an asshole, so why bother – are designed to give us moderate comfort now by mortgaging greater happiness and success later on. They’re terrible long-term strategies, yet we cling to them because we assume we’re right, because we assume we already know what’s supposed to happen.
Nothing is for certain until it has already happened – and even then, it’s still debatable.
Instead of looking to be right all the time, we should be looking for how we’re wrong all the time. Because we are. Being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change. Being wrong brings the opportunity for growth.
we don’t actually know what a positive or negative experience is. Some of the most difficult and stressful moments of our lives also end up being the most formative and motivating. Some of the best and most gratifying experiences of our lives are also the most distracting and demotivating. Don’t trust your conception of positive/negative experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in the moment and what doesn’t. And that’s not worth much.
Be Careful What You Believe
No matter how honest and well-intentioned we are, we’re in a perpetual state of misleading ourselves and others for no other reason than that our brain is designed to be efficient, not accurate. Not only does our memory suck – suck to the point that eyewitness testimony isn’t necessarily taken seriously in court cases – but our brain functions in a horribly biased way.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there telling you to “trust yourself,” to “go with your gut,” and all sorts of other pleasant-sounding clichés. But perhaps the answer is to trust yourself less. After all, if our hearts and minds are so unreliable, maybe we should be questioning our own intentions and motivations more. If we’re all wrong, all the time, then isn’t self-skepticism and the rigorous challenging of our own beliefs and assumptions the only logical route to progress?
Manson’s Law of Avoidance
We all have values for ourselves. We protect these values. We try to live up to them and we justify them and maintain them. Even if we don’t mean to, that’s how our brain is wired. As noted before, we’re unfairly biased toward what we already know, what we believe to be certain. If I believe I’m a nice guy, I’ll avoid situations that could potentially contradict that belief. If I believe I’m an awesome cook, I’ll seek out opportunities to prove that to myself over and over again. The belief always takes precedence. Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot overcome our avoidance and anxiety. We cannot change.
there is little that is unique or special about your problems. That’s why letting go is so liberating.
This is narcissism, pure and simple. You feel as though your problems deserve to be treated differently, that your problems have some unique math to them that doesn’t obey the laws of the physical universe. My recommendation: don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways.
For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible. This often means giving up some grandiose ideas about yourself: that you’re uniquely intelligent, or spectacularly talented, or intimidatingly attractive, or especially victimized in ways other people could never imagine. This means giving up your sense of entitlement and your belief that you’re somehow owed something by this world.
How to Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself
Question #1: What if I’m wrong?
Question #2: What would it mean if I were wrong?
Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
CHAPTER 7: Failure Is the Way Forward
I asked myself a simple question: “Would I rather make decent money and work a job I hated, or play at Internet entrepreneur and be broke for a while?” The answer was immediate and clear for me: the latter. I then asked myself, “If I try this thing and fail in a few years and have to go get a job anyway, will I have really lost anything?” The answer was no. Instead of a broke and unemployed twenty-two-year-old with no experience, I’d be a broke and unemployed twenty-five-year-old with no experience. Who cares?
The Failure/Success Paradox
“Can I have that napkin you were just drawing on? I’ll pay you for it.” “Sure,” Picasso replied. “Twenty thousand dollars.” The woman’s head jolted back as if he had just flung a brick at her. “What? It took you like two minutes to draw that.” “No, ma’am,” Picasso said. “It took me over sixty years to draw this.” He stuffed the napkin in his pocket and walked out of the café.
If you think about a young child trying to learn to walk, that child will fall down 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.”
Pain Is Part of the Process
anxiety and sadness are not necessarily always undesirable or unhelpful states of mind; rather, they are often representative of the necessary pain of psychological growth. And to deny that pain is to deny our own potential. Just as one must suffer physical pain to build stronger bone and muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, a stronger sense of self, increased compassion, and a generally happier life.
the further I get into adulthood, the more I realize that we all have areas of our lives where we’re like my parents with the new VCR: we sit and stare and shake our heads and say, “But how?” When really, it’s as simple as just doing it. I get emails from people asking questions like this all the time. And for many years, I never knew what to say to them.
VCR questions are funny because the answer appears difficult to anyone who has them and appears easy to anyone who does not.
Because I failed to separate what I felt from what was, I was incapable of stepping outside myself and seeing the world for what it was: a simple place where two people can walk up to each other at any time and speak.
Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it. I won’t lie: this is going to feel impossibly hard at first. But you can start simple. You’re going to feel as though you don’t know what to do. But we’ve discussed this: you don’t know anything. Even when you think you do, you really don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. So really, what is there to lose? Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy.
The “Do Something” Principle
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.
If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant. When the standard of success becomes merely acting – when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite – we propel ourselves ahead. We feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward. The “do something” principle not only helps us overcome procrastination, but it’s also the process by which we adopt new values. If you’re in the midst of an existential shitstorm and everything feels meaningless – if all the ways you used to measure yourself have come up short and you have no idea what’s next, if you know that you’ve been hurting yourself chasing false dreams, or if you know that there’s some better metric you should be measuring yourself with but you don’t know how – the answer is the same: Do something. That “something” can be the smallest viable action toward something else. It can be anything.
CHAPTER 8: The Importance of Saying No
absolute freedom, by itself, means nothing. Freedom grants the opportunity for greater meaning, but by itself there is nothing necessarily meaningful about it. 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.
As I drowned in my fifty-third, fifty-fourth, fifty-fifth country, I began to understand that while all of my experiences were exciting and great, few of them would have any lasting significance. Whereas my friends back home were settling down into marriages, buying houses, and giving their time to interesting companies or political causes, I was floundering from one high to the next.
Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live.
Rejection Makes Your Life Better
The avoidance of rejection (both giving and receiving it) is often sold to us as a way to make ourselves feel better. But avoiding rejection gives us short-term pleasure by making us rudderless and directionless in the long term. To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.
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.
The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement. Entitled people, because they feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad. And because they refuse to reject anything, they live a valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life.
Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other – in other words, they’re using each other as an escape. Healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems with each other’s support.
When you have murky areas of responsibility for your emotions and actions – areas where it’s unclear who is responsible for what, whose fault is what, why you’re doing what you’re doing – you never develop strong values for yourself. Your only value becomes making your partner happy. Or your only value becomes your partner making you happy. This is self-defeating, of course. And relationships characterized by such murkiness usually go down like the Hindenburg, with all the drama and fireworks.
The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other. The setting of proper boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t help or support your partner or be helped and supported yourself. You both should support each other. But only because you choose to support and be supported. Not because you feel obligated or entitled.
Entitled people who take the blame for other people’s emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they “fix” their partner and save him or her, they will receive the love and appreciation they’ve always wanted. These are the yin and yang of any toxic relationship: the victim and the saver, the person who starts fires because it makes her feel important and the person who puts out fires because it makes him feel important. These two types of people are drawn strongly to one another, and they usually end up together. Their pathologies match one another perfectly.
Sadly, they both fail in meeting the other’s actual needs. In fact, their pattern of overblaming and overaccepting blame perpetuates the entitlement and shitty self-worth that have been keeping them from getting their emotional needs met in the first place. The victim creates more and more problems to solve – not because additional real problems exist, but because it gets her the attention and affection she craves. The saver solves and solves – not because she actually cares about the problems, but because she believes she must fix others’ problems in order to deserve attention and affection for herself. In both cases, the intentions are selfish and conditional and therefore self-sabotaging, and genuine love is rarely experienced.
For victims, the hardest thing to do in the world is to hold themselves accountable for their problems. They’ve spent their whole life believing that others are responsible for their fate. That first step of taking responsibility for themselves is often terrifying. For savers, the hardest thing to do in the world is to stop taking responsibility for other people’s problems. They’ve spent their whole life feeling valued and loved only when they’re saving somebody else – so letting go of this need is terrifying to them as well.
Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations. It can be difficult for people to recognize the difference between doing something out of obligation and doing it voluntarily. So here’s a litmus test: ask yourself, “If I refused, how would the relationship change?” Similarly, ask, “If my partner refused something I wanted, how would the relationship change?”
It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives. That’s unconditional love
How to Build Trust
When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationship falls apart without our even knowing it. Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-man.
Conflict is not only normal, then; it’s absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship. If two people who are close are not able to hash out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic. Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything. A person could tell you that she loves you, wants to be with you, would give up everything for you, but if you don’t trust her, you get no benefit from those statements.
Trust is like a china plate. If you break it once, with some care and attention you can put it back together again. But if you break it again, it splits into even more pieces and it takes far longer to piece together again. If you break it more and more times, eventually it shatters to the point where it’s impossible to restore. There are too many broken pieces, and too much dust.
Freedom Through Commitment
We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
So what do we do? Well, if you’re like I used to be, you avoid choosing anything at all. You aim to keep your options open as long as possible. You avoid commitment. But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime.
When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing.
The same goes for material possessions, money, hobbies, jobs, friends, and romantic/sexual partners – all the lame superficial values people choose for themselves. The older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you.
I shut down all my business projects and decided to focus on writing full-time. Since then, my website has become more popular than I’d ever imagined possible. I’ve committed to one woman for the long haul and, to my surprise, have found this more rewarding than any of the flings, trysts, and one-night stands I had in the past. I’ve committed to a single geographic location and doubled down on the handful of my significant, genuine, healthy friendships.
And what I’ve discovered is something entirely counterintuitive: that there is a freedom and liberation in commitment. I’ve found increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor of what I’ve chosen to let truly matter to me.
Something Beyond Our Selves
people’s immortality projects were actually the problem, not the solution
once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death – the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions – we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.
The Sunny Side of Death
Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy? How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused?
The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you. This is the basic root of all happiness.
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. This feeling is what people go to church for; it’s what they fight in wars for; it’s what they raise families and save pensions and build bridges and invent cell phones for: this fleeting sense of being part of something greater and more unknowable than themselves. And entitlement strips this away from us. The gravity of entitlement sucks all attention inward, toward ourselves, causing us to feel as though we are at the center of all of the problems in the universe, that we are the one suffering all of the injustices, that we are the one who deserves greatness over all others.
The pampering of the modern mind has resulted in a population that feels deserving of something without earning that something, a population that feels they have a right to something without sacrificing for it. People declare themselves experts, entrepreneurs, inventors, innovators, mavericks, and coaches without any real-life experience. And they do this not because they actually 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. Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing.
You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not. Whether anybody else realizes 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. This mere fact, this simple optioning for your own values in life, already makes you beautiful, already makes you successful, and already makes you loved. Even if you don’t realize it. Even if you’re sleeping in a gutter and starving. You too are going to die, and that’s because you too were fortunate enough to have lived.
Bukowski once wrote, “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by life’s trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.”