Chapter 1. Don’t Try
The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.
Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.
Chapter 2. Happiness Is a Problem
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.
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.
Victim Mentality. 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.
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.
Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.
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 shitheaps and shame.
Chapter 3. You Are Not Special
A person who actually has a high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of his character frankly and then acts to improve upon them.
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.
Chapter 4. The Value of Suffering
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.
If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.
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.
Once one is able to provide for basic physical needs, the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero.
People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.
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, and not positive.
This, in a nutshell, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritizing 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.
Chapter 5. You Are Always Choosing
When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives. Accepting responsibility for our problems is thus the first step to solving them.
Some people get saddled with worse problems than others. And some people are legitimately victimized in horrible ways. But as much as this may upset us or disturb us, it ultimately changes nothing about the responsibility equation of our individual situation.
Chapter 6. You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)
Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right”. Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to slightly less wrong than that, and then to even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.
Instead of striving for certainty, we should be in constant search of doubt: doubt about our own beliefs, doubt our own feelings, doubt about what the future may hod for us unless we get out there and create it for ourselves. Instead of looking to be right all the time, we should be looking for how we’re wrong all the time. Because we are.
Openness to being wrong must exist for any real change or growth to take place.
People are often so afraid of success — for the exact same reason they’re afraid of failure: it threatens who they believe themselves to be.
Questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.
- What if I’m wrong?
- What would it mean if I were wrong?
- Would being wrong create a better of a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.
Chapter 7. Failure Is the Way Forward
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 that you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.
At some point, most of us reach a place where we’re afraid to fail, where we instinctively avoid failure and stick only to what is placed in front of us or only what we’re already good at.
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.
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.
If you lack the motivation to make am important change in your life, do something — anything, really — and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.
Chapter 8. The Importance of Saying No
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.
We need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. If nothing is better or more desirable than anything else, then we are empty and our life is meaningless. We are without values and therefore live our life without any purpose.
Part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the word “no.” In this way, rejection actually makes our relationships better and our emotional lives healthier.
The difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship comes down to two things: 1) how well each person in the relationship accepts responsibility, and 2) the willingness of each person to both reject and be rejected by their partner.
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.
When trust is destroyed, it can be rebuilt only if the following two steps happen: 1) the trust-breaker admits the true values that caused the breach and owns up to them, and 2) the trust-breaker builds a solid track record of improved behavior over time. Without the first step, there should be no attempt at reconciliation in the first place.
When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing.
Depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle — in everything.
Chapter 9. … And Then You Die
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.
Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generation, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.
To truly not give a single fuck is to achieve a quasi-spiritual state of embracing the impermanence of one’s own existence. In that state, one is far less likely to get caught up in various forms of entitlement.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life.
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.
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.