This book was a gift from a good friend and colleague, arising from a discussion last year wherein I'd said that I did not especially enjoy Manson's previous book as it didn't flow well (that book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, was essentially a compendium of his blog posts and so was disjointed such that it didn't seem to be about anything). My friend enjoyed this one and so gave it to me for Christmas.
The overall premise of the book is this: while hope is an essential motivator for humans, in the modern (i.e. first) world, it is almost impossible to hope for things to get better as they are already so f*cking good.
Disease, starvation, war, poverty, mortality - all are so much better/less than they ever were, so hope has been replaced by fear of things getting worse - fear of losing those hard-won victories. At the same time, as people focus on the pursuit of happiness (which here means comfort, lack of want, privilege), they lose sight of virtues and characteristics (like courage, honesty, humility, generosity, kindness) which are the very things that allowed humanity to achieve those very things. Because a hopeful person is essentially someone who is unhappy due to privation or some other suffering and is expecting or working towards improvement or overcoming their struggle, people who are not suffering significantly can find hope challenging because things are already pretty good. Therefore, for most people, hope creates conflict by artificially creating unhappiness (an essential element for hope) and requiring a search or longing for resolution that is either superfluous or impossible.
A bigger problem occurs when tolerance for dissent also disappears. Dissent could lead to an upset of the comfortable status quo, which is scary for those seeking happiness or wanting to keep what they have. This is part of the reason why democracy is so f*cking difficult for societies to achieve and sustain for extended periods without discord or upheaval. For individuals focused on their own happiness, their opinions become more f*cking important than rights, freedoms, and democracy, thus increasing dissent.
Manson prescribes a few solutions, none of which are easy but all of which one can see are truly f*cking better approaches to life:
Ultimately, the pursuit of happiness is f*cking futile because happiness is ephemeral. Without real things to work to overcome and achieve - in a world of comfort and privilege - hope is missing because nothing else is missing. The fewer problems people encounter, the more bothered they are by f*cking minor inconveniences. Being spoiled for choice with comforts, people ultimately have less freedom as their actions are driven by fear of loss instead of hope of gain.
However, if people shift their focus from convenience and comfort to addressing adversity and challenges – acknowledging our own struggles and the struggles of others – everyone can move towards hope and freedom. This requires everyone to walk with their fellow humans, listen more than they talk, and respect the lives and choices of others.
I recently read a related message in a book by Brené Brown (The Gifts of Imperfection). She described how people who describe themselves as happy do not seek happiness as a constant state, but instead seek moments of joy through accomplishment and overcoming obstacles for themselves and others. Just like in grief, where the depths of despair are not endless (they just feel that way when we're in them), in happiness the heights of joy are also not endless (people just would like them to be). And that's okay - that's where people can find their hope and motivation, to work their way out of grief or back to happiness, and to enjoy the work and accomplishment along the way by being kind, humble, generous, and brave.
Throughout the book, Manson tells stories of real people to illustrate his premise and points, and these are good but reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell (of whom I’m not a fan). The stories can be a bit distracting from the messages, and sometimes don't support the overall premise; they are more like interesting stories that he wanted to tell and had to find a way to fit them in. The writing style is approachable and direct and gets the point across. So, it was a good read that I'd recommend, but overall I prefer writers like Brown and Ryan Holiday (especially The Obstacle is The Way).
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Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.