The world seems torpedoed at the moment and taking a break from the heartbreaking news from around the planet, I figured I’d give the recent Everything is F*cked, A Book aBout Hope by Mark Manson a try. To be honest, he isn’t always my cup of tea but nonetheless, this book, and his last one proved invaluable to me. The beginning is is filled with metaphors (like clown cars) I could live without, but it sure picks up speed. I’ve gone over my notes and collected my top 5 takeaways from the book.
Top 5 Takeaways from Everything is F*d:
1. The Feeling Brain is in Charge.
The thinking brain and emotional brain both have a seat in the car (or bus… or clown car) but the feeling brain is actually the one driving.
“Why don’t we do things we know we should do? Because we don’t feel like it. Every problem of self-control is not a problem of information or discipline or reason, but, rather, of emotion. Self-control is an emotional problem. Laziness is an emotional problem. Procrastination is an emotional problem. Underachievement is an emotional problem. Impulsiveness is an emotional problem. This sucks, because emotional problems are much harder to deal with than logical ones” (33.)
The secret he notes to getting the feeling brain on board is empathy. By acknowledging the emotion behind our actions and desires, we can then work to convince the feeling brain it is getting a good deal- this reality is actually what it wanted all along. Fighting the feeling brain and relying solely on the thinking brain will only result in crashing the car. In essence, we are using the thinking mind to coerce the emotional mind to come along the journey that is best for our well being.
2. Values are Not Aspirational
Manson clarifies the idea of values. Many of us have values like “family, hard work, compassion.” Those were my literal values I’d written down at some point. And if you squint, they really start to look like a collection of what we want to be when we grow up. You can even look at a list of 200 values and pick your favorites! But the values on that list aren’t real, concrete. Interestingly, by definition they are abstract. For an expample, he lists the values of a friend who loved partying in order of importance:
- Really awesome DJ
- Really good drugs
At that moment, my brain lit UP. I was in shock. I knew I had been looking at values all wrong. Values were my hopes for my life, not my actual life. I thought about them through this new lens and while staring at my sliding glass window and said out loud, “I value……quality time with my kids” and that felt real. I started coming up with at what I actually value highly. Not compassion, although I do strive to be compassionate. I value a good pizza. I pay a fair amount of money for artisan pizza and good food. I value teaching and mentorship, beauty in my home and comfort in the form of coziness or “hygge.” I value taking care of people, animals and the planet. I value simplicity in all things. This continued for a few hours until I had a value list that finally felt true to me.
His friend’s life changed and her values changed with it. After volunteering abroad with orphans for a few months, her values shifted because she shifted. Her new values were in order of importance:
- Saving Children From Unnecessary Suffering
Her values were not aspirational. They were a description of her real life, what she put her time, money and energy into. What if we realize our values look like the before picture of his partying friend? What if we want to shift our lives to one of deeper value?
“The […] way to change your values is the begin writing the narratives of your future self, to envision what life would be like is you had certain values or possessed a certain identity.”
Visualize the life you want, write it down in detail and make small measurable steps to achieve it. Through making that life a reality, your new values will emerge too.
3. The Destructive Power of Hope and “Amor Fati”
Hope is an investment in a belief system and ignoring what is in front of us in hopes for something better up ahead. Manson writes, “Hope can save a life, and hope can take a life. It can uplift us, and it can destroy us.” (126.) Manson sees hope as destructive and “a rejection of what is,” this present moment. The antidote to a destructive hope is Nietzsche’s Amor Fati, or love of one’s fate:
“My formula for greatness in a human being[…], “is Amor Fati” that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it- all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary- but love it.” (126).
The Amor Fati, love of one’s fate, is woven through the remainder of the book, thematically collecting evidence and complexity along the way. “The is is our challenge, our calling: To act without hope. To not hope for better, to be better. In this moment and in the next. And the next. And the next” (129.)
4. Kant’s One Sentence to Rule Them All
In the complexity of hope, identity and values, Kant offers one sentence to live our lives by, the Formula for Humanity, “Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (155.) The Formula for Humanity takes a little digging to unpack but essentially, we should value others for their own sake, not what they can give or do for us. What not to do: Be sweet to our partners only because we want some fun sexy time from them. Nor should we treat our kids with love because we expect them to care for us when we are older. The Formula for Humanity boils down to learning how to give unconditionally:
“To transcend the transactional realm of hope, one must act unconditionally.” You must love someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise it’s not truly love. You must respect someone without expecting anything in return; otherwise you don’t truly respect him. You must speak honestly without expecting a pat on the back or high-five or a gold star next to your name; otherwise you aren’t truly being honest. (155.)
5. Pain and the Antifragility Movement
Religions and humans roaming the earth have acknowledged the existence of pain and suffering as a constant for millenia. What we do with this pain will define a large part of our existence. Do we run away from the pain? Or sit with it? Manson writes, “when we avoid pain, when we avoid stress and chaos and tragedy and disorder, we become fragile… whereas a fragile system breaks down and a robust system resists change, an anti-fragile system gains from stressors and external pressures.” (182.) What we do with this pain defines who we are. Our values are essentially the short list of what we are (hopefully) willing to take on hardship and pain for.
“When we deny ourselves the ability to feel pain for a purpose, we deny ourselves the ability to feel any purpose in our life at all.” (191.)
I have carried this concept with me since reading this. Pain acceptance equals dedication to our personal cause? I asked a dear friend how much pain she had in her career. She said at least the first 5 years were filled with pain, tears and difficulty with mistakes requiring her to fall on her sword time and time again. 5 years! Most new businesses fail within the first 3 because of this low emotional pain tolerance. But pain may be so much more. It may be a barometer for what matters.
Well there you have it. Mark Manson’s “Everything is F*cked, a Book About Hope” was a quick thought provoking read I would recommend. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. I would be amiss if I didn’t add that I do feel his interpretation of the word hope was a little stretched. Hope is defined as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen” and also, “a feeling of trust.” If you take hope or “desire for certain things to happen” and apply mindful dedication and action, one can rewrite their life story. I see how his definition of hope as wanting and striving for something ahead and out of reach instead of being fully present is innately harmful in how it removes us from experiencing the now. Yet, I would argue that his very own new value writing process is one filled with hope for becoming a better human, which he recommends.
Overall, Everything is F*d was well worth the time I spent reading it, even if I disagree on some points and his style of writing doesn’t always fit with my taste. I want to add, the book is very well written and readable, it’s more of a taste issue for me personally. I don’t fault the author for his style of writing differing from my taste. You do you, Mark Manson!