One of the best selling self-help books of 2017 is a compelling manifesto against the very notion of self-help.
Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, has sold more than one million copies and has become something of a status symbol for the cynical, perpetually pissed off millennial.
Over the weekend, I attended a talk by Mark Manson held by The School of Life. As audience questions came to an end, the host turned to him and asked, “If people leave here remembering one thing, and employing one idea, what would that be?”
He paused for a moment, before articulating his philosophy in four simple words.
“We are always suffering.”
One of the most successful self-help writers of our time is not selling us happiness, or success, or prosperity.
He is selling us pain.
Manson explained during the course of the night that he finds the entire self-help genre “slightly delusional”.
There is no such thing as ‘achieving happiness’, he said, because the target is constantly moving.
If happiness looks like marriage and three children and owning a home, then rest-assured, once you achieve it, you’ll want something new.
“Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more,” Manson told the Australian Financial Review. “A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never-ending pursuit of ‘something else’ – a new house, a new relationship, another child, another pay raise. And despite all of our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we started: inadequate.”
The brand of self-help that requires an individual to wake up in the morning and recite a positive mantra about seizing the day – when you actually feel like shit – is, according to Manson, doing us no favours.
“The self-help industry is predicated on peddling highs to people rather than solving legitimate problems,” he says.
POST CONTINUES BELOW: Is out constant quest for happiness making us sad?
“It’s the french fries and soda version of personal growth. It’s really good and easy to consume… but there is an inherently painful and difficult struggle as part of growth…”
The moment our mind solves a problem, we are evolutionary wired to invent a new one. We are programmed to be “constantly pissed off,” because our dissatisfaction leads to improvement.
Happiness is, of course, an easy sell in a capitalist world fixated on buying pleasure. More will bring us fulfilment. Buying will provide satisfaction. All any of us want is to feel better.
And the solution to feeling better is, paradoxically, the four words Manson so passionately wants us to remember.
"We are always suffering."
There is not a day in the future where our problems will evaporate. They will just be exchanged for new ones. The key, Manson says, "Is finding good pain and problems, pain that is worthwhile."
Don't suffer over the inconsequential or trivial. Choose what is worth your suffering, and sit with it.
The self-help genre has presented us with an unattainable end goal: blissful joy.
But Manson has shifted the end goal.
Embrace a meaningful life instead.
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