The Japanese phenomenon that shows you how to change your life and achieve real happiness
By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga
Find it on Bookshop
The Courage to be Disliked takes the form of a socratic dialogue between a philosopher and a young learner about Adlerian psychology. While Alfred Adler was not a widely-known philosopher, he influenced several celebrity thinkers and their writings, such as Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People) and Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).
Parts of this book really hit home for me. I am shy at heart, love to be alone, and try to please everyone. To step out of this comfort zone takes a lot of internal effort. This book was a good reminder that doing so is important.
The discussion takes place over five nights, each with a different theme, but all relating to courage. Here are my main takeaways from the book:
Trauma does not exist.
It’s a controversial statement, but is a key part of Adlerian psychology. While Freud thought that a person’s traumas caused their present unhappiness, Adler states that the connection between childhood events and and an adult unhappiness is a self-constructed narrative to fit our own purposes. When taken to the extreme, if the past determined everything and was set in stone, there would be no free will and no one would be able to take steps to a better future. If you are unable to be happy, it is because you haven’t learned to love yourself. You lack the courage to love yourself because of a fear of rejection.
Rather, as Adler’s teleology tells us, “No matter what has occurred in your life up to this point, it should have no bearing at all on how you live from now on.” That you, living in the here and now, are the one who determines your own life.
All problems stem from interpersonal relationships.
Even loneliness is an interpersonal problem. Loneliness is a sense of having a community around you and feeling excluded from it. Many people chase a feeling of superiority, setting goals and working towards them, but upon not reaching them, feel lesser as a result. Rather than working with a sense of competition and kicking others out of your way, one should adopt the mindset of walking next to other people. Everyone has a different pace and distance covered. Your goal should be to keep taking steps on your own path, see others as your “comrades”, and take joy out of walking next to them. The authors describe love as the feeling of being totally free to be yourself, an equal to your partner. If you are struggling in your relationships with others, it is because you feel restricted by expectations. You don’t have the courage to let them go.
It’s basically impossible to not get hurt in your relations with other people. When you enter into interpersonal relationships, it is inevitable that to a greater or lesser extent you will get hurt, and you will hurt someone, too. Adler says, “To get rid of one’s problems, all one can do is live in the universe all alone.” But one can’t do such a thing.
We derive value from being recognized by other people.
Almost everyone seeks recognition through satisfying other people’s expectations. This behavior tends to lead to suffering. A person ends up taking on so many responsibilities in an effort to be recognized that their life becomes heavy. To address this, Adler defines a “separation of tasks” as crucial: “In general, all interpersonal relationship troubles are caused by intruding on other people’s tasks, or having one’s own tasks intruded on.” You can free yourself and your life by discarding tasks that are not your responsibility. This boils down to having the courage to disappoint other people.
All you can do with regard to your own life is choose the best path that you believe in. On the other hand, what kind of judgment do other people pass on that choice? That is the task of other people, and is not a matter you can do anything about.
The world doesn’t revolve around any one person.
Not you, and not anyone else. Everyone is “equal but not the same”. Happiness and comfort in life requires feeling part of a community. To create that safe place requires balanced contribution from all the people that form it. Feel the value of contributing to your communities, even if you are not recognized. If you are not contributing, it is not because you are not able to. It is because you have lost the courage to face your tasks.
Why is it necessary to be special? Probably because one cannot accept one’s normal self. And it is precisely for this reason that when being especially good becomes a lost cause, one makes the huge leap to being especially bad—the opposite extreme. But is being normal, being ordinary, really such a bad thing? Is it something inferior? Or, in truth, isn’t everybody normal?
Live in the present.
This is probably one of the most-repeated phrases in self-help books. This book approaches it differently. Self-affirmation is part of it. Recognizing emotions is part of it. If you are doing the dishes, and you are grumbling about not having any help, your family isn’t going to want to come help you because you aren’t fun to be around. On the other hand, if you’re washing the dishes happily, humming or singing, you are creating an atmosphere that is attractive to them, and make it easier to offer help. You need to have the courage to be happy, right now.
The life that lies ahead of you is a completely blank page, and there are no tracks that have been laid for you to follow. There is no story there.
Life is simple.
All you need to do is live in the moment, contribute to the world, and choose to be happy. Life itself has no meaning. You need to decide what meaning is to you, and create it.
One lives each complete moment like a dance. There is no need to compete with anyone, and one has no use for destinations. As long as you are dancing, you will get somewhere.
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