The Value of Suffering



The Value of Suffering

In the closing months Of 1944, after almost a decade Of war, the tide was turning against Japan. Their economy was floundering, their military overstretched across half of Asia, and the territories they had won throughout the Pacific were now toppling like dominoes to U.S. forces. Defeat seemed inevitable.
On 26, 1944, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army was deployed to the small island Of Lubang in the Philippines. His orders were to slow the United States' progress as much as possible, to stand and fight at all costs, and to never surrender. Both he and his commander knew it was essentially a suicide mission.
In February 1945, the Americans arrived on Lubang and took the island with overwhelming force. Within days, most of the Japanese soldiers had either surrendered or been killed, but Onoda and three of his men managed to hide in the jungle. From there, they began a guerrilla warfare campaign against the U.S. forces and the local population, attacking supply lines, shooting at Stray soldiers, and interfering with the American forces in any way that they could.
That August, half a year later, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the cities Of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered, and the deadliest war in human history came to its dramatic conclusion.
However, thousands of Japanese soldiers were still scattered among the Pacific isles, and most, like Onoda, were hiding in the jungle, unaware that the war was over. These holdouts continued to fight and pillage as they had before. This was a real problem for rebuilding eastern Asia after the war, and the governments agreed something must be done.
The US. military, in conjunction with the Japanese government, dropped thousands of leaflets throughout the Pacific region, announcing that the war was over and it was time for everyone to go home. Onoda and his men, like many others, found and read these leaflets, but unlike most Of the others, Onoda decided that they were fake, a trap set by the American forces to get the guerrilla fighters to show themselves. Onoda burned the leaflets, and he and his men stayed hidden and continued to fight.

Five years went by. The leaflets had stopped, and most of the American forces had long since gone home. The local population on Lubang attempted to return to their normal lives of farming and fishing. Yet there were Hiroo Onoda and his merry men, still shooting at the farmers, burning their crops, stealing their livestock, and murdering locals who wandered too far into the jungle. The Philippine government then took to drawing up new flyers and spreading them Out across the jungle. Come out, they said. The war is over. You lost.
But these, too, were ignored.
In 1952, the Japanese government made one final effort to draw the last remaining soldiers out of hiding throughout the Pacific. This time, letters and pictures from the missing soldiers' families were air-dropped, along with a personal note from the emperor himself. Once again, Onoda refused to believe that the information was real. Once again, he believed the airdrop to be a trick by the Americans. Once again, he and his men stood and continued to fight.
Another few years went by and the Philippine locals, sick of being terrorized, finally armed themselves and began firing back. By 1959, one Of Onoda's companions had surrendered, and another had been killed. Then, a decade later, Onoda's last companion, a man called Kozuka, was killed in a shootout with the local police while he was burning rice fields—still waging war against the local population a full quarter-century after the end of World War II!
Onoda, having now spent more than half Of his life in the jungles Of Lubang, was all alone.
In 1972, the news of Kozuka's death reached Japan and caused a stir. The Japanese people thought the last Of the soldiers from the war had come home years earlier. The Japanese media began to wonder: if Kozuka had still been on Luban2 until 1972, then perhaps Onoda himself, the last known Japanese holdout from World War II, might still be alive as well. That year, both the Japanese and Philippine governments sent search parties to look for the enigmatic second lieutenant, now part myth, part hero, and part ghost.

They found nothing.

As the months progressed, the Story Of Lieutenant Onoda morphed into something Of an urban legend in Japan—the war hero who sounded too insane to actually exist. Many romanticized him. Others criticized him. Others thought he was the stuff of fairy tale, invented by those who still wanted to in a Japan that had disappeared long ago.

It was around this time that a young man named Norio Suzuki first heard of Onoda. Suzuki was an adventurer, an explorer, and a bit of a hippie. Born after the war ended, he had out of school and spent four years hitchhiking his way across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, sleeping on park benches, in stranger 's cars, in jail cells, and under the stars. He volunteered on farms for food, and donated blood to pay for places to stay. He was a free spirit, and perhaps a little bit nuts.

In 1972, Suzuki needed another adventure. He had returned to Japan after his travels and found the strict cultural norms and social hierarchy to be stifling. He hated school. He couldn't hold down a job. He wanted to be back on the road, back on his own again.

For Suzuki, the legend of Hiroo Onoda came as the answer to his problems. It was a new and worthy adventure for him to pursue. Suzuki believed that he would be the one who would find Onoda. Sure, search parties conducted by the Japanese, Philippine, and American governments had not been able to find Onoda; local forces had been scavenging the jungle for almost thirty years with no luck; thousands of leaflets had met with no fuck it, this deadbeat, college-dropout hippie was going to the one to find him.

Unarmed and untrained for any Sort Of reconnaissance Or tactical warfare, Suzuki traveled to Lubang and began wandering around the jungle all by himself. His strategy: scream Onoda's name really loudly and tell him that the emperor was worried about him.

He found Onoda in four days.

Suzuki stayed with Onoda in the jungle for some time. Onoda had been alone by that m)int for over a year, and once found by Suzuki he welcomed the companionship and was desperate to learn what had been happening in the outside world from a Japanese source he could trust. The two men sorta-kinda friends.

Suzuki asked Onoda why he had stayed and continued to fight. Onoda said it was simple: he had given the order to "never surrender," so he stayed. For nearly thirty years he had simply following an Order. Onoda then asked Suzuki why a "hippie tX)y" like himself came looking for him.
Suzuki said that he'd left Japan in search Of three things: "Lieutenant Onoda, a panda tmr, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order."
The two men had been brought together under the most curious Of circumstances: two well- intentioned adventurers chasing false visions of glory, like a real-life Japanese Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, stuck together in the damp recesses Of a Philippine jungle, both imagining themselves heroes, despite both being alone with nothing, doing nothing. Onoda had already by then given up most Of his life to a phantom war. Suzuki would give his up too. Having already found Hiroo Onoda and the panda bear, he would die a few years later in the Himalayas, still in search of the Abominable Snowman.
Humans Often choose to dedicate large portions of their lives to seemingly useless Or destructive causes. On the surface, these causes make no sense. It's hard to imagine how Onoda could have happy on that island for those thirty years—living off insects and rodents, sleeping in the dirt, murdering civilians decade after decade. Or why Suzuki trekked off to his own death, with no money, no companions, and no purpose other than to chase an imaginary Yeti.
Yet, later in his life, Onoda said he regretted nothing. He claimed that he was proud Of his choices and his time on Lubang. He said that it had an honor to devote a sizable portion Of his life in service to a nonexistent empire. Suzuki, had he survived, likely would have said something similar: that he was doing exactly what he was meant to do, that he regretted nothing.
These men both chose how they wished to suffer. Hiroo Onoda chose to suffer for loyalty to a dead empire. Suzuki chose to suffer for adventure, no matter how ill-advised. To tx)th men, their suffering meant something; it fulfilled some greater cause. And it meant something, they were able to endure it, or perhaps even enjoy it.
If suffering is inevitable, if our problems in life are unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not "How do I Stop suffering?" but "Why am I suffering—for what purpose?"
Hiroo Onoda returned to Japan in 1974 and became a kind of celebrity in his home country. He was shuttled around from talk show to radio station; IX)liticians clamored to shake his hand; he published a book and was even offered a large sum of money by the government. But what he found when he returned to Japan horrified him: a consumerist, capitalist, superficial culture that had lost all of the traditions of honor and sacrifice which his generation had been raised.
Onoda tried to use his sudden celebrity to espouse the values of Old Japan, but he was tone-deaf to this new society. He was seen more as a showpiece than as a serious cultural thinker—a Japanese man who had emerged from a time capsule for all to marvel at, like a relic in a museum.
And in the irony Of ironies, Onoda became far more depressed than he'd ever in the jungle for all those years. At least in the jungle his life had stood for something; it had meant something. That had made his suffering endurable, indeed even a little bit desirable. But back in Japan, in what he considered to be a vacuous nation full of hippies and loose women in Western clothing, he was confronted with the unavoidable truth: that his fighting had meant nothing. The Japan he had lived and fought for no longer existed. And the weight of this realization pierced him in a way that no bullet ever had. Because his suffering had meant nothing, it suddenly became realized and true: thirty years wasted.

And so, in 1980, Onoda packed up and moved to Brazil, where he remained until he died.

The Self-Awareness Onion
Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you're going to start crying at inappropriate times.
Let's say the first layer Of the self-awareness onion is a simple understanding Of one's emotions. "This is when I feel happy." "This makes me feel sad." "This gives me hope."
Unfortunately, there are many people who suck at even this most basic level Of self-awareness. I know because I'm one of them. My wife and I sometimes have a fun back-and-forth that goes something like this:
HER. What's wrong? ME. Nothing 's wrong. Nothing at all. HER. No, something 's wrong. Tell me. ME. I'm fine. Really. HER. Are you sure? You look upset. ME, with nervous laughter. Really? NO, I'm Okay, seriously.
[Thirty minutes later I......]
ME.... And that's why I'm so fucking pissed Off! He just acts as if I don't exist half the time.
We all have emotional blind spots. Often they have to do with the emotions that we were taught were inappropriate growing up. It takes years of practice and effort to get good at identifying blind spots in ourselves and then expressing the affected emotions appropriately. But this task is hugely important, and worth the effort.

The second layer Of the self-awareness onion is an ability to ask why we feel certain emotions.

These why questions are difficult and Often take months or even years to answer consistently and accurately. Most people need to go to some sort of therapist just to hear these questions asked for the first time. Such questions are important because they illuminate what we consider success Or failure. Why do you feel angry? Is it because you failed to achieve some goal? Why do you feel lethargic and uninspired? Is it because you don't think you're good enough?
This layer of questioning helps us understand the root cause of the emotions that overwhelm us. Once we understand that root Cause, we can ideally do something to change it.
But there's another, even deeper level of the self-awareness onion. And that one is full of fucking tears. The third level is our values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?
This level, which takes constant questioning and effort, is incredibly difficult to reach. But it's the most important, our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives.
Values underlie everything we are and do. If what we value is unhelpful, if what we consider success/failure is poorly chosen, then everything based upon those values—the thoughts, the emotions, the day-to-day feelings—will all be out of whack. Everything we think and feel about a situation ultimately comes back to how valuable we perceive it to be.
Most people are horrible at answering these why questions accurately, and this prevents them from achieving a deeper knowledge Of their own values. Sure, they may say they value honesty and a true friend, but then they turn around and lie about you behind your back to make themselves feel better. People may perceive that they feel lonely. But when they ask themselves why they feel lonely, they tend to come up with a way to blame others—everyone else is mean, or no one is cool or smart enough to understand them—and thus they further avoid their problem instead Of seeking to solve it.
For many people this passes as self-awareness. And yet, if they were able to go deeper and look at their underlying values, they would see that their original analysis was based on avoiding responsibility for their own problem, rather than accurately identifying the problem. They would see that their decisions were based on chasing highs, not generating true happiness.
Most self-help gurus ignore this deeper level of self-awareness as well. They take people who are miserable because they want to be rich, and then give them all sorts Of advice on how to make more money, all the while ignoring important values-based questions: Why do they feel such a need to rich in the first place? How are they choosing to measure success/failure for themselves? Is it not perhaps Some particular value that's the root cause of their unhappiness, and not the fact that they don't drive a Bentley yet?
Much of the advice out there operates at a shallow level of simply trying to make people feel good in the short term, while the real long-term problems never get solved. People's perceptions and feelings may change, but the underlying values, and the metrics by which those values are assessed, Stay the same. This is not real progress. This is just another way to achieve more highs.
Honest self-questioning is difficult. It requires asking yourself simple questions that are uncomfortable to answer. In fact, in my experience, the more uncomfortable the answer, the more likely it is to be true.
Take a moment and think of something that's really bugging you. Now ask yourself why it bugs you. Chances are the answer will involve a failure Of some sort. Then take that failure and ask why it seems "true" to you. What if that failure wasn't really a failure? What if you've looking at it the wrong way?
A recent example from my own life:
"It bugs me that my brother doesn't return my texts or emails." Why? "Because it feels like he doesn't give a shit alX)L1t me."
Why does this seem true? "Because if he wanted to have a relationship with me, he would take ten seconds out of his day to interact with me." Why does his lack of relationship with you feel like a failure? "Because we're brothers; we're supposed to have a good relationship!"
Two things are operating here: a value that I hold dear, and a metric that I use to assess progress toward that value. My value: brothers are supposed to have a good relationship with one another. My metric: being in contact by phone or email—this is how I measure my success as a brother. By holding on to this metric, I make myself feel like a failure, which occasionally ruins my Saturday mornings.
We could dig even deeper, by repeating the process:
Why are brothers supposed to have a good relationship? "Because they're family, and family are supposed to be close!" Why does that seem true? "Because your family is supiN)sed to matter to you more than anyone else!" Why does that seem true? "Because being close with your family is 'normal' and 'healthy,' and I don't have that."
In this exchange I'm clear about my underlying value—having a good relationship With my brother—but I'm still struggling with my metric. I've given it another name, "closeness," but the metric hasn't really changed: I'm still judging myself as a be other based on frequency Of contact and comparing myself, using that metric, against other people I know. Everyone else (Or so it seems) has a close relationship with their family members, and I don't. so obviously there must be something wrong with me.

But what if I'm choosing a poor metric for myself and my life? What else could be true that I'm not considering? Well, perhaps I don't need to be close to my brother to have that good relationship that I value. Perhaps there just needs to be some mutual respect (which there is). Or maybe mutual trust is what to 100k for (and it's there). Perhaps these metrics would be better assessments Of brotherhood than how many text messages he and I exchange.
This clearly makes sense; it feels true for me. But it still fucking hurts that my brother and I aren't close. And there's no positive way to spin it. There's no secret way to glorify myself through this knowledge. Sometimes brothers—even brothers who love each Other—don't have close relationships, and that's fine. It is hard to accept at first, but that's fine. What is objectively true about your situation is not as important as how you come to see the situation, how you choose to measure it and value it. Problems may be inevitable, but the meaning of each problem is not. 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.

Rock Star Problems
In 1983, a talented young guitarist was kicked out of his band in the worst possible way. The band had just been signed to a record deal, and they were about to record their first album. But a couple days before recording began, the band showed the guitarist the door—no warning, no discussion, no dramatic blowout; they literally woke him up one day by handing him a bus ticket home.
As he sat on the bus back to Los Angeles from New York, the guitarist kept asking himself: How did this happen? What did I do wrong? What will I do now? Record contracts didn't exactly fall out of the sky, for raucous, upstart metal bands. Had he missed his one and only shot?
But by the time the bus hit L.A„ the guitarist had gotten over his self-pity and had vowed to Start a new band. He decided that this new band would be so successful that his old band would forever regret their decision. He would become so famous that they would be subjected to decades of seeing him on TV, hearing him on the radio, seeing posters of him in the streets and pictures of him in magazines. They'd flipping burgers somewhere, loading vans from their shitty club gigs, fat and drunk with their ugly wives, and he'd be rocking out in front of stadium crowds live on television. He'd bathe in the tears Of his betrayers, each tear wiped dry by a crisp, clean hundred-dollar bill.
And so the guitarist worked as if possessed by a musical demon. He spent months recruiting the musicians he could find—far better musicians than his previous bandmates. He wrote dozens of songs and practiced religiously. His seething anger fueled his ambition; revenge became his muse. Within a couple years, his new band had signed a record deal Of their own, and a year after that, their first record would go gold.
The guitarist's name was Dave Mustaine, and the new band he formed was the legendary heavy-metal band Megadeth. Megadeth would go on to sell over 25 million albums and tour the world many times over. Today, Mustaine is considered one Of the most brilliant and influential musicians in the history of heavy-metal music.
Unfortunately, the band he was kicked out of was Metallica, which has sold over 180 million albums worldwide. Metallica is considered by many to be one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
And because Of this, in a rare intimate interview in 2003, a tearful Mustaine admitted that he couldn't help but still consider himself a failure. Ihspite all that he had accomplished, in his mind he would always be the guy who got kicked out Of Metallica.
We're apes. We think we're all sophisticated with our toaster ovens and designer footwear, but we're just a bunch Of finely ornamented And because we are we instinctually measure ourselves against others and vie for status. The question is not whether we evaluate ourselves against others; rather, the question is by what standard do we measure ourselves?
Dave Mustaine, whether he realized it or not, chose to measure himself by whether he was more successful and popular than Metallica. The experience of getting thrown out of his former band was so painful for him that he adopted "success relative to Metallica" as the metric by which to measure himself and his music career.

Despite taking a horrible event in his life and making something positive out Of it, as Mustaine did with Megadeth, his choice to hold on to Metallica's success as his life-defining metric continued to hurt him decades later. Despite all the money and the fans and the accolades, he still considered himself a failure.
Now, you and I may 100k at Dave Mustaine's situation and laugh. Here's this guy with millions Of dollars, hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, a career doing the thing he loves best, and still he's getting all weepy-eyed that his rock star buddies from twenty years ago are way more famous than he is.

This is because you and I have different values than Mustaine does, and we measure ourselves by different metrics. Our metrics are probably more like "I don't want to work a job for a boss I hate," or "I'd like to earn enough money to send my kid to a good school," or "I'd happy to not wake up in a drainage ditch." And by these metrics, Mustaine is wildly, unimaginably successful. But by his metric, "Be more popular and successful than Metallica," he's a failure.
Our values determine the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone else. Onoda's value Of loyalty to the Japanese empire is what sustained him on Lubang for almost thirty years. But this same value is also what made him miserable upon his return to Japan. Mustaine's metric of being better than Metallica likely helped him launch an incredibly successful music career. But that same metric later tortured him in spite of his success.
If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.
As an example, let's 100k at another musician who got kicked out Of another band. His Story eerily echoes that of Dave Mustaine, although it happened two decades earlier.
It was 1962 and there was a buzz around an up-and-coming band from Liverpool, England. This band had funny haircuts and an even funnier name, but their music was undeniably good, and the record industry was finally taking notice.
There was John, the lead singer and songwriter; Paul, the boyish-faced romantic bass player; George, the rebellious lead guitar player. And then there was the drummer.
He was considered the best-looking Of the bunch—the girls all went wild for him, and it was his face that began to appear in the magazines first. He was the most professional member of the group too. He didn't do drugs. He had a steady girlfriend. There were even a few people in suits and ties who thought he should be the face Of the band, not John or Paul.
His name was Pete Best. And in 1962, after landing their first record contract, the other three members Of the Beatles quietly got together and asked their manager, Brian Epstein, to fire him. Epstein agonized over the decision. He liked Pete, so he put it off, hoping the other three guys would change their minds.
Months later, a mere three days before the recording of the first record began, Epstein finally called Best to his office. There, the manager unceremoniously told him to piss Off and find another band. He gave no reason, no explanation, no condolences—just told him that the other guys wanted him out Of the group, so, uh, best Of luck.
As a replacement, the band brought in some oddball named Ringo Starr. Ringo was Older and had a big, funny nose. Ringo agreed to get the same ugly haircut as John, Paul, and George, and insisted on writing songs about octopuses and submarines. The other guys said, Sure, fuck it, why not?
Within six months of Best's firing, Beatlemania had erupted, making John, Paul, George, and Pete Ringo arguably four of the most famous faces on the entire planet.
Meanwhile, Best understandably fell into a deep depression and spent a lot of time doing what any Englishman will do if you give him a reason to: drink.
The rest Of the sixties were not kind to Pete Best. By 1965, he had sued two Of the Beatles for slander, and all Of his Other musical projects had failed horribly. In 1968, he attempted suicide, only to be talked out of it by his mother. His life was a wreck.
Best didn't have the same redemptive Story Dave Mustaine did. He never became a global superstar or made millions of dollars. Yet, in many ways, Best ended up better off than Mustaine. In an interview in 1994, Best said, "I'm happier than I would have been with the Beatles."
What the hell?
Best explained that the circumstances Of his getting kicked out Of the Beatles ultimately led him to meet his wife. And then his marriage led him to having children. His values changed. He began to measure his life differently. Fame and glory would have been nice, sure—but he decided that what he already had was more important: a big and loving family, a stable marriage, a simple life. He even still got to play drums, touring Europe and recording albums well into the 2000s. so what was really lost? Just a lot of attention and adulation, whereas what was gained meant so much more to him.
These stories suggest that some values and metrics are better than others. Some lead to good problems that are easily and regularly solved. Others lead to bad problems that are not easily and regularly solved.

Shitty Values

There are åhandfLil Of common values that create really poor pr0 ems Or peop e—pro ems at can hardly be solved. So let's go over some of them quickly:
1. Pleasure. Pleasure is great, but it's a horrible value to prioritize your life around. Ask any drug addict how his pursuit of pleasure turned out. Ask an adulterer who shattered her family and lost her children whether pleasure ultimately made her happy. Ask a man who almost ate himself to death how pleasure helped him solve his problems.
Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that 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.
And yet, pleasure is what's marketed to us, twenty-four/seven. It's what we fixate on. It's what we use to numb and distract ourselves. But pleasure, while necessary in life (in certain doses), isn't, by itself, sufficient.
Pleasure is not the cause of happiness; rather, it is the effect. If you get the other stuff right (the other values and metrics), then pleasure will naturally occur as a by-product.
2. Material Success. Many people measure their self-worth based on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive or whether their front lawn is greener and prettier than the next-door neighbor's.
Research shows that once One is able to provide for basic physical needs (food, shelter, and so on), the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero. So if you're starving and living on the street in the middle of India, an extra ten thousand dollars a year would affect your happiness a lot. But if you're sitting pretty in the middle class in a developed country, an extra ten thousand dollars per year won't affect anything much—meaning that you're killing yourself working overtime and weekends for basically nothing.

The Other issue with overvaluing material success is the danger Of prioritizing it over Other values, such as honesty, nonviolence, and compassion. When people measure themselves not by their behavior, but by the Status symbols they're able to collect, then not only are they shallow, but they're probably assholes as well.
3. Always Being Right. Our brains are inefficient machines. We consistently make poor assumptions, misjudge probabilities, misremember facts, give in to cognitive biases, and make decisions based on our emotional whims. As humans, we're wrong pretty much constantly, So if your metric for life success is to be right—well, you're going to have a difficult time rationalizing all of the bullshit to yourself.
The fact is, people who base their self-worth on right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathize with others. They close themselves off to new and important information.
It's far more helpful to assume that you're ignorant and don't know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed and promotes a constant state of learning and growth.
4. Staying Positive. Then there are those who measure their lives by the ability to be positive about, well, pretty much everything. Lost your job? Great! That's an to explore your passions. Husband cheated on you with your sister? Well, at least you're learning what you really mean to the people around you. Child dying Of throat cancer? At least you don't have to pay for college anymore!
While there is something to be said for "staying on the sunny side Of life," the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.
Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction. Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life's problems—problems which, by the way, if you're choosing the right values and metrics, should be invigorating you and motivating you.
It's simple, really: things go wrong, people upset us, accidents happen. These things make us feel like shit. And that's fine. Negative emotions are a necessary component Of emotional health. To deny that negativity is to perpetuate problems rather than solve them.
The trick with negative emotions is to 1) express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner and 2) express them in a way that aligns with your values. Simple example: A value Of mine is nonviolence. Therefore, when I get mad at somebody, I express that anger, but I also make a point Of not punching them in the face. Radical idea, I know. But the anger is not the problem. Anger is natural. Anger is a part of life. Anger is arguably quite healthy in many situations. (Remember, emotions are just feedback.)
See, it's the punching people in the face that's the problem. Not the anger. The anger is merely the messenger for my fist in your face. Don't blame the messenger. Blame my fist (or your face).
When we force ourselves to stay positive at all times, we deny the existence of our life's problems. And when we deny our problems, we rob ourselves Of the chance to solve them and generate happiness. Problems add a sense Of meaning and importance to our life. Thus to duck our problems is to lead a meaningless (even if supposedly pleasant) existence.
In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends while stressful, arduous, and often unpleasant. They also require withstanding problem after problem. Yet they are some of the most meaningful moments and joyous things we'll ever do. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair—yet once they're accomplished, we look back and get all misty-eyed telling our grandkids about them.
As Freud once said, "One day, in retrospect, the years Of struggle will strike you as the most Beautiful."
This is why these values—pleasure, material success, always being right, staying positive—are poor ideals for a person's life. Some of the greatest moments of one's life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.
The point is to nail down some good values and metrics, and pleasure and success will naturally emerge as a result. These things are side effects Of good values. By themselves, they are empty highs.

Defining Good and Bad Values
Good values are 1) reality-based, 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable.
Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable.
Honesty is a good value because it's something you have complete control over, it reflects reality, and it benefits others (even if it's sometimes unpleasant). Popularity, on the other hand, is a bad value. If that's your value, and if your metric is being the most guy/girl at the dance party, much Of what happens will be out of your control: you don't know who else will be at the event, and you probably won't know who half those people are. Second, the value/metric isn't based on reality: you may feel popular or unpopular, when in fact you have no fucking clue what anybody else really thinks about you. (Side Note: As a rule, people who are terrified Of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.)
Some examples Of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.
Some examples Of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake Of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.
You'll notice that good, healthy values are achieved internally. Something like creativity or humility can be experienced right now. You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it. These values are immediate and controllable and engage you with the world as it is rather than how you wish it were.
Bad values are generally reliant on external events—flying in a private jet, being told you're right all the time, owning a house in the Bahamas, eating a cannoli while getting blown by three strippers. Bad values, while sometimes fun or pleasurable, lie outside Of your control and Often require socially destructive or superstitious means to achieve.
Values are about prioritization. Everybody would love a good cannoli or a house in the Bahamas. The question is your priorities. What are the values that you prioritize everything else, and that therefore influence your decision-making more than anything else?
Hiroo Onoda's highest value was complete loyalty and service to the Japanese empire. This value, in case you couldn't tell from reading about him, stank worse than a rotten sushi roll. It created really shitty problems for Hiroo—namely, he got stuck on a remote island where he lived off bugs and worms for thirty years. Oh, and he felt compelled to murder innocent civilians too. So despite the fact that Hiroo saw himself as a success, and despite the fact he lived up to his metrics, I think we can all agree that his life really sucked—none Of us would trade shoes with him given the opportunity, nor would we commend his actions.

Dave Mustaine achieved great fame and glory and felt like a failure anyway. This is because he'd adopted a Crappy value based on some arbitrary comparison to the success of others. This value gave him awful problems such as, "I need to sell 150 million more records; then everything will great," and "My next tour needs to nothing but he thought he needed to solve in order to happy. It's no surprise that he wasn't.
On the contrary, Pete Best pulled a switcheroo. Despite being depressed and distraught by getting kicked out of the Beatles, as he grew older he learned to reprioritize what he cared about and was able to measure his life in a new light. Because Of this, Best grew into a happy and healthy Old man, with an easy life and great family—things that, ironically, the four Beatles would spend decades struggling to achieve or maintain.
When we have poor values—that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others—we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don't matter, things that in fact make our life worse. But when we choose better values, we are able to divert our fucks to something things that matter, things that improve the State Of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure, and success as side effects.
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 fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.
The rest of this book is dedicated to five counterintuitive values that I believe are the most beneficial values one can adopt. All follow the "backwards law" we talked about earlier, in that they're "negative." All require confronting deeper problems rather than avoiding them through highs. These five values are both unconventional and uncomfortable. But, to me, they are life-changing.
The first, which we'll 100k at in the next chapter, is a radical form Of responsibility: taking for everything that occurs in your life, regardless Of who's at fault. The second is uncertainty: the acknowledgement Of your own ignorance and the cultivation Of constant doubt in your own beliefs. The next is failure: the willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon. The fourth is rejection: the ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life. The final value is the contemplation Of one's own mortality; this one is crucial, because paying vigilant attention to one's own death is perhaps the only thing capable Of helping us keep all Our Other values in proper perspective.





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