The subtle art of making other people happy
NIAMH Horan is somewhat of a guru to me. She devours books of all kinds, but her specialist area is the upper end of the self-help ouevre. Not that she reads every “love yourself ” book out there. She focuses more on the ones that have ‘ New York Times bestseller’ on front of them — the ultimate badge of respectability for selfhelp chancers, and indeed for literary chancers. Whatever it is about the rest of us, if we see ‘ New York Times Bestseller’ on the front of a book, we make a presumption of quality. Somehow if it is good enough for the readers of The New York Times, it is good enough for us, even though The New York Times bestseller list is actually just a sales chart, and does not encompass just readers of The New York Times. But still, we like it.
So my guru told me I really should read this book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k. I asked the question I ask everyone when they recommend a book to me, the ultimate arbiter of whether it’s worth reading or not: “How long is it?” The guru assured me I would read it in one sitting, so I figured I might as well.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the book. For someone who curses like a sailor myself at times, I have an aversion to cursing in books, and this guy curses a lot. He also generally seems like quite an annoying person. But I persevered.
I should explain first that the book, unfortunately, does not live up to its title. If you were expecting a book that would legitimise going around generally not giving a damn, then you’d be disappointed. It’s actually, in its own funny, cursey way, quite an old-fashioned, moralistic book. There’s actually more than a touch of Jordan Peterson about it. Because what it is encouraging you to not give a f **k about, is not everything, just the unimportant things. What the book is actually about is having values, some guiding north star. I have a slight fear of hardcore moral books since I once stayed up all night, when I was already in the horrors, reading CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. That sounds like a fun book, right? Wrong. Trust me. Don’t do it unless you’re in the whole of your health with a clean conscience.
But, anyway, a funny thing happened reading TSAONGAF. I realised that I needed to have some values, or maybe even one value, beyond my general selfish values. In fact, for some reason, while I was reading this book, a value formed in my head. I decided that my new value in life would be to make other people happy. Ultimately it was just a new way of expressing my old, selfish values, but I figured I’d go about it in a more roundabout way. I would make everyone else happy and that would make me happy. And I wouldn’t be selfish. Because, as the guy points out in the book, selfishness will never satisfy you in the end. So I decided I’d be selfish through the back door.
So I’ve been trying it out. And I have to say, initially, it seemed easy. How hard could it be, right? So if I find myself in a situation with the wife where there might be friction, I step back and be kind, instead of going hell for leather on it. And she is disarmed, but yes, I must say, happier. I do the same with the kids, while maintaining the iron discipline that they laugh openly at. To be honest, initially, it’s all quite gratifying. I’m thinking this could be a breeze.
But then you take it out of the immediate family, and it gets trickier. You suddenly notice that there are a certain amount of assholes around, who make it very difficult for you to make them happy. They don’t deserve it, some of them. Even when you try it with friends, they act like you have become ill, or just use it as an opportunity to take the piss out of you.
It’s like I became too beautiful for the world. This must have been how Gandhi felt. It’s hard being a better person than other people.
In summation I think we can say that this is going to take some work, and it could be hit and miss initially. But you know what? Better to try, at least.
I sincerely hope that reading this has made even one of you a little bit happier.
It’s very difficult to please some people in life