The sub­tle art of mak­ing other peo­ple happy

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Love, Bren­dan

It’s very dif­fi­cult to please some peo­ple in life

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