If you’re anything like me, you get annoyed with simple life wisdom. It usually goes something like this:
- Live in the moment and go with the flow
- Push out all feelings that aren’t positive
- Your thoughts create your reality
- Follow your dreams
The problem I have with this kind of advice is that it ignores how hard it is to create positive outcomes in life. When you adopt simple life wisdom, you end up ignoring problems rather than confronting them head-on.
Give me a break.
The brutal truth is that problems are inevitable in life and are there for a reason. They are to be overcome, and simple life wisdom similar to above will just distract you from facing them head on.
Rather than avoid problems, we’re better off taking responsibility and changing the meaning of each problem. We can control how we think about our problems and the values we measure them against.
As Mark Manson explains in his brilliant book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, there are a handful of common values that seem to make sense but result in us ignoring problems in our life – problems that are difficult to solve.
Here are 4 of the values that seem to be common sense but will actually destroy your life.
We all want to experience more pleasure in our life, but it’s a horrible value to prioritize your life around.
Ask any drug addict how prioritizing pleasure worked out for them. Or a wife who cheated on her husband and lost her family in the process. Or the alcoholic who traded sobriety for the short term numbing of pain.
As Manson says:
“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.”
When I embraced the law of attraction, I thought my feelings of pleasure and joy were guiding me in the right direction. I would follow the joy and neglect my responsibilities. It worked in the short term, but life always managed to catch up with me.
Now, I realize that I had it the wrong way around. Pleasure isn’t the cause of happiness. It’s the effect. When you focus on the right things in life, pleasure naturally follows.
Pleasure is a shitty value to have. It distracts you from doing what matters.
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2) Staying positive
On the face of it, it makes sense to value staying positive. “Your thoughts create your reality” seems obvious. Therefore, “think positively” to create positive outcomes.
In fact, “thinking positively” even worked for me – for a while. When I quit my PhD to start my business, I set myself on a completely new course and made sure to align my thinking with the outcome I wanted to create.
But then I discovered the dark side of positive thinking, and it helped me get my shit together.
The truth is that sometimes life sucks, and you’re better off admitting this so you can react in productive ways.
Here’s what Manson says about 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.”
The challenges we face are an opportunity to solve them. They add a sense of meaning and importance to our life, and solving them means you graduate to better problems. This is where personal growth comes from.
3) Always being right
Unfortunately, human beings are flawed creatures. We are subject to confirmation bias, meaning that we fit new information into what we already believe to be true rather than take the opportunity to learn from it. This is why “echo chambers” and “filter bubbles” are such a problem online.
People who value being right all the time inadvertently end up entrenching themselves in their current way of seeing the world, rather than upgrading their perspective.
The problem with valuing being right is that we never learn from our mistakes. We find a way to rationalize the mistakes we made.
You’re much better off assuming your brain is flawed and limited. It makes you nimble and will help to create a mindset of continuous learning.
4) Material success
This is probably the most common value that needs to be reevaluated.
Many people measure their self-worth based on material indicators of success. It is displayed in many forms, from the size of your pay check to the worth of your house or the car you’re driving.
Yet research convincingly shows that once you’re making enough money to cover your basic necessities (food, shelter, etc), more money doesn’t make you happier. If you’re living on the streets, an extra few thousand dollars per month will make a massive difference to your life. But if you’re making an average salary in the middle class, an extra few thousand dollars won’t make any difference to your happiness.
The other problem is that people who measure themselves by status symbols probably prioritize material indicators of wealth over values like honesty and integrity. They’ll happily measure themselves by status symbols over their actual behavior. They may have nice things, but they’re probably terrible to be around.
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Rethinking your values
In the long run, you’ll be happier for having a loving family, a job that’s aligned with your purpose and friends you respect (and who respect you).
When you prioritize the values of pleasure, staying positive, always being right and material success, you’re focusing on short term rewards but avoiding doing the things that will create the conditions that will make you happy in the long term.
As Freud once said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
The reality is that some of the most meaningful moments in life are created through pain and struggle. Yet when they’re accomplished we look back at the years of struggle as the most beautiful and meaningfully moments of our life.