I’ve learned from research that as social beings, connection and feelings of belonging are strong drivers for our happiness. So when a friend introduced me to the book The Courage to be Disliked, which claims to change our life and show us how to achieve real happiness, I was intrigued.
I dove into the book and it did not disappoint. The book is a work of art, woven of psychology and philosophy and primarily based on Alfred Adler’s teachings. Adler was a psychotherapist and a core member of a group led by Freud. However, his ideas weren’t aligned with Freud’s so he split from the group. His theories offer simple and straightforward answers to the question: How can one be happy?
His teachings line up with six elements of the happiness formula from Good Morning, Life!
Over wine one night, my friends and I explored the simple yet fascinating perspectives that can help us be happy. We now use some of the terminologies from the book to help us navigate challenging interpersonal situations. I’m going to share a couple of key life-changing perspectives.
Life’s tasks and my lane
The book posits that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. Many of our complaints are about other people or situations that others have caused or put us in. The book offers up a brilliant solution to these problems. Amazingly, we can rid ourselves of these interpersonal problems way easier than we might think.
It’s simply to keep in our lane. Identify our life’s tasks, separate them from other people’s life tasks and then just focus on our own tasks. When we focus on our tasks alone, it simplifies our life immensely.
Individually, we all have core life tasks that we are responsible for. They relate to work, friendship and love. It is our job to focus on these things. If I want to get a job, it is my responsibility to go to school, study and do what I need to in order to accomplish that goal. It is not my parent’s responsibility or anyone else.
In terms of friendship and love, it is my responsibility to treat my friends and loved ones with care, believe in them, and trust them. I am not responsible for how they treat me, I am only responsible for how I treat them. I cannot control their actions or behaviour. Of course, if I’m not happy with how they are treating me, I can choose not to spend (as much) time with them.
Importantly, I think it’s our task to love and respect ourselves. This includes setting boundaries, honouring and acting in line with our values. We don’t have to look to others to do this for us. When we love ourselves, we are complete and are not searching for others to make us whole. If someone else’s task is to love us then they can choose to do that and we can choose to accept that love. But our happiness is not dependent on whether they do their task or do it well.
What are not my tasks?
We are not responsible for other people’s opinions of us. This is where the courage to be disliked comes in. If it was our job to make other people like us or to meet others’ expectations, where would that job end? There are billions of people in the world. Everyone has different preferences, experiences, and perceptions. Obviously, we aren’t trying to make everyone like us, that would be impossible. But even if we are trying to make a handful of people like us, that’s still something we ultimately don’t control. It is not our task to control other people’s emotions or actions.
Let that sink in.
Other peoples’ judgements and opinions are not our tasks. We don’t need to worry about them or spend energy on them. An example in the book was a case where a boss is treating you unfairly and is unreasonable. It’s not your task to make your boss like you. If your boss is not recognizing you, it’s not your problem (there is a chapter that talks about the problem with the desire for recognition and how it makes us unfree). If you remain focused on your work tasks and do them well, they will speak for themself. I’m sure there could be a long conversation around this – I’ll leave that to my next book where the focus will be on finding happiness at work.
As parents, we have to be careful not to complete our children’s tasks for them. If we intervene too much, our kids won’t learn what they need to, including the ability to confront life’s challenges. They have their own life tasks.
It bears repeating that it’s not our responsibility whether other people are completing their tasks effectively. That is not our concern. Think Let Go from the Good Morning, Life! happiness formula. If we simply focus on our tasks, life becomes simple. And interpersonal relationships do too. We can choose who we spend our time with and we don’t try to change how others do their tasks. We stay in our lane and focus our energy on our own tasks. This helps us become more effective at doing our tasks. We can focus on our Purpose and act with Intention.
“If you are leading a life of worry and suffering – which stems from interpersonal relationships- learn the boundary of “From here on, that is not my task”. And discard other people’s tasks.” (p128, The Courage to be Disliked)
In addition to the idea of separating life tasks, how we view others is another key perspective shift the book introduces, which can substantially decrease our interpersonal issues and increase our happiness.
Are others your comrades or competition?
There are two lenses from which we may see the world. Either as if everyone is a friend/comrade or an enemy/competition. When our view is that we are competing with everyone in the world, everyone becomes our enemy. Their success means our failure, making it hard to celebrate their success. There is always a winner and a loser. You are constantly trying not to lose and trying to get ahead. Even when you’re winning you’re not happy, because of the stress of trying to maintain the position.
“When you are able to truly feel that ‘people are my comrades’, your way of looking at the world will change utterly. No longer will you think of the world as a perilous place, or be plagued by needless doubts; the world will appear before you as a safe and pleasant place. And your interpersonal relationship problems will decrease dramatically.” (p 80 The Courage to be Disliked)
There are a few ways I’ve seen this shift show up in my personal life. One minor way is with my neighbours. My husband and I are minimalists in terms of our outdoor landscaping. We have some evergreen trees in addition to a small garden area along with some hardscaping. Whereas my neighbour has beautiful gardens surrounding their home. I used to have a tendency to compare and feel pressure to up our garden game. Now, I happily enjoy their garden, appreciating the beauty that their hard work contributes to our neighbourhood. They are my comrades and not my competition.
A happier world
Similarly, with other authors that write books about finding happiness. Rather than see them as competition, I see them as my allies contributing to the same goal – a happier (more productive) world.
On that note, The Courage to be Disliked offers some great perspectives that can help all of us live harmoniously with each other. Interpersonal relationships are a core part of life and a key to our happiness. I’ve shared a couple of key perspectives here, but there are other themes that align with the happiness formula from Good Morning, Life!, including Presence, Purpose, Intention, Balance, Let Go, and Love.
Check out both books and find a more harmonious life and contribute to a happier world!