Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place?

The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.

People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great—they are mediocre, they are average—and that they could be so much better.

You seek what you lack

Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day. But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you. You learn about the best ways to make money because you feel you don’t have enough money already. You stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations saying that you’re beautiful because you feel as though you’re not beautiful already. You follow dating and relationship advice because you feel that you’re unlovable already. You try goofy visualization exercises about being more successful because you feel as though you aren’t successful enough already.

Consumerism

Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more—buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. Give a fuck about a new TV. Give a fuck about having a better vacation than your coworkers. Give a fuck about buying that new lawn ornament. Give a fuck about having the right kind of selfie stick. Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.

The feedback loop

Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences—anxiety, fear, guilt, etc.—is totally not okay. I mean, if you look at your Facebook feed, everybody there is having a fucking grand old time. Look, eight people got married this week! And some sixteen-year-old on TV got a Ferrari for her birthday. And another kid just made two billion dollars inventing an app that automatically delivers you more toilet paper when you run out. Meanwhile, you’re stuck at home flossing your cat. And you can’t help but think your life sucks even more than you thought. The Feedback Loop from Hell has become a borderline epidemic, making many of us overly stressed, overly neurotic, and overly self-loathing. Back in Grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself, “Gee whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s just life. Back to shoveling hay.” But now? Now if you feel like shit for even five minutes, you’re bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing fucking lives, and it’s impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you. It’s this last part that gets us into trouble. We feel bad about feeling bad. We feel guilty for feeling guilty. We get angry about getting angry. We get anxious about feeling anxious. What is wrong with me? This is why not giving a fuck is so key. This is why it’s going to save the world. And it’s going to save it by accepting that the world is totally fucked and that’s all right, because it’s always been that way, and always will be.

Experiences

Because here’s the thing that’s wrong with all of the “How to Be Happy” shit that’s been shared eight million times on Facebook in the past few years—here’s what nobody realizes about all of this crap: The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable.

The backwards law

It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.

Pursuing the negative

If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive. The pain you pursue in the gym results in better all-around health and energy. The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.

No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.

If you feel crappy it’s because your brain is telling you that there’s a problem that’s unaddressed or unresolved. In other words, negative emotions are a call to action.

Suffering

We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. So no—our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they’re a feature.

Warren Buffett’s got money problems; the drunk hobo down at Kwik-E Mart’s got money problems. Buffett’s just got better money problems than the hobo. All of life is like this.

Much as the pain of touching a hot stove teaches you not to touch it again, the sadness of being alone teaches you not to do the things that made you feel so alone again. Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.

Emotion based decisions

Decision-making based on emotional intuition, without the aid of reason to keep it in line, pretty much always sucks. You know who bases their entire lives on their emotions? Three-year-old kids. And dogs. You know what else three-year-olds and dogs do? Shit on the carpet.

Material success

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.

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.

Motivation

Imagine that somebody puts a gun to your head and tells you that you have to run 26.2 miles in under five hours, or else he’ll kill you and your entire family. That would suck. Now imagine that you bought nice shoes and running gear, trained religiously for months, and completed your first marathon with all of your closest family and friends cheering you on at the finish line. That could potentially be one of the proudest moments of your life. Exact same 26.2 miles. Exact same person running them. Exact same pain coursing through your exact same legs. But when you chose it freely and prepared for it, it was a glorious and important milestone in your life. When it was forced upon you against your will, it was one of the most terrifying and painful experiences of your life.

Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it.

Responsibility

This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances.

We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.

“With great responsibility comes great power.”

A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is to also be at fault for your problems.

Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.

At some point, after enough tears and alcohol, my thinking began to shift and I began to understand that although she had done something horrible to me and she could be blamed for that, it was now my own responsibility to make myself happy again. She was never going to pop up and fix things for me. I had to fix them for myself.

Death

This acceptance of my death, this understanding of my own fragility, has made everything easier—untangling my addictions, identifying and confronting my own entitlement, accepting responsibility for my own problems—suffering through my fears and uncertainties, accepting my failures and embracing rejections—it has all been made lighter by the thought of my own death. The more I peer into the darkness, the brighter life gets, the quieter the world becomes, and the less unconscious resistance I feel to, well, anything.

I came to the startling realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason to not do anything; that in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.