5 lessons to live a happier life

Key lessons from the book “The courage to be disliked” by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.

5 lessons to live a happier life
Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash


Before we start with the post, I would like to make a quick announcement. As some of you might know that I am a TA for the Machine Learning course at polytechnique this fall. As part of the TA work, I designed and gave tutorials for Probability and Linear Algebra to the students. Students found them useful. So, I recorded them and uploaded them as courses on Udemy. You can enroll in them for free (until Oct. 15) using the links below. This would really help you if you want to start your journey in machine learning.

Linear algebra for machine learning: https://www.udemy.com/course/linear-algebra-basics-for-machine-learning/?referralCode=C312EEE016563B47CE2A Coupon code: LA_FREE_OCT

Probability for machine learning: https://www.udemy.com/course/probability-for-machine-learning/?referralCode=D5D01EE11F93740E6C74 Coupon code: PROB_FREE_SEP

I hope you like them. Please don't hesitate to give me reviews to improve them.

Now let's get on to the post!

Last week, I finished reading my first philosophy book: “The courage to be disliked” by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. I usually like self-help books, but never thought philosophy will ever interest me. But as I started reading the book, I got more and more interested.

The book is in the form of a dialogue between a philosopher and a young person. The philosopher is teaching some important things about life to the youth. He proposes many controversial ideas, and the young person argues against them. The philosopher justifies his opinions and convinces the young person. The dialogues are very logical arguments. They changed my view about many things.

1. Causes vs. goal

The reason sometimes we feel unhappy and feel helpless about it is that we associate our unhappiness to a cause. For example, something happened in the past or the things that are happening around us now. As long as there is a cause behind our unhappiness that is outside of our control, we can’t do anything about it. This falls in line with the concept of Aetiology (the study of causation).

On the contrary, there is another concept called teleology (the study of the purpose or goal). According to teleology, we always have some goal that we are trying to achieve. Some of them are not even consciously chosen. Our mind knows about those goals. To help us achieve those goals, our brain induces certain feelings. Unhappiness can be the result of it.

Let’s try to understand. If a waiter spills coffee on our super expensive clothes, we get angry. The Aetiological way of justifying the anger is that the waiter spilled coffee. But it is not always correct. There are many people in the world that wouldn’t get angry about this. So, clearly there is more than that particular cause that made us angry. It depends on what meaning we assign to the event. A teleological way of thinking about it would be that we wanted to make ourselves heard. Anger is a tool that helps us achieve that goal. We can, in fact, achieve that goal of making the waiter submit to us without using anger.

Similarly, unhappiness is not caused by something happened in the past. It has a lot to do with what meaning we assign to the events of the past. There is usually a (sometimes hidden) goal behind it. We need to find it and change it if needed. People often lack the courage to change because it involves a lot of uncertainty.

2. All problems are interpersonal relationship problems

I don’t completely digest this point. But it is a great direction to think about. Because of my privileges and unfair advantages, I am quite happy in general. But when I think about problems of my life, they are all related to other people. Sometimes indirectly. If we were to live alone in the whole universe, most of our problems (in fact all according to the book) would go away. What about loneliness? That too. Loneliness is having a society around us and having a deep sense of being excluded from it.

We constantly seek approvals from others. We feel the need for being recognized from others. This basically binds us. We are constantly worried about other people judging us. We end up living a life trying to satisfy the expectation of others. That makes us unhappy.

We desire being free from those worries. We want to live our lives on our terms. When we stop living up to the other people’s expectation, they will sometimes dislike us. That’s normal. We should have the courage to be disliked to experience the freedom.

3. Separation of tasks

The way to go about interpersonal relationship problems is to separate tasks. There are certain things we control and there are certain things others control. We draw a boundary and do not intrude in other people’s task. Also, we don’t let others intrude in our tasks.

Leaving my job and starting my PhD is my task. What others will think about it is not my task. That’s other people’s task. Similarly, writing the blogs are my tasks. So, I focus on that. Liking them or subscribing to my newsletters is people’s task. I can’t control that. Me worrying about that would be an intrusion and that would likely result in unhappiness.

4. Life is not a race

Because of the people around us, we sometimes feel inferior. We go for endless pursuit of superiority. This is not too bad. In fact, this is needed for a normal and healthy striving growth. But it becomes a problem when we use our inferiority as an excuse for something we have to do. That’s the lack of courage to change.

Because of this inferiority feeling, we sometimes feel that we are falling behind. The pursuit of superiority then becomes a race. For us to win, others have to lose. This kind of thinking causes most interpersonal relationship problems. This is why sometimes even really successful people feel unhappy. For them, the life is a competition and for them to win, others have to lose.

We have to consider others to be our comrades and help each other grow. When life is not a race, we are more focused on our growth. Other people growing faster or slower doesn’t affect us much. That removes the key ingredient of the unhappiness. Only when we see the people around us as our comrades, we feel included in the society.

5. True source of happiness

Controlling our emotions and feeling included in the society really removes the major sources of unhappiness. Being free from others is one thing. But to gain true sense of happiness, we need to do more. We need to contribute to the society. When we do that, we feel that we have some worth. That feeling brings true happiness. Personally, I think there are many other things that contribute to happiness, but surely, social contribution is a major source.

Putting it all together

To be truly happy, we first need to remove unhappiness. Understanding the teleology helps us with that. We stop assigning causes to our problems and move towards solving them by understanding the hidden goals behind them. Another way to remove problems is to realize that all problems are interpersonal relationship problems. The way to solve it is by separation of tasks. That is, we only care about what is in our control and not intrude in other people’s tasks. Then we try to feel included in the society by accepting others as our companions. Finally, contributing to the society by helping others brings true sense of worth and we experience the true happiness.

My favorites

Video: System for remembering what you read (Matt)

Quote: “Master: You feel inferiority because you have fallen for the false game, my student. Student: The false game? Master: Yes. The false game is to give legitimacy to the notion that there is a hierarchy of importance among human beings.” — From A Master’s Secret Whispers by Kapil Gupta.