The book presents an interesting viewpoint on the meaning of life, questioning traditional self-help gurus, consumerism, and over-obsession with positive thinking.

Happiness

  1. Most self-help gurus and books focus on how to be happy. That’s the wrong approach, a continuous desire for happiness or positive experiences is a negative experience and making peace with your negative experiences is a positive one.
  2.  One can only be concerned about a limited number of things in life. The goal should be to be calm and serene towards everything except the absolutely essential.
  3. A psychopath is calm and serene about everything in life and has no meaning or emotions attached to anything.
  4. Happiness is good in small regular doses but a desire for continuous happiness is no worse than drug addiction.
  5. Happiness comes from solving problems you enjoy having and solving.
  6. Problems are never eliminated in one’s life, solving one, exchanges/upgrades it to a better problem.
  7. Emotions are feedback-mechanisms, they are signs but not commandants to take an action on. Emotion-guided decisions can be good as long as emotions are not the only thing guiding them.
  8. Our struggle determines our successes. The struggle you are willing to enjoy and bear with determines the success. Anyone can imagine themselves on the summit, only a few are willing to bear the climb.
  9. Traditional measurement of self-esteem is how positively people felt about themselves. A better measurement would be how they felt about their negative aspects.
  10. While thinking that “you are special” is an entitlement. The opposite thinking of “I am miserable and everyone else is awesome” is an entitlement as well. The latter is more prevalent in the contemporary western world.
  11. Most of us are going to be average in most of the things we do. Our energies are limited and we can be exceptional in only a few, if any, areas of our lives.

Suffering

  1. A meaningful life is more enjoyable than a happy one even if it involves suffering. Hiroo Onoda was Japanese Army officer in World War II, he did not surrender in till 1974 (29 years after the war). He was hiding in the jungles of Lubang, following the order to “fight at all costs”, he fought a guerrilla warfare for 29 years. He surrendered only when his superior from the wartime came back to give him order to surrender. On returning to Japan, he became a hero. But he became more depressed. The Japan of his dreams did not exist anymore. The realization that his fight stood for nothing put him in depression and he moved to Brazil. At least his suffering was more meaningful while hiding in the Jungles of Lubang.
  2. Self-awareness – what do you feel -> why do you feel -> what are your personal values causing this feeling
  3. We cannot choose whether to evaluate ourselves against others or not (we will almost always do), it is to how should we be evaluating ourselves against others. Those measurement metrics come from our values which, in turn, come from our beliefs.
  4. In 1983, Dave Mustaine was kicked out of Metallica even before the first recording, he founded Megadeth in revenge, sold 25 million albums worldwide. Metallica sold 180 million albums. 20 years later, he still considered himself a failure since his revenge based value system valued getting more success than Metallica as the end goal.
  5. In 1962, Pete Best was kicked out of Beatles before the recording began. He never got any real success afterward. Though 30 years later, he was happily married and had two kids. He judged his success based on a simple and a stable married life.
  6. Life is a suffering. We can’t choose whether to suffer or not. We can choose what to suffer for. And we decide that based on our value system.
  7. Bad values are superstitious, socially destructive, and not controllable.
  8. Good values are reality-based, socially constructive, and controllable.
  9. Pleasure, material success (beyond a threshold), desire to always be right, and staying positive are some bad values.
  10. Honesty, popularity, creativity, curiosity are some good values to aim for.
  11. Bad values make us concerned about wrong things. Good values make us concerned about right things. Self-improvement is about choosing the right values and hence the right metrics to judge oneself upon.

Good value #1 – Always be choosing

Life is like a poker game. You don’t choose the hand but you choose how to play those hands. Therefore, it’s a good value to believe that you are choosing to do something. Instead of being made to do something.

Good value #2 – You are wrong about everything

Certainty is the enemy of growth. Assuming that your beliefs are wrong is safer than hanging onto them as truth. It’s the certainty in one’s own beliefs which leads to racism and religious fanaticism.

Good Value #3 – Failure is the way forward

It’s the repeated failed attempts to do something which leads to a big success. Rather than focusing on failure or success, the goal should be to always do something(ashishb’s note: the score takes care of itself). An action leads to inspiration and further motivation.

Good value #4 – Learning to say no (setting boundaries)

Valuing something requires rejecting all other alternatives. And rejecting alternatives is not easy unless one is willing to set one’s boundaries.

Good value #5 – You will die one day

Humans can think about themselves in an abstract fashion – physical self and conceptual self (identity). The former is going to die one day and therefore, we want to make ourselves immortal by preserving our conceptual self. Naming buildings, writing books, and similar effort to get our name out are all plan of the same. Always keeping the death in mind allows one to prioritize the good values over the bad ones.