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#74: Why Nothing Good in Life Is Easy

#74: Why Nothing Good in Life Is Easy

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1. The virtue of boredom – The humorist P.G. Wodehouse once wrote, “Everything that’s fun in life is either immoral, illegal, or will make you fat.” I reckon the inversion of this is also true—that is, everything moral, legal, and non-fattening is, by definition, probably boring. 

One of the book ideas I attempted to write after Subtle Art was on the virtuous aspects of boredom. The same way I argued in Subtle Art that a willingness to suffer will lead one to greater freedom, success, and meaning, I wanted to argue that the ability to sustain boredom constituted a sort of modern virtue that would enrich your life far more than whatever your phone happened to be showing you that second. 

The problem with this book, I soon discovered as I wrote it, was that it was fucking boring… so I scrapped it. But in lieu of that, here’s a new article I wrote—a kind of extended discussion of how everything good in life seems to arise from, well, our ability to delay everything good in life. 

Read: The Virtue of Delayed Gratification

In the psychological literature, delayed gratification has been linked to pretty much anything any of us could ever consider “good.” Better health, more money, better jobs, higher life satisfaction, better relationships, etc., etc. Check it out.

2. Nice teachers make for poor students – While we’re on this “everything good in life is unenjoyable” trip, let’s take it a step further and implicate a group of people that surely won’t get me any hate mail: teachers.

Some new research looks at how friendly teachers were with their students and compared that to the students’ academic performance in later years. What’s important to note here is that the researchers didn’t look at academic performance in the teacher’s class itself because—surprise, surprise—friendly teachers tend to give higher grades for shittier work. Instead, the researchers focused on how the students did the following academic years. 

Allow me to spoil the pool party and say that, basically, the nicer the teachers, the worse off the students were in the following years. Now, I’m not suggesting that we bring back corporal punishment or hire drill sergeants to teach multiplication tables. But once again, we find that the most important things in life (in this case, being highly educated and understanding a subject) require some unpleasant experiences. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article called “Why Being an Asshole Can Be a Valuable Life Skill.” To this day, I think it’s one of the most practical pieces I’ve ever written. The fact is, throughout your life, society will often force you into situations where being a bit of a dick is necessary to make sure you and everyone else is treated fairly. In these situations, if you’re unwilling or unable to summon your inner dickishness, then you are doing everyone involved a disservice. 

Of course, when that article came out, dozens of people complained to me that they would never condone being an asshole and how dare I suggest that it was okay to be mean to anyone, ever. 

Fortunately, like any good teacher, I had no qualms with these people thinking I was an asshole.

3. How convenience can backfire – One of the (many) perks of being a Big Bestselling Author™ is that you sometimes get to read manuscripts of other authors’ books before they come out. I recently received Oliver Burkeman’s upcoming book, titled 4,000 Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (available for pre-order) and have been enjoying it. The book is kind of like a Buddhist approach to time management and productivity. This may sound like an oxymoron, but that’s what makes the book interesting.

(If you’re not familiar with Burkeman, his 2013 book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking is criminally underrated and inspired parts of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.) 

In the new book, Burkeman has an interesting section about how convenience can backfire. He argues that it’s often the inefficient friction in life that slows us down long enough to actually forge meaningful connections. 

For example, instead of ordering eight pounds of your favorite meat online, being forced to walk down to the butcher each week and chat to them about weather and business and sports while they cut each slice, week after week, month after month—well, it’s the aggregation of all of these little “inefficient” experiences that generates a sense of community and rootedness in one’s life. By introducing widespread “convenience,” at scale, you remove people’s opportunities to serendipitously engage with the people in their communities. 

Obviously, there’s a fine line between the argument against convenience and being that old man shaking his fist at a cloud. But I think there’s something to it. And while I wouldn’t necessarily give up my Uber Eats or Amazon Prime memberships any time soon, it did make me stop and think that perhaps by obsessively optimizing our lives for 30 extra seconds here, two extra minutes there, we’re making subtle and intangible sacrifices without even realizing it. 

Until next week,
Mark