e lack the courage to be happy. We have the ability, we just choose not to use it. Only when we muster the courage to be disliked will we find freedom. And if we keep chasing competition, we will never have a moment’s peace.
These are Alfred Adler's ideas, one of the three giants of 19th century psychology. Last week, I read The Courage to be Disliked, which explores and teaches his theories.
This is what caught my attention:
Life is a series of moments. Neither the past nor the future exist. If you believe that the past shapes who and where you are today, you believe everything ahead of you has already been decided by the past. In that world, there’s nothing you can do to change your future. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
If you wish you had something or were like someone, you are utterly focused on what you were born with. You have to focus on what you can make of your equipment. Your unhappiness cannot be blamed on your past or your environment. And it isn’t that you lack competence. You just lack courage. You are lacking in the courage to be happy.
All problems are interpersonal relationship problems. If you dislike yourself, or focus on your shortcomings, it’s because you’re overly afraid of being disliked by other people. So, instead of getting into those situations, you try to avoid relations with anyone in the first place. You make it your goal to not get hurt in your relationships with other people.
But the truth is, when you’re disliked by someone, it is proof that you are exercising your freedom and it’s a sign that you are living in accordance with your own principles. No one wants to be disliked. But because everyone is different it is impossible to please everyone, all of the time, without lying to them.
You should not seek recognition. All you can do with your own life is to choose the best path that you believe in. It is easier to live in a way that satisfies other people’s expectations because you can run along tracks that other people have laid out. Even if there are a lot of things you object to, you cannot lose your way as long as you stay on those rails. But when you decide your own path, it’s inevitable that you will get lost at times.
Competition is terrifying because even if you’re not a loser, even if you’re someone who keeps on winning, if you have placed yourself in competition, you will never have a moment’s peace. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Happiness is the feeling of contribution. That is the definition of happiness. It doesn’t matter if the contribution is visible. All we need is the subjective sense that “I am of use to someone”.
If you can muster the courage to be normal, your way of looking at the world will change dramatically. Think about it. Why do you have to be special? Probably because you cannot accept your normal self. Self-acceptance is the vital first step.
People who think of life like climbing a mountain are treating their own existences as lines. But, if life were climbing a mountain in order to reach the top, then the greater part of life would end up being ‘en-route’. Now, supposing you didn’t make it to the mountaintop, what would that mean for your life? With accidents and diseases and the like, people don’t always make it all the way, and life itself is fraught with pitfalls and often ends in failure.
Do not treat life as a line. Think of life as a series of dots. If you look through a magnifying glass at a solid line drawn with chalk, you will discover that what you thought was a line is actually a series of small dots. Seemingly linear existence is actually a series of dots. life is a series of moments.
When you set objectives for the distant future, you think of now as your preparatory period. You think, I really want to do this, and I’ll do it when the time comes. This is a way of living that postpones life. As long as we postpone life, we can never go anywhere.
Imagine you are standing on a theatre stage. If the house lights are on, you’ll probably be able to see all the way to the back of the hall. But if you’re under a bright spotlight, you won’t be able to make out even the front row. That’s exactly how it is with our lives. It’s because we cast a dim light on our entire lives that we are able to see the past and the future.
Life is a series of moments, and neither the past nor the future exist. You are trying to give yourself a way out by focusing on the past and the future. What happened in the past has nothing whatsoever to do with your here and now, and the life that lies ahead of you is a completely blank page, and there are no tracks that have been laid for you to follow.
Fearlessly shine a bright spotlight on here and now.
Adler said, “Life in general has no meaning…But you can assign meaning to that life. And you are the only one who can assign meaning to your life.”
If you feel lost, it is because you are trying to choose freedom; that is to say, a path on which you are not afraid of being disliked by others and you are not living others’ lives—a path that is yours alone. When one attempts to choose freedom, it is only natural that one may lose one’s way. At this juncture, Adlerian psychology holds up a ‘guiding star’ as a grand compass pointing to a life of freedom. That star is ‘contribution to others’.