Hope is having a coherent vision of an improved and achievable future: Mark Manson, author, 'Everything is F*cked'
After the mega success of his last book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, celebrated author Mark Manson returns to tackle problems of hope in his new book, Everything is F*cked – A Book About Hope.
Hope, we all know, gives, sustains, and is the reason to live. However, the world we live in is confusing, convoluted, and often beyond comprehension. This, despite far-reaching innovations, developments, unbridled growth, and modernism.
How, then, can we bank on hope?
Manson draws upon reams of psychological research and the wisdom of philosophers to dissect what’s wrong with society today. Is it religion, politics, money, entertainment, or social media?
Mark Manson. (Image: Maria Midoes)
If "Everything is F*cked", how is this a book about hope? Manson’s premise is simple but something to ponder over. The author tells us that despite the turmoil and confusion, we are led to believe that everything around us is perfect. But that is not the truth. It’s important to get away from our constant need for satisfaction or everything good to happen.
Right at the beginning, he reminds us, “Hope doesn’t care about problems that have already been solved. Hope cares only about the problems that still need to be solved. Because the better the world gets, the more we have to lose. And the more we have to lose, the less we feel we have to hope for.”
The philosophical strain in the book clearly is the need to be in control of one’s life. This control gives us the power to pursue anything. According to Manson, the three things we need are a sense of control, a belief in the value of something, and a community. If you lose any of the three, you lose the other two, and you also lose hope.
The book builds itself on psychology and philosophy, taking readers on a journey of self-discovery,and throwing up a very pertinent question, “What is happening in our world that is causing us to feel worse despite everything consistently getting better?” The answers may truly surprise you.
In a Q&A, Mark Manson speaks about hope, having too many choices, and the world of social media in modern times.
Q: Is Everything is F*cked a logical extension of what you wrote about in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck?
A: Yes, sort of. The way I’ve been putting it to people is that Everything is F*cked is the calculus to Subtle Art’s algebra. It’s the same core concepts and principles, just with broader and more complex applications. Whereas Subtle Art focused on our personal struggles to cope with pain and make meaning out of adversity, Everything is F*cked looks at these same dynamics on a cultural level. While Subtle Art gives people helpful questions to apply to themselves and their lives, Everything is F*cked explores what happens to our psychological health when we fail to ask those questions at all. In that sense, you could almost call it a kind of prequel to Subtle Art.
Q: What is ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’ and how does it dictate our lives?
A: The Uncomfortable Truth is the realisation when you follow scientific inquiry to its logical conclusions. By every cosmic metric, our existence is miniscule and inconsequential. When you zoom out far enough, all sense of importance or meaning gets lost in the vast reality of our existence.
Q: The subtitle is ‘A Book About Hope’. How do you define hope and how does it play out in harmful ways in contemporary life?
A: I define hope as having a coherent vision of an improved and achievable future. If we can’t fathom a better future, we lose hope. If we see no potential for us to achieve an improved future, we lose hope. These crises of hope result in despair, depression, anxiety, addiction, compulsion, etc. Therefore, hope is an inherently crucial component of a healthy psyche.
The problem is that our visions of hope, when pursued far enough, have destructive consequences. While we live in a time where people are struggling to find hope in their lives, I thought it was important to write a book that points out that while hope is the solution to our personal problems, it is also often the cause of our social problems.
Q: What is ‘The Classic Assumption’ and how does it define the culture of today?
A: The Classic Assumption is the belief that humans are fundamentally rational actors and we can control our behaviour through conscious effort and discipline. The truth is that we are fundamentally irrational creatures and a large amount of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour are outside the bounds of our awareness and control.
The Classic Assumption matters because when people fail in some way, we tend to assume that they are far more conscious and in control of their actions than they actually are. Rather than recognise people for what they are — irrational and cognitively flawed — we instead judge people (and ourselves) as being either evil or deficient or just plain bad. This has damaging consequences for our mental health and well being.
Q: How do you define adulthood and how is your definition different than most?
A: Most people assume being an adult means being responsible for your own welfare - hold down a job, pay your bills, cook and clean for yourself. But, I go a bit further and argue that being an adult (i.e., maturity) is the ability to endure pain for some higher cause or value. Most people, when they work late, or save up money, or tell their friends what they want to hear, are doing it to receive something in return. Their relationship with the world and with others is transactional.
Adulthood is non-transactional. It is unconditional. It is the ability act on one’s values regardless of how painful or difficult it is. It’s the ability to be virtuous and make sacrifices. And my argument is that by developing technologies that protect us from stress and pain, we are limiting our ability to make sacrifices, and therefore preventing ourselves from growing, maturing and finding meaning in our lives.
Q: How does having too many choices impede our freedom?
A: Variety is addictive. Opportunity is addictive. If you take a vacation to five countries, you will want to visit a sixth country more than you did before. Variety also always appears to be an improvement on the surface.
But the truth is that variety and abundance of opportunities make it psychologically more difficult to make commitments and sacrifices for one cause, one person, one group. And it is these commitments and sacrifices that actually infuse our lives with a sense of value and meaning.
Q: You suggest that real freedom comes from self-limitation. How do we learn to limit ourselves and our desires?
A: Throw away all your extra shit. Delete apps off your phone. Block websites on your computer. Set rules for yourself, then follow them. Decide for yourself what the most important people and goals in your life are, and then get religious about following them.
Q: Have social media and the ways we interact today created, or at least exacerbated, our problems with finding and maintaining hope?
A: I think social media and the internet, while not causing our psychological problems, have created a cultural environment that has affected us all. At this point, whether you’re on Facebook or not doesn’t matter, because the information you’re receiving is still optimised for clickbait and maximises outrage.