Humans Self-Awareness

Courage to Happiness

I would like to share some insights from reading The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

― E.E. Cummings


So, I got the chance to read The Courage To Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. The cover doesn’t look interesting for me, like some other generic self-help books. But I saw the “Over three million copies sold worldwide.” So, I bought the book, not expecting too much. Then, I truly understand the saying: Don’t judge the book by it’s cover.

The contents of this book are rather unusual. It has the format of conversation between a youth and a wise philosopher, like reading a script for a play.

The youth, which was dissatisfied with his life and felt the absurdity of being happy in living in this world, sought a philosopher who taught that life is simple and happiness is within reach of every man. Then they have dialogue for 250+ pages, and many nights.

The psychology and philosophy in the book are based on Adlerian psychology. And, having read a little about some Greek philosophies, particularly Stoicism, I can say there is a line that connects between Adlerian psychology and Greek philosophies. Both are about the mastery of oneself.

If you haven’t read or about Adlerian psychology or know about Greek philosophies yet, you might find these texts confusing and very hard to accept, just like the youth in the story. Believe me, keep on reading slowly, stop when you feel dizzy, just keep at it until you finish. It might change your life for the better.

But, then again, it all depends on you.

“You can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.”

― Popular Sayings

The Ideas

There are so many things to learn here. I’ll share the most important ones according to me.

Unhappiness is something you choose for yourself

Everyone wants to be happy. Yet not everyone chooses to be happy. That can’t be right, everyone would choose happiness all the time wouldn’t they? No, it is easier to be comfortable.

A good example is like having an old car. One complains that the car rattles, cannot drive fast, so much maintenance, et cetera. Although he complains, he’s familiar with it and he drives it well. When asked, “If you don’t like this car, why don’t you buy a new one?” He would reply, “I can’t, new cars are expensive.” Though, actually his accumulated car maintenance cost a lot more.

So, he was unhappy with the situation, but comfortable with it. He thinks he can’t buy a new car because it’s expensive. That’s the default answer for anyone who would ask him the question. Which is kind of make sense. But it’s not.

In Adler’s psychology, the statement of “He can’t buy a new car because it’s expensive” is reframed to “He doesn’t want to buy a new car, that’s why he made the reason of new cars are expensive.”

What he’s afraid of is change. Buying and driving a new car will require him to learn new things. And there might be some things in the car that he would find not to his liking. Probably he doesn’t want to do the taxes or paperworks for his new car. It could be anything.

Humans don’t like to change, because it’s uncomfortable. There are too many unknowns, and we fear the unknown. Their lives could become harder or easier to live, no one knows. So, it’s logical that some of us would prefer to be miserable, because they find comfort in being miserable. They would feel lost without it.

You need courage to change and to be happy.

The important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment

There are thoughts such as “If I were X, I would be much happier”. It does not matter how much one wants to be X or somebody else, the reality is that no one can be the same. When continuing to fixate oneself to something one is born with, one is ignoring the reality. And it will not change the reality.

Instead of thinking what one does not have, think what can one do with what one has. That way, one can move forward, making changes on oneself.

It is okay to be yourself. Though, it does not mean being ‘just as you are’ and do nothing at all. If one is unhappy, then there are things that are not right just as they are. One just need to start taking a step forward and not stopping.

All problems are interpersonal relationship problems

When we have interpersonal relationships with others, it is impossible to not get hurt at all. One will eventually hurt the others, and one would get hurt by the others too.

Some focused too much on the possibility of pain in relationships, they make the goal of not getting hurt. They choose to start dislike themselves, and not entering in interpersonal relationships. And they would have the justifications if they are getting snubbed. They think that it’s because of their shortcomings that they are getting snubbed, and think if it were not that way, they too can be loved.

There would not be any problems if we live alone in the universe. Just you alone, there are no one else. By living alone, the concept of loneliness would not be created in the first place. But, it is impossible to begin with, because human beings need other human beings to live.

Issues such as feelings of worry, inferiority complex, superiority complex are all part of interpersonal relationships. Those issues are subjects of competition. And at the end competitions, there will be winners and losers. When one is conscious of competitions, victory and defeat, one would constantly compare oneself to the others. And before one knows it, one would view everyone as enemies.

To change the view of competition is learn to see others as comrades. It will lead one to self-improvements and cooperations for the common good.

Interpersonal relationships causes unhappiness, but the opposite is also true: Interpersonal relationship is the source of happiness.

The Life Tasks

In Adlerian psychology, there are two objectives for behaviour: Be self-reliant and live in harmony with society by facing the life tasks. The life tasks in interpersonal relationships, or social ties, are Tasks of Work, Tasks of Friendship, and Tasks of Love.

These tasks are inevitable. A single individual has no choice but to confront them when attempting to live as a social being.

Tasks of Work

There is no work that can be completed by oneself. Because of this, one must face another when at work. Even when applying for job, there are people you must face to get the job.

Interpersonal relationships at work are the lowest hurdles, because people at work have to achieve a common objective of getting good results. But, the relationship will go back to outsider relationship outside of work, if the relationship is formed solely just for work.

Tasks of Friendship

The definition of friendship is a relationship that is difficult to initiate and deepen. And it happens outside of work. A friend would be someone who even though long time has passed, when one gets together again with him, they could hang out just like before. It’s about the distance and the depth of the relationship.

TASKS of love

The tasks of love include love relationship and parent-child relationship. Some speech and conduct that was permitted in friendships are not permitted in a love relationship. For example, speaking with someone with an opposite sex might arouse jealousy. This kind of relationship which strains and oppresses cannot be called love.

One can feel love when he thinks, “Whenever I’m with this person, I can behave very freely.” Both must treat each other as equal personalities.

However, there is an option of separating in love relationship, even in marriage. But this cannot be done in parent-child relationships. As an analogy, love relationship is like a red string, while parent-child relationship is like a thick chain made of metal. And what we have is only a pair of small scissors.

One cannot run away and has to face his relationship, even though it’s distressful, and even though in the end he has to sever it.

Separation of tasks

One does not intrude on other people’s tasks. A simple way to think of whose task is by asking “Who will receive the end result for the choice that is made?”

For example, a child does not want to study. The result of not being able to keep up in class or getting to a preferred school will be received by the child, not the parents. It is the child’s task to study.

Parents want the best for their child, so they might force them to study to keep up with the class. And the common phrase is “It’s for the child’s own good”, as we adults we feel that we have more experience than the children. It’s a fact, but it could become manipulative. Ask yourself: is it for the child’s own good, or actually to fulfill my own goals? Is it for your appearance in society or desire to control? Children who rebel sense this deception.

But that does not mean we let the others be on their own. We have to know. That way, we protect them. If studying is the issue, let the child know we are ready to assist them in studying. But, if no request is made, do not meddle.

Another case is in a counselling. The counsellor do not have the task of changing the client. Only the client himself can change. You can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.

A way of living in which one is constantly troubled by how being seen by others is actually self-centered

They think they care and concern with other people. But in reality, they just want to be thought well by others. In other words, they are constantly worried by how well people think of them. They need to satisfy themselves with recognition from others. Even though they try so hard to be mindful and thinking about others, they just fear being judged badly by others.

But then, what’s wrong with wanting to be liked by other people? Good question, since everyone wants to be liked. But, we cannot satisfy everyone. Somehow, somewhen, somewhere in our lives we would disappoint them, and they might hate us for it. But, is it that bad? I don’t think so, because what they view and feel about us is not our task and our responsibility. One cannot control the others’ feelings.

By always trying to satisfy other people needs however possible would not lead us to freedom. Because we would be bound by their feelings, and will act according how it would satisfy the others’ feelings. Even worse if the other person is manipulative, the chance of being unhappy is even higher. One would be used for satisfy their selfish needs.

Sometimes there are expectations. By doing things for them, we would feel entitled that people would do something back for them. Then we would be disappointed that the other people don’t do what we expect them to do. But, they don’t live their lives to fulfil our expectations. If we can’t control our disappointments, what comes after is unhappiness.

So, one’s self-centeredness would cause other people’s self-centeredness. They would take you for granted.

Rebuke or Praise Leads to Vertical Relationships

For example, in a parent-child relationship, there are two general ways of raising, by rebuke or by praise. No one likes being rebuked. It undermines, and devalues one’s self worth. There is a sense of superiority and inferiority. It is unacceptable. So, raising by praise is the preferable common choice, because it gives motivation for doing more.

In Adlerian psychology though, one does not rebuke or praise. Praising causes a feeling of strange unpleasantness. Because it feels like talked down to. There is a sense of passing judgement of a person with ability to a person with no ability.

Praising unconsciously creating a relationship in which the one giving the praise is placed higher than the one receives it. And also praising has the goal of manipulation of someone lesser than one. It is not done out of gratitude or respect.

The sense of unequal placements causes a hierarchical relationship, or a vertical relationship. Feelings such as inferiority or superiority happens in this kind of relationship.

When receiving praise becomes one’s goal, one is choosing a way of living that is in line with other person’s system of values.

Encouragement and Gratitude Build Horizontal Relationships

Encouragement does not mean intervention. Instead, one gives the offer of supporting. One acts in such a way that the supported have the confidence to face the tasks on his own.

When one does not follow through on one’s tasks, it’s not because one lacks the ability to do so. But one lacks the courage to face the tasks. Which is why the first thing is to recover the lost courage.

Giving encouragement gives value to one’s sense of self worth. One would feel that one has made a contribution of others. So, instead of giving praises, one should show gratitude as a form of encouragement. A simple “thank you” would be enough. In Adler’s view, when someone is able to feel that he has worth, he can possess courage.

“Thank you” is a form of gratitude. It is not about judgement. Without judgement, there are no sense of hierarchy. Therefore, one can build a horizontal relationship: A relationship in which everyone can cooperate and act in harmony with each other.

If one is building a horizontal relationship, there will be words of more straightforward gratitude and respect and joy.

The Goal is Community Feeling

If other people are comrades, and we live surrounded by them, we should find a place of ‘refuge’. Then, we would begin to have the desire to share with the community.

In the view of Adlerian psychology, interpersonal relations are the source of unhappiness. But the opposite is also true: Interpersonal relations are the source of happiness. To achieve this, having a community feeling is a very important index for considering a happy interpersonal relationship.

An understanding of community feeling is about making a switch from attachment to self, to concern of others. To attain this sense of belonging, or ‘It’s okay to be here’, one must make an active commitment to the community by one’s own accord.

The commitment is facing one’s life tasks: the tasks of interpersonal relations of work, friendship, and love. One must step forward and not think “What can the others give me?”, but instead think “What can I give to the others?

Self-acceptance, not self-affirmation

Self-affirmations are about making suggestions to oneself, such as “I can do it!” or “I am strong!” even it’s beyond his capability.

Self-acceptance is about accepting oneself, accepting the inability to do something, and do the things he can do.

For example, someone got a result of a test and only scored 65. If he was a self-affirming person, he would say “I was just unlucky this time. The real me scores 100.” On the contrary, if he was a self-accepting person, he would say “What can I do to get closer to 100 next time?”

So, self-affirmation is a notion that could bring a superiority complex, and it could be said that it’s a life in which one lies to oneself.

Accept what is irreplaceable, and have the courage to change what can be changed.

Don’t trust others, but have confidence in them

Trust is like lending money from bank. Banks lend you money in condition you will return the money.

Confidence in others means believing unconditionally, without any expectations, without any sufficient objective grounds for trusting someone.

By having a confidence in others, one can build a deep relationship. And doubt cannot be in it. For example, you doubt your partner and thought that she cheats on you. Everything you see will only be the evidences that she really was cheating on you: Her speaking tone, casual remarks, times you cannot reach her, et cetera. Even though she might not.

Of course, there are some concerns regarding being taken advantage of by the person we have our confidence in. But it should not matter if we already have self-acceptance to begin with. By simply understanding that it is the other person’s task to take advantage of our confidence, it would become easier to get to the core of ‘confidence in others’.

So, what should we do? We always have the choice to sever the relationship if we don’t want to make it better. That is our task. But, to learn to see others as comrades, we know what choice to make.

Contribution to others

We are truly aware of our own worth only when we feel our existence and behaviour are beneficial to the community.

The most simple form of contribution to others is work, including joining the society and become part of the workforce, or household labour. Through labour, one makes contribution to others and commits to the community where one belongs. One would truly feel ‘I am of use to someone’ and accept one’s existential worth.

Through work, one can have a sense of belonging. In other words: ‘It’s okay to be here’. That is why some people who already have so much money still continue to do work.

Contribution of others does not mean one should sacrifice the self for the others. It would be living the other’s life but one’s own. It does not mean getting rid of the ‘I’ in the service of others, but to be truly aware of one’s worth.

A common example of this would be one who felt unappreciated when doing a work. Naturally, there would be thoughts such as ‘Why don’t they help me?”, “Don’t they care at all?”, “Why am I always the one who have to do all the work?”. It shows that one wants to have the feeling of usefulness for someone else.

Instead of thinking “What can the others can do for me?”, learn to think “What I can do for others?”. By just reframing the thoughts, the reality of the work will be different. One would enjoy the work itself, and might actually lead someone to offer help on the work. This feeling of contribution can be created by thinking of the other people as comrades.

Life is a series of moments

Do not treat it as a single line. Life is a series of moments called ‘now’. If life is a single line, then life-planning would be possible. But life itself is a series of dots. Which is why well-planned life is not something to be treated as necessary or unnecessary, because it is impossible.

Why is it impossible? Because what happened the past has nothing to do with the present. And what the future may hold is not a matter to think about here and now.

If one lives as if one were dancing for each passing instant, when one surveys the surroundings, one will realise: “I guess I have made it this far”. Some of them stays in the course, some of them don’t. If one danced the dance of programming, one might stay to become a programmer. The others might end up in different places.

None of the lives came to an end “en route”. It is enough to find fulfilment in the dancing of here and now.

Live in the moment of now

The past is gone, the future is unknown. The only time you can control is now. Treat life as if you are dancing, where every single movement is the outcome. There is no concern with arriving somewhere when doing it. But, eventually arriving somewhere is a result of having danced.

Shine the spotlight on here and now, is to go about doing something one can do now, earnestly and conscientiously. By living earnestly, one will not be concerned with the past and the future.

For example, one wants to get to university, but he makes no attempt to study. This is an attitude of not living earnestly. Of course, one may have no idea on what to study or maybe the entrance exam is still far off. One cannot wait until he knows what to do.

What should one do then? Just do it little by little. Do a little math or memorise some texts. Start to dance the dance. By doing so, one can have a sense of accomplishment of today. In other words, it is a sense of “This is what I did today”.

If one do not have the objective or the like, it is fine. What matters is to dance the dance.

To better understand this idea, I recommend you to watch a movie called “Forrest Gump”. For me, the titular character is the epitome of someone who lived very earnestly, even though he’s mentally challenged. But somehow, he went on and on to become very successful.

Life in general has no meaning, whatever meaning life has must be assigned to the individual

The meaning of life itself depends on the glasses one wear. It’s like a near-sighted person with a blurry vision suddenly can see well by wearing glasses.

For example after one faced a hardship, one can choose for his lifestyle: To see the world as unforgiving and everyone as enemies, or still see the world as a beautiful place and everyone as comrades. Only you can assign the meaning of your own life.

When one feels lost in life, it means that one is trying to choose the path of freedom. It is a path which one is not afraid to be disliked, a path of not living others’ lives, and a path of his alone.

And if one is lost in the path of freedom, rely on the ‘guiding star’. By doing this, one can keep moving to this direction and can find happiness. The guiding star is called ‘contribution to others’.

We can change the world by changing ourselves. By changing our glasses, or the point of view of how we see the world, the world will change. It all depends on ourselves.


I really recommend reading The Courage to be Disliked. It’s based on Adlerian psychology which somehow is not as popular as Freudian psychology and Jungian psychology. That is why it’s worth a read, to open a new perspective in our lives and in our interpersonal relationships. And of course, to live happily.

I hope it can be a great help for you! Thanks for reading!

“Someone has to start. Other people might not be cooperative, but that is not connected to you. My advice is this: You should start. With no regard to whether others are cooperative or not.”

– Alfred Alder

By Ericko Yap

Just a guy who is obsessed to improve himself. Working as a programmer in a digital banking company. Currently programming himself in calisthenics, reading books, and maintaining a blog.

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