Transcript of Finding Hope and Happiness in a Pessimistic World
John Jantsch: This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by ZeroBounce, an email validation system that integrates with all the major ESPs to make sure, hey, your mail doesn’t bounce. Check it out at zerobounce.net.
John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Mark Manson. He is a speaker and a blogger at markmanson.net and the author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and the new book, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope. Having thrown my PG rating out the window, I want to welcome you, Mark.
Mark Manson: It’s good to be here, John.
John Jantsch: There is a Mark Twain quote that I love, and when I quote people, I end up paraphrasing. I never get it right, but he advised writers to every time they were tempted to use the word really or very to substitute the word damn because your editor would strike it out, and your writing would be so much stronger, but not so much anymore. Huh?
Mark Manson: Apparently not.
John Jantsch: I’d like to think of these more as concepts than words, but I was walking by… the use of this language anyway. I was walking by an airport bookstore the other day, and there’s an entire section now that I think maybe you started of people using F with some variation of asterisks. With all the issues going on in the world now, is cursing become trifling?
Mark Manson: I guess so. Honestly, I’m fascinated by it too. Clearly, I’ve created a brand, and a bunch of people are jumping into it and copying it, but there seems to be something about vulgarity that the shock value in it or the emotional charge in it that people are getting really excited about for whatever reason.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Well, it might have something to do with some sales that you’ve accomplished as well. Last time I looked, and I’m sure you have it more accurate, but I think I saw somewhere 8 million plus copies of The Subtle Art… Do you have any sense of why that book exploded?
Mark Manson: I think it’s a combination of things. I definitely think part of it is the title. It definitely grabs your attention, but I also think… I sometimes call my brand of self-help a pessimistic self-help. It’s a personal development that is less about, “Oh, we can achieve anything.” It’s more just, “Humans suck; let’s try to suck a little bit less.”
Mark Manson: I think there’s something about the last few years that I think people are just feeling incredibly pessimistic, and there’s a cultural moment that’s happening where we’re becoming very aware of our own pessimism, and so for whatever reason, my style of writing, my titles, everything, it’s really catching that wave right now.
John Jantsch: Yeah and for those who have… the handful of people who have not read any of Mark’s work, you’re very funny. You tell great stories that are very engaging, and so it’s actually very easy to read. What I enjoy the most is you’re reading along, you’re reading along, and then you just zing us. It’s like in this newest book, the How to Start Your Own Religion, I was like, “Wait a minute. What? Is that… ?”
John Jantsch: I wasn’t sure if you were kidding or not for a while, and that’s what I love about your style of writing, but I’ve got a really hard question for you.
Mark Manson: Sure.
John Jantsch: Not everybody sells 8 million books. What has that done to your life?
Mark Manson: Oh, well, it’s made my bank account a lot bigger. It’s funny, I was on another podcast recently, and they were like, “Wow man, so tell it. Come on, tell us what’d you go out and buy?” I was like, “Uh, I bought a Nintendo.”
John Jantsch: Well, here’s the reason I asked that. Obviously, it swelled your bank account, but I don’t get the sense-
Mark Manson: Sure.
John Jantsch: … that you’re a person that necessarily seeks fame and seek it or not, you’ve gotten it.
Mark Manson: Yes. Yeah. It’s funny. I don’t think it’s changed my life a whole lot. I tell people that I think being a famous author is the perfect mix because your work is widely known and appreciated, but people don’t really recognize you on the street or if you go into a restaurant or anything, so you don’t really get your privacy invaded a whole lot. I wish I could give you a really exciting answer, but I don’t think it’s affected that much.
John Jantsch: You mentioned the last couple of years seems like it’s been a rough patch. I think every generation probably thinks that theirs has been the worst time in history. Do you find that to be true? I mean you look at some of the divides going on, particularly in the United States right now, and I feel like they’re historically bad. I know you’re an avid researcher. Do you think that that’s the case?
Mark Manson: I do think you’re right. Every generation does because every generation, whatever problems face that generation, are completely new and unexplored. There’s a little bit of I think a sense of specialness that comes with each generation. What is interesting about today is that the level of pessimism or I guess just hysteria that’s going on is not relative to how well we’re doing economically. Our economies are booming; we’re safe; we’re not at war, we’re not being bombed by anybody. There’s not riots in the streets.
Mark Manson: Usually, the type of pessimism that we see right now is accompanied by some sort of massive, tumultuous thing that’s going on. For whatever reason, today it’s not. I just thought that was really peculiar, and that was one of the starting points of the new book is basically if everything’s awesome, why are we so upset all the time?
John Jantsch: How does admitting we’re all gonna die let us live a better life?
Mark Manson: I think facing one’s mortality is a big principle in my work, and it’s one thing I’m constantly trying to make the reader more aware of, I guess their own insignificance. I think while it’s a downer, I think it has a very liberating effect in that it’s only by thinking about one’s own death that we’re able to really get good perspective on what’s important in our life.
Mark Manson: If I start asking myself questions like, “Well, if this is the last year I’m alive, would I still be doing the same thing I’m doing?” that presents a lot of clarity for the decisions that I’m making and helps us avoid traps and falling into habits that we wouldn’t be happy we had in the long run.
John Jantsch: There’s some… Viktor Frankl, certainly… You have a story about Auschwitz in the book, and Viktor Frankl I think was in Auschwitz?
Mark Manson: Yes.
John Jantsch: Eli [Wiesel] was in Auschwitz, and I think… I can’t remember which one of these said this, but that the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. Hope is in the title of the book, and you talk about the opposite of happiness is hopelessness. How do we wrestle with that?
Mark Manson: I wrote a book about hope because I think, again, coming back to this pessimism that’s pervading everything today, I wanted to investigate what it is about modern life that is making it so difficult to have a clear vision of where we want to go in the future. I think happiness gets discussed a lot, and we all want to feel good, and that’s great and everything, but really it’s at the end of the day, we need to have some sort of hope for something greater for that happiness to ever emerge.
Mark Manson: If we’re not able to construct that vision of something greater for ourselves, then we just end up in despair. If we’re angry or we’re sad or we’re anxious or upset or something, that at least implies that there’s hope of something greater. But if we just feel hopeless then that implies that there’s no vision for any sort of improvement.
John Jantsch: I believe at least that a lot of people have hope when they feel they’re in control of their situation. You basically tell us that self-control is an illusion, and that we all pretty much just have to accept our fate. Maybe I’m paraphrasing, but I read that.
Mark Manson: Well it’s not that we don’t have any control over ourselves. It’s that our… First of all, I agree with you that a lot of hope is rooted in a feeling that we have control over our fate. Chapter two is called self-control, is an illusion. The point of that chapter title is that we actually have far less control than we think we do, and we perceive ourselves to have total control over our lives.
Mark Manson: Anybody who’s tried to start using their gym membership or maybe cut something out of their diet quickly finds out that you have less control over your behavior than you typically would like to admit.
Mark Manson: The whole chapter simply discusses why don’t we do the things we know we should do? Why do we seem to have such a difficult time acting on all of the stuff that we want for our lives, that we know is good for our lives, but just for some reason, we can’t peel ourselves off the couch or whatever? It turns out our minds are kind of a messy place, and there’s a little bit of an art to getting ourselves to act the way that we would prefer ourselves to.
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John Jantsch: My favorite part of that chapter is that you told a little story about Tom Waits, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. Old 55 changed my life.
Mark Manson: I love Tom.
John Jantsch: One of the things that I see frequently, particularly, you get to a certain… You’re not living on the streets. You got a nice job. You’ve got a nice house. You’ve got a nice car. We go out of our way to make sure that we don’t do anything that’s uncomfortable. A lot of people anyway. You talk quite a bit about not necessarily the need to suffer, but the benefit of suffering. You want to unpack that a little?
Mark Manson: Yeah. I think in this discussion of why have we seemed to be so [inaudible] pessimistic today, I spent a couple chapters talking about comfort and talking about pleasure and avoiding pain. Essentially, the short version is that I come to the conclusion that the same way we need to… our muscles need to be stressed and strained a little bit on a regular basis to grow and improve and maintain health, I think our emotional and our psychological “muscles,” so to speak, need a certain regular amount of stress and strain to also remain healthy and robust.
Mark Manson: My fear is that so much of the 21st century world is built around convenience and immediacy and instant gratification that we’re not getting those reps, where part of our mental health is essentially just atrophying from a lack of regular exertion.
John Jantsch: Yeah, I read somewhere… I can’t remember actually who the author was, but, and there may be some physiological benefit to this, but you’ve talked about taking a cold shower in the morning, and the benefit of it was that you were going to suffer some right off, beginning of the day, and that was going to then set the benchmark for the whole day. Again, there may be some actual physiological benefits too, but he was talking more mental.
Mark Manson: Yeah. I think there’s a lot to be said. I think the same way 50 years ago we discovered… nutritional science started to figure out like, “Oh hey, you can’t eat cupcakes every day. That’s bad for you,” it’s, I think, we’re starting to discover just in the last few years that some habits that we have, whether it’s phone usage or social media or where we get our information, has the same effect on us mentally.
Mark Manson: I think there needs to be an informational diet in terms of making sure that we’re challenging ourselves, challenging ourselves intellectually, but also challenging our own beliefs, challenging a lot of our assumptions about our relationships in the world and things like that, and that we need that to a certain degree to maintain a healthy and balanced psychological worldview.
John Jantsch: I wonder to what degree we can blame mobile devices and social media for people being so freaked out lately?
Mark Manson: I think this is a hot, hot topic right now, and it’s funny cause there’s a lot of data that shows a lot of really scary stuff. Then there’s a lot of data that shows a bunch of nothing, and the jury’s out, but my sense is that social media is probably only really bad in very large doses or for very young people. That seems to be the most clear pattern amongst the data on social media.
Mark Manson: Interestingly, I think the smartphone thing might actually be a bigger culprit here. I think it’s the constant instant access to everything you want that actually creates more psychological issues and emotional issues than necessarily Facebook.
John Jantsch: I remember when I was growing up, like all kids, “Mom, I’m bored,” and she used to say, “Well, good. You should be. You need to be. It’s healthy.” Now, we we just can’t allow ourselves that moment of boredom, can we?
Mark Manson: Yeah and there seems to be with that unwillingness to be bored a little bit, there also comes this lack of attention, lack of focus, and also this… I think it causes us to be a little bit more emotionally volatile than we would be otherwise.
John Jantsch: I am a big fan of Thoreau’s writing, and I love this quote from… I’m not sure actually where it appeared, but we ignore the God inside us in an effort to venerate the God that would not exist without us.
Mark Manson: Hmm.
John Jantsch: You take on religion a little bit, or at least the organized fashion of religion as a little bit of a, I don’t know if you want to say enemy, but as something that also freaks people out.
Mark Manson: Yeah. It’s funny the… There’s a chapter on… You can’t really write a book about hope without writing about religion, and so I’ve avoided touching religion for pretty much my whole career, but I felt like this book was finally the place to do it. I have a couple of points about religion. One, first of all, I’m an atheist, but I’m not necessarily… I definitely am not super critical of traditional religions themselves.
Mark Manson: I think there’s a lot… I understand why people believe in them and a lot of the benefits and meaning that they get from them. For me, the points I wanted to make with that chapter is one, I don’t think there’s actually… It’s actually the opposite of atheism, which is that I don’t really think it’s possible for us to not behave religiously to some extent.
Mark Manson: You know, even if you don’t worship like a traditional God or go to church, you’re still buying into certain groups and belief systems largely on faith, that they are important, they matter, and that they’re going to make the future better. They provide hope for you. Anytime you buy into this set of belief systems or set of constructs on faith, you end up creating alliances with other people who share those values and then also defending those beliefs against other people. I cast a very wide net in terms of how I define religion.
Mark Manson: Something as simple like something… political parties, sports teams, even being a fan of a TV series, these can all be religious experiences in that there is a mythology that we are putting our hopes in, and then we are organizing ourselves around those hopes together and finding meaning in them. It’s a fundamental human behavior. We all do it, but as with every human behavior, it has a lot of benefits, but it also has a lot of costs.
Mark Manson: A lot of people just over the years and a lot of people… I’m always being emailed by [various] religious people, saying, “Well, X book that defines my whole religion said a bunch of this stuff before you did.” My approach has always been like, “Well, of course it does, because this is just how the human mind works.
Mark Manson: The reason these religions have been around so long is that they manage to help orient people very well towards the world. It’s a little bit of a trippy chapter, and I’ve definitely lost some readers over it, but I’ve been prepared to make that sacrifice.
John Jantsch: I thought we were just going to lose the Catholics, but now we’re going to lose Game of Thrones fans and The New England Patriots fans all in one shot, one chapter. Great.
Mark Manson: We’re probably better off without them.
John Jantsch: The political messages today seem to be everything is screwed up, and it’s not your fault. It’s them. I think that that mentality seems to be at the root in some ways of all this discontent.
Mark Manson: Yep, absolutely. One of my big goals with this book… Because one of the things that surprised me and made me very happy about the success of Subtle Art was that I had very, I have very large fan bases on both sides of the political spectrum and especially, in 2019, there are not many people who are able to speak to both sides without being skewered in some way.
Mark Manson: I very consciously wrote this book to speak up to both sides at once and say, “Hey, it’s not ‘them’ that are causing the problems. It’s us. We are the problem. There’s nothing special about that person you hate or that person you hate. It’s us. This is a cultural issue, and we have to come together to solve it.
John Jantsch: The final chapter, you talk about AI, and I think you even go as far as calling it “the final religion,” when I read that… I’m into technology. I like to know the new things going on, but the further I got into that chapter, I couldn’t decide if I was hopeful or if that actually caused despair, the idea of that.
Mark Manson: Yeah. It’s-
John Jantsch: I couldn’t tell really where you were coming down on that.
Mark Manson: I think I’m strangely… I’m in a very weird spot with AI. I think most people, there are people who are I guess terrified of AI, who think that AI is going to overthrow the world order and we not make it out alive. Then there are AI utopists who think that AI is going to… we’re going to merge with the AI, and everything’s going to be amazing, and we’re going to solve all of our problems.
Mark Manson: The reason I called it the final religion is because essentially, all of these other issues that we struggle with today on all these other places, all these other places that we try to find meaning, once general intelligence surpasses human intelligence, it’s gonna render all of these other questions either obsolete or it will advance them so quickly that we’re not going to be able to keep up.
Mark Manson: I felt like it was a natural end point. As much as it’s blindsided a lot of readers, I felt like it was a very natural end point for the book, and I personally think AI’s probably going to render us obsolete, but I find that to be very hopeful because, for one, I believe morality is very much based in rationality. I think the best aspects of ourselves come when we are able to sit down and think and be compassionate.
Mark Manson: If the AI surpasses us in intelligence, then it’s probably going to surpass us in its understanding of morality as well. One of the points I make in the book is look, we’re the ones who commit genocide. We’re the ones who beat and abuse and enslave each other. We don’t really, in terms of an ethical argument about AI, we don’t really have a leg to stand on.
Mark Manson: If this greater force comes along that we’re no longer able to comprehend, and they start organizing a world in which a lot of these religious conflicts and us versus them dichotomies fall away, then I think that better for everybody, even if we’re not the ones in charge anymore. I’m like this misanthropic AI supporter.
John Jantsch: Then there are those that would argue that it could actually amplify those things that you talked about as opposed to making them go away. I guess that’s the challenge with any technology.
Mark Manson: It is; it is. It could amplify, and it could amplify up to a degree, and then I think once it surpasses us, maybe it comes back on the other side. The other thing I wanted to explore in that chapter that I haven’t really seen talked about anywhere is that traditional religion emerges from mystery. It’s when humans don’t understand something, we come up with a lot of, I guess, supernatural explanations.
Mark Manson: It’s like if you dance this way, then it’s going to rain next week. I really enjoyed exploring this idea of once AI takes over, we’re not going to have any idea what the hell is happening anymore. Cars are going to show up and drive us somewhere and drop us off at a building. There’s going to be people there, and we’re not going to know why any of this stuff is happening.
Mark Manson: In a weird irony, we might start returning to a lot of this religious behavior of cavemen and stuff. It’s like, “Oh, well if you wear this shirt, the AI gods will put favor on you, and they’ll take care of your family. Be sure to say this when the car comes.” I don’t know. For some reason, I think it’s hilarious, but a lot of people have emailed me and been like, “Dude, that is dark.”
John Jantsch: Yeah I didn’t find it dark. I think the word you said, mysterious. It just really shows that it could be a different world, which maybe-
Mark Manson: I-
John Jantsch: … is unsettling to some.
Mark Manson: I think it will be. All of this joking and the religious talk aside, I think it really is going to be a different world, and I think it’s going to be different in such a way that we can’t really comprehend what the issues and divisions are going to be when it comes.
John Jantsch: Mark’s books can be found pretty much anywhere. In fact, I have a… This is a personal question. Many of my listeners may not care about this, but I noticed your recent book, Harper brought it back out in paperback and hardcover at the same time. Was there any thought in that?
Mark Manson: Well, they’re doing this thing. It drives me crazy, man. They do these things called Harper Luxe, and it’s basically large print editions. They’re paperback, but they’re large print editions, so it’s like 500 pages. The fonts are blown up really big for people with poor eyesight.
Mark Manson: Amazon keeps categorizing them as paperback even though they’re these special editions for people with bad eyesight, and so people keep buying them thinking that they’re the paperback. Then they show up, and they’re these big fat like 600-page books with giant text.
John Jantsch: I’ve got another funny story for you on my first book published 2007 by Thomas Nelson who is now owned by Harper or they’re all owned by each the same company probably, but my first book, they had very few edits, but one of them is they wanted me to take the word crap out of the texts, so I thought you would enjoy that.
Mark Manson: Wow. How far we have come.
John Jantsch: Mark, it was a pleasure meeting you in this format and learning your thoughts and deeper thoughts on your writing, and people check out Mark’s work. As I said, the books are sold pretty much anywhere you can buy a book, and you might want to follow markmanson.net. Any other places you want to invite people?
Mark Manson: No, that’s it.
John Jantsch: I did it all. All right. Awesome. Mark, thanks so much. Hopefully, we’ll run into you out there on the road sometime.
Mark Manson: All right. Thanks, John.