There is a popular book going around the self-help circuit lately, and it’s easy to understand why. That’s because the book’s title is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F—.” Brilliant marketing, as it’s a quick, easy and effective way to grab your attention. The book also doesn’t beat around the bush in revealing what’s contained within the following pages. Essentially, it’s a no-BS (though expletive-laden) look at life how it really is, warts and all.
Rather than sugar-coat everything with a layer of positivity, Mark Manson suggests we embrace reality, face pain head-on and find the courage to persevere through life’s many obstacles in our quest to live the best life possible.
Before there was Manson, however, there was Miyamoto Musashi. About 300 years ago, this Japanese Buddhist and expert swordsman made his own list of 20 rules we should follow to achieve a happier, more fulfilled life. Manson’s new book reminded me a lot of Musashi’s beliefs, which made me think the fundamentals of life today – even with all the first-world technology, advances and innovations the 21st century has afforded us – aren’t all that different. While we may have progressed as a society, these two works, written centuries apart, reveal that the human condition and mind remain relatively unchanged.
This can be good or bad, depending on the way you view it, but in either case, I thought these time-tested lessons were worth sharing.
Here are my favorite five:
- Accept life as it is
This idea really is at the crux of both men’s teachings. While our perception may change based on personal life circumstances and outlooks, the facts rarely do. Accepting the negative parts of life is crucial to enjoying its positive aspects. Additionally, we cannot change what we don’t acknowledge, so running, denying or hiding from a problem rarely works. In fact, it usually makes a bad situation even worse.
- Do not react impulsively
Acting upon our impulse is rarely a good idea unless we are in some form of imminent danger. It can be great to go with your “gut” decision, but those decisions are usually based on intuition, not on an overly emotional state. When we feel threatened in any matter, our knee-jerk reaction can be to lash out. To get defensive toward the offending party. If we take a breath and a step back, however, we will oftentimes see that our initial response is not the wise reaction. It is much better to evaluate the situation based on the facts than on our assumptions or editorialized version of what just transpired. When this happens, cooler heads prevail and the outcome is much more likely to result in our favor.
- Keep your ego in check
This rule tends to go hand in hand with the ability to control our impulses, but it also extends to so much more. The ego tends to be exclusively self-serving. Ironic, since acting solely based on our own self-interests often yields less-than-favorable results. Rather than always focusing on our ourselves, Musashi believed we should see the world for the bigger picture. This helps us re-evaluate what is really important in life. Studies have also shown that helping another is one of the most effective ways to make ourselves happy. So do yourself a favor and think past your own agenda next time you are presented with a decision to make and an ability to act.
- Don’t be ruled by possessions
It’s like Musashi knows me! Like myself, this wise Buddhist is not a fan of clinging to possessions that no longer serve you. This involves a good deal self-realization, but once you’re comfortable in your own skin and secure with yourself, it’s much easier to let go of the items we no longer need. They may have served an important purpose for us in the past, but it’s always freeing to let go of unnecessary attachments. This frees those items up to assist others along their paths, and it frees up physical, mental and emotional space in our own lives to welcome new experiences.
- Never stop learning
Albert Einstein said “once you stop learning, you start dying” – even more proof that these lessons are applicable and timeless. Yes, when our quest for knowledge and novelty ends, there is not much left for us to do in the world. There really isn’t any reason why we should arrive at this state prematurely, however. There is always more to learn and the human mind, body and soul possess an infinite ability to grow. Every day we wake up is another opportunity to be better than we were the day before because we now possess the knowledge yesterday’s lessons imparted.
You can find Musashi’s remaining 15 lessons here. Which one is your favorite?