The Courage To Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi & Fumitake Koga


What if the good life is closer than we think – but getting there means turning common wisdom on its head?

The Courage To Be Disliked attempts to answer why so many of us feel unhappy or suffer trauma in life. To do this, it flips some of the ways you may be used to thinking about life.

In the West, dominant theories about emotional happiness tend to say that something happened, so there’s a consequence. For instance, you may be in a bad mood now because your boss was rude to you this morning, or you avoid socialising because you’re terribly shy.

Based on the theories of psychotherapist Alfred Adler, Kishimi and Koga’s book turns this conventional thinking on its head. If you’re unhappy, they suggest, it’s because you’ve chosen it as a deliberate strategy – perhaps to protect yourself, or to manipulate others.

If that sounds like one heck of a truth bomb, the book is particularly controversial in its advice to avoid ever giving praise or blame – even to children.

How we live

Written as a dialogue between a philosopher and a student, the book has us eavesdrop on their conversation as a way of teaching core concepts about personal and social happiness.

In the book, the philosopher asks us to be honest about what motivates our emotions. He explains that people engineer situations in order to fulfil their subconscious desires:

“In other words, in order to fulfil the goal of shouting, you created the emotion of anger.”

Depending on where you stand (or your personal experience) reading and realising this may be a watershed moment, or downright insulting. Either way, it’s the core theme of the book. You may see yourself as a casualty of your bad experiences but, the authors write, you can change your world.

Speaking of happiness

The Courage To Be Disliked is written in the form of a conversation (a bit like the dialogues Plato used). This is an effective way to make tricky concepts more digestible, though the chat can seem stilted at times:

PHILOSOPHER: Right … It’s as if you see the world through dark glasses, so naturally everything seems dark. But if that is the case, instead of lamenting about the world’s darkness, you could just remove the glasses.

As well as personal responsibility, the book touches on:

  • Living in the present moment
  • Self acceptance
  • Change is easy (but why we try to keep things as they are)
  • Building good relationships with others
  • Why contributing to others is the key to happiness.

All of these perhaps boil down to just one thing: it’s your life, so live it the way that truly makes you happy. This is what the title hints at. If you want to feel fulfilled, stop trying to satisfy what you think others expect of you.

The Courage To Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

Quoted edition published by Allen & Unwin (2019)

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Picture credit: Matheus Viana