Self-help books (and blogs) are big business because we all want to believe we can fix our own problems. In F*ck Feelings, Dr. Michael Bennett and comedy writer Sarah Bennett argue that instead of solving life's impossible problems, we should learn to accept where we're at and go from there.
Who This Book Is For
F*ck Feelings is targeted at a subset of people who hate self-help books, but still want to read self-help books (we're a special bunch). While its ideas run counter to most of the cliched drivel you'll find from books with guru's faces plastered all over them, it's still about understanding yourself.
If there's a single thesis statement in F*ck Feelings, it's about not letting your emotions cloud your problem-solving skills. It's not about suppressing feelings or ignoring them. It's about approaching the world from a more rational point of view. It's about finding your place in the world, accepting it, and figuring out how to work with what you have, not what you want. The book's best suited for people who are sick of longing for impossible wishes, complaining about things they can't control, and who're sick of everyone telling them that the only thing in life worth striving for is happiness. The book is also riddled with pop culture references, profanity, and humour, so if that's what you're looking for in advice, then F*ck Feelings will find a happy place on your bookshelf.
F*ck Feelings is written for the more the pragmatic amongst us. It's simple, direct, and to the point with actionable suggestions. This is refreshing considering the copious amounts of extraneous crap that usually comes packed into self-help books.
What You'll Get
Unlike a lot of self-help books, F*ck Feelings isn't presented as a linear read. Instead, it feels more like an encyclopedia. You pick your malady, read that section of the book, then put it down. The book's divided up into 10 chapters to make this easy to do:
- Fuck Self-Improvement: The Fuck Self-Improvement chapter features the overall goal of the book: "Striving to improve yourself brings diminishing returns and prevents you from accepting yourself and living with what you've got. That's one reason self improvement efforts have to take into account your limits and competing priorities. Otherwise, it's less self-improvement and more self-sabotage." Which isn't to say the book tells you to avoid improving yourself. It just gives you a list of other factors to consider beyond of how you feel at a given moment.
- Fuck Self-Esteem: As the name suggests, this chapter tackles self-esteem, being a "loser," standing up to bullies, handling disabilities, and touches on helping kids with self-esteem.
- Fuck Fairness: Life isn't fair and we all don't have an equal opportunity. We like to think we have the right to live in safety, but that's not reality for everyone. Instead of blinding yourself from the reality of this, the Bennetts suggest a more earthly approach of tuning into the world around you and not expecting fairness. In short, unfairness is normal, closure is not.
- Fuck Helpfulness: If you're the type of person who overextends yourself into helping others — whether it's just assisting a friend with the day-to-day misery of their life or a more gallant altruism for mankind in general — you know your altruism comes with serious risks. That could be holding yourself responsible for events beyond your control or attempting to change someone who's unchangeable. When you fail, the guilt you end up feeling can ruin you. This chapter helps you take a more logical approach to helping people without overdoing it.
- Fuck Serenity: This chapter tackles the biggest lie propagated by self-help culture: that you can completely eliminate stress, fear, anxiety, and life's other unpleasantries. Instead of the self-lobotomy required to live a serene life in the 21st century, this chapter outlines ways to create more positive relationships with life's most obnoxious aspects. This includes dealing with bad relationships, facing your fears, and handling passive-aggressive hate.
- Fuck Love: This chapter's all about keeping yourself in check when you're in love. This breaks down to understanding the differences between what you want and what you need. If you've found yourself looking for love in all the wrong places, then this chapter's for you. It outlines strategies for defining what you're good at, focusing your appeal in a way that showcases your strengths, then searching for a partner. It also tackles dealing with commitment, change, sex, and lost love.
- Fuck Communication: Communication is the crux of positive relationships and we're all striving to be better at it. When we are, we assume we can resolve conflicts, get better jobs, and encourage intimacy. As the theme of this book suggests, the Bennetts point out that sometimes, no amount of communication can fix a problem. Learning to walk away from those conversations is more important than learning how to communicate. If you've ever found yourself feeling like communication is a cure-all that doesn't seem to actually work, this chapter lays down other options.
- Fuck Parenthood: This chapter's all about parenting, or rather, about keeping yourself in check and not ruining your child. Whether you're a new parent or already have a few under your belt, this chapters helps outline ways to keep your child safe while not ruining your mental health.
- Fuck Arseholes: Like it or not, other people in the world are terrible and they can ruin your day (or life) with just a few simple actions. This chapter's about dealing with those types of people, whether it's your friends, loved ones, or strangers.
- Fuck Treatment: Self-help can only take some of us so far. That's why despite there being an industry of books that sell millions of copies, we still have therapists in the world. This chapter walks you through the decision on whether you need a therapist and how to find one if so.
You don't need to read this entire book, which is one of the best parts about it. Unless you're struggling in every aspect of your life (I'm sorry), you can pick and chose the chapters that appeal to you and leave the rest behind.
One Trick You'll Take Away
There's a lot of this book I liked, and a lot of specific tricks for each of the various potential maladies you might face. But personally, my favourite approach was incredibly simple and comes at the end of the book in the Fuck Treatment chapter. It's about a specific problem (grumpiness), but the approach itself is universal:
Ask yourself whether your grumpiness affects the roles you value the most and in which a little misplaced anger can do a lot of damage, to your parenting, partnership, and maybe leadership. If you don't think crankiness has much effect, then it's just an annoying-yet-harmless personality trait, like constantly soliciting high gives or ending every sentence with a question mark. If you think being crotchety is holding you back, then look for a therapist who seems able to help you spot what you're doing when you're angry and manage your behaviour more effectively.
For me, this encapsulates what the book is trying to achieve at large: practicing a little self-awareness alongside a little self-observation. Do you not like something about yourself? Does it even matter or are you just nitpicking? If it matters, let's see what you can do about it within the means you have. If not, spend that energy elsewhere.
F*ck Feelings feels like a breath of fresh air from the self-help section of the bookstore, but it still sticks to the basic formula of the genre. It offers a singular approach to solving problems, then repeats that approach throughout the book using a variety of different examples.
Yet, what's nice about F*ck Feelings is the fact that while the advice is clinical, the presentation is more relaxed. It offers logical solutions to problems and usually gives you concrete examples of how to use your own sense of logic to solve problems for yourself. Despite the title, it's not about ignoring your feelings, it's about not letting them cloud your decision making and not respecting every stupid knee-jerk reaction you have as your true self. All this practicality breeds simplicity, which should make life a little easier for all of us.
Along with that simplicity comes a readjustment of expectations, which is my favourite part of the book as a whole. Instead of shooting for the sky and being constantly disappointed, F*ck Feelings wants you to always remember that life sucks sometimes, but that's ok. You can have goals, but there are things in life you can't control. The second you accept that, the simpler everything else becomes. That carries the danger of promoting "settling" instead of striving to do good things, but I felt like F*ck Feelings toed that line well. Still, I could see people thinking it takes the "everything is out of your control" thing a little too far. But as the book preaches, being practical about the advice you take is important. If you don't like something it suggests, don't bother with it.
Where F*ck Feelings falters most is in its language. It tends to repackage and repeat a lot of its (admittedly good) advice for each topic. It also overuses profanity and political incorrectness to the point that it's not very effective by the end. As with any humour, some of it will (along with some of the pop culture references) will be lost on you, but you just have to keep reading. But again, I don't think you should read the book in a linear way, and if you just stick to the few chapters that affect you, then those complaints are minor.