I recently came across this book-excerpt from Mark Manson, head-lined The Feedback Loop From Hell , and it related with me. I suggest you read it, before continuing here.
The reason I can relate to what is written there is that it builds on a simple yet profound insight:
You are not your feelings. Your brain can be wrong.
Simply put, it means that you can disagree with what (some part of) your brain feels, or thinks is right. This kind of outside view on oneself takes some practice to aqcuire, but it can be learned and practised. Once able to take this point of view on your feelings and desires, vicious cycles like the ones Manson descibes become visible and can more easily be broken. I would go so far to call it empowering, that is gaining a new way to take control over yourself.
I beleive this attitude has been a singificant factor in my own happiness and satisfaction in recent years. For example, blaming my brain (instead of myself) for all kinds of mistakes and mishaps makes it so much easier to laugh at myself, I mean it, instead of getting embarrassed or sad.
As a side note I want to mention that considering myself somewhat separate from my brain does not imply that I believe that there are any magical, religious or other non-materialistic things going on. It's all neurons, in this case just some part of the brain that reflects on what some other parts are up to.
So while I agree with Manson's general gist, I am not so sure about his advice to care less. His book is even called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. (His choice to not write "Fuck" properly, not mine.)
The objection that I have is that, yes, happiness might be achieved by giving up desires, being content with what you have and trying less hard. But I think persuing and fully realizing this goal easily leads to a worsening of actual living conditions. After all society rewards people with "drive", people that want to "achieve something", more than those who lack these traits. It is therefore less likely for happy people, who have transcended their desires, to end up in positions of influence, which in turn means that the rules of the world are not made in their favour.
Manson might not mean care less in that way, but for me this is connected. In addition, while caring less about your fears and pains, distancing yourself somewhat from them, is certainly positive for you, as argued above, I am left to wonder what happens with positive thoughts. When we learn to care less about negative feelings, can we prevent this mechanism to also make us care less about pleasure and love?