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Book Review: The Courage to be Disliked

Ok, I’ll admit it…I had to force feed this book to myself. Don’t get me wrong, it has a lot of really good points, but reading it was like shoveling plain bran cereal into my mouth, one spoon at a time. It helped a little that I read most of it while my husband was in the hospital, off and on, most of last month. I read it while he slept and it was easy to put down any time he needed anything.

So…if it has good stuff in it, why did I struggle with it so much?

For one, the title is WILDLY misleading. The full title is “The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness,” which led me to believe that this was some esoteric Japanese idea, like Marie Kondo, but instead of the magic of tidying up, I was about to learn the secrets of happiness from being disliked. Instead…it’s actually a book that was written by Japanese authors and originally published in Japanese…about a lesser known Western Psychology school of thought by Alfred Adler, who was a contemporary of Freud who disagreed with Freud. So…it’s really not Japanese at all.

To me, that’s kind of like traveling to San Francisco and then walking 10 blocks in pursuit of Chicago style pizza. (Fun fact…I had friends that actually dragged me along on that adventure.)

The second thing that drove me a little nuts was the style in which is was written, which is in a fictitious dialogue between a wise philosopher and a young man. Apparently this is a time honored way of writing a philosophical discussion, but after it’s translated from Japanese to English…it just comes off as really fake and annoying. I would rather have had a more concise outline of what the author wanted to teach me, but then that probably would have wound up being a much shorter book.

But…enough negativity…on to the good points!

One of the big takeaways of this book is the idea that we’re each responsible for our own happiness. Regardless of what you’ve had happen in your past or what’s going on in your life right now, you can choose to be happy and move beyond your circumstances. Another great part was about boundaries and leaving other people’s work with them, rather than taking it on ourselves. This is described in terms of “life work” which often translates to “relationship work.” A lot of unnecessary unhappiness comes from trying to change those around us or control their behavior. This book really does a good job of helping to cut through that and describe a way to form real “relationships of equals” where we can accept others as they are more fully and also leave responsibility for their behaviors to them.

One place where I think this falls apart is where the authors try to apply this to raising children. I’m guessing the authors’ spouses raised the kids because I think praise and criticism definitely do have a place with kids. I can’t imagine how my kids would feel if I never praised them and how they might fare if I never told them when they were making a big mistake.

Then, there’s the point that gives the book its title, the idea that if we let go of trying to be liked by others, we can find greater happiness. The book explains that this doesn’t mean being rude or inconsiderate to others, but accepting that there are people who…just aren’t going to like us and that trying to twist ourselves into a different shape that will be more pleasing to them…is actually lying to them and to ourselves. This book advocates being authentically ourselves and leaving the choice whether to like or dislike that authentic self with others rather than feeling like we’re responsible for whether they like us or not.

Wow. That’s such a small, simple idea, but it’s actually huge when I begin to think about it.

How often have I carefully curated or filtered who I really am out of fear that if I revealed too much…people might not like me? How often have I made choices based on trying to be liked? Sometimes it’s something small, like I don’t buy that shirt because other people might think it’s “too loud,” or “too much,” or “too young”…too “something.” Other times it’s bigger, like choosing a career based off of what we think other people will see as respectable or conventional. I know I often think about saying or writing something and then think, “No…it’s TOO Jewish…my family won’t like it…I should water it down some.” Or…”Oooh…I can’t say that…it will upset someone on some far extreme political side…and I don’t want to deal with their outrage.”

We all have some spots where this shows up, I think.

The takeaway is the more we allow the opinions of others to fence us in…the less happy we will be because happiness comes from being authentically ourselves and from having people around us who love and accept us as who we really are…not some facade we’ve created to be liked.

The idea of this book is that every thing we allow to hold us back from living the life we really want to be living comes down to a lack of courage and it simply takes choosing to be courageous enough to be ourselves…even if that means some will dislike us…at least there will be honesty in that dislike.


Published by Geek-Yoga

Yoga Instructor, Fitness and Nutrition Geek, Network Engineer, and Wife and Mother of 2 living the dream in Milwaukee, WI.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: The Courage to be Disliked

  1. This was an interesting post. I’ve only ever read one translation of a Japanese book and it was a work of fiction. I enjoyed it very much. I see “let me tell you about Western culture” books every day. I think oat bran writing suits the culture which has a communication style that is somewhat vague. I imagine it was a nuanced translation to Japanese from English. Hence the fake dialogue. (That’s how they explain concepts to avoid offending anyone specific). As the source material exists in English, that’s no excuse – the translator(s) could have done a better job.


    1. The book explained the dialogue as being a “socratic dialogue.” Apparently it’s not a Japanese thing, but a philosophy thing. Either way…it got annoying in a hurry!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for responding to my comment, which was very long. I didn’t want to write an essay but I wanted to explain a different rationale for using that particular style, which may not have been stated explicitly by the writers. Apologies for any lack of clarity in my remarks. Happy reading.


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