Review: F*ck Feelings

F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems - Michael Bennett  MD, Sarah Bennet

(I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)


Life isn’t fair. I know this, you know this, but we still keep hoping that somehow the universe will work things out. But the universe really couldn’t give fewer fucks.


F*ck Feelings is a book about being realistic, about coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t fair, and realizing that, in the grand scheme of things, your personal feelings matter very little. This sounds pessimistic, and sometimes the book does border on a weird nihilism, but it is rather refreshing to read a self-help book that doesn’t try to shill a bright and shiny message that runs counter to the nature of the world. The premise is simple: some circumstances simply cannot be changed or improved, so rather than feeling constantly defeated by your inability to alter them, it’s better to learn how to deal with the negative feelings on a day-to-day basis. The two really terrible f-words in life are “fair” and “feelings,” and the reverence we have for them is delusional.


If the title didn’t tip you off, the book is intended to be both helpful and funny, and overall the writing is genuinely entertaining, while also being legitimately well researched and useful, which is no mean feat. There are a lot of notable passages (many of which I highlighted), but whether they are genuinely profound or just pleasant (but snarky) aphorisms is a tough call sometimes. The balance between the humorous presentation and the serious subject matter wavers from time to time, with one occasionally overcompensating for the other, but overall it keeps the tone fairly consistent. Some of the unevenness likely comes from the dual author set-up, in which a comedy writer “translates” her father’s psych and neuroscience findings through her particular Upright Citizen’s Brigade filter. It does read much better than most pop psychology books, which are generally either dully academic, or way too touchy-feely. It often fights back against the trend in psychotherapy that believes things can ultimately be fixed, or that feelings can be radically altered, which is refreshing.


But I did have a nagging concern that grew the more I read: when is a personal issue not just personal, but something systemic that really should be addressed, and when is “life is unfair” just an excuse to let the status quo roll on? Unfortunately, the book didn’t really answer that question. It consistently reminds people to “live up to your own personal values” while accepting certain unchangeable things, and frankly I don’t know what the fuck that really means. Often it felt like a cop out. If life is unfair, and my personal values are centered around making it just a little more fair for other people, isn’t the whole deal just counterproductive at that point? I don’t have an answer, and neither do the authors.


One of the other elements I struggled with was the template-based structure, which makes it very helpful as a reference guide, but repetitive and dull if you are reading it cover to cover. Each chapter is laid out identically, with a breakdown of the issue, what you can and can’t change, anonymous real world examples, and a “script” for dealing with other people (or your inner critic). The information is helpful, but also a bit truncated. And I’m pretty sure the script is just there to be funny.


As far as self-help books go, I would recommend this one to those who like their advice presented in a funny way, as well as injected with some legitimate neuroscience. But if you don’t want your idealism punctured, this one probably isn’t for you.


(Cross-posted at Goodreads: F*ck Feelings)