In 1868, 20 Japanese soldiers were ordered to commit seppuku (ritual disembowelment and decapitation) for killing several drunk French sailors who were harassing civilians. The French ignored several peaceful warnings and then assaulted the Japanese soldiers, but the soldiers needed to be sacrificed for the sake of international relations nonetheless.
On March 16th, the stage was set for the 20 soldiers’ seppuku at Myokokuji Temple in Osaka. Kneeling in front of a crowd which included other French naval soldiers, 11 Japanese men plunged a blade into their stomachs and sliced them open. They then went a step further than what the seppuku ritual requires. They grabbed their own intestines and flung them towards the French soldiers while shouting at the top of their lungs. After observing this with shock and awe, a French captain requested for this to stop and the remaining 9 Japanese men were spared.
Some (modern) men might say that attempting to flee from the scheduled ritual death would have been the ‘smart’ move. Perhaps the soldiers had the chance to escape, but still chose to do what was necessary to avoid conflict escalation with the French and maintain peace for the sake of their people. Despite the completely hopeless situation, these men still found a way to demonstrate strength so great that the French would request themselves that 9 of their fellow officers be spared. This brave yet gruesome act undoubtedly made the French think twice before ignoring Japanese law enforcement again.
I suspect many men nowadays are afraid of pursuing masculine strength as it may be interpreted as “douchebagginess” or “toxic masculinity.” Nowadays, we’re left to believe that masculinity is toxic until proven otherwise.
To understand masculinity, take a look at what high testosterone promotes. Anger, verbal aggressiveness, competition, dominance behavior, and physical violence, according to one study. How toxic. No wonder James Cameron said that testosterone is a ‘toxin’ that needs to be worked out of the system.
Let’s rephrase all those behaviors: Willingness to set boundaries, verbal assertiveness, competition, leadership behavior, willingness to stand up for and physically defend one’s self and others. Masculinity and toxic masculinity are cut from the same cloth. The villain of a story engages in high testosterone behaviors, but so does the hero that defeats him and returns peace to the people.
Men in general will be most satisfied with life when they make decisions from courage or strength – when they feel masculine. Rodent and human studies show that testosterone has an antidepressant effect, it supports positive mood in general, increases cognition and suppresses anxiety. Along with the widespread decline in the average man’s testosterone, we’re also seeing increasing rates of depression.
Despite the focus on ‘optimizing’ testosterone nowadays, there’s not enough attention on testosterone-conducive behaviors and mentalities. (No, I don’t mean ripping out your own intestines.)
The miserable blackpiller Arthur Schopenhauer drew from Buddhism when he claimed that every fiber of our reality is imbued with suffering. The first noble truth of Buddhism, Dukkhaṁ Ariyasaccaṁ, is that life is “suffering.” Birth, aging, not getting what you want and the very constituents of consciousness themselves are all “suffering.” However, this translation of the word dukkha is too bleak. It’s like translating ‘water’ as ‘ocean’ when it could be a ‘droplet.’ Life has suffering, but the word dukkha means more like ‘off-kilter.’ Like shopping carts that work perfectly fine but have at least one completely useless wheel, life is not absolutely dreadful, but it’s never just right.
Is there an antidote to suffering that doesn’t require dedicating your life to meditation?
Life may feel like suffering because it constantly requires effort. You are constantly exerting effort to move towards good experiences and away from bad experiences.
The regions of the brain that anticipate reward are the same that anticipate effort. A 2014 paper by Dr. Eliana Vassena found that the more effort the brain anticipates, the more reward it expects. It is suspected that one of these brain regions (the dACC) can generate motivation in anticipation of nothing more than the satisfaction of conquering a challenge. That is, the brain is hardwired to derive more satisfaction out of exerting more effort.
As John F. Kennedy would say, effortful endeavors are satisfying “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Running marathons completely suck, but having run a marathon is fantastically satisfying.
That wuss Schopenhauer may lament this as another cruel fact of life: if you want more satisfaction out of life, you must paradoxically subject yourself to more suffering, to more effort.
Andrew Huberman described one of the core functions of testosterone by saying: “Testosterone makes effort feel good.” If that’s true, what better hack to life can there possibly be than increasing testosterone? To derive more satisfaction out of life, you have to endure more suffering. Testosterone makes that suffering feel good.
Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power refers to an animating force within man to strive not just to maintain himself and reproduce, but to increase his personal strength, to ascend above his current self towards his ideal self.
“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome.” -Nietzsche in The Antichrist
What is necessary to increase your power? Suffering.
“But what if pleasure and pain should be so closely connected that he who wants the greatest possible amount of the one must also have the greatest possible amount of the other?” – Nietzsche in The Gay Science
A fast-track to not being happy is to subscribe to woke concepts that protect poor you from suffering. “Safe spaces” or pondering how you’re an oppressed victim and what free stuff that entitles you to are not ways of increasing your power.
You must strive for an ideal, embrace the required effort of you, and accept the anxiety linked to taking the risks necessary to move towards your ideal.
“For believe me! – The secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is; to live dangerously!” Nietzsche in The Gay Science
Anxiety is essentially the same thing as uncertainty. A part of the brain that creates uncertainty, the ACC, also generates anxiety. Uncertainty triggers the release of noradrenaline which makes you more distractible.
What hormone is the antonym of anxiety, uncertainty and distraction?
Multiple lines of research have suggested testosterone increases focus and cognitive performance, and higher testosterone is associated with higher confidence.
This is huge. Why?
The state of our body, our subjective feelings and hormones seem to be intimately linked. As Andrew Huberman has explained, cholesterol can be converted into testosterone or cortisol (the stress hormone). A negative perception of your effort (i.e. “Why do I have to do all this shit … if only so and so hadn’t blah blah”) will bias cholesterol to convert to cortisol. Conversely, Huberman says that simply convincing yourself that your effort is enjoyable will increase testosterone or at least prevent it from decreasing.
Can you really influence the state of your body and hormonal profile with just thoughts? I’m sure all men know they can think themselves into a sexually aroused state that will affect blood flow and induce an observable change in the body. The mentality mirrors the body and vice-versa. This is one reason why valium can be used to treat muscle tension or anxiety.
What kind of signature does a bitter, angry or stressed out mentality leave on the body? It will likely appear as tension. Perhaps in the shoulders, neck, chest or jaw.
Imagine a time when you were content and satisfied. Was your body tense or relaxed? When you get home after hiking for five hours and finally relieve your aching feet of your tight shoes and sink into your chair with satisfaction, is your body tense or relaxed?
I’ve spent a couple hundred hours doing a meditation technique where when your mind wanders from your object of focus, you must first relax whatever tension there is in the body, smile, and then return to the point of focus. When I first started, I quickly noticed that indeed, distraction was consistently paired with some amount of tension somewhere in the body. After thousands of reps of distraction, relax, distraction, relax, my mind tended to automatically try to relax whenever the slightest puff of anxiety or frustration arose in the mind. This seeped over into my daily life. I find myself first trying to relax when I’m annoyed, frustrated or anxious about anything from work to workouts to relationships.
This relaxing in response to suffering began to gradually convince my mind more that I enjoy effort. Do you think this biases my hormonal profile to more cortisol or more testosterone?
No wonder Zen was baked into the life of a samurai. Their meditation likely honed the skill of maintaining a relaxed, focused mind despite being harassed by anxious fears of grave injury or death.
The Will to Power says a man cultivates happiness as long as he pursues power. Pursuit doesn’t mean arriving at enough power. Men must keep striving.
However, it gets easier.
As you achieve challenging goals, it becomes easier to endure, accept, and even enjoy the anxiety that awaits you on the path to the next goal. Behavior and testosterone are closely linked. Testosterone propels men to perform behaviors that tend to further increase testosterone.
Talking to an attractive woman increases testosterone. Testosterone makes men more likely to approach women.
Winning a competition increases testosterone. Testosterone makes men more likely to engage in competition.
Working out increases testosterone. Testosterone makes working out more enjoyable.
Success in cognitively demanding endeavors increases testosterone. Testosterone improves cognition.
Relax, be grateful, and smile in response to the suffering you must experience in pursuit of your goals.
Now life is hard. Am I right? Wrong. Life is easy. You suck.
-Motivational speaker from The Simpsons, Season 14 Episode 15