The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is a book by Mark Manson, describing a counterintuitive approach to living a good life. Although counterintuitive, it actually makes a lot of sense. Here’s why:
Manson raises the idea that the self-help genre always fixates on what you lack. By dreaming of riches, the perfect intimate relationship, or a billion dollar business reinforces the fact that you don’t already have all those things. And giving too much of a fuck that you don’t already have those things is bad for your mental health.
Living a good life is giving a fuck about only things that are truly important, knowing that you’re going to die one day, choosing the values in life that mean the most to you, and living those values.
Manson then introduces the idea of the Feedback Loop From Hell. Because human beings have the ability to have thoughts about our thoughts, we can get into a right pickle when we compound our negative emotions. We are say sorry about saying sorry, feel sad about being sad, guilty about feeling guilty. We get angry at ourselves for getting angry, anxious about being anxious and the vicious circle gains momentum.
We need to understand that feeling negative emotions is okay, frequent and normal. But if we keep going round the vicious circle that is the Feedback Loop From Hell, it’s going to make it far worse. So how do you end the feedback loop? Simply: Stop giving a fuck that you feel bad. This short-circuits the loop and you can start again from a blank slate.
Once you accept the negative experience you are having, it in turn becomes a positive experience. And paradoxically, the desire for a positive experience becomes a negative experience. Knowing this, the plight of the world may just simply be that our expectations are too skewed to be happy.
Manson simply tells us: Don’t try. When you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place. If you’ve ever been in the Zone while doing a task, you’ll notice that you’re not really trying at all, you’re just doing it and the results are coming. When I work as a salesman, the more I try to get people to buy my product, the more they’re deterred from actually buying it.
The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of a struggle is a struggle. So our only option is to embrace the suffering and the struggle, and give less of a fuck about them. One of Manson’s most prominent ideas in The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck is the entitlement culture in the world today. Mediocrity is the new standard of failure, because at least if you’re terrible at everything you can tell yourself that you’re special and deserve to be treated differently. Entitlement culture means that we flip-flop between feeling amazing and feeling terrible (but at least we’re getting the attention that we’re looking for).
In a recent Paddy Power advert on TV, football manager Jose Mourinho describes how special he is and how special Paddy Power’s jackpots are. He then gets rudely brought back to reality when a taxi driver interrupts him mid-speech. “That’s not special, someone wins that jackpot every single day!” That’s how we should view our problems. They’re not unique. You’re not the only person in the history of the universe to have experienced the problem you’re going through right now. The person sitting next to you might be going through the same thing. You just didn’t care to ask because you were too self-absorbed in your pseudo-specialness.
Most of the problems we have are not only common, they have simple solutions too. The more that we debate our choices in our minds, the more blind spots we accumulate, when in fact if the same problem was translated to a third person and we’re tasked with giving advice to them about it, we’d say something along the lines of: “Shut the fuck up and do it.”
Manson suggests that happiness comes from you solving your own problems. Of course, the problems never end, it’s just about choosing better problems all the time. Solving the problem of finding a job you like brings the new problems of how you’re going to fit in with your work colleagues, how to meet the deadline you’ve just been given and how you can make a positive impact in what you do.
Manson brings some hard-hitting truths in the course of the book. Words like: Your actions don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. The vast majority of your life will be boring and unnoteworthy and that’s okay. We don’t actually know what a negative or a positive experience is in relation to the total timeline of our lives. The worst thing to ever happen to you could end up being the best. Instead of looking to be right all the time, look for things that prove we are wrong.
Manson tells us that meditating on mortality is one of the best antidotes for life. Avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is the avoidance of being alive at all. He quotes Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” You too are going to die and that’s because you too were fortunate to have lived. Now shut the fuck up and do it.