“Look, this is how it works. You’re going to die one day. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I just wanted to remind you in case you’d forgotten. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of f*cks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a f*ck about everything and everyone without a conscious thought or choice - well, then you’re going to get f*cked.”
Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck takes the opposite approach of most “self help” books. Manson offers a raw and comedic approach to personal development and draws on historical examples, along with his personal stories and anecdotes in such a way that gives the reader a much needed dose of reality. With chapter titles like “Don’t try” and “And then we die,” you can expect to laugh, cry, be inspired, and learn. The undercurrent of this book is formulated around values, or as Manson likes to call them, “f*cks to give,” and how, when we choose the values that are most important to us, we can live a happier and fuller life.
The Big Idea
"Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a f*ck, everything seems to fall into place?"
Manson believes the culture we live in creates an obsession in us to constantly become better, be healthier, and have more stuff. He states the self help and personal development industry “is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you.” He refers to this as “giving too many f*cks” about things that are unimportant and irrelevant. In the pursuit to constantly improve ourselves, we become fixated on becoming “positive.” This then seeps in and affects our mental health, resulting in creating attachments to a life that is superficial and fake, while chasing a manufactured definition of “happiness.” He believes the key to a good life is to give a f*ck about less, and hone in on what is really true and important.
Since we live in a world where there is an infinite amount of things we can know, see, and experience, there are also an infinite amount of ways we can feel that we do not measure up, are not worthy and our life is not as great as it could be. This in itself is what ultimately makes our life the most difficult.
Mark believes when we “don’t try” and let life unfold we get to exactly it is we are supposed to be. For Mark, not giving a f*ck means “to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.”
Through prioritizing our thoughts, and consciously picking and choosing what matters, based on own personal values, we can create behaviours that are inline with our values. Although it is not easy to do, most people wrestle with it and it can take a lifetime to achieve with practice, Manson believes that it is one of the most worthy struggles someone can undertake in their lives.
The Value of Suffering
"If suffering is inevitable, if our problems in life are unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not 'How do I stop suffering?' but 'Why am I suffering - for what purpose?'"
Life will not be complete without suffering. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, we will all endure suffering at some point in our lives. By deciding what is worth suffering for, we have the ability to face the problems we would like to solve in our life. This then paves the way for a better life, because when we have better problems, our life also becomes better.
Values are the determinant by what we give or do not give f*cks about. Manson illustrates self awareness and values by comparing them to an onion. As with an onion, self awareness has many layers, and the more we peel back the layers, the more we are able to learn about ourselves.
The first layer is about understanding our emotions, and starts off with being conscious to how we are feeling. The second layer is our ability to ask why we feel these emotions and understand the root cause of where they are coming from. The third layer is our personal values or why we consider this to be a success or failure. Values act as the standard we use to measure ourselves and those around us.
The last layer is the hardest to reach and of course the most important, as values are what determine the nature of our problems in life. The nature of our problems, then determine the quality of our lives.
Everything that we think, feel and believe about a situation comes back to how valuable we consider it to be. In order to change how we see our problems, we first must change what we value or how we measure failure and success.
When it comes to developing values, Manson believes they should be: reality based, socially constructive, and immediate and controllable. Values that are healthy are ones which we can achieve internally and experience in the present moment. The key to living in alignment of your personal values is prioritization. The values you prioritize over everything else are the ones that influence your decision making on a daily basis.
Through choosing better values we are able to give our limited f*cks towards things that matter and therefore improve the state of our wellbeing and generate happiness. Pleasure and success naturally become by products.
This is the core of self improvement – prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a f*ck about.
And Then You Die
"Death scares us. And because it scares us, we avoid thinking about it, talking about it, sometimes even acknowledging it, even when it’s happening to someone close to us. Yet, in a bizarre, backwards way, death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero."
Early on in his life Manson lost a close friend, and it was through this experience he realized if we try to avoid the painful and uncomfortable moments we actually end up avoiding being alive altogether. This experience was the most transformational moment in his life, as “it was someone else’s death that finally gave him permission to live.”
Death is the only thing that is certain in this life. If we know and understand this, then why are we so afraid to live? We will all die one day that is for sure, but we will not all truly live. Confronting the sheer reality of our mortality gives us permission to cut out the crap in our life and hone in on what truly matters and is important. When we start to elevate our thinking and ask ourselves the big questions, we can finally stop worrying about the small things. What is your legacy? How will the world be better and different when you are gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused?
This type of elevated thinking enables us to launch ourselves in another realm of living all together. When we accept death as a certainty, we give ourselves permission to live boldly, love deeply, grow exponentially and just be.
Manson’s approach on death is if we know that we will all die eventually, then why do we care about everything in between? We might as well go after what we are scared of, and seek adventures and opportunities, because what do we have to lose anyways?
I really enjoyed this book because Manson addresses anything and everything including, happiness, suffering, paradox of choice, failure and death which end up being the major “life questions” that we all struggle with. He offered a fresh way to address these topics and made me realize that without committing our life to something, we will continue to find ourselves in a catch 22. If there is one “self help” or “personal development,” as I like to call it, book you read this year, make sure it is The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
What are you not going to give a f*ck about?