I recently picked up “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck” by Mark Manson again. I had it lying around for quite some time, borrowed from a friend more than a year ago.
When I first got it I read the first chapter and then put it down. It was pretentious, I thought, and cynical. But, last week I decided to give it another try and read past the first chapter.
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck
With “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck” Mark Manson takes a different approach to self-help. However, his ideas lack originality and the writing is repetitive. A self-help book that claims to be different, but really is not.
Chapter 1 – Don’t Try
Bukowski can be either considered one of the lousiest or most brilliant authors to have ever lived. And his genius – whether you consider him one or not – lied in the complete acceptance of himself and all his shortcomings. His tombstone reads: Don’t try.
The feedback loop from hell is what Mark Manson the constant and recurring mental self-berating. Such as feeling guilty because you did not achieve a certain goal, then feeling guilty about feeling guilty, and feeling guilty about feeling guilty for feeling guilt…you get it.
According to Mark, this stems from today’s culture of obsessive self-improvement. This is paired with the sentiment that feeling like shit every now and then is not accepted in society, enhanced by the endless stream of happy and successful people on social media.
It is ok, and in fact perhaps even healthy, to feel like shit sometimes because in the end: everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.
Not giving a fuck has some subtleties:
(1) It does not mean being indifferent. You simply should choose wisely what to give a fuck about and not give a fuck about all the other unimportant things.
(2) Give a fuck about something meaningful. People who have no problem have a tendency to invent new ones. If you actively choose something meaningful to care about you can avoid this dilemma.
(3) You cannot choose not to give a fuck about anything. We are biologically wired to care about things. And if you don’t consciously choose what to care about, your brain will do it for you.
In short, this book is about not trying to fix every little thing that is wrong with your life but focusing on what matters most and accepting all other flaws as they are.
Chapter 2 – Happiness Is A Problem
Everybody wants to be happy. But happiness cannot be solved like an equation. In fact, happiness comes from solving problems. And once you solve the current problems you may upgrade to “better” problems.
Let’s say your goal is to make a lot of money. That’s a problem that can be solved. However, once you reach that outcome and are filthy reach you won’t be automatically happy. Instead, you get a bunch of new problems. In other words, the journey is the destination.
Emotions are overrated. They serve as feedback mechanisms to help us survive and reproduce. Since happiness ultimately does not come from reaching a goal but from the struggle to get there, you should choose your struggles wisely.
In the end, people who enjoy solving their problems most will also be the most successful. The bodybuilder how loves working out. The entrepreneur who loves doing business.
Chapter 3 – You’re Not Special
In the 1970s teachers began handing out feel-good trophies to students in order to increase their self-esteem. However, these don’t mean anything if students don’t have a reason to feel good about themselves. Thus, they simply increased a feeling of entitlement, happiness.
The problem with entitlement the associated need to feel good. Instead of feeling good all the time, Mark Manson suggests that a true measurement of self-worth is how we feel about our negative experiences. Once we accept that we occasionally screw up and aren’t perfect, we will be able to progress.
Your problems are not special. Even unspeakable pain or traumatic experiences are universal. There is no such thing as a personal problem. The most personal problems are oftentimes everyone’s problems.
Technology has been very good for business but bad for our psyche. It has fostered our insecurity, self-doubt, and shame.
You’re not special. So what? Perhaps being ordinary is not that bad. Perhaps all the ordinary things in life – like spending time with family or enjoying a movie with friends – are ordinary for a reason: they are what really matters
Chapter 4 – The Value Of Suffering
In this chapter, Mark tells us about three stories of people who have experienced suffering in very different ways.
The first one is that of a Japanese office called Hiroo Onoda. This guy was sent to a remote island in the Philippines during World War II to fight the U.S. Army at any cost. Many of his comrades died fighting but Onoda survived.
But after the war came to its tragic end, Onoda did not return home. Nobody had told him that the war he was fighting was over. And so, he remained on the island hiding out, plundering local villages and fighting non-existent enemies until eventually, after 30 years, he was found and returned back to Japan.
This shows how much power lies in attaching meaning to a problem. Problems in life are inevitable, but we have a choice in how to view them and what they mean.
The second story is that of Dave Mustaine. After having been kicked out of the band that would later become Metallica, he started another band and become hugely successful as a musician.
However, Dave always measures his current success against that of Metallica. As a result, he was unable to appreciate what he had achieved and spend most of his time unhappy.
This highlights what happens when we base our self-worth on shitty values such as pleasure, material success, always being right, or staying positive all the time.
Good values are reality-based, socially constructive, and immediate and controllable.
Bad values are superstitious, socially destructive, and not immediate and controllable.
Self-improvement really is about prioritizing better values and choosing better things to give a fuck about.
Chapter 5 – You Are Always Choosing
Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose, and that we are responsible for it. When we are forced to do something unpleasant (e.g. take out the trash) we feel aversion, when we chose to do it (to keep our house clean) the aversion subsides.
William James had severe health problems as a child which he never grew out of. In early adulthood when he was on the brink of suicide he made a choice: that he will be 100% responsible for everything that happens to his life for one whole year. Long story short, he became the father of American psychology, married and had five kids.
Taking responsibility for our successes and happiness is easy. Taking responsibility for our problems and failures is hard, but much more important. Only when we take responsibility by accepting a problem, we can move toward solving it.
In a way, life is like poker: you have to play with the cards you are dealt – your genetics – but the player with the best cards does not always win. It matters just as much how you play.
The media fosters a victimhood and outrage culture. We have to choose our values carefully to not fall prey to theirs.
Chapter 6 – You’re Wrong About Everything
Think of all the things you believed with certainty when you were a child. A lot of those things turned out to be wrong. Just as we look back 500 years and see now how wrong people were then, 500 years from now people will look back at us and see how wrong are now.
Psychologists conducted the following experiment: participants were given a set of buttons to push. At random intervals, they would receive points for no reason. And even though the points were given out randomly, eventually participants started constructing behavior patterns and were certain those would determine their score.
Believing in something with absolute certainty and just being positive about it can even be dangerous. If you believe with absolute certainty that you can fly and jump off a building you will likely die.
You generally tend to avoid that which threatens your identity (Manson’s Law). To avoid all of the above you should constantly consider that you might be wrong. This way you can never become absolutely certain.
Chapter 7 – Failure Is The Way Forward
If something is a failure or not depends on the metric you measure it by. If you want to live a fulfilled life choosing money as a metric might lead to failure. Choosing to put in your very best effort can never be a failure.
We tend to avoid pain. However, pain is part of the process. Every painful experience can also lead to growth. When Dabrowski studied World War II survivors in the 1950s he found that many of the victims, in the end, drew strength from their experience.
Asking ‘how‘ to do something is the wrong question. Instead, you should simply do it. We generally take for granted that inspiration leads to motivation which leads to action. Instead of it being a linear process, it is actually a circular relationship. This means we can start the process at any point. So, why not start with action –> inspiration –> motivation.
Chapter 8 – The Importance Of Saying No
If we truly want to value something, we necessarily must reject something else. This goes for hobbies, friends, and romantic partners.
Boundaries are necessary for every kind of relationship. In healthy relationships, each partner solves their own problems so both partners can support each other. When partners, co-workers or friends try to solve each other’s problems and expect the other person to do so, this usually leads to bad outcomes (like the Hindenburg):
Breadth is necessary when we are young to discover and explore who we are. But depth is where the gold lies. By committing to something or someone we can actually achieve more freedom.
Chapter 9 – …And Then You Die
Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Only by facing our own mortality, we can truly appreciate our life. Or as Mark Twain once said:
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
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