The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Author:
Mark Manson

Description

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be "positive" all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. "F**k positivity," Mark Manson says. "Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it." In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected American society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—"not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault." Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.

Notes

Mark Manson provides a series of lessons on life and his philosophies. I liked some, disliked others, but here are the ideas that I thought were interesting:

Finding something important and meaningful in your life is the most productive use of your time and energy. This is true because every life has problems associated with it and finding meaning in your life will help you sustain the effort needed to overcome the particular problems you face. Thus, we can say that the key to living a good life is not giving a fuck about more things, but rather, giving a fuck only about the things that align with your personal values.

Don't Try

Manson points out that many successful people weren't "trying" to be successful, just continuing to do the work. There's definitely an element of confirmation bias / narrative fallacy here though.


The Feedback Loop from Hell

An example: "You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious. Oh no! Doubly anxious! Now you’re anxious about your anxiety, which is causing more anxiety. Quick, where’s the whiskey?"

Essentially, it's when worrying about problems makes them worse. And then worrying about worrying makes things worse. Manson points out, though, that all good things have an associated bad thing with them. Desires and judgments are the problem:

"The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience."


Giving a Fuck

You're always choosing to give a fuck about something, consciously or not, so you ought to be more deliberate in what you choose to give a fuck about. Other people's opinions are not good things to give fucks about.


Happiness is the Problem

Manson points out that a focus on trying to be happy paradoxically leads to unhappiness. In the Buddhist tradition, life is suffering. He's essentially saying the same thing here, there will always be suffering, and happiness is not something we can "solve."

He points out though that happiness comes from solving problems. Sustained happiness then can come from problems you enjoy having and enjoy trying to solve.

This also comes back when he says we need to "choose our struggle." There will always be struggles, but it's up to us to pick the struggles that are worth putting up with: "People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it."


Good Values for Your Life:

1. Based in reality

2. Socially constructive

3. Immediate and controllable


Bad values:

1. Superstitious

2. Socially destructive

3. Not immediate or controllable


"Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity. Some examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods."


Manson's Law of Avoidance: "The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it."


Reducing Freedom

"Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or (gulp) one person." 


  • Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck is not about being indifferent. It just means you’re comfortable with being different. Don’t say fuck it to everything in life, just to the unimportant things.
  • Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first care about something more important than adversity.
  • Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about. The key is to gradually prune the things you care about, so that you only give a fuck on the most important of occasions.
  • When a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some.
  • I think what most people — especially educated, pampered middle-class white people — consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.
  • Finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy.
  • It’s okay for things to suck some of the time.
  • Practical enlightenment is the act of becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable.
  • There is no value in suffering when it is done without purpose.
  • Don't hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems.
  • Problems never stop. They merely get exchanged or upgraded.
  • Happiness is found in solving problems, not avoiding them.
  • True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving. Happiness is wanting the problems you have and wanting to solve them.
  • Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.
  • Negative emotions are a sign that something is going unaddressed. They are a call to action. Positive emotions are the reward for taking the correct action.
  • We should question our emotions because they are not always right.
  • Don’t ask yourself what you want out of life. It’s easy to want success and fame and happiness and great sex. Everybody wants those things. A much more interesting question to ask yourself is, “What kind of pain do I want?” What you are willing to struggle for is a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.
  • You can’t merely be in love with the result. Everybody loves the result. You have to love the process.
  • The climb to the top is a never-ending upward spiral with new problems always surfacing and new processes that you must fall in love with. You are never allowed to stop climbing because the entire point is to love the climb. If you ever stop loving the climb, the results will never come.
  • Self-esteem, by itself, is overrated. It doesn’t help to feel good about yourself unless you have a good reason for feeling that way. The struggle makes self-esteem useful, not the participation trophy.
  • Your problems are not privileged in their severity or pain. You are not unique in your suffering.
  • The more exposed we are to opposing viewpoints, the more we seem to get upset that those other viewpoints exist. This seems like a logical trend to me because before the internet and our hyper-connected modern world, people didn’t have as much likelihood of running into ideas that disagreed with their own. Today, alternate ideas are far more likely to cross your radar screen.
  • Most of us are pretty average at most things we do. Even if you’re exceptional at one thing, chances are you’re average or below average at most other things.
  • Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience. The best of the best, worst of the worst, and most upsetting of the upsetting. We only see the most exceptional news stories because that’s what drives revenue. This is a real problem when it comes to comparison because you can only be exceptional in one thing thing and you’re going to be below average in nearly everything else. That makes comparison a very dangerous game to play.
  • The problem is that the pervasiveness of technology and mass marketing is screwing up a lot of people’s expectations for themselves.
  • One of the most pervasive narratives about masculinity in our culture is that the most valuable thing a man can attain is sex and it’s worth sacrificing nearly anything to get it. (Interestingly, this corresponds to one of the dominant female narratives, which is that the greatest thing a woman can be is beautiful.)
  • People who are exceptional become that way by thinking they are average and focusing on improvement. You don’t become exceptional by believing you are exceptional.
  • The more uncomfortable the answer, the more likely it is to be true.
  • Problems are inevitable, but what they mean is flexible. We get to control what our problems mean to us based on how we choose to think about them and how we choose to measure them. The way we measure success influences how we view the problems we face.
  • “Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose.”
  • People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.
  • “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” -Sigmund Freud
  • People who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the negative things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.
  • When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimized and miserable.
  • We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.
  • Accepting responsibility for our problems is the first step to solving them.
  • A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is also to be at fault for your problems. This is not true. We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.
  • People will often fight over who gets to be responsible for successful and happiness. But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important because that’s where real learning comes from.
  • Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. We shouldn’t seek to find the ultimate “right” answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we’re wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.
  • Certainty is the enemy of growth.
  • All beliefs are wrong—some are just less wrong than others.
  • Counterintuitive insight by Baumeister regarding evil: some of the worst criminals often felt good about themselves. Low self-esteem was not always associated with evil acts.
  • The more you try to become certain about a particular issue, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel.
  • The more you embrace being uncertain and not knowing, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing what you don’t know.
  • The man who believes he knows everything learns nothing.
  • Manson’s Law of Avoidance: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. The more something threatens how you view yourself, the more you will avoid getting around to doing it.
  • If I believe I’m a nice guy, I’ll avoid situations that could potentially contradict that belief. If I believe I’m an awesome cook, I’ll seek out opportunities to prove that to myself over and over again. The belief always takes precedence.
  • Manson’s idea of “kill yourself” is similar to Paul Graham’s idea of “keep your identity small.” The central point is that if you don’t have an identity to protect, then change becomes much easier.
  • For any change to happen in your life, you must accept that you were wrong about something you were doing before.
  • “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” -Aristotle
  • If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.
  • The magnitude of your success is tied to how many times you’ve failed at that thing.
  • Goals are limited in the amount of happiness they can provide in our lives because they are finite. Once you achieve the goal, it can no longer provide happiness because the finish line has been crossed. Paradoxically, then, by choosing processes as your focus, you can increase your overall, lifelong happiness by focusing on the process and not the goal. Processes never end, which means happiness can continue indefinitely.
  • Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it. Do something and inspiration will follow.
  • How do you write a tons of books? Write “200 crappy words per day” and you’ll find motivation often flows out of you.
  • Manson’s “do something” principle sounds a lot like the philosophy behind the 2-minute rule. Do something now, even if it’s really small, and let good actions cascade as a result.
  • To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.
  • The mark of an unhealthy relationship is when two people try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves.
  • Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship for the simple reason that without trust the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything.
  • Investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, but pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to enjoy the rewards of depth of experience.
  • Commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would never otherwise be available to you, no matter how many surface level experiences you pursued.
  • Rejection of alternatives liberates us. In a strange way, commitment to one thing offers more freedom than anything else because it relieves you of all the second guessing about what else is out there.
  • If there is no reason to do anything, if life is pointless, then there is also no reason to not do anything. What do you have to lose? You’re going to die anyway, so your fears and embarrassments and failures don’t mean anything. You might as well try.
  • All of the meaning in our life is shaped by our innate desire to never truly die. Our physical bodies will die, but we cling to the idea that we can live on through religion, politics, sports, art, and technological innovation.
  • The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself, to contribute to some much larger entity.
  • It is the act of choosing your values and living by them that makes you great, not any outcome or accomplishment.
  • “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t.” -Charles Bukowski

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