The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck [But Not a review]
Table of contents
In life, we care too much, about every single thing. In Mark Manson’s own fucking words “We give too many fucks in our life”.
This behavior of ours makes us miserable and unhappy. So, what’s the solution? The author says, the less fucks you give, happier you will be. In life, there is no such thing as not giving a fuck, because one way or the other we end up and have to give fuck about something. So, how to know, what to give the fuck about?
In “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”, Mark Manson teaches us ways to find what we truly care for. So that we can spend our life on giving a fuck about only those things and lead a happy life. If you lead a “normal” life, this book will blow your mind, because in this era where every self-help book is all about making you feel good; this book makes you confront “facts” of real life.
- Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more - buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.
- The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.
- Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences - anxiety, fear, guilt, etc. - is totally not okay.
Back in Grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself, “Gee whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s just life. Back to shoveling hay.”
But now? Now if you feel like shit for even five minutes, you’re bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing fucking lives, and it’s impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you.
- Because there’s an infinite amount of things we can now see or know, there are also an infinite number of ways we can discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they could be. And this rips us apart inside.
- 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.
- 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 fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice - well, then you’re going to get fucked.
- So what does not giving a fuck mean? Let’s look at three “subtleties” that should help clarify the matter.
Subtlety#1: Not giving a fuck doesn’t mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
There’s no such thing as not giving a fuck. You must give a fuck about something. It’s part of our biology to always care about something and therefore to always give a fuck.
The question then is, What do we give a fuck about? What are we choosing to give a fuck about? And how can we not give a fuck about what ultimately does not matter?
Subtlety#2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
- If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you - your ex-boyfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another two-for-one sale on hand sanitizer - chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer. Not the TV remote.
- I once heard an artist say that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.
- It then follows that finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Because if you don’t find that meaningful something, your fucks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes.
- Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuck worthy.
- The life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.
- The pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them.
There is a premise that underlies a lot of our assumption and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy.
This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating happiness.
- We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive.
- We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we don’t have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering.
- Problems never fucking go away - they just improve. Warren Buffet’s got money problems; the drunk hobo down at Kwik-E-Mart’s got money problems. Buffet’s just got better money problems than the hobo. All of life is like this.
- Life is essentially an endless series of problems. The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.
- Don’t hope for a life without problems. There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.
- True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.
Whatever your problems are, the concept is the same: solve problems; be happy. Unfortunately, for many people, life doesn’t feel that simple. That’s because they fuck things up in at least one of two ways:
- Denial: Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place. And because they deny reality, they must constantly delude or distract themselves from reality. This may make them feel good in the short term, but it leads to a life of insecurity, neuroticism, and emotional repression.
- Victim Mentality: Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they in fact could. Victims seek to blame others for their problems or blame outside circumstances. This may make them feel better in the short term, but it leads to a life of anger, helplessness, and despair.
- Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more.
- We like the idea that there’s some form of ultimate happiness that can be attained. We like the idea that we can alleviate all of our suffering permanently. We like the idea that we can feel unfulfilled and satisfied with our lives forever. But we “cannot”.
- What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shit heaps and shame.
- You want the reward and not the struggle. You want the result and not the process. You are in love with not the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way.
- Our struggles determine our success.
- The truth is that there’s no such thing as personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future.
- The benefits of the Internet and social media are unquestionably fantastic. In many ways, this is the best time in history to be alive. But perhaps these technologies are having some unintended social side effects. Perhaps these same technologies that have liberated and educated so many are simultaneously enabling people’s sense of entitlement more than ever before.
- 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. That’s just the nature of life.
- To become truly great at something, you have to dedicate see shit-tons of time and energy to it. And because we all have limited time and energy, few of us ever become truly exceptional at more than one thing, if anything at all.
- Brilliant businesspeople are often fuckups in their personal lives.
- Many celebrities are probably just as clueless about life as the people who gawk at them and follow their every move.
- Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems.
- The Internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame.
- It has become an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to do something truly extraordinary. The fact that this statement is inherently contradictory - after all, if everyone was extraordinary, then by definition ‘no one’ would be extraordinary - is missed by most people.
A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.
This sort of thinking is dangerous. Once you accept the premise that a life is worthwhile only if it is truly notable and great, then you basically accept the fact that most of the human population (including yourself) sucks and is worthless.
- Problems may be inevitable, but the meaning of each problem is not. We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which we choose to measure them.
Pleasure is great, but it’s a horrible value to prioritize your life around. 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.
Many people measure their self-worth based on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive or whether their front lawn is greener and prettier than the next-door neighbor’s.
Research shows that once one is able to provide for basic physical needs (foods, shelter, and so on), the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero.
Always Being Right
As humans, we’re wrong pretty much constantly, so if your metric for life success is to be right - well, you’re going to have a difficult time rationalizing all of the bullshit to yourself.
People who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes.
While there is something to be said for “staying on the sunny side of life”, the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit to it.
Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction. Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life’s problem.
“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful” - Freud
Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive.
- Good values are 1) reality-based 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable.
- Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive, and 3) not immediate or controllable.
- When we have poor values - that is, poor standards we set for ourselves and others - we are essentially giving fucks about the things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our life worse. But when we choose better values, we are able to divert our fucks to something better - toward things that matter, things that improve the state of our well-being and that generate happiness, pleasure and success as side effects.
- This, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems , you get a better life.
- Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it.
- If you’re miserable in your current situation, chances are it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control - that there’s a problem you have no ability to solve, a problem that was somehow thrust upon you without your choosing.
- 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.
- Whether we like it or not, we are always taking an active role in what’s occurring to and within us. We are always interpreting the meaning of every moment and every occurrence. We are always choosing the value by which live and the metrics by which we measure everything that happen to us. Often the same event can be good or bad, depending on the metrics we choose to use.
- In reality, there is no such thing as not giving a single fuck. It’s impossible. We must all give a fuck about something. The real question is, What are we choosing to give a fuck about? What values are we choosing to base our actions on? What metrics are we choosing to use to measure our life? And are those good choices - good values and good metrics?
- With great responsibility comes great power.
- The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives.
- Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things.
- We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. And while it’s easy to get hung up on our cards, and feel we got screwed over, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and the consequences we choose to live with. People who consistently make the best choices in the situation they’re given are the ones who eventually come out ahead in poker, just as in life. And it’s not necessarily the people with best cards.
- Rather than report on real stories and real issues, the media find it much easier (and more profitable) to find something mildly offensive, broadcast it to a wide audience, generate outage, and then broadcast that outrage back across the population in a way that outrages yet another part of the population. This triggers a kind of bullshit pinging back and forth between two imaginary sides, meanwhile distracting everyone from real societal problems.
- 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. And when we learn something additional, we go from slightly less wrong to than that, and then too even less wrong than that, and so on. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.
- Instead of striving for certainty, we should be in constant search of doubt: doubt about our own beliefs, doubt about our own feelings, doubt about what the future may hold for us unless we get out there and create it for ourselves. Instead of looking to be right all the time, we should be looking for how we’re wrong all the time. Because we are.
- Being wrong opens us up the possibility of change. Being wrong brings the opportunity for growth.
In the mid-1990s, psychologist Roy Baumeister began researching the concept of evil. Basically, he looked at people who do bad things and at why they do them.
At the time it was assumed that people did bad things because they felt horrible about themselves - that is, they had low self-esteem. One of Baumeister’s first surprising findings was that this was often not true. In fact, it was usually the opposite. Some of the worst criminals felt pretty damn good about themselves. And it was this feeling good about themselves in store of the reality around them that have them the sense of justification for hurting and disrespecting others.
- Evil people never believe that they are evil; rather, they believe that everyone else is evil.
- Those who believe the know everything learn nothing.
- They more we admit we don’t know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.
- The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.
- There’s a certain comfort that comes with knowing how you fit in the world. Anything that shakes up that comfort - even if it could potentially make your life better - is inherently scary.
I had a friend who was a party guy, always going out drinking and chasing girls. After years of living the “high life”, he found himself terribly lonely, depressed and unhealthy. He wanted to give up his party lifestyle. Yet he never changed. Fort years he went on, empty night after empty night, bottle after bottle. Always some excuse. Always some reason he couldn’t slow down.
Giving up that lifestyle threatened his identity too much. The Party Guy was all he knew how to be. Too give that up would be like committing psychological hara-kiri.
- I say don’t find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that’s what keeps you striving and discovering. And it forces you to remain humble in your judgements and accepting of the differences in others.
Questioning ourselves and doubting our own thoughts and belief is one of the hardest skills to develop. But it can be done. Here are some questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.
Question #1: What if I’m wrong? - It’s worth remembering that for any change to happen in your life, you must be wrong about something. If you’re sitting there, miserable day after day, then that means you’re already wrong about something major in your life, and until you’re able to question yourself to find it, nothing will change.
Question #2: What would it mean if I were wrong? - Many people are able to ask themselves if they’re wrong, but few are able to go the extra step and admit what it would mean if they were wrong. That’s because the potential meaning behind our wrongness is often painful.
Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others? - This is the litmus test for determining whether we’ve got some pretty solid values going on, or we’re totally neurotic fuck wads taking our fucks out on everyone, including ourselves. - The goal here is to look at which problem is better. Because after all, as Disappointment Panda said, life’s problems are endless.
- Failure is a relative concept.
- Making money by itself is a lousy metric for ourselves. You could make plenty of money and be miserable, just as you could be broke and be pretty happy. Therefore why use money as a means to measure your self-worth?
When Pablo Picasso was an old man, he was sitting in a cafe in Spain, doodling on used napkin. He was nonchalant about the whole thing, drawing whatever amused him in that moment.
Some woman sitting near him was looking on in awe. After a few moments, Picasso finished his coffee and crumpled up the napkin to throw away as he left.
The woman stopped him. “Wait,” she said. “Can I have that napkin you were just drawing on? I’ll pay you for it.”
“Sure”, Picasso replied. “Twenty thousand dollars.”
The woman’s head jolted back as if he had just flung a brick at her. “What? It took you like two minutes to draw that.”
“No, ma’am,” Picasso said. “It took me over sixty years to draw this.” He stuffed the napkin in his pocket and walked out of the cafe.
- Improvement on anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.
- If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because they’ve failed at it more than you have.
- If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because they haven’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.
- If you think about a young child trying to learn to walk, that child will fall down and hurt itself hundreds of times. But at no point does that child ever stop and think, “Oh, I guess walking just isn’t for me. I’m not good at it.”
- For many of us, our proudest achievements come in the face of the greatest adversity. Our pain often makes us stronger, miss resilient, more grounded.
- Many people, when they feel some form of pain or anger or sadness, drop everything and attend to numbing out whatever they’re feeling. Their goal is to get back to “feeling good” again as quickly as possible, even if that means substances or deluding themselves or returning to their shitty values.
Learn to sustain the passion you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are closing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.
This is going to feel impossibly hard at first. But you can start simple. You’re going to feel as though you don’t know what to do. But we’ve discussed this: you don’t know anything. Even when you think you do, you really don’t know what the duck you’re doing. So really, what is there to lose?
- Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.
- If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head
- Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.
- Action isn’t just there effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.
- If you want to accomplish something but don’t feel motivated or inspired, then you assume you’re just screwed. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not until a major emotional life event occurs that you can generate enough motivation to actually get off the couch and do something.
If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, to something - anything, really - and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.
I call this the “do something” principle.
- If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant. When the standard of success becomes merely acting - when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite - we propel ourselves ahead. We feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward.
The “do something” principle not only helps us overcome procrastination, but it’s also the process by which we adopt new values. If you’re in the midst of an existential shitstorm and everything feels meaningless - if all the ways you used to measure yourself have come up short and you have no idea what’s next, if you know that you’ve been hurting yourself chasing false dreams, or if you know that there’s some better metric you should be measuring yourself with but you don’t know how - the answer is the same: “Do something”
That “something” can be the smallest viable action toward something else. It can be anything.
- Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves.
- We all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject that is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.
- People can’t solve your problems for you. And they shouldn’t try, because that won’t make you happy. You can’t solve other’s problems for them either, because that likewise won’t make them happy.
If you make sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so.
If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to because they genuinely want to, not because you’ve manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions of expectations.
People with strong boundaries are not afraid of a temper tantrum, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mold their own behavior to fit the highs and lows of their relationship emotional roller coaster.
People with strong boundaries understand that it’s unreasonable to expect two people to accommodate each other 100 percent and fulfill every need the other has. People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how others feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another’s emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.
When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationship falls apart without our even knowing it.
Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show up who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-man. The pain in our relationship is necessary to cement our trust in each other and produce greater intimacy.
- For a relationship to be healthy, both people must be willing and be able to both say no and hear no.
- More is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we are given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.
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.
Ernest Becker was an academic outcast. When he had colon cancer, he decided to write a book which would be about death.
Becker died in 1974. His book The Denial of Death, would win the Pulitzer Prize and become one of the most influential intellectual works of the twentieth century.
The Denial of Death essentially makes two points:
Humans are unique in that we’re the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly. Dog don’t sit around and worry about their career. Cats don’t think about their past mistakes or wonder what would have happened if they’d done something differently. Monkeys don’t argue over future possibilities, just as fish don’t sit around wondering if other fish would like them more if they had longer fins.
As humans, we’re blesses with the ability to imagine ourselves in hypothetical situations, to contemplate both the past and the future, to imaging other realities or situations where things might be different. And it’s because of this unique mental ability, Becker says, that we all, at some point, become aware of the inevitability of our own death. Because we’re able to conceptualize alternate versions of reality, we are the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it.
This realization causes what Becker calls “death terror”, a deep existential anxiety that underlies everything we think or do.
Becker’s second point starts with the premise that we essentially have two “selves”. The first self is the physical self - the one that eats, sleeps, snores and poops. The second self is our conceptual self - our identity, or how we see ourselves.
Becker’s argument is this: We are all aware on some level that our physical self will eventually die, that this death is inevitable, and that its inevitability _ on some unconscious level - scares the shit out of us. Therefore, in order to compensate for our fear of the inevitable loss of our physical self, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books. It’s why we feel compelled to spend so much time giving ourselves to others, especially to children, in the hopes that our influence - our conceptual self - will last way beyond our physical self. That we will be remembered and revered and idolized long after our physical self ceases to exist.
Becker called such efforts our “immortality projects, projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. Whether it be through mastering an art form, conquering a new land, gaining great riches, or simply having a large and loving family that will live on for generations, all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.
- Nothing makes you present and mindful like being mere inches away from your own death.
- “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: What is your legacy?
How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused? They say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can cause a hurricane in Florida; well, what hurricane will you leave in your wake?
As Becker pointed out, this is arguably the only truly important question in our life. Yet we avoid thinking about it. One, because it’s hard. Two, because it’s scary. Three, because we have no fucking clue what we’re doing.
- Death is the only thing we know with any certainty. It is the correct answer to all of the questions we should ask but never do.
- We are so materially well off, yet so psychologically tormented in so many low-level and shallow ways. People relinquish all responsibility, demanding that society cater to their feelings and sensibilities. People hold on to arbitrary certainties and try to enforce them on others, often violently, in the name of some made-up righteous cause. People, high on a sense of false superiority, fall into inaction and lethargy for fear of trying something worthwhile and failing at it.
- Bukowski once wrote, “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by life’s trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.”
I love this book because Mark throws all the facts straight to my face, unlike every other “make you feel good” book. If you are allergic to the “Fuck” word, fret not, after reading this book, you will be comfortable with it.
There are hard truths, a lot of stories and all facts in this book. This book stands out from the crowd. Worth every minute.
Hope you learnt something new. Thank you for reading.