The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Hamsa Selvam
11 Min Read

Having completed this book, I do agree that what Mark Manson has written is a counterintuitive approach to living a good life. “Not giving a f*ck” is not being indifferent to certain things nor is it promoting a lethargic way of living. It is being comfortable with who you are, accepting you for you and not defining your standards based on what the news channels or social media or what your aunt’s brother in-law’s daughter has accomplished in her life.

As someone who’s reading this book for the first time, you might notice an insane amount of profane language used throughout the book, which sometimes comes across as very forced. But if you can ignore and look past that, this book has got some interesting life perspectives that could be beneficial to you.

In this article, I’ll be sharing my reflections on some of its chapters. Each chapter can be a standalone topic and in case you stop reading this book after a chapter (which I did), you will have no problem resuming where you left off without having to scan through the previous chapter.

1. You will never live life, if you’re constantly looking for the meaning for life

One of the strong messages that I picked up from chapter 1 is — The desire for more positive experience itself is a negative experience; and paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Some of us always try to become a better version of ourselves. In some cases, we are inspired to be better. But in most cases, aren’t we always told (by parents, employers, social media etc.) that we should always try and become a better person? And that according to “accomplished” people we see on the news or Instagram, our current “standards” are low and if we don’t aim higher, we are losers? Doesn’t this pursuit of higher standards set us in a path where we never get a chance to accept who we are and own up our “standards?” What do we end up trying so hard for?

Mark Manson brings in the story of Charles Bukowski to demonstrate this point. The idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.

The same way that the more desperately you want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel — regardless of how much money you actually make.

In a nutshell, you will never live life, if you’re looking for the meaning of life.

2. Who you are, is what you are willing to suffer for

The strong message that I loved in chapter 2 is about pain — The only way to overcome pain is by learning how to bear it. Pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of resisting them in the pursuit of happiness. Happiness is overrated. There is no shortcut to overcoming pain, there’s no framework or toolset to make the process easier. Instead, progress or healing is accepting that suffering will always be there… the point is whether we suffer with meaning or not. Suffering in life without a purpose is useless. Not all suffering are equal. This ideology has made me more self-aware that in certain situations, I have started reflecting:

Does my suffering now means that something will be better later? If not, why should I suffer?

Like physical pain, our psychological pain is an indication that something is out of balance… that some limitation has been reached. This doesn’t have to be a bad indicator. This psychological pain or discomfort is not something you shouldn’t have in life and you’ve GOT to make it go away. Negative emotions can be a call to action for you to do something about it.

Problems never stop — they merely get exchanged or upgraded. The truth about problems in life is that they never actually go away, so why not get comfortable having problems in life? Why not take pleasure in solving them rather than aiming for having no problems in life? Why not choose what you’re willing to struggle for, choose which of your problems you will focus on in life? Because real, serious, lifelong fulfilment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.

Who you are, is what you are willing to struggle for.

3. If everyone were extraordinary, then by definition, no one would be extraordinary

Mark Manson describes a persona called Jimmy who has a delusional level of self-confidence. Many psychologists in the 1960s believed that raising people’s self-esteem could lead to tangle social benefits such as — lower crime, better academic records, higher employment rate etc. As a result, self-esteem practices began to be taught to parents, emphasized by teachers, therapists and politicians which even got instituted into educational policies in the US. Participation awards, bogus trophies were invented for any number of mundane and expected activities. Business and motivational seminars cropped up chanting the same paradoxical mantra: every single one of us can be exceptional and massively successful.

But the problem with this whole self esteem movement is — 1) Entitlement: it makes people need to feel good about themselves all the time, even at the expense of those around them. People who are entitled, delude themselves into whatever feeds their sense of superiority. 2) Measurement: self esteem is measured by how positively people felt about themselves…when in fact, a true and accurate measurement of self worth is how people felt about the negative aspects of themselves. A person who has high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of their character with equal level of confidence.

The bottomline is, it has become an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to be special, achieve something truly extraordinary. But isn’t that inherently contradictory? If everyone were extraordinary, then by definition, no one would be extraordinary.

4. Consistently make the best choices in life out of the worst cards you’ve been dealt

I loved the way Mark Manson reframes the way people makes choices using the psychology of individuals with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). He’d already established that one will never be devoid of suffering in life and that one has to choose what would suffer for rather than aiming to have none in life. And speaking of choices, we don’t always control what happens to us but we always control how we interpret and respond.

OCD is a terrible genetic and neurological disorder which cannot be cured. At best, it can be managed. And he demonstrates how managing the disorder comes down to managing ones values. He shared multiples examples of kids with OCD and one of the example is – of Imogen, who had the compulsive need to tap every surface she walked past; if she failed to do so, she was flooded with horrible thoughts of her family dying.

  • Psychiatrists advise the kids to accept imperfections in life and to Imogen that would mean – when she becomes flooded with horrible thoughts of her family dying, she is to accept that her family may actually die and that there’s nothing she can do about it. Ergo, she’s told that what happens to them is not her fault. The goal is to get kids to recognise that their values are not rational.
  • The next step is to encourage kids to choose a value that’s more important than their OCD and focus on that. For Imogen, it’s the idea of taking control over her thoughts and being happy again.
  • These intensive desensitisation exercises force kids to live out their new values and consistent progress is made over time.

A lot of people born with OCD think they can’t do anything about it – the same way when something unfavourable happens in life, people feel they can’t control and avoid taking responsibility.

We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. While it’s easy to get hung up on cards, feeling like we got screwed, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decided to take and the consequences we choose to live with. People who make consistently best choices in situations they’re given, are the ones who eventually come out ahead in poker, just as in life.

I believe that some lessons from this book has helped me 1) find a new perspective in life 2) prompted me to reflect more deeply 3) allowed me question my choices more often. If you’re looking for one or more of the above, I definitely recommend this book to you. Happy reading 🙂

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