“A question that most people never consider, is, ‘What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?’ Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
Tell me you’ve been to your nearby bookstore and you’ve never seen a bright orange book with the words “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” printed in large letters, sitting in the “popular” or “self-help” section, and I won’t believe you.
And despite the book having been massively popular over the years, there’s a chance you’ve never read it before.
Alongside its acclaim, Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck has also gotten its share of notoriety, due to its challenging of conventional self-help advice, and the litany of f-bombs dropped from cover to cover.
You either might like it or you won’t. But I personally believe that this is the book that our generation needs for the betterment of our mental health.
Essentially, this is a book about values. And values are a concern that most self-help advice tend to ignore. They just assume that everyone wants an expensive car, a big house, or a hot spouse. But even after we’ve achieved all of these things, we’re still left feeling empty and miserable because they aren’t aligned with our values — and the thing is, most of us don’t even know what our values are in the first place.
So, before I share the key takeaways I’ve gotten from this book, let me give you a brief explanation of what values are.
Values are simply your beliefs and ideas about what is important to you. And with that, they serve as a sort of compass for how you’d like to behave as a human being, and the goals that you’d like to achieve.
Values are wholly in your control, and living by them is a continuous act. Therefore, values are arguably a more sustainable and meaningful approach to happiness — as opposed to the momentary highs that achieving goals (without an understanding of the values behind them) may provide.
No one can tell you which values should or should not be important to you. You don’t need to justify them to yourself either, because they simply are.
I like to use this analogy that my therapist taught me: if you were to ask me why my favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Because that’s just what I like.
Maybe one of your values is creativity. Maybe another is making money. Maybe it’s love. It’s up to you to do some digging into yourself to understand what your values are.
Anyway, with this understanding in mind, here are the key lessons I’ve learned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
1. Not Giving a Fuck Doesn’t Mean Being Indifferent, or Having No Empathy. Rather, it means being comfortable with being different, in the sense that you’re living by your own values that you have defined for yourself, instead of merely doing what society pressures you to do. In our modern society where endless advertising, and frivolous news and updates are constantly vying for our attention and sapping our happiness, you’re reserving your fucks for the things that truly matter in your life. While it’s only natural to be giving a fuck about something, it comes down to being more conscious about what’s worth giving a fuck about — because at the end of the day, that’s what adulting and maturity is.
To quote Manson, “In my life, I have given a fuck about many people and many things. I have also not given a fuck about many people and many things. And like the road not taken, it was the fucks not given that made all the difference.”
2. Don’t Try. Manson talks about “The Backwards Law”, which suggests that the more we consciously try to achieve an outcome, e.g. being happy all the time, the less likely we are to be happy — because being in that state of wanting only reinforces the fact that we are not there yet. And this traps us in a vicious cycle of misery, or the “Feedback Loop From Hell”, as we end up feeling bad about the fact that we feel bad, feeling anxious about the fact that we feel anxious, etc.
Counterintuitively, our positive experiences come from accepting our negative experiences. As Manson explains, “By not giving a fuck that you feel bad, you short-circuit the Feedback Loop from Hell; you say to yourself, ‘I feel like shit, but who gives a fuck?’ And then, as if sprinkled by magic fuck-giving dust, you stop hating yourself for feeling so bad.”
3. Self-Esteem Has More to Do With Your Bad Experiences than Your Good Ones. We tend to equate having a strong sense of self-esteem with rah-rah rituals like staring in the mirror every day and telling yourself how amazing you are. But this only makes us fragile, as we would only shrink ourselves away from difficult experiences that may threaten the fantasies that we’ve made up for ourselves.
Self-esteem, then, has more to do with making us antifragile, whereby we grow and become stronger as a person due to the difficult experiences. It’s really about the value of honesty, where you’re able to acknowledge your own faults and take responsibility for them. And this is what entitled people aren’t able to do. They deny their problems or victimize themselves, because they just want to feel good about themselves all the time.
4. Embrace Uncertainty. Needless to say, most things in life are uncertain. And oftentimes, no amount of thinking could help us know how a situation or a problem might pan out — unless we just go ahead and do what we have to do. It’s like asking someone out on a date. Or deciding to leave your dead-end job. Or sending a manuscript for publication. It may or may not go well, but either way, you can sleep at night knowing you tried.
“Uncertainty relieves us of our judgment of ourselves,” writes Manson. “We don’t know if we are lovable or not; we don’t know how attractive we are; we don’t know how successful we could potentially become. The only way to achieve these things is to remain uncertain of them and be open to finding them out through experience.”
5. Remember Death. Every soul will taste death, and this is the only certainty that we have. Death may seem like a morbid thought, but it forces us to remember what our values are and to stand by them. By remembering that you’re on borrowed time, it would mean nothing for you to weather through moments of embarrassment and humiliation in doing the things that matter to you. Because when you really think about it, by avoiding these difficult experiences, you’re avoiding life.
As Manson puts it, “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.