Book Summary: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson

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

Subtle ARt

Most self-help advice is B.S.

Traditional self-help advice is is idealized and focuses on what you don’t have. The continuous reminder of what we are not ignores what we do have and instead encourages false confidence or imagined success.


Society wants us to care about more—a bigger house, a better car, a better looking spouse—because these things are good for business. In reality, the key to happiness is caring about fewer things (giving fewer f***s)—those that are true and important. Our own internal “feedback loops from hell”—i.e. getting angry about being angry or getting anxious about being anxious—are exacerbated by today’s social media driven culture, in which everyone else seems happy all the time.


The paradox of high hopes

The desire to have more positive experiences is in and of itself a negative experience, while the acceptance of one’s own negative experience is, paradoxically, a positive experience. Everything positive and worthwhile in life has an associated negative experience. Working out causes pain, honest conversations can be uncomfortable, and acknowledging your own issues of confidence and anxiety will allow you to build courage.


Life is short. You can only care about so many things in life. The things you focus and prioritize on must be aligned with your personal values.


There are three subtleties to remember about not giving a f***.

  1. Not caring does not mean being indifferent, but rather being comfortable with being different. Adversity will follow you everywhere you go. Don’t shy away from it, just choose the battles that matter. Find the adversity that you enjoy dealing with.
  2. To not care about adversity, you must first care about something more important than adversity. If trivial things are constantly bothering you, you probably lack the purpose and challenge of more meaningful challenges in your life.
  3. You are always making decisions about what to care about in your life.


Happiness is not a solvable equation

Dissatisfaction, pain, and adversity are part of the human experience. We are biologically wired with some degree of dissatisfaction, as this state is most likely to produce innovation and improvement.


Happiness comes from solving problems

Problems never stop, but they do get exchanged and upgraded. Ignoring your problems may feel good in the short-term, but it will lead to insecurity in the long run. Negative emotions are a call to action. Positive emotions are a reward for doing something good. We should not always trust our emotions. Just because something feels good does not make it right, and at the same time negative emotions are not necessarily a bad thing.


Don’t base decisions on emotions alone. Emotions never last, but sound reasoning does. An over-investment in emotion to make decisions is a bad practice because emotions never last. The things that make us happy today will not satisfy us tomorrow. Fixating on happiness will inevitably lead you to wanting more. We are then surprised when getting more after getting more we still feel inadequate. This effect is known as the Hedonic treadmill. What we often don’t realize is that all positive experience experiences come with negative ones too. What gives us pleasure will also inevitably bring us pain. Rather than asking yourself, “what do you want in life?,” we should instead ask ourselves what pain / problems we want in our life. Happiness doesn’t come from avoiding pain and struggle. Real happiness requires real struggle.


A contrived and concerted focus on self esteem can result in a false sense of self-confidence and lead to an unhealthy inward focus on yourself. This narcissistic bubble becomes a weakness because you aren’t able to accept and confront your own shortcomings.


Accept the mundane

Most people are average at most things. You can’t be exceptional at everything. It may not seem this way, because people at the extremes get all of the attention. Only exceptional pieces of information can reach our limited attention span. Despite this tendency by the media and others toward sensationalism, most of life is lived in the middle of the bell curve. This leads us to seeking out addiction and possessing a sense of entitlement. If you think that greatness or exceptionalism is necessary for a meeting in life, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and regret.


While it may be a tough pill to swallow, acknowledging the normal and mundane part of your life will free you up to accomplish what you really want and appreciate what you have.


Start by asking the right questions

Many self-help gurus ignore important underlying values by focusing on feeling good and acquiring more money rather than asking, “why does this person feel the need for more money?”, or “how do they measure success?” They focus on quick fixes such as self-esteem or money.


Our success and the success of others are defined by our own metrics. Focusing your life on maximizing pleasure, acquiring material wealth, and being right all of the time are core metrics by which to judge the success of your life. Assuming yourself to be ignorant and not knowing much is a far more helpful mindset then needing to be right all the time. Focusing on learning and growth is far more rewarding than being right.


Acknowledge your negative emotions. Being positive all of the time sounds great, but it is actually a form of denial.  By ignoring our problems, we also deny ourselves the opportunity to solve them, which can be quite rewarding. Stressful, unpleasant, and arduous things in life are often the most helpful and meaningful parts of our lives.


Good values are:

  1. Reality-based
  2. Socially constructive
  3. Immediate and controllable

Examples of good values: honesty, innovation, standing up for yourself, standing up for others, curiosity, charity, humility, and creativity.


Bad values are:

  1. Superstitious
  2. Socially destructive
  3. Not immediate or controllable

Examples of bad values: dominance through manipulation, promiscuously, feeling good all the time, needing to be the center of attention, needing to not be alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich.


Five healthy values

Good healthy values are achieved internally. There are five values that you should adopt in your life. The first is a sense of responsibility for everything that happens in your life, regardless of who’s at fault. The second is the acknowledgment of your own ignorance and the existence of uncertainty in all aspects of life. The third is the acceptance of your own shortcomings and mistakes so you can improve upon. The fourth is the ability to accept and to say “no” to clearly define what you will not accept in your life. The fifth value is contemplation of your own mortality (to put everything else in perspective).


We can gain a great deal of power and control over our lives by simply accepting responsibility for everything that happens to us. There’s a difference between fault and responsibility. Even if something is not our fault, we often still need to take responsibility for the consequences.


There is contagious sense of moral indignation that comes with being easily offended. Today’s society is rife with media outlets perpetuating moral outrage at all kinds of situations.


Changing your values is not easy, but it is as simple as choosing to giving a f*** about something else.


We are all wrong about our assumptions in life. It is only by going out and testing those perceptions do we gradually become less wrong over time. Certainty is the enemy of growth. People that do evil things or certain they are evil. The more you embrace uncertainty and acknowledge how little you know the more comfortable you’ll be getting on certain point.


“Manson’s law of avoidance”

The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. This could apply to both good and bad things. Until we change how we view ourselves, we can’t change  or overcome our own insecurities. Instead, by choosing not to identify with anything or “know yourself” will allow you to continue growing and thriving for free. It also forces you to be humble and open to new ideas.


Don’t be special

By thinking of yourself as the exception (either positive or negative), you make the mistake of thinking that you are somehow different than everyone else (i.e. narcissism). Instead, think of yourself in more mundane terms—thinker, student, etc. to always question preconceived notions you have that might be wrong. Also, consider what it would mean if you were in fact wrong about your assumptions.


Welcome the Pain that Comes from Growth

Good values are process oriented, so that they are never really finished. Growth generates happiness. Pain, whether physical or psychological, is a necessary part of the growth process. When you choose a new value, you are also accepting the pain that comes along with it. Accept and relish that pain—you will become better as a result of it.


Life is all about not knowing anything, then doing something anyway. Even in your best moments, you still won’t really know what you’re doing. And that’s okay.


The “do something” principle

Action is both the cars and the result of motivation. Inspiration comes from getting out and doing things. The secret of great work–whether it is engineering, content creation, or any other type of skill–is forcing yourself to practice it. It doesn’t matter if the initial stages are crappy. Your sense of action will inspire you to motivation which will in turn lead to more action.


Life is all about constraints

Absolute freedom by itself is meaningless. The only way to find real purpose in life is by rejecting alternatives, and by narrowing your focus to a few things that really matter to you.


Entitlement traps

A sense of entitlement creates unhealthy relationships. Entitled people often fall into one of two different types of traps when it comes to values. First, they take too much responsibility for other people’s problems (victims). Second, they blame people for their own problems. Avoiding conflict in a relationship is toxic for any relationship—conflict is necessary for trust, and a relationship without trust is nothing. People must be both able to both say and hear the word “no” in a healthy relationship.


More is not always better

Despite our Hedonic impulses to obtaining more things, having more experiences, we are often happier when we have less. When we have too many options, we suffer from the paradox of choice. The thought of all of the options that we forgo leaves us dissatisfied with what we choose. There are diminishing returns with repeated experiences, and rewarding results that come only from commitment. Commitment brings about it a kind of freedom and satisfaction from avoiding the distraction of having so many options and sharpens your attention on what makes you happy and healthy. Breadth is important when you are young and deciding on a path in life, but pursuing depth in select areas is where the real gold is found.


Death provides meaning

Death provides a paradoxical sense of significance to our lives. Without it, everything would be inconsequential. People are afraid of death and try to chase some form of immortality as a result. This is usually the basis for “immortality projects” like statues, buildings, cities, and entire civilizations. In a sense, our immortality projects are our values. That implies that our values are based on fear—i.e. giving too many f***s. Taken from another angle, a man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. The thought of death shifts us away from our daily chase for more wealth, fame, and forces us to think about what our legacy is going to be. Choosing values that go beyond yourself will make you a happier person. Be a part of something bigger than yourself.

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