Summary and book review of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life”: Mark Manson invites us to go beyond the current discourse around self-development, which consists in forcing us to always be the “best” or the “most “, by practicing the subtle art of not giving a fuck, in other words, by stop focusing on things that aren’t essential in our lives.
By Mark Manson, 2017, 188 pages,
Book review and summary of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck“:
Chapter 1 – Don’t Try
1.1 – The story of Charles Bukowski or the success of a failure
The story of Charles Bukowski is that of a man who is an alcoholic, a womanizer, a compulsive gambler and, to use the words of the author, a “lout”, “cheapskate” and “deadbeat”. Bukowski is also a poet.
As far as Mark Manson is concerned, Charles is the last person to ask life advice from. He would also be the last person to be quoted in a self-help book. That’s why the author begins The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by telling us his story…
Charles Bukowski spends more than thirty years living like this. Then, one day, the manager of a publishing company gives him a chance. The poet writes his first book and thus becomes, at the age of fifty, a renowned novelist and poet.
In Mark Manson’s opinion, this man embodies the American dream. Indeed, he fights for what he wants, never gives up and finally realizes his wildest dreams.
Nevertheless, the author doesn’t believe it is determination that lead Bukowski to success. According to him, he finds success because he’s aware of being a loser, he is okay with it and understands how to exploit this identity in all honesty by writing books. In short, the success of Bukowski, according to Mark Manson, is to be a failure and to come to terms with it.
The author contends Bokowski’s life shows that, although they often go hand in hand, self-improvement and success are not necessarily always correlated.
1.2 – A society centered on our shortcomings, creating frustrations
Our environment bombards us with messages prompting us to want everything, all the time.
The current discourse is saturated[…]. Be happier and healthier. Be the best, better than others. And be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more and more envied and admired. Be perfect, not to say exceptional, and make a fortune […].
Someone who is truly happy doesn’t feel the need to stand in front of a mirror to repeat fifty times “I’m happy”. He is. Period.
In fact, this advice only leads us to focus on what we are lacking. This obsession with what is positive constantly reminds us of what we are not, what we do not have, or what we should have been but failed to become.
Therefore, in the end, we spend our lives pursuing vain happiness and illusory satisfaction.
Thus, in Mark Manson’s opinion, if you want a fulfilled life, you should try not to want more. On the contrary, we should strive to have realistic aspirations and to make do with what is true, immediate and important to us.
1.3 – Mark Manson’s solution: to not give a fuck!
What screws up our life is thinking that something is wrong with us. We are mad at death for wanting to kill us. We feel guilty about feeling guilty. We’re pissed off about being pissed off. We are anxious about being anxious. […] It’s for all these reasons that it’s better not to give a fuck.
Mark Manson shares three essential premises:
- Wanting more positive experiences is in itself a negative experience. And paradoxically, accepting the negative experiences that present themselves or impose themselves on us is, in itself, a positive experience.
- According to the “backward law” of the philosopher, Alan Watts (one of the fathers of American counterculture in the 1960s): the more you pursue feeling better, the less satisfied you become. Wanting something, continuously seeking happiness only reinforces our feeling of lack. That’s why, sometimes, when you’re less concerned about something, the better you are at it.
- Everything that is worthwhile in life is obtained by accepting the associated negative experience. Otherwise, the opposite effect happens:
The avoidance of suffering produces suffering. The circumvention of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is still a failure. Concealing what is shameful fuels a sense of shame.
The author then suggests learning to focus our attention and prioritizing our thoughts as effectively as possible. It’s about sorting out what’s vital for us and what’s not, based on our personal values.
1.4 – The subtle art of not giving a fuck, what does it mean?
Mark Manson proposes the following three “subtleties” to explain what “not giving a fuck” means to him:
- “Not giving a fuck” does not mean being indifferent but being comfortable with the feeling of being different.
We can’t not give a fuck about everything. But we can not give a fuck about anything that we don’t think is important and take action for what really matters to us.
- To “not give a fuck” about adversity, you have to give importance to something more important than adversity.
Identifying that which matters and makes sense to us is crucial. Otherwise, we will struggle for things that are not worth it.
- Whether we realize it or not, we always choose to care about one thing rather than another.
With age and maturity, we become more selective; we learn to care about only what is worthwhile.
If our energy drops towards middle age, our identity solidifies. We know who we are, and we accept ourselves as such, including our less glowing aspects. This is liberating. Simplifying one’s life helps make oneself truly happy.
1.5 – Why this book?
Mark Manson state’s that the aim of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is to help us:
- To clarify our life choices and to figure out what is important and what is not.
In this respect, the attitude of not giving a fuck is a simple way of reorienting one’s expectations and distinguishing between what matters and what does not matter.
- To turn our suffering into tools, our trauma into power, and our problems into slightly more manageable problems:
Take it [The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck] as a guide to suffering and how to suffer better, how to more knowingly suffer, how to suffer with greater compassion and humility. It’s a book that helps you to move lightly despite your heavy burdens, to rest easier with your fears, to laugh even when your tears are flowing. It won’t teach you to win, to gain or to succeed, but to lose, to back off, to let go. It can also teach you to take inventory of your life and to discard everything except the most important. Above all, it teaches you to fall backward with eyes closed, to not ruin your life as much, to stop trying.
Chapter 2 – Happiness Is a Problem
2.1 – Suffering is unavoidable and useful
Mark Manson starts this chapter with the story of a king and his son living in the foothills of the Himalayas. The story of this prince, who lived in opulence and satisfaction, then in deprivation, before finding a certain balance, is none other than the story of the life of Buddha (the author reveals this at the end). His fundamental philosophy is that suffering and loss are inevitable, and that it is, therefore, futile to try to resist it.
Mark Manson shares the idea that the whole of life is a form of suffering, and that no one escapes it. For him:
- Happiness is not algorithmic. You can’t get it, earn it, achieve it as if it were getting accepted into a prestigious school.
- Dissatisfaction and feeling of uneasiness are integral parts of human nature and are even necessary components in the construction of happiness.
2.2 – Hope for a life full of “good” problems
According to Mark Manson, suffering has a biological function: these states of dissatisfaction and internal insecurity incite us to innovate and survive. As a matter of fact, it’s this chronic dissatisfaction that has pushed humanity to fight, to struggle, to build and to conquer. Therefore, it’s a feature of evolution.
Consequently, for Mark Manson, it’s not beneficial to avoid suffering because it contributes, in a way, to well-being.
Don’t expect a life without problems. It doesn’t exist. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.
2.3 – Solving problems makes you happy
According to Mark Manson, being happy means having something to solve. Happiness is, in this sense, an activity still in progress because the resolution of the problems is a task that is endlessly repeated:
You are only truly happy when you identify the problems you enjoy having and solving.
However, for many people, life is not so easy. Mark Manson lays out two main reasons for this:
Some people deny that they have problems. This forces them to “delude themselves” or to turn away from reality with various distractions.
The victim mentality
Some choose to believe that they are unable to solve their problems, when in fact they could very well. By posing as victims, they blame others for their misfortunes or blame outside circumstances, hence their anger, their feeling of helplessness and their despair.
2.4 – Don’t make a big deal of your emotions
Our emotions are a mechanism with which we are equipped to tell us that something is either beneficial or harmful to us. Consequently, they function as biological indicators that lead us to favorable change:
- Negative emotions are a call to action (when you experience them, you are supposed to do something).
- Positive emotions reward us for having properly acted.
Although important, emotions are not everything in life. These are neuro-biological suggestions, not commandments. That’s why, Mark Manson argues, we should not blindly trust what they tell us, but make it a habit to question them.
2.5 – Choose your battles
It’s Mark Manson’s belief that you have to struggle for happiness.
You have to identify and manage your struggles to truly flourish, to have lasting fulfillment and to give meaning to your life.
For that, we should not ask ourselves what we enjoy in life. It’s much more relevant to ask yourself the following question: “What suffering do you want to endure?”. In other words, in the words of the author: “What are you willing to struggle for”?
To illustrate his point, Mark Manson tells us his childhood dream: to become a rock star!
Despite all the elaborate plans and all the time he spent imagining his rock star life, Mark Manson explains that he never ended up achieving, or even trying to achieve his dream. Why? Because what he actually liked was the result (the image of him on stage, people applauding him). He didn’t like the process of getting there. In fact, he thought he wanted something that he didn’t really want. He wanted the reward but not the effort, the victory but not the fight.
But to know who we are, we must know what we’re willing to struggle for. Our battles influence our successes.
Chapter 3 – You’re nothing special, you know…
The truth is that a personal problem does not exist. If you have a problem, know that millions of people have had it before you, have it right now, or will have it tomorrow. And people you know. […] You’re not special.
3.1 – Jimmy, the “deadbeat”
A new story, this one about Jimmy, opens the third chapter.
Mark Manson provides a lengthy description of this man. Jimmy is 100% positive, egomaniac, self-confident, all talk, and who sponges off others. He is convinced that he could get rich without taking the trouble to do anything and live the high life without sacrificing anything. In short, Jimmy is convinced that he deserves the best when really he is just “deadbeat” (in the words used by the author).
Thus, Mark Manson believes that the much-vaunted methods of self-development, which tend to persuade people that they are special and to teach them how to have a good image of themselves for no good reason, do not engender a population of Bill Gateses or Martin Luther Kings, but to the contrary, a population of Jimmys.
According to Mark Manson, it is in the perception and evaluation of one’s negative experiences, one’s flaws, that one measures self-worth.
3.2 – “Showing off” to compensate: Mark Manson’s youth
Mark Manson entrusts us here part of his adolescence and his share of torment. He recounts several events of his youth: his expulsion from high school following the discovery of marijuana in his bag when he was only 13 years old, his lies, the divorce of his parents… With great sincerity and humility, he draws a self-portrait of a rather nice and clever teenager, but rebellious and untruthful. Then, he describes himself as an immature, self-absorbed young adult and womanizer, having “gotten a big head” with the perpetual need to lay on the drama:
My thirst for validation, having never been quenched in me, quickly turned to systematic self-satisfaction – if not self-glorification. I felt entitled to say or do anything that came to mind, to betray the trust that people had placed in me, to disregard their feelings, and ending up justifying myself with pitiful excuses.
Ultimately, through his own experience, the author finds:
The more intense the suffering, the more helpless you feel about your problems, and the more you show off to compensate.
According to him, this need manifests itself in one of two ways:
- “I’m awesome and you all suck, so I deserve special treatment.”
- “I suck and you’re all awesome, so I deserve special treatment.”
3.3 – The tyranny of the exceptional
People are, on the whole, fairly average in most areas. Even if they excel in one area, there is a good chance that they are below average in many others.
But it is the extremes that make the headlines:
Every day, from morning to night, we are inundated with the extraordinary. We remember the best of the best. The worst of the worst. The craziest physical feats. The most hilarious jokes. The most stunning news. The scariest threats. And all this continuously. But existence itself takes place mainly at the mid-point of the curve, in the banal, the ordinary. Life, for the most part, is not extraordinary.
Being “average” has become the new marker of invalidation.
The flow of information that we receive through technology leads us today to think that the exceptional is the current standard. Because of this, we feel bad, we doubt ourselves, or even we feel shame.
Therefore, Mark Manson argues that being aware and accepting that our existence is not exceptional:
- Makes us free to do what really motivates us, with no inhibitions or unrealistic expectations.
- Will help us appreciate more everyday things.
Chapter 4 – The Value of Suffering
4.1 – The meaning of our suffering
The story of Hiroo Onoda
New chapter, new story! The story that the author tells us here takes place after the Second World War. This one is about Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese lieutenant who, pursued by American troops, takes refuge a few months before the end of the war in the jungle of the island of Lubang in the Philippines.
Once the war is over, Onoda, cut off from the world in the depths of a hostile jungle, continues to believe, for more than thirty years, that the war has never stopped. During all these years, every means possible and imaginable are used by the US Army and the Japanese authorities to inform the lieutenant of the end of the fighting. All in vain. It had no effect. Onoda doesn’t believe it. He is convinced that it’s a trap and continues guerrilla warfare, refusing to leave his hiding place. It’s finally a young, marginal adventurer named Suzuki, who finds him and manages to talk some sense into him.
Why do we suffer?
When Suzuki asks Onoda why he stayed there, to continue the armed struggle, Onoda tells him that he had been ordered to “never surrender” and that he had simply complied. Ironically, Onoda lived out his last years much more depressed than he had ever been for the decades he lived in his jungle, where his existence meant something, where his suffering was bearable.
In this story, the two men sacrificed most of their lives: Onoda out of loyalty to a late empire, Suzuki for a crazy adventure (we know that Suzuki died shortly afterward during one of these adventures).
However, the suffering of Onoda and Susuki means something to them. It fulfills a cause greater than themselves. And it’s because it meant something, they managed to find the courage to endure it, and perhaps even enjoy it.
At the conclusion of this story, Mark Manson invites us to reflect on the meaning of our suffering to improve our life:
If suffering, like our problems, is inevitable, the question that should be asked is not “How do I stop suffering?” but “Why am I suffering? For what cause? To what end?”
4.2 –The onion and self-awareness
Self-awareness, like the onion, has multiple sub-layers:
- The first layer is the basic understanding of our emotions.
- The second layer is the ability to ask why we feel certain emotions.
- The third (and most important) layer is that of our personal values, which:
- Determine the nature of our problems and therefore the quality of our life.
- Underlie who we are and everything we do (everything we think about a situation is, in fact, related to the value we give it).
According to Mark Manson, the suggested self-development operates, very often, at a superficial level: it’s just about making people feel good in the short term.
4.3 – Rock stars problems
The story that Mark Manson recounts here is very telling.
It’s a story about Dave, a guitarist who was kicked out of his band overnight. Angry and humiliated by his dismissal, Dave decides to take revenge. Obsessed by his idea, the man promises to make every effort to reach the summit of glory and thus be able to triumph over the group that abandoned him a few years ago. That’s how Dave, from his full name Dave Mustaine, creates the rock band, Megadeth! Known around the world, the band sells more than 25 million albums and performs phenomenal world tours.
One might think that by taking revenge, Dave Mustaine became happy. He didn’t! For the band that kicked him out is no other than the famous rock band, Metallica, who sold, for their part, more than 180 million albums and has a global success even more massive.
No matter how far he has come since then, Dave Mustaine, in his mind, will always be “the guy who got thrown out of Metallica”. Although he has become a recognized artist who earns millions of dollars, to this day the guitarist continues to see himself as a failure. This is because of his experience; he chose Metallica as a reference standard to self-evaluate his life.
Moral of the story, according to Mark Manson: everyone or almost everyone compares themselves to others. But, in the author’s opinion:
The issue is the criteria used. If you want to change your how you perceive, how you consider your problems, then you have to change your values and/or your metrics of failure and success.
4.4 – False values
Here, Mark Manson lists what he calls “false values”, that is to say, the values that, in his opinion, only lead to inextricable problems:
Pleasure is the most superficial form of satisfaction and the easiest to obtain, and therefore, to lose. If it’s necessary (in certain doses), it’s not sufficient in itself. Pleasure is not the cause of happiness, it’s an effect of it.
Research shows that from the moment one can satisfy one’s basic needs (food, shelter, etc.), the correlation between happiness and material success is almost nil.
Always being right:
Those who base their worth on constantly having the last word prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes. By not being able to grasp things from a different perspective, they close the door to the lessons learned.
Staying positive no matter what:
Even if systematically considering the good side of things has many advantages, in reality, life just “sucks ass” sometimes. There is no problem in expressing our negative emotions. However, it is important to do this in a socially acceptable, healthy way that is in line with our values.
In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising kids fulfills us more than beating a video game. Starting a small business with buddies to make ends meet gives us more satisfaction than buying a new computer. These are activities are stressful, difficult, and often not very fun. They require defusing problems one after another. But what an absolute thrill they are! You have to go through a lot of effort, pain, even anger, not to say despair – but once you get through it, you look back with a tear in your eye as you recount your struggle to your grandchildren.
As Freud said: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” That’s why these values – pleasure, material success, always being right, and staying positive no matter what – are poor ideals.
4.5 – “Cool” values and “crappy” values
- Cool values are:
- Socially constructive,
- Immediate and controllable.
Some examples of “cool” values, according to Mark Manson: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, defending oneself, defending others, respecting each other, curiosity, charity, humility, and creativity.
- “Crappy” values are:
- Based on superstition,
- Socially destructive,
- Neither immediate nor controllable.
Some examples of “crappy” values, according to Mark Manson: dominance through manipulation or violence, “fucking” whomever comes your way, telling everyone “to fuck off”, feeling good all the time, being the center of attention, never being alone, being liked by everyone, being “filthy rich” for the sake of being “filthy rich”.
When we opt for “cool” values, we can turn to things that really matter. These make us feel better and generate happiness, pleasure, and success. In this way, we face better problems and our life is improved.
4.6 – Five most profitable “negative” values
The rest of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is based on five values.
- Are not the most prevalent, but are, according to Mark Manson, the most profitable.
- All respond to the “backward law” as these are “negative” (see Chapter 1).
- All require facing one’s own problems.
- Are as iconoclastic and unconventional as they are uncomfortable but can change lives.
These five values are:
- Radical responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that happens to us in life, without placing blame.
- Uncertainty: recognizing our own ignorance and cultivating constant doubt about our own beliefs.
- Failure: be willing to take note of our faults, our mistakes, in order to address them.
- Rejection: the ability to say and hear “no” to clearly define what you accept and do not accept in your life.
- Contemplation of our mortal condition: seriously considering our own death is what will help us to put into perspective all other values.
Chapter 5 – You Are Making Choices All the Time
5.1 – Choosing one’s problems
Mark Manson begins this chapter taking the example of a marathon that we would have run:
- If we chose freely to do this marathon and we prepared for it, the moment is unforgettable.
- If, on the other hand, it has been imposed on us and it has been done against our will, the marathon becomes a painful experience.
Indeed, according to Mark Manson:
The only difference between a situation perceived as overwhelming and one, on the contrary, perceived as galvanizing is the feeling. In the second case, we were able to exercise a choice in complete autonomy and to assume responsibility for it. […] When you choose your problems, you feel empowered. As soon as they are forced upon you, you consider yourself as an unfortunate victim.
5.2 – Not choosing is still choosing
After many years of being an ugly duckling, the American psychologist and philosopher William James, depressed, decided to try an experiment: to spend a year with the conviction of being 100% responsible for all that would happen to him, without exception.
After this experiment, his life changes radically. This is, for him, a “rebirth” (word used to talk about it). It is because of this that he says he was able to accomplish what he undertook afterward.
The central idea here is that you only need to realize that you are responsible for everything that happens to you in life, whatever the circumstances, to develop.
According to Mark Manson, we don’t always control what happens. However, we always control our attitude towards what happens to us and how we react to it.
Therefore, the same event can become positive or negative depending on the criteria that we choose to apply.
5.3 – Don’t confuse “responsibility” and “fault”
It is important to avoid the confusion between “responsibility” and “fault”, which often go hand in hand with our Western mentalities.
We are responsible at all times for experiences that are not our fault. It’s part of life.
Mark Manson shares with us a way to dissociate the two concepts:
- Fault stems from choices that have already been made.
- Responsibility comes from the choices that we’re currently making every second of every day.
To illustrate this idea and help us understand the difference between “responsibility” and “fault”, Mark Manson recounts his first breakup. His girlfriend cheats on him with his teacher before deciding to break up with him. It’s devastating for the broken-hearted young man who lays around for months. He holds his girlfriend fully responsible for his grief. But one day, he realizes that even if what happened to him and the state to which he was reduced was her fault, she herself was in no way responsible for his misery. In fact, it was he who was!
Mark Manson then explains how he finally succeeded, after a long process, to improve himself in his subsequent relationships.
Claiming responsibility for one’s own problems is another matter, but the lessons learned are extremely valuable. That’s the way that you correct your mistakes. To simply blame others is to hurt oneself.
5.4 – How to react to tragedies?
The story Mark Manson shares here is poignant.
Malala Yousafzai is a small Afghan village girl. At the age of 13, Malala refused what the Taliban, who controlled her country, imposed on her because of her status as a girl. So, despite the existing ban, she makes the choice to go to school every day. Because of this, the girl gets shot in the head one day. However, she escapes death miraculously.
Today, although threatened with death, the young activist continues to denounce the oppression and violence suffered by women in Muslim countries in several books. In 2014, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now known worldwide.
At the end of this story, Mark Manson emphasizes that it would have been so easy for Malala to simply say, “What can I do?” or “I have no choice.” And no one would have blamed her. But the girl made another choice.
5.5 – Life is a game of poker
Mark Manson encourages us to see life as a poker game:
We’re all dealt a hand in the beginning. Some of us are dealt with better cards than others. And even if it’s tempting to obsess over your cards to say that you’ve been ripped off, the real game lies in the choices you make with your hand, the risks you decide to take, and the consequences you choose to live with. Those who consistently make the best choices in the situations they encounter are also the ones who do the best. In life, just as in poker. And it is not necessarily those who have been dealt the best hands.
5.6 – “Victimhood”
Today, anyone who feels offended for any reason, feels entitled to be outraged before the world and considers it normal to involve their peers.
According to Mark Manson, the danger of this “victimhood” is that it diverts the attention from the real victims. Indeed, the more people who claim to be aggrieved by minor offenses, the harder it becomes to see who the real victims are.
Chapter 6 – You’re Wrong About Everything (but the author is too)
6.1 – Architects of our own beliefs
I have always been wrong about everything. I was completely wrong about myself, about others, about society, about culture, about the world, about the universe – about everything, from the beginning. […] Lastly, I am wrong again and again and again about everything, that’s why my life is changing for the better.
Mark Manson shares an experiment conducted by psychologists. The latter placed someone in a room equipped with buttons to push. Then, they asked him to find the button to push in order to turn the light on. Each time the light comes on, a point is earned. The goal is to gain the maximum number of points in 30 minutes.
The author explains that the purpose of this experiment is actually to show how quickly the human mind can invent “bullshit” and believe in it.
In fact, during the experiment, all guinea pig individuals believe to have discovered the “perfect” sequence. Our brain is a meaning machine. However, the “meaning” that is attributed to something is generated by the associations our brain operates between two or more experiments. In short, the only good is what our experience has shown us.
That’s why the key, according to Mark Manson, is to constantly cultivate doubt and admit to being wrong.
6.2 – Be careful what you believe
The incredible story of Meredith
Here, Mark Manson reveals to us an amazing story.
During a therapy session in 1988, Meredith, a feminist journalist, realizes that she was sexually abused by her father as a child. A repressed memory that remained in her subconscious an entire part of her life. Furthermore, at the age of 37, she tells everything to her family and confronts her father who denies it. Everyone in Meredith’s life take sides and become divided.
But this story is much more dramatic than that. Ten years later, Meredith realizes that her father never abused her! She actually invented the traumatic memory with the help of a well-meaning therapist. Consumed by guilt, she did a lot of apologizing and explaining, but too late: her father died, and her family would be devastated forever. Meredith would make the story into a book: “My Lie: A True Story of False Memory”.
Trusting yourself less
In fact, in the 1980s (the author develops the reasons), many women accused men in their family of sexual abuse only to flip-flop and take it back years later.
These news stories show how our memories work:
Our brain processes events so that they align with all previous experiences, with our feelings and certainties. Therefore, when we encounter situations that contradict everything that was true about our past, it generates fictitious memories to restore consistency.
In addition, Mark Manson equates the operation of our memories to that of Chinese whispers. This game consists of saying something in the ear of the person next to you, who then repeats it in the ear of the person next to them, and so on. At the end of the chain, what the last person hears has nothing to do with the initial message.
As a result, our memory is fallible, and our brains work with strong biases. This is why, contrary to all the messaging that tells us to “go with our gut”, Mark Manson advises us to do the contrary, to trust ourselves less.
6.3 – The dangers of absolute certainty
Laura is a young woman “addicted” to self-development. Laura was rejected by the author after a sexual relationship. Since then, she has been harassing him and clinging to wacky beliefs. In portraying Laura’s personality, inhabited by an irrational attitude and irrational beliefs, Mark Manson exposes three ideas:
- Certainty is never absolute.
- The pursuit of certainty often leads to greater insecurity. This is again the “backward law”: the more we seek certainty about something, the more we reinforce the sense of uncertainty and insecurity. But the opposite is also true: the more we accept the state of uncertainty, the more we gain more knowledge about what we do not know.
- Uncertainty removes stereotypes and prejudices and prevents summary judgments (including about oneself).
6.4 – Mark Manson’s law of avoidance
The law of avoidance, according to Mark Manson, is that the more something endangers our identity, threatens to change the view (positive or negative) we have of ourselves, the more we try to avoid it.
Thus, this is why people dread success as much as failure: it threatens who they believe to be. Now, as long as we refuse to tamper with the view that we have of ourselves, of what we believe to be and not to be, we can’t change.
6.5 – Don’t be special
Once we have understood that our problems are nothing too special, once we have gotten rid of our sense of entitlement, in short, once we have let go, we are free!
The author then suggests that we define ourselves in the most standard and ordinary way possible:
It often means letting go of the grandiose ideas about yourself […]. It means giving up your self-aggrandizement and the belief that you are owed something. And it also means giving up the emotional highs you’ve been gorging on for years.
6.6 – How to be a little less certain of yourself
Mark Manson suggests some questions to ask ourselves to help us have a little more uncertainty in our lives.
Question #1: What if I was wrong?
This question should become a mental habit, a reflex. And it’s not because you ask yourself if you’re wrong that you are necessarily wrong. At the same time, keep in mind that there is always something you’re wrong about.
Question #2: What would it mean if I was wrong?
Being able to consider and evaluate other points of view without necessarily adopting them is without a doubt the most important skill to change one’s life in a constructive way.
Question # 3: Would being wrong create a better or worse problem than my current problem for myself and others?
If you have the impression that it’s you against the rest of the world, there are chances that it’s just yourself against yourself.
Chapter 7- “Failing” to Get a Good Start
7.1 – The Paradox of failure and success
Progress, in whatever area, requires a thousand of tiny failures. […] To deny the likelihood of failure is to close the door to any possibility of success.
That said, life teaches us to avoid failure. In Mark Manson’s opinion, which is largely responsible for failure is:
- The school system: everything is related to performance. Individuals are evaluated on this basis; those who have a different path and don’t conform to the framework are punished.
- The mass media: who are constantly showing us spectacular successes, without mentioning the thousands of hours of training needed to achieve them.
7.2 – Pain is part of the process
In the 1950s, Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, conducts research relating to survivors of the Second World War. Many survivors say that these accumulated traumas have actually made them more mature and even happier individuals. Although the horror of their experience is beyond the imaginable, some have managed to bounce back, take advantage of those years of hardship and gain resilience.
What Mark Manson tells us about this research is that suffering is part of the process. It’s important to feel it. Trying to cut oneself from it, to mask it, to take pleasure in positive thinking is to deprive oneself of the motivation essential for any metamorphosis:
Dabrowski contends that fear, anxiety, and sadness are not necessarily or always disruptive or useless states of mind, to the contrary. In the same way that physical test strengthens the organism, they function like many engines, as vectors of psychological and emotional development.
So, according to Mark Manson:
We need existential crises, in one form or another, to consider objectively what made sense in our lives and possibly consider changing direction.
7.3 – Do something first, the rest will follow
If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there thinking about it; get to work on it. Even if you don’t know where you’re going, the mere fact of working on it will eventually bring out the good ideas.
Action isn’t just the effect of motivation, it’s also the cause. People think that emotional inspiration leads to motivation, which, in turn, leads to action. Period. However, Mark Manson finds that motivation is, in fact, part of an endless cycle: inspiration → motivation → action → inspiration → motivation → action → etc.
Therefore, it’s, according to the author, quite possible to reshape one’s state of mind in the following way: action → inspiration → motivation.
In this regard, American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss and author of the bestseller The 4-hour Workweek relates a story heard from a colleague about an author of more than seventy novels:
If you implement this principle of “do something first, the rest will follow”, failing doesn’t matter to you. With “action” as a criterion for success, any result is perceived as progress. Inspiration is rewarded instead of being the prerequisite. You no longer fear failure. You are then propelled ahead.
Chapter 8 – The Importance of Saying No
8.1 – The usefulness of watertight boundaries in a relationship
In a caring relationship, the partners:
- Identify their respective problems and try to solve them by mutually supporting each other.
- Have an ability to assume their responsibilities (which belongs to each person exclusively, without trying to take on that of the other).
- Are able to reject the other or to accept being rejected by them; they do not fear crises and conflicts, let alone narcissistic wounds.
In a toxic relationship, we often see two avoidance strategies:
- Either a person takes responsibility for problems/emotions that are not theirs,
- Or they come to make the other person responsible for their own.
We often talk about two profiles that are magnetized one to the other: one person who ignites the fire to feel important – the victim (in case # 2), and the other person who takes value in extinguishing the fire – their savior (in case # 1).
8.2 – How to build trust
Trust is the main ingredient of a relationship. Mark Manson shares two ideas on this subject:
- In a relationship, conflict is needed to build trust.
- When trust is destroyed, it can only be regained under two conditions:
- That the guilty party admits the motives of the “breach of trust”;
- That they demonstrate a change in behavior over time.
8.3 – Commitment to freedom
Mark Manson shares several ideas about having experiences:
- The consumer culture pushes us to want more and more. However, “more” does not necessarily mean “better”. Quite the contrary.
- When we are overwhelmed with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists call the “paradox of choice”: basically, the more we are offered options, the less we are satisfied with our choice because we keep at the top of the list all the other possibilities that we have waived.
- It is true that to commit oneself to a person, to invest fully in a place, a job or an activity denies one a lot of other experiences; however, broadening one’s scope of experience is necessary during youth. That said, the more we “have been around”, the less the new experience affects us, and expanding one’s experience denies the joy of the new experience in its fullness.
- Commitment concentrates energy on a few priority goals, with the result that the chances of success are greater than what otherwise would have been.
Chapter 9 – … And Then You Die
9.1 – The story of Josh’s death
For this last chapter, Mark Manson paints a sad and tragic story. Something he experienced in his youth, and which completely changed his life.
This story is the death of his friend, Josh. At a party in a condominium North of Dallas, the author and his friend Josh, after “downing” several beers, dare themselves to jump from a cliff some ten meters overlooking a lake. But the fun and games turn to drama. Josh dies accidentally.
Mark Manson’s story is moving. He shares with us the pain he experienced and the depression he went through after the death of his friend. Then, he reveals how this event was a turning point in his life:
Before his death, I was inhibited, without ambition, obsessed by what I imagined what others could be thinking of me. After the tragedy, nothing was like before. I became someone else; someone responsible, curious, hardworking. […] It was the death of someone else who had given me permission to live. This episode, unquestionably the hardest, is also the one that has the most significantly transformed the course of my life.
9.2 – The immortal part in you
Ernest Becker was an academic pariah. This is how Mark Manson presents this strange man, who is an anthropologist and non-conformist.
While on the verge of being fired for the fifth time in six years by an employer, Ernest Becker gets colon cancer. His prognosis is grim. Forced to spend the following years in bed, with no real hope of getting out, he decides to write a book about death.
The book, “The Denial of Death“, won the Pulitzer Prize and became one of the most influential intellectual works of the twentieth century, shaking up the fields of psychology and anthropology. “The Denial of Death“ makes two essential points:
As humans, we are the only animals able to conceptualize and imagine themselves abstractly.
Indeed, we are unique among other species. We are born with the capacity to imagine ourselves in hypothetical situations, to contemplate the past and the future, and to consider other versions of reality. Furthermore, we are the only animals able to imagine a reality without being in it. This awareness brings about what Becker refers to as the “death terror,” a deep existential angst that underlies everything we think or do.
Becker assumes that we have, basically, two selves:
- The first self is the physical self: the one who eats, sleeps, snores, etc.
- The second self is the conceptual self: our identity or the image we have of ourselves.
Becker’s thesis is: we have little awareness that our physical selves will die, that it is inevitable. As a result, to compensate for our fear of death, we strive to build a conceptual self that will be eternal. We implement, as Becker calls them, “immortality projects”. These projects allow our conceptual self to survive our physical death, to extend ourselves far beyond.
Whether it leads to the mastery of an art, the conquest of a new land, the accumulation of wealth, or the spawning of a lineage whose name will continue from one generation to another, the meaning of our whole life is determined by this innate desire to never truly die.
Since it is inevitable, striving to accept death is better than ignoring it.
Death terrifies us all as much as we are. Paradoxically, death is the light that highlights the darkness of life’s meaning. Without death, nothing would matter.
9.3 – The sunny side of death
When we spend our time chasing after a little more money, a little more glory and attention, a little more assurance that we are right or that we are loved, death, sweeping everything before it, confronts us with a question even more heavy: what will you leave behind? What mark? What influence will you have had? How will the world be different when you are gone? It is said that a butterfly that flutters in Africa can cause a hurricane in Florida; well, what hurricane are you going to leave in your wake?
To conclude The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, Mark Manson recounts an experience at Cape of Good Hope: he tells us, second after second, how he felt, at the top of a steep cliff facing the ocean in a strong wind, as he got a few inches from the edge of the cliff face.
The author explains that such encounters of our mortal condition were already practiced in ancient times. It was a way of always keeping in mind the idea of one’s own death in order to taste life and to put into perspective its difficulties.
With an anecdote, Mark Manson states that, after this experience, he felt “alive, very alive”!
Nothing could make one more attuned to oneself, more aware of the moment than being a few inches from one’s own death.
Book critique of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life”
What we learn in this book
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck has many points of reflection, the strongest of which could be:
- Always looking for positive experiences often leads, in the end, to negative experiences.
- Every action has an associated sacrifice, and we must accept it: everything that makes us feel good is going to make us feel bad at a certain moment.
- It is crucial to learn how to prioritize and focus on what is worthwhile.
- Simplifying one’s life helps make oneself truly happy.
- Problems and suffering are an integral part of life and are inevitable; it’s up to us to know how to create “good” problems.
- Each person is responsible for their interpretation and reactions to events. It is essential to take full responsibility.
- Action is a source of motivation; it’s not just motivation that creates action.
- Our existence is not exceptional. Accepting this frees us. The extraordinary lies within the ordinary.
- The “most” is not the “best”.
- We are in a perpetual quest for truth (which we never attain): we are wrong all the time and just a little less as we learn in life.
- Renouncing certain experiences allows us to experience the fullness and depth of those to which we have chosen to commit.
- Death is what gives meaning to life.
A book that I recommend!
With his practical wisdom, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” is a book that I really enjoyed for all the reasons I describe below in the strong points. Therefore, it’s a book that I highly recommend!
Strong points of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck:
- Freedom of tone, without losing depth to the content;
- The originality of contrarian ideas that stand out from the current discourse;
- The slightly off-the-wall humor that does not take away from the relevancy of the subject matter;
- The many stories that are well told, captivating, often real-life and always interesting, which make the reading all the more enjoyable;
- Humility and sincerity in the author’s language.
Weak point of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck:
- Some may not appreciate the criticism of established and infrequently challenged ideas found in self-help books (such as positive thinking or the pursuit of excellence, for example).
My rating :
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