The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a guide on how to let go a little bit and enjoy life more. To realise that we will suffer in life, not everything is always great, and this book will show you how to suffer better, more meaningfully and with more compassion. Mark Manson is straight-up with his advice but when you have finished reading it, you will have a new lease on life. Most importantly, Mark Manson will help you pick meaningful values for your life and teach you that you don't have to try anymore.
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- BOOK SUMMARY
- IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT HAPPINESS
- DON’T BE ENTITLED – YOU WON’T GROW
- FIND VALUE IN SUFFERING
- IT’S UP TO YOU
- YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT
- ACKNOWLEDGE DEATH
Who is this summary for?
You need to have an open mind when reading this book, it’s not going to be your average self-help book but if you’re willing to accept his philosophy you may walk away with a new perspective on the world. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is a guide on how to let go a little bit and enjoy life more. To realise that we will suffer in life, not everything is always great, and this book will show you how to suffer better, more meaningfully and with more compassion. Mark Manson is straight-up with his advice but when you have finished reading it, you will have a new lease on life. Most importantly, Mark Manson will help you pick meaningful values for your life and teach you that you don't have to try anymore.
Mark Manson is an American blogger and author. He writes about his controversial views on his blog and in his book. The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck became a NYT bestseller when it was released in 2016. Although his book has a rather radical perspective on the world, Manson believes that a lot of the feel-good self-help books out there are actually damaging in the long run. He encourages his readers to build resilience and know that sometimes, life can be really crappy.
In this summary
Mark Manson begins by explaining why we need to stop fixating on the positive all of the time. He links this to his discussion about why happiness is actually a problem. Manson moves on to discussing why you need to stop thinking that your special and discusses why he thinks that there is value in suffering. Manson really pushes the message that it’s entirely up to you, you can decide what to care about and what to not care about. He discusses why certainty is bad before explaining why failure is good. Finally, he ends his book with a discussion around death and dying and why we need to embrace this rather than fear it.
Stop focusing only on the positive
Manson explains that by focusing only on the positive, we are essentially reminding and allowing ourselves to fixate on things we don’t have and things that we’ve failed at. The reality is, that if you are truly happy, you don’t need to remind yourself that you are you simply are content. Manson’s point is that if your constantly dreaming of something that you don’t have or that you aren’t your just reinforcing your own misery.
”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.”
Mark’s feedback loop from hell
We live in a world today that is saturated by social media and a consumer culture that continuously encourages us to spend more so we look/feel better. But this constant need to out-do everyone else is damaging and is essentially what Manson describes as a ‘feedback loop from hell’.
Manson explains that our need to post our ‘picture-perfect’ lives on social media has had a negative effect on society, the result is a new generation of people who have anxiety fear and guilt, ask because their lives may not be living up to what everyone else posts on Facebook. This leads people to think that their life isn’t good enough, clearly, everyone else is having a better time.
The reality is, people only post their so-called ‘highlight reel’ on Facebook, you’re not going to post a picture of yourself in your sweats eating leftovers out of a Tupperware container on a Saturday night, are you? Comparing yourself to only the best parts of someone else’s life is obviously going to cause misery.
”Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.”
Manson’s point is that we are surrounded by information now, we can’t go anywhere without finding a way to compare ourselves to others. What we have now is just a consistent feed of ways to discover that we aren’t as good as everyone else or that our lives don’t measure up. This is never going to cause happiness, only pain, and suffering.
“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.”
The subtle art of not giving a fuck
Manson’s definition of not giving a fuck has the following characteristics;
- It means being comfortable with being different.
- If you want to give a fuck about adversity, first you have to give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
- Whether or not you realise it, you are constantly deciding what to give a fuck about. The power is within you.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT HAPPINESS
We often live according to ‘the happiness equation’ – the concept that if you achieve X goal, then you will be happy, or if you look like Y, then you will be happy. It’s this constant need for more, that actually prevents us from ever being happy. The second you’ve reached X or Y, you’ve already set yourself the next goal. Therefore, reinforcing the cycle of ‘aiming for happiness’ but never actually achieving it.
”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 consistent happiness.”
We need to suffer
Manson explains that suffering is there for a reason, it’s actually biologically useful and nature’s way to encourage change. If we didn’t experience suffering and any dissatisfaction, we would never have to work hard or innovate to survive.
The way humans are designed encourages us to be dissatisfied by what we have and believe that only what we don’t have will satisfy us. Without this imbalance, humans may have died out. It is the dissatisfaction that encourages is to strive for more, to better ourselves and our species.
”“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.”
Problems are inevitable
Manson acknowledges that we are constantly faced with problems with varying degrees of difficulty. And an outcome of actually solving these problems is happiness. But it means that in order to achieve happiness, you actually have to face the problem and do something about it, just having the problem and ignoring it isn’t enough to induce happiness. You have to fix it.
”Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress—the solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.”
Choose your struggle
Manson suggests that instead of asking yourself ‘What do you want to enjoy?’ You instead need to ask yourself “What pain are you willing to sustain?” The point Manson is making is that your life is never going to be pain-free, any route to happiness is going to endure pain and suffering.
By choosing what pain you are willing to suffer through will actually help you get somewhere in your life. Choosing a pain and working through it will give you perspective and allow you to grow, adapt and hopefully thrive. The cycle is never-ending, it’s constant and never completely pain-free, but the results are worth it.
”See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.”
DON’T BE ENTITLED – YOU WON’T GROW
When people are entitled, what they are actually doing is blatantly ignoring any of their own problems, and not making any sacrifices. The result of this is that they never improve their own lives in any way, they never leave a lasting, meaningful impact on someone else life. By not acknowledging a struggle, they restrict themselves the ability to develop as a person.
Manson explains that in order to have a high self-worth, you need to acknowledge the negative parts about your character and realise your imperfections and weaknesses. By accepting that you’re bad with money means that you can learn from it, and improve upon it.
Manson explains that in reality, most of us are pretty average at things whether it be work, sport or a hobby. And if you are exceptional at one thing, then it’s more than likely that you are thoroughly average at other things. That’s just the harsh reality, the majority of us don’t get to be exceptional. And that’s OK.
”But it’s the extremes that get all of the publicity. Having the Internet, Google, Facebook, YouTube means that all day, every day, we are flooded with the truly extraordinary. The best of the best. Nonstop. Yet the vast majority of life is unextraordinary, indeed quite average.”
It comes back to living in an age flooded with information, social media, news updates, all reporting on the extraordinary few. Leaving us feeling below average, insecure and desperate. The internet has not only freed us by providing instant information but it’s created our own portable personal prison of insecurity, misery & self-doubt.
Manson explains that from the moment we are born, it’s ingrained in us that we need to be extraordinary at something, we need to find our own calling that we can truly succeed at. Being ‘average’ or ‘good enough’ has essentially become the new standard of failure.
”The fact that this statement is inherently contradictory—after all, if everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary—is missed by most people.”
In order to be mentally healthy and secure, you need to accept certain truths of life. The fact that no matter what you do in your life, you’re unlikely to make a real impact in the world, you’re likely to only ever be average and that the majority of your life will be bland, boring and mundane. You need to accept this and accept that it’s OK.
Manson explains that once you accept this, you will be relieving yourself of the pressure to succeed, and once this pressure has gone, you will feel happier, more vibrant and more alive. It will leave room for you to appreciate the simple things in life, friendships and relationships, your favourite hobbies or just walking down the street on a cold but sunny winters day. The ordinary things will start to stand out in your life and you’ll be able to realise that they are what really matters. That’s what you need to care about.
FIND VALUE IN SUFFERING
”What is objectively true about your situation is not as important as how you come to see the situation, how you choose to measure it and value it. 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.”
Manson identifies the following as ’shitty values’ these are values that you should not be prioritising in your life;
– Material Success
– Always being right
– Staying positive.
Manson considers good values to be; reality-based, socially constructive, achieved internally, immediate & controllable. An example of a good value is honesty – its completely within your control, its reality-based and has benefit to others.
Bad values, on the other hand, are: superstitions, socially destructive, not immediate or controllable and reliant on external events. An example of a bad value is the desire to be popular. Popularity is out of your own control and is socially destructive. It breaks people down rather than building them up.
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IT’S UP TO YOU
One of the key points Manson makes over and over in this book is that it’s your choice. When facing a problem, it can either be painful or if you embrace the sense that you chose it and claim responsibility, the problem can, in turn, be powerful.
We take an active role in what happens to us and what happens within us, we often choose to ignore this but the reality is you are constantly making choices. Whether that be interpreting the meaning of an event or making a big life choice, it’s all up to you. A single event can be perceived as either good or bad, which is entirely up to you, search for the opportunity within something that may initially seem negative and you’ll be surprised at what you find. If you enjoy this concept that you should definitely check out Ryan Holiday’s [The Obstacle is the Way].
”It comes back to how, in reality, there is no such thing as not giving a single fuck. It’s impossible. We must all give a fuck about something. To not give a fuck about anything is still to give a fuck about something. The real question is, What are we choosing to give a fuck about?”
Manson explains that we need to take responsibility for our own problems. This is the only way we are going to learn if you simply pass the blame onto someone else you are not giving yourself the opportunity to grow and develop.
Manson’s main concern is that with the internet and social media, it has become even easier for us to shift the blame and responsibility onto someone else. It’s also created a platform to publicly share problems, where you’ll get attention and comments from people just adding to the problem. This also creates a weird cycle where you can feel rewarded with attention and sympathy, therefore, you’re more likely to share more and more of your problems.
And the result of the public sharing of minuscule injustices creates the boy who cried wold phenomenon. Attention is taken away from actual victims and our empathy is numbed as we are constantly faced with so-called ‘problems’.
YOU ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT
”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. We are always in the process of approaching truth and perfection without actually ever reaching truth or perfection.”
Manson explains that rather than constantly searching for the over-riding ‘right’ we should simply make an effort every day to be a little bit less wrong than we were yesterday. Chip away at it rather than looking for the answer immediately.
We have to learn how to accept the imperfections, these are inevitable and entirely necessary for personal growth. There’s no certainty, embrace the unknown and let it help you grow.
Memories and beliefs
Manson describes the cycle of memories and what we base our beliefs on.
1. We experience or witness an event
2. A few days later, our memory is there, but it may be slightly altered
3. Then we tell someone about it, but there are a few blanks in our memory so we fill the gaps with made up bits.
4. We continue to tell the story with ted-bits of made-up bits the next time we tell the story.
5. In the end, our memory fails us and we remember the event a certain way, that’s not necessarily the way it happened.
”Not only does our memory suck—suck to the point that eyewitness testimony isn’t necessarily taken seriously in court cases—but our brain functions in a horribly biased way. Our mind’s biggest priority when processing experiences is to interpret them in such a way that they will cohere with all of our previous experiences, feelings, and beliefs.”
”Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something.”
Manson explains that we need to learn how to be a little bit less certain about ourselves. Start to question your own thoughts and beliefs. Although this is a hard skill to learn, it’s worthwhile and will lead you to personal growth and development. Try asking yourself the following questions;
- What if I'm wrong?
- What would it mean if I were wrong?
- Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
Failure is a necessary component of life. Manson uses the example of a child learning how to walk, each time they fall down, the child will learn a little bit about what they did wrong, about the pain that failing brings. And eventually, they’ll learn and succeed. Children do not turn around after the first bail and decide that walking isn’t an option and that they’ll simply crawl forever.
Children take failure on board and learn from it. But as adults, we do everything we can to avoid failure. We associate failure with fear and uncertainty. And because of this train of thought, we don’t ever become truly successful at something. Pursuing big goals means potentially failing first, and this failure creates so much anxiety that most people simply don’t try.
”We can be truly successful only at something we're willing to fail at.”
”Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life, and then consider changing course.”
The majority of us assume that action happens after a spur of motivation. But Manson explains that the reality is, action isn’t only a consequence of motivation but it can also be the driver behind the motivation. Rather than the process of motivation and action looking something like this;
Emotional inspiration → Motivation → Desirable action
Manson explains that the reality is, motivation is actually an endless cycle of chain reactions, it’s not a 3-step simple process. It looks more like this;
Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Etc.
So once you’ve been motivated and taken action, this action is what's most likely to spur the next round of inspiration. Use the actions to spark the next part of the cycle and keep moving forward.
”If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.”
You simply cannot go through life saying Yes to everything. By doing that, it means that you don’t actually stand for anything. Manson explains that by rejecting things, it means that there are certain things more desirable than others. If everything holds the same value to you, your life is essentially meaningless.
”The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values. We all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.”
As adults, we continually do whatever we can to avoid conflict. We’ve demonised conflict as something negative. But Manson stresses the importance of conflict in our lives, without any conflict, there is no trust. Conflict can be used to show us those who truly care about you and who have your best interests at heart. Standing up for what you believe in is not a negative quality, it’s a positive quality.
In order for a relationship to thrive, Manson explains that both people have to have the ability to say no and to listen when the other party says no. You cannot maintain a healthy relationship if one person is dominant if one person always says no and one always says yes. Conflict within a relationship, especially a personal relationship is perfectly normal and in fact, Manson believes it’s critical for a relationship to be healthy and improve. If you cannot vocalise your beliefs, opinions, and differences then the relationship is based on lies and misrepresentation, the relationship is essentially doomed.
”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.”
Manson explains that death is essentially what defines life, without the consequence of death, life would be somewhat meaningless, we’d wonder why we were living and what we were to do. There’s be no urgency, no requirement to ever do anything.
”While death is bad, it is inevitable. Therefore, we should not avoid this realization, but rather come to terms with it as best we can. Because once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death—the root terror, the underlying anxiety motivating all of life’s frivolous ambitions—we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the illogical quest for immortality, and freed from dangerous dogmatic views.”
Manson stresses the importance of facing the reality of your own morality. In doing this it makes all those superficial, shitty values in life irrelevant. If you truly confront the reality of your own death you can stop focusing on attention, fame, money or possessions. You will be freed and able to focus on more important things, like what is your legacy? What are you going to leave behind? Will you have made a mark on the world or influenced someone's life?
”They say that a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa can cause a hurricane in Florida; well, what hurricanes will you leave in your wake?”
You’re already great
“You are great. Already. Whether you realize it or not. Whether anybody else realizes it or not. And it’s not because you launched an iPhone app, or finished school a year early, or bought yourself a sweet-ass boat. These things do not define greatness.”
- You’ve got to stop focusing on the positive all of the time.
- Learn to be comfortable with being different.
- Suffering is not all bad, it’s designed to help us grow and develop.
- Problems are inevitable, you cannot avoid them. Instead, confront them.
- You are not exceptional and that's OK.
- Don’t be entitled.
- Find opportunities in negative situations.
- Failure is not bad, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure is necessary.
- Acknowledge your own mortality.
- It’s entirely up to you what you give a f*ck about.
Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way is a fantastic and instructive read all about how to overcome any obstacle or challenge and turn it into an advantage. Holiday acknowledges that life is never going to go to plan, obstacles and negative things are always going to happen. The key is to be prepared and not only expect the best.
Other reads by Ryan Holiday include Ego is the Enemy – a very complimentary continuation on from The Obstacle is the Way that focuses on how when on the road to success, we mustn't let our ego's become a controlling factor in the way we act and make decisions. Holiday helps make you realise, that you are your own worst enemy, that your ego, is the root of most of your problems. And if you can learn to understand this better, you can begin to adapt, make progress and stop being held back.
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero has a slightly different take on life to Mark Manson but shares similar ideas. It is a great read for anyone looking for some entertainment and real-life advice. If you’re feeling a little bit down and have some self-doubt, then this book is for you. Jen Sincero’s aim is to empower her readers by identifying key problems that almost everyone faces and explains how to face these hurdles and be a badass.
Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audiobook. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.
- Check out Mark Manson’s blog for some more insightful content and real-life advice.
- Purchase the book from Amazon.
This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above-mentioned author and publisher
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