In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson argues that our consumer culture and social media have us chasing the wrong things in pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life. We are giving a f*ck or caring about too many things that don’t matter and don’t make us happy in the long run.
We are urged by social media and society to give a f*ck about everything. We are told to always be striving for more—more happiness, money, experiences, friends, possessions. The self-help movement urges us to focus on being positive and feeling good. But all the focus on positivity actually emphasizes what we lack—and so we keep striving.
Manson argues that, as a result, we become addicted to phoniness, and we constantly pursue superficial things. This creates temporary highs rather than true happiness. We end up frustrated and feel that we are falling short in comparison to what we see in social media, which celebrates only the most extraordinary. Or, we develop the belief that we are entitled to always feel good.
But, he argues, success, fame, and fleeting self-improvement don’t lead to satisfaction. The key to a happy, meaningful life is to give a f*ck about less, and focus only on what is most valuable and important to us.
This book will help you:
The advice in Subtle Art comes largely from three different philosophical traditions—Stoicism, Existentialism, and Buddhism. For context to Manson’s advice, here’s a general overview of each philosophy:
Stoicism values reason and duty above all else.
In Meditations (one of the definitive Stoic texts) Marcus Aurelius says that the only meaningful use of your time is to find out what you’re meant to do in the world, and then do it.
Aurelius also says that how you feel—and how others feel about you—doesn’t matter; every action you take should be driven by rational thought and devotion to your purpose.
Existentialism values personal choice and personal growth.
It’s rooted in the idea that life is meaningless, and therefore you must make your own meaning.
An existentialist should determine what values and beliefs he or she holds, and then devoutly follow them. However, it’s crucial that those beliefs and values are personal, and not instilled by someone else.
Buddhism values acceptance and tranquility.
These values are exemplified in stories of how the Buddha dealt with the evil god Mara: Rather than fighting against him, the Buddha would greet Mara as a friend and invite him in for tea.
Following the Buddha’s example, a Buddhist tries to meet any experience—positive or negative—with calm acceptance.
Manson cautions that when we choose to give fewer f*cks (that is, to reprioritize what we care about and what we don’t), we’ll make mistakes before we master the art, including:
Manson believes that, contrary to what society tells us, happiness isn’t an equation to be solved or an achievement attained when we do the right things. He argues that being unhappy and dissatisfied is part of life, and also a necessary counterweight to happiness; therefore, happiness isn’t simply the avoidance of unhappiness.
According to Manson, happiness comes from solving problems and challenges. It’s an action or ongoing activity because there are constant problems to solve; each problem you solve plants the seed of another problem.
When you misunderstand how to be happy, you care too much about the wrong things; you’re looking for the perfect combination of f*cks that lead to permanent happiness, when no such combination exists.
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that we can’t directly create happiness for ourselves. Instead, we should:
Create the right conditions for happiness. We can’t create happiness, but we can make sure that we’re in a position to be happy. According to Haidt, this primarily means balancing emotional urges with reason; avoiding those impulses that bring fleeting happiness at the cost of lasting damage (drinking, eating junk food, quitting your job without a plan), and giving in to those impulses that will bring long-term satisfaction (building strong relationships, exercising, finding your dream job).
Be patient. We can’t force happiness—it will come in its own time.
Allow happiness to flourish. Note the word “allow”; it emphasizes that happiness is something that simply happens, rather than something that we create.
Haidt’s argument is, in essence, the Paradox of Hedonism (sometimes called the Paradox of Happiness), which states that pursuing happiness will make you unhappy.
Manson tells us that the purpose of emotions is to provide feedback—to tell us that something is good or bad for us. However, many people over-identify with how they feel and use their feelings as justifications for whatever they do (like “I keyed your car, but I was really mad and couldn’t help it”). Emotions are only part of life, not its entirety.
Instead, Manson advises you to make decisions on what to care about based on your values, not on your emotions. Making decisions based on emotions alone,...
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Despite its title, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck isn’t about not giving any fcks; rather, it’s about giving fcks about the right things.
Modern society tells us to care deeply about everything. We’re constantly told that we don’t have enough money, enough friends, enough stuff, or enough experiences—just consider how many “50 things you have to read/watch/see before you die” articles are out there.
Furthermore, the modern self-help movement teaches us that we should always feel happy and positive, and so when we don’t feel happy, we think we’re somehow failing. We feel constantly judged, both by others and by ourselves.
Therefore, the purpose of this book is to focus your f*cks; in other words, to help you identify what’s both truly important and within your control. By focusing your energy and attention on those things, you’ll find purpose and real happiness, rather than the shallow “good vibes” that the self-help movement would have you pursue.
Mark Manson began his career as a blogger. In 2009 he published his first blog, which was focused on dating advice. In 2010 he launched a new blog called Post Masculine—however,...
Manson argues that social media, entertainment, and advertising urge us to give a f*ck about everything incessantly. We “must” always strive for more—more happiness, more money and success, more experiences, more friends, more possessions, greater attractiveness, and a better body. In addition, self-help “experts” unrealistically urge us to be positive and happy all the time.
But, Manson says, we feel unhappy instead because these messages emphasize what we lack. By constantly wishing/striving for something, we reinforce to ourselves that we don't have it. Then the self-help experts give us superficial, short-term fixes: Stand in front of a mirror and repeat affirmations, or follow 10 easy steps to become rich. The advice further emphasizes what we’re lacking while failing to offer lasting solutions.
(Shortform note: There is genuine science behind self-help techniques such as affirmations; for instance, they help us to boost our sense of self-worth and decrease stress. However, Manson is correct that such techniques mostly help you to become more comfortable with who you already are—they won’t help you to change...
You probably spend too much time pursuing and caring (giving a f*ck) about superficial things. This uses up energy that could be devoted to things you value more.
Think of a time recently when something small got under your skin and you obsessed about it. What was it?
According to Manson, our culture treats happiness as a formula that can be solved. For instance, we may think: If I get a certain thing or do a certain thing, such as marry the right person or live in the right community, I’ll be happy. Or, we treat happiness as something we can earn or acquire.
However, he counters, happiness isn’t something that you get in return for an achievement (such as a new job) or something you can find in a “top 10 steps” article from a self-help guru. It’s not something that’s given or that you passively receive, or that is waiting for you somewhere.
Manson says that happiness comes from solving problems and overcoming challenges—an activity that improves our lives, creates satisfaction, and is ongoing.
In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that we can’t directly create happiness for ourselves. Instead, we should:
- Create the right conditions for happiness. We can’t create happiness, but we can make sure that we’re in a position to be happy. According to Haidt, this primarily means balancing emotional urges with reason; avoiding those...
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The purpose of emotions is to give us feedback, telling us that something is good or bad for us.
Think of a recent situation that aroused a strong emotion. What happened? What emotion did you feel?
Don’t aim for a pain-free life. When you strive for something important to you, you accept the pain necessary to get there.
What’s a goal that is very important to you?
Manson says that a feeling of entitlement is rampant today because many people have bought into cultural and social media messages about what it takes to be happy—which actually makes them more miserable and unable to cope with challenges in life.
According to Manson, entitlement can take one of two forms:
1. You believe that you’re entitled to feel good all the time.
(Shortform note: This type of entitlement is the result of letting your emotions manage you, rather than managing your emotions. Recall the emotional intelligence model from Chapter 2—controlling your emotions to achieve your goals is a large part of emotional intelligence.)
2. You believe that you’re exceptional or different. There are two ways that this belief can express itself:
A feeling of entitlement can stand in the way of improving yourself and succeeding in your work and relationships.
Have you ever thought in an entitled way? (This might mean you feel your problems are unique; that the rules don’t apply to you; that you deserve special treatment; that you consider yourself a victim.)
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To figure out what to give a f*ck about, Manson notes that you must be clear on your values. Your values are what drive you to feel and act in certain ways. To get to know your values, Manson says you must develop strong self-awareness, which will help you understand your values so that you can choose better values.
Manson notes that self-awareness has multiple levels. To uncover your deepest motives, you need to explore each level by questioning yourself.
Manson advises you to recognize when something is bothering you and to identify what you’re feeling—for instance, “this makes me feel sad.” Identifying your feelings can be difficult because we’re unaccustomed to it, and it takes practice. Many people were taught they should repress emotions, or that certain emotions were inappropriate. As a result, they have emotional blind spots and have to learn to identify and express the forbidden emotions constructively.
(Shortform note: The tendency to repress emotions is particularly common among men, many of whom are taught from childhood...
Question how you feel and why to uncover your deepest values.
Think of something that’s currently bothering you. What is it? What emotion are you feeling?
When you don’t feel in control of a situation, you become unhappy. However, according to Manson, it’s often a matter of perspective: A difficult problem can make you miserable, or it can give you a sense of accomplishment when you solve it.
Often, the only difference is in the degree to which you’re responsible for the situation or feel you have a choice in it. We feel in control and empowered when we choose our problems or challenges; when forced to deal with problems not of our making, we feel helpless and victimized.
But here’s Manson’s solution: No matter what situation you’re in, no matter your circumstances, you always have a choice. You can choose what you think, and how you behave in every situation. Once you accept your responsibility and ability to make choices, you’ll feel empowered in any situation, and this will make you happier.
Even in the worst situations—for example, being stuck in the hospital, or in prison—your attitude and your behavior are your choice and your responsibility.
Discipline (or self-control) is one of the values that Robin Sharma teaches in _[The Monk Who Sold His...
Things may happen to us that aren’t our fault. But we are still responsible for how we choose to respond to them.
Think of something that happened to you that wasn’t your fault but that you feel resentful about. What was it?
Manson says that to grow, we need to entertain doubt about our beliefs, feelings, and rightness. Instead of trying to prove we’re right, we should look for ways that we’re wrong. Finding our mistakes will allow us to grow.
He also stresses that learning and changing our beliefs is a lifelong growth process where we continually build on what we’ve learned before. We’ll never reach perfect knowledge or perfect certainty. That’s because learning doesn’t take us from wrong to right, but rather from wrong to less wrong. Thus, rather than striving to find the one “right” answer, we should figure out what we’re definitely wrong about, so that we’ll be less wrong tomorrow than we are today.
(Shortform note: Manson’s ideal of lifelong learning and growth echoes the concept of kaizen, a Japanese word that means constant self-improvement. While kaizen usually refers to a business practice, Robin Sharma’s book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari urges you to apply the same principle to yourself: In short, to improve yourself in some small way...
Much of what we think we know is wrong. Being willing to learn and change our beliefs is how we grow.
Think of a disagreement you had recently when you thought you were right and everyone else was wrong and dumb. What was the situation?
Most people are reluctant to fail or to admit failure. However, Manson says that to succeed at something you first have to fail, usually multiple times, so you can learn.
Improvement at anything is a result of many small failures. The more you’ve failed, the greater the scope of your success will be. Someone who is better at something than you are probably failed at it more times.
Manson believes that we don’t start trying to avoid failure until later in life, when we internalize messages that failure is bad from the education system and overly critical parents. The media’s focus on extraordinary successes, but not on the challenges leading up to them, also distorts our beliefs about success. If you want to be successful at something you have to be willing to fail at it.
A popular quote by author and illustrator Stephen McCranie sums up this idea: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” In other words, a master isn’t someone who never fails; on the contrary, it’s someone who has failed a great deal already and continues to grow through further failures.
Michael Jordan, a masterful basketball player by any measure, agrees: He...
Improving at anything requires failing many times and building on those failures.
Think of a goal that’s important for you, but that you’re not making as much progress on as you’d like. What is it?
Our culture tells us to always be positive and accepting of everything—to always say yes. However, Manson argues, if you value everything equally, then you really have no values at all. Therefore, you must also practice rejection—saying no to all those things that don’t align with your values or further your goals. It comes back to giving a fck about some things and choosing to not give a fck about others.
The idea of narrowing our options to be happy may be counterintuitive, but Manson believes that meaning in life comes from caring a lot about a few select things.
Manson claims that we actually tend to be happier with less; the more options we have, the less satisfied we are with the options we choose, because we keep thinking of the ones we didn’t choose. You keep wondering if you’d be happier with a different choice. Psychologists call this the paradox of choice. When faced with an overabundance of options, some people delay making a choice in order to keep their options open as long as possible, or they avoid commitment.
(Shortform note: Further studies have shown that the Paradox of Choice [may not be as...
A fulfilling life requires making choices—accepting the important things, and rejecting others.
What is one important thing in life that you want to commit to?
We prefer not to think or talk about death because we fear it. However, death is the yardstick we all use to measure our life and its meaning. Without death providing perspective, our lives and values wouldn’t mean anything.
Thus, Manson believes that accepting your mortality means getting rid of superficial or selfish values and considering what impact your life has made on the world.
(Shortform note: In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius points out that even the most extraordinary people die. Most of us will be forgotten once we’re gone; even if...
The key to a happy, meaningful life is to give a f*ck about less, and focus only on what is most valuable and important to us.
Make a list of things you give a f*ck about.