The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck - Summary & Analysis (1/8)
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck offers unconventional advice for a life well lived. Part 1 of the book summary and analysis introduces us the foundational concepts that the rest of Mark Manson’s bestseller unpacks later on.
What's the gist of this book?
Happiness comes from solving problems that you enjoy having and solving, therefore choose your f*cks.
You should read this book if:
– You’re questioning whether you have anything you truly give a 💩 about, your sense of apathy has left you feeling like life is meaningless
– You have a vision of the person you want to become, but find that you’re ’stuck’ and fixated on what you lack
– You don’t mind colourful language and want to read a self-help book with a good dose of edgy humour
Chapter 1: Don’t Try.
Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing.
Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations:
Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye.
Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.
But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you.
You learn about the best ways to make money because you feel you don’t have enough money already. You stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations saying that you’re beautiful because you feel as though you’re not beautiful already. You follow dating and relationship advice because you feel that you’re unlovable already. You try goofy visualization exercises about being more successful because you feel as though you aren’t successful enough already.
Ironically, this fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be. After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.
There’s a saying in Texas: “The smallest dog barks the loudest.” A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident. A rich woman doesn’t feel a need to convince anybody that she’s rich. Either you are or you are not. And if you’re dreaming of something all the time, then you’re reinforcing the same unconscious reality over and over: that you are not that.
You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time.
Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.
And while there’s nothing wrong with good business, the problem is that giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. 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.
The Feedback Loop from Hell.
There’s an insidious quirk to your brain that, if you let it, can drive you absolutely batty. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:
You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious. Oh no! Doubly anxious! Now you’re anxious about your anxiety, which is causing more anxiety. Quick, where’s the whiskey?
Welcome to the Feedback Loop from Hell. Chances are you’ve engaged in it more than a few times.
Calm down, amigo. Believe it or not, this is part of the beauty of being human. Very few animals on earth have the ability to think cogent thoughts to begin with, but we humans have the luxury of being able to have thoughts about our thoughts.
The Feedback Loop from Hell has become a borderline epidemic, making many of us overly stressed, overly neurotic, and overly self-loathing.
By not giving a fuck that you feel bad, you short-circuit the Feedback Loop from Hell; you say to yourself, “I feel like shit, but who gives a fuck?” And then, as if sprinkled by magic fuck-giving fairy dust, you stop hating yourself for feeling so bad.
As the existential philosopher Albert Camus said: “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
Or put more simply:
Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place?
What’s interesting about the backwards law is that it’s called “backwards” for a reason: not giving a fuck works in reverse. If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive.
The pain you pursue in the gym results in better all-around health and energy. The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others.
The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.
To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.
Most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give too many fucks about the rude gas station attendant who gave us our change in nickels. We give too many fucks when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give too many fucks when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend.
Meanwhile, our credit cards are maxed out, our dog hates us, and Junior is snorting meth in the bathroom, yet we’re getting pissed off about nickels and Everybody Loves Raymond.
There is a subtle art to not giving a fuck. And though the concept may sound ridiculous and I may sound like an asshole, what I’m talking about here is essentially learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively—how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
What does not giving a fuck mean? Let’s look at three “subtleties” that should help clarify the matter.
Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
Let’s be clear. There’s absolutely nothing admirable or confident about indifference. People who are indifferent are lame and scared. In fact, indifferent people often attempt to be indifferent because in reality they give way too many fucks. They give a fuck about what everyone thinks of their hair, so they never bother washing or combing it.
They give a fuck about what everyone thinks of their ideas, so they hide behind sarcasm and self-righteous snark. They’re afraid to let anyone get close to them, so they imagine themselves as some special, unique snowflake who has problems that nobody else would ever understand.
Indifferent people are afraid of the world and the repercussions of their own choices. That’s why they don’t make any meaningful choices. They hide in a gray, emotionless pit of their own making, self-absorbed and self-pitying, perpetually distracting themselves from this unfortunate thing demanding their time and energy called life.
You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others. You just can’t.
The old saying goes that no matter where you go, there you are. Well, the same is true for adversity and failure. No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.
Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.
If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you—chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem.
Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.
People aren’t just born not giving a fuck. In fact, we’re born giving way too many fucks. Ever watch a kid cry his eyes out because his hat is the wrong shade of blue? Exactly. Fuck that kid.
When we’re young, everything is new and exciting, and everything seems to matter so much. As we get older, with the benefit of experience (and having seen so much time slip by), we begin to notice that most of these sorts of things have little lasting impact on our lives.
Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy.
We now reserve our ever-dwindling fucks for the most truly fuck-worthy parts of our lives: our families, our best friends, our golf swing. And, to our astonishment, this is enough. This simplification actually makes us really fucking happy on a consistent basis.