Life Lessons I Learned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck
The New York Times Bestseller, released in 2016 by blogger Mark Manson, has likely been beaten to death by now but still has plenty of important messages worth reiterating. Finally caving to (perceived) pressures from my millennial predecessors, I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life and actually found it tolerable. I’m just kidding; I genuinely enjoyed the read and with the wisdom of hindsight I wouldn’t have waited so long to read it.
If you're wondering, should I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck the answer is yes and I explain why in the rest of this article.
It’s a revealing book written in a casual, conversational tone. Manson provides entertaining anecdotes to support his messages and uses honest, down-to-earth language to encourage readers to take control of their lives by choosing what they care, or as he would eloquently put it give a fuck, about. Essentially, Manson’s argument centers around the values we have.
Manson’s message is that no one is special, and accepting that and constantly striving to be better is what leads to greatness. In addition, he argues that you should not strive to always be comfortable and happy; because this doesn’t lead to growth, and your comfort is not always controllable. So we should embrace suffering that comes from the values we choose.
Our Life is Based on Our Values
Manson points out that suffering is unavoidable and life is unfair but we can choose the kind of suffering we deal with. He says that what we care about, our values, will determine the type of problems we face.
Manson defines self-improvement as “prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about.” Thus the title does not mean not giving a fuck about anything, it’s about ignoring the trivial, meaningless, and uncontrollable, and only caring about what’s important.
In order to change, we must determine what our current values are; this means confronting uncomfortable truths. If we think we care about nothing, we’ll only find useless things to care about, which is unproductive and harmful. Further, if we focus on avoiding suffering, we are in fact choosing that as our value; and as Manson explains, that’s a shitty value.
Good and Bad Values
Manson divides values into good and bad. Bad values include pleasure, material success, always being right, and staying positive. Good values include honesty, innovation, self-respect, and humility.
The difference between good and bad values is that good values are “reality-based, socially constructive, and immediate and controllable” whereas bad values are “superstitious, socially destructive, and not immediate or controllable”.
In the second half of the book, Manson talks about what he believes are the best values one can strive towards. These are responsibility, uncertainty, failure, rejection, and acceptance of one’s own mortality.
While bad values may give temporary satisfaction and may be easy, they are unproductive and will make you unhappy. Good values require hard work and struggle, but you will be happier and more successful. Choosing good values is about choosing the problems we face, and thus empowering ourselves
The 5 Best Values to Have
Manson points to our current culture of denying responsibility, or claiming victimhood, and argues that by taking responsibility for our actions in response to events we are empowering ourselves. He explains that our ultimate success or failure is determined by our response to the cards we’re dealt. Manson further distinguishes being at fault and taking responsibility.
Manson claims that “certainty is the enemy of growth” and that only by questioning what we believe to be true, and by allowing ourselves to be wrong, can we grow.
Reiterating what may be a familiar refrain, Manson states that you can not succeed without failing sometimes. Thus, by avoiding the pain of failure, we inhibit our growth. Further, if you define your success by acting, instead of arbitrary achievements, you create inspiration and motivation.
Manson reasons that only by rejecting meaningless trivialities can we truly focus on what matters. He writes, “pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience.”
Acceptance of One’s Mortality
By accepting that you will die and that everything is essentially meaningless, you give yourself the freedom to do anything. By choosing values that contribute to something bigger than ourselves, that will outlive us, we can become comfortable with the fear of death and be happier for it.
While The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck is not a rigorous treatment of values and ethics, it doesn’t have to be. Manson gets his point across just as well, if not better, with his casual tone. Reading the book inspires you to want to take direct action to change your life.
For me, two of the values I want to really focus on are accepting failure and taking responsibility for the events in my life. What about you? And have you read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck yet?