Title: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life | Author: Mark Mason | 2016
The book explains how living a fulfilled life requires editing what we choose to care about. Think Mari Kondo but instead of your closet, you simplify your life. The book’s underlying philosophy has roots in Buddhism and Stoicism. This means, channeling your attention to what you can control, and accepting the inevitable in life, which is suffering and death.
The book empowers you to take control of your life and rise from self-pity. Manson explores cultural norms that block our path to becoming better individuals. We read about the importance of self-reliance. He’s clear in his warning: learning to live a fulfilling life takes courage and work, since the process requires facing realities about the world, including ourselves.
For some, this approach to life satisfaction might feel like a punch. Don’t expect shortcuts. Expect pain and suffering. And that’s the point of it all. Struggles in life are inevitable, and problem-solving the obstacles that mean the most to us are the foundations of a good life.
One day in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.Freud as quoted in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counter Intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
A concept that kept coming back to me as I read the book is to think of yourself as the CEO and board of director of your life. You have to put yourself in control. If your company is tanking, chastising the world for not appreciating it doesn’t solve your problem. You need to look internally, rethink priorities, and figure it out.
As with any book I write my reflections on, this is not meant to forgo reading the book. Mark Mason has a powerful voice. The book draws you in. It forces you to pause and think deeply. The stories he shares range from ancient philosophers to rock stars. He also writes about personal events that only the author can share. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of these thoughtful moments.
What Does It Mean to Not Give a F*ck?
The art of not giving a f*ck means being selective about what you give a fuck about. We live in a world that gives us so many opportunities and choices. We need to teach ourselves to focus on what matters, and the author explains how to figure this out.
What Matters and What Doesn’t
Our culture encourages us to give a f*ck about the pursuit of emotional highs. For Manson, this is a problem. Pining for and pursuing positive experiences all the time ignores two important factors of life:
- Some of life’s greatest moments come from struggles.
- Suffering is inevitable and by continuously pursuing positive feelings, we never learn how to solve and deal with our problems. We fail to understand them, recognize, them, and address them.
In short, incessant pleasure pursuit incapacitates us to solve our problems. Without this ability, we can’t expect to have a good life.
When we constantly look for the positive and search for states of happiness, we are not grounded in reality. Because the reality is that: “problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded.” If you figure out what is meaningful to you (aka, what you’re going to give a f*ck about), you basically choose what problems you want to tackle. This not only empowers you, but it can be a source of happiness. You get rid of the victim mentality and actually solve problems.
This approach comes with many implications, from our career to our relationships. Knowing what the right career is requires knowing which types of struggles we are willing and even enjoy confronting. Because any career we choose will come with a struggle.
Always wanting a positive experience for you and your partner can lead to dishonesty and eventually distrust, which means losing the bedrock of a relationship.
The Extremes as Our Reference Points for Living
Society tends to highlight the extreme—those who are the best at what they do, or the other end of the spectrum. But most of us are average. When average people use extreme reference points to evaluate themselves, this can lead to a form of entitlement.
Entitlement manifests in two ways. First, we think we are better than everyone else. But having high self-esteem, measured by how positive we feel about ourselves is inaccurate. “But a true accurate measurement of one’s self-worth is how people feel about the negative aspects of themselves.”
Second, entitlement permits us to feel victimized by the world, short-changed by society, since everyone else is so amazing, and we suck. Instead of looking internally and asking what we can do to fix our problems, we tend think solutions are in other people’s grasp, not ours.
Aside from empowerment, when we start thinking of everyone else as average, including us, we realign our values to ones that benefit us:
And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgement or lofty expectations.
You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counter Intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
The Five Values
The author explains five values, that may seem counterintuitive, but actually benefit us.
Do this by choosing the problems you want to solve and dedicate your energy to them. Easier said than done, since sometimes, our mindset prevents us from wanting to fix that which brings us down. This happens when we confuse fault with responsibility. Just because something is not your fault (someone leaves a baby on your doorstep), it doesn’t mean the you’re not responsible (the baby is still your responsibility).
Similar to how we like to take responsibility for our success, the same goes for our happiness. When we take responsibility, we learn. When we learn, we improve. Don’t fall prey to “victimhood chic” or “outrage porn”. In fact, outrage is a form of emotional high: “People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high: being self-righteous and morally superior feels good”.
Be less certain of yourself and who you are. This allows you to make decisions that benefit you, instead of satisfying a persona you want to protect or maintain. “You avoid telling your fried that you don’t want to see them anymore because ending the friendship would conflict with your identity as a nice, forgiving person.”
Uncertainty also has implications when it comes to finding our passion. There’s comfort in occupying the role of being an “Artist Nobody’s Heard Of” versus “An Artist Nobody Likes.” This is why some people never pursue their dreams.
Failure Moves Us Forward
We need to have better values when it comes to evaluating failures. When we measure success by social standards such as going to college or buying a house, once we achieve them, we may feel lost. As a result, we might find ourselves in pursuit of the next thing, a bigger house maybe?
Better values are “process-oriented” such as being more honest in our dealings with people. Yes, you might not be able to share this achievement with as much fanfare as buying a new house, but that’s the beauty of limiting your f*cks. Moreover, these types of goals remain constant and keep us grounded.
This section of the book also deals with the importance of action as cause for motivation. When we shift our standards of success from lofty achievements (publish a book), to simple actionable tasks (just write a few words daily), “we feel free to fail.” In the process, we actually get things done.
Finding freedom can mean narrowing our choices and committing. Choices can act like noise, whether in our romantic relationships or accumulating positive experiences. Our first travel abroad gives us excitement, but these types of highs give us diminishing returns. “When you’ve been to twenty countries, the twenty-first adds little.” “Yes, breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young…but depth is where the gold is buried.”
Be mindful of your own mortality and others. This will change the way you live your life.
The More You Know
In her interview with New York Magazine, Simone Biles talks about how this book changed her life.