A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
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Mark Manson’s Perspective
Mark Manson is an American self-help author and blogger. He started his first blog on dating advice in 2008. It became hugely popular and gained hundreds of thousands of readers. In 2009, Manson decided to travel the world for the next seven years while working remotely. He ended up visiting more than 65 countries. In 2010, he started a new blog called Post Masculine which provided general life advice for men. On this blog, he posted an article under the same name as this book. The article was so well received he decided to turn it into a book. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck went on to become a New York Times best seller.
Manson has been featured on NBC, CNN, Fox News, the BBC and Time magazine. In October 2018, Penguin Random House announced that Manson would work with Will Smith to write the actor’s autobiography. Manson’s work has been translated into more than 60 languages.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is designed to help clarify what you choose to find important in your life, essentially what you choose to give a f*ck about. We often don’t realize how frequently we’re giving a f*ck about something that doesn’t matter. Manson aims to help you spot when you are placing too much importance on self-help ideas and how to start giving a f*ck about the most important things.
The book has sold over 13 million copies. According to Amazon, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was the most-read nonfiction book in 2017.
StoryShot #1 – Avoid Constantly Pursuing Satisfaction
Before he became a famous author, Bukowski was an alcoholic gambler who was frequently rejected by publishers. It was not until Bukowski turned 50 that an editor finally accepted a piece of his work. The public and media described his story as the American dream. But Bukowski knew the reality: He was still a loser. He wasn’t a best-selling author. He was fine with this, though. This self-acceptance is what drew so many people to him and his books. Bukowski has the words “Don’t try” written on his gravestone.
This approach is entirely different from modern society’s expectations of how we can become happier, richer, healthier and more successful by merely wanting it. Manson believes this approach means we will feel like we are never enough. True happiness is caring only about essential matters.
The Backwards Law was introduced by the British philosopher Alan Watts. The idea is that the more you pursue feeling better, the less satisfied you become. Constantly pursuing satisfaction will reinforce that you lack it in the first place. Manson rephrases this as:
- The pursuit of positive experience is itself a negative experience.
- The acceptance of negative experience is itself a positive experience.
So, you can create positive experiences through the tolerance of negative experiences.
StoryShot #2 – Stop Believing You Are Unique
Manson believes that self-help books and modern society are obsessed with the idea that we are all unique. This idea has created a society of entitled people who expect everything to go right for them all the time. Entitlement is feeling as though you deserve to be happy without sacrificing for it. There are two types of entitlement:
- Grandiose narcissism, which is like saying: I’m awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment.
- Victim narcissism, which is like saying: I suck and the rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special treatment.
Both of these types of narcissism end up the same as they behave in the same way. They are deluded about where they lie in the social hierarchy and both think everything should be catered to benefit them. This means they are completely self-absorbed.
A study from the late 1960s correlated positive self-image with accomplishments in life. Based on this study’s findings, policymakers started to use things like participation prizes and unattainable goals to try to motivate children. Manson believes this single study has created a society that does not accept reality. The issue with not accepting reality is that people no longer use their problems as a stepping stone toward their success.
StoryShot #3 – Accept Reality As It Is
Self-help books often focus on the goal of constant happiness. Manson suggests this idea is harmful. As humans, we are naturally slightly unhappy. Dukha is a Buddhist principle that claims life is suffering. We are supposed to experience unhappiness. It helps us push on and look to achieve genuine success.
Take responsibility for your emotions and understand that tackling negative emotions is a daily struggle. Problems never stop; they just change. Manson applies this to the psychological concept called the “hedonic treadmill.” This is the idea that once we acquire what we believe will make us happy, we just find another problem. So, we should be aiming to solve problems in our lives rather than avoid them. We should not be aiming for a life without problems but a life full of good problems.
StoryShot #4 – Happiness Is a Science
Manson believes that life and happiness are related to the scientific method. Your values are hypotheses, your actions are experiments and the outcomes are data. So, we should make smart decisions based on results rather than fear, doubt or uncertainty. Uncertainty is a vital rung in the ladder to success, and we should not fear it. Uncertainty is what allows us to learn more. Uncertainty helps us understand our values are imperfect, so it guards us against extremist ideology. It also removes the judgment and stereotyping of other people.
StoryShot #5 – Values Are Essential For Happiness
Many Japanese soldiers ended up stranded on many of the Pacific Islands during the second world war. These soldiers were cut off from the rest of the world. So, they did not know that the war had ended. As a result, they continued to fight the war into the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It did not matter how strong, intelligent or motivated these soldiers were; they were destined to fail. Manson uses this analogy to highlight that without the correct values and goals leading your actions, you are f*cked.
Your deepest emotions are related to your values. And the values you fight for determine who you are. Good values are vital for your happiness, but we often focus on bad values. Chasing empty pleasure and believing that you are always right are examples of bad values. Good values are reality-based, internally achieved and socially constructive.
To support this point, Manson offers the example of guitarist Dave Mustaine. In 1983, he was kicked out of Metallica just before their big break. Mustaine spent the next two years perfecting his guitar skills. He was then able to start the band Megadeth, which would sell over 25 million records. But this success was not enough. Mustaine continued to compare himself to Metallica, who have sold over 125 million records. This meant he was still unhappy. Manson then compares Mustaine to Pete Best. Best was also kicked out of a world-renowned band: The Beatles. Watching The Beatles’ success did leave Best depressed for a while. But he ended up far happier than Mustaine because he came to a simple realization: music is more important than success. Mustaine had bad values, while Best had good values.
StoryShot #6 – Take Responsibility
As an example of the importance of taking responsibility, Manson talks about the american psychologist William James. In 1872, William James’ life was falling apart. James considered taking his own life. But late one night, James was reading lectures by the philosopher Charles Peirce. He decided to conduct an experiment. James spent one year taking full responsibility for all the negative things happening in his life. If, after 12 months, his life did not improve, he would take his own life. James’ experiment worked, and James called his emphasis on taking responsibility his rebirth. In the years that followed, he became a highly influential psychologist and philosopher. Today, he is recognized as one of the most famous psychologists ever to have lived.
The decision to take responsibility for his problems allowed James to direct all his energy to improving his life. He then improved millions of other people’s lives. When you take responsibility for a problem, you take responsibility for how that problem makes you feel.
StoryShot #7 – Choose How You Respond to Life
We cannot always choose what happens in our lives or the outcome of our decisions. But we have complete control over how we choose to respond to a problem or failure emotionally. Taking responsibility for our reactions to negative circumstances will help us better deal with problems in our lives. An individual who can do this is Manson’s definition of a successful person.
StoryShot #8 – Doubt Your Beliefs
Manson encourages us to challenge all our previously held ideas. Doubting ourselves and our actions will help us to improve over time consistently.
We won’t always be right. Manson explains that society’s beliefs 500 years ago were fundamentally wrong about several things. For example, people believed the Earth was flat and didn’t even know the Western Hemisphere existed. In the same way, you can look back at what you believed 10 or 15 years ago and notice you were also wrong about several things. The lesson to learn from this is that some of the things you hold to be true right now will likely be wrong and even ridiculous in 20 or 30 years’ time.
StoryShot #9 – Reduce Your Ego So You Can Grow
The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. So, to reduce this level of avoidance, we have to reduce our sense of identity and ego. We must identify ourselves as loosely and ambiguously as possible. To help you start identifying yourself more loosely, you should start asking yourself these three questions:
- What if I’m wrong?
- What would it mean if I were wrong?
- Would being wrong create a better or worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
StoryShot #10 – Failure Is Key to Improvement
Manson believes that failure is a hugely important part of life. Becoming an expert in anything requires thousands of failures. These failures are what help you to fine-tune your approach through continuous improvement. This is why fear of failure leads to stagnation.
Instead of worrying when we fail, we should try again.
StoryShot #11 – It’s Better to Do Something Than Do Nothing
Manson’s high school math teacher introduced this principle to him. This teacher always taught his students to rewrite the problem if they didn’t know the answer. Rewriting the problem allows your mind to find the next step. Manson has since applied this principle to everything in his life. If you are stuck, then just do something, and you will often surprise yourself. Instead of motivation leading to action, the “do something principle” argues that action leads to motivation.
StoryShot #12 – Say No So You Can Say Yes
To truly stand for one thing, you must first reject another issue. Being open toward everything thrown at you will only mean you spread yourself too thin. It is more joyful choosing one pursuit and consistently committing to bettering yourself. Manson explains you also cannot truly enjoy something if you don’t reject the alternatives.
Final Summary and Review of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck challenges the self-help industry whose books argue that we should be constantly searching for more happiness and success. Manson points out that this approach will leave you even less satisfied, as you notice all that you lack. So, instead of giving a f*ck about everything, you have to choose what to give a f*ck about.
The three subtleties that describe the art of not giving a f*ck are:
- Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable being different.
- To not give a f*ck about adversity, you must first give a f*ck about something more important than the adversity.
- And finally, whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a f*ck about.
We rate this book 4.6/5.
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