The subtle art of not giving a f*ck: a counter intuitive approach to living a good life
Business book review
This book is a fun blend between self help and philosophy. The good news is that the philosophy elements are well thought out and meaningful. This is not a business guide with a plan to follow but neither is it all flowery fluff. The concepts are worth your time with a fair amount of fun stories from the author’s life to keep you interested. I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece but it’s worth the read.
Manson starts the book with a call out to Bukowski, the poet beloved by drunks and misfits. He calls him out in an appropriate way though by referencing Bukowski’s authenticity. “…his success stemmed not from some determination to be a winner, but from the fact that he knew he was a loser, accepted it, and then wrote honestly about it. He never tried to be anything other than what he was.” Authenticity is always a good quality but finding it is incredibly difficult. Manson seems to suggest that one of the ways to finding authenticity and the 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.”
So how do we get there? Manson’s philosophy is that we are all doing everything we can to avoid negative experiences and filling them with false positive experiences. His statement that, “the desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience,” rings really true. Most of this comes down to acceptance of who you are rather than trying to do everything you can to become something else. That is not a bad definition of authenticity. Another quote that really resonated was, “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.” And, “Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.” In other words, embrace the pain, don’t be shamed by it. I have personally found this to be very true. The more vulnerable you are with others, the more powerful the relationships you build.
He takes this a step further to define happiness as solving problems. “True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.” This is tightly linked to accomplishment which has always been one of my primary measures for happiness. When I’m getting stuff done, I’m happy. I like Manson’s definition better because rather than just accomplishment he is linking happiness to solving, not just finishing. He mentions the two big things that get in the way and hits this nail right on the head. “Denial. Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place….Victim Mentality. Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do the solve their problems, even when they in fact could.” I think denial is very common with the older generation, those that like to sweep stuff under the rug. The victim mentality is much more common in the younger generation, especially with the entitled. Victim mentality and entitlement are closely linked.
Manson doesn’t let entitlement off the hook. He describes it in one of two ways, “1. I’m awesome and the rest of you all suck, so I deserve special treatment. 2. I suck and rest of you are all awesome, so I deserve special treatment.” Both of these approaches get you nowhere, except maybe with enabling parents. Manson believe that we need to accept that we are not special and deal with it. “Often, it’s this realization – that you and your problems are actually not privileged in their severity or pain – that is the first and most important step toward solving them.”
He then takes on values and how values define well lived life if those values are based on the right things. In his definition, “Good values are 1) reality-based, 2) socially constructive, and 3) immediate and controllable. Bad values are 1) superstitious, 2) socially destructive , and 3) not immediate and controllable.” Understanding this requires responsibility of your own well-being. Responsibility is the biggest part of growing up and becoming authentic. As Manson puts it, “This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances.” You made your choices and they got you here. Time to accept that and be an adult. And in those cases of, “We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.” You’re still making choices, so stop playing the victim.
Manson takes us through a cool exercise of questioning ourselves or trying to be a little less certain about who we think we are. He gives us three questions to ponder. #1: What if I’m wrong? #2: What would it mean if I’m wrong? #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others? This is a good litmus test for any sentient being. Introspection is a good thing. Challenge yourself on a regular basis.
Manson also spends some time on relationships. He goes deep into building trust and how that is the keystone for something real. The part I liked the most about this was his concept that commitment spawns freedom. This concept is very counter intuitive. “Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy.” I like this way of looking at commitment. You’re not settling, you’re focusing.
He finishing up the book with a call to action that balances on something light: death. “Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life. While most people whittle their days chasing another buck, or a little bit more fame and attention, or a little bit more assurance that they’re right or loved, death confronts all of us with a far more painful and important question: what is your legacy? How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made?”
Get out there and get it done by only giving a fuck about the stuff that matters.