Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson

A counterintuitive approach to living a good life.

I received this book as a Christmas gift from my favorite person, who was also one of my Secret Santa’s (I had two last Christmas, hallelujah!) December was such a heavy month for me, because Murphy’s Law was happening to me in real time. You know where whatever can go wrong, will go wrong and usually at the worst time. A lot of it was really around me taking responsibility for my decisions and their consequences and basically plotting the way forward. God really works in mysterious ways, because my Secret Santa happened to be someone I normally confide in a lot, they’re easy to talk to. And knowing me, the most appropriate thing to get me at that point, I guess, was something to cheer me up, raise my spirits and inspire some hope, because I was really down and out!

It very easy to forget the murky places you have been once you hit the smooth road. You shouldn’t dwell on them, but when you have that thing that saw you through that rough patch, you hold it dear.  -Me, I said that.

From the moment I received the book, I knew that’s what I needed. Books make me happy. Especially a book that speaks to the season I am in, whether it’s a serious book, a cheesy book or a hearty book. For me, it’s always the thought that counts. That someone went into a book store and they thought of me and tried to figure out what words will inspire me or get me out of the funk that I am in or basically just make me feel some type of way. I appreciate it because that’s the amount of effort I put in when gifting someone a book.

I felt that I needed to read it page by page and to the end, because the title spoke volumes on what I needed to do in my life. Prioritize my fucks; I was giving a lot of unnecessary fucks to things that didn’t deserve them. So you can imagine I started reading the book from January. It’s the one book that had found a permanent spot on my bed side table, right next to my bible. I am quite embarrassed to have taken a whole 5 months to read one book, but I am also here to tell you that if that happens to you too, it’s okay!

Every day I would look at it, I would purpose to read it, but by the time I was getting home, I barely had the energy to do anything, let alone read. Some days it would be a paragraph, on better days it would be a page and on bad days, it would be procrastination. I was banking on the hope that I would read some more the following evening, and when it didn’t happen, I would continue hoping that it would happen the following evening, and you know how that goes.

When I started reading the book, I wanted to understand why he wrote this book in the first place, and what he really meant by “not giving a fuck.” This is so that I could put it into context and not get lost in translation or imagine that he’s trying to say just don’t give a care in the world. In simple terms, he says that this book helps you think a little more clearly about what you’re choosing to find important in life and what you’re choosing to find unimportant.

I absolutely love the direction he took in guiding the reader on the different things that should be factored in when deciding to not give a fuck, such as your values and metrics for one. He is so real and so clear on what his world view is with regards to what he envisions not giving a fuck as and what it should mean to you too.

I generally don’t like self-help books, and at first this book may come off as one. Although it’s not, because he doesn’t tell you what to do with your life, he shares insights of how to live by certain counterintuitive values through his personal experience and other people’s experiences. So there you will find a couple of stories and conversations that put into perspective what he is talking about. And his style of delivering the message is what kept me wanting to reading to the end. Like there’s a part he says,

I believe that today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.

Because when we believe that it’s not okay for things to suck sometimes, then we subconsciously start blaming ourselves. We start to feel as though something is inherently wrong with us, which drives us to overcompensation.

He talks of the five beneficial counterintuitive values that one can adopt in order to live a good life. They all require confronting deeper problems rather than avoiding them through highs. They’re unconventional and uncomfortable, but life changing, he says. And to be honest, I thought so to, because I have more or less taken a similar approach in how I am dealing with the problems or difficult situations that come my way. Instead of avoiding or alleviating them, you tackle them head on, only in this case, you do it more meaningfully. This book enables you to move lightly despite your heavy burdens, resting easier with your greatest fears, laughing at your tears as you cry them. You learn to lose and let go.

Below are the values and some of my favorite punchy bits from those sections.

♠ Responsibility:Taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life regardless of who is at fault.

There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. 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.

The side effects of choosing to place your fucks elsewhere, in a place far more important and more worthy of your energies is painful. As you reassess your values, you will be met with internal and external resistance along the way. More than anything, you will feel uncertain; you will wonder if what you’re doing is wrong. But, this is a good thing.

♠ Uncertainty: The acknowledgement of your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own belief.

Here’s something that’s weird but true: we don’t actually know what a positive or negative experience is. Some of the most difficult and stressful moments of our lives also end up being the most formative and motivating. Some of the best and most gratifying experiences are also the most distracting and demotivating. Don’t trust your conception of positive/negative experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in the moment and what doesn’t. And that’s not worth much.

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.” The only way to solve our problems is to first admit that our actions and beliefs up to this point have been wrong and are not working. This openness to being wrong must exist for any real change or growth to take place.

♠ Failure: The willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon.

Improvement at anything is based on a thousand of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have. If someone is worse than you, it’s likely because he hasn’t been through all of the painful learning experiences you have.

At some point most of us reach a place where we’re afraid to fail, where we instinctively avoid failure and stick to only what is placed in front of us or only what we’re really good at. This confines us and stifles us. We can be truly successful only at something we are willing to fail at. If we’re unwilling to fail, then we’re unwilling to succeed.

♠ Rejection:The ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life.

Honesty is a natural human craving. But part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the word “no”. In this way, rejection actually makes our relationship better and our emotional lives healthier.

For a relationship to be healthy, both people must be willing and able to both say no and hear no. Without that negation, without that occasional rejection, boundaries break down and one person’s problems and values dominate the other’s. Conflict is not only normal, then; it’s absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship. If two people who are close are not able to hash out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic.

♠ Contemplation of one’s own morality: Paying vigilant attention to one’s own death is perhaps the only thing capable of helping us keep all out other values in proper perspective.

If there is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason to do anything; that in the face of inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.

I would definitely recommend this book for someone who’s seeking the courage and confidence to confront their fears, faults and uncertainties. Plus a not-so-subtle reminder that problems will always exist (I know, it sounds sadistic), they come one after another, but your happiness will come from solving those problems as they come, not avoiding them.

You can get the book at Book Stop, Yaya Centre, 2nd Floor.

I would also like to know whether you’re having trouble reading and whether you would like some reading company. We can come up with an exciting way to make sure we at least read a couple of books before the end of the year with no pressure. If you are interested, please subscribe on the form below (click on the ‘Read for Fun‘ check box, or even both – though the former will be exclusive for those interested in books only) and I will be sharing with you my thoughts on how we can do this via email (I promise not to spam you).

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Stay Inspired,