Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired.
Ironically, this fixation on the positive – on what’s better, what’s superior – only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.
I am not a self-help book kind of person. I find them full of glaringly obvious advice, pointless and often counterproductive. I usually get bored before I have read more than a quarter of the book and lose interest.
I am quite comfortable saying that what first drew my attention to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was the obvious swear word in the title. However, once I read what it was about I quickly dismissed it as another one of “those” self-help books. But then over the following months the book kept appearing in my life; as a recommended book on my Kindle, a book review by a blogger I follow, then a former colleague posted on Good Reads that he had read it. Clearly something was telling me to read the book.
It did take me a while to read, I kept getting distracted by more interesting books, but I finished it! And I’m reviewing it. So it passed “Is it worth reading?” test.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson basically tells you to suck it up and get on with your life. It doesn’t pussy foot around telling you that your life will be a bed of roses as long as you follow some amazing formula for life that the author miraculously discovered.
The problem is that giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a 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.
Yep, the f-word is used a lot. If that upsets you, don’t read the book. But know that by Chapter 2 the f-word is used less and less.
Mark basically says that we are hard-wired to be unhappy. That it is dissatisfaction that keeps us striving, building, evolving – to make things better.
Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never ending pursuit of “something else” – a new house, a new relationship, another child, another pay rise. And after all our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we started: inadequate.
Mark tells us some hard truths …. that nothing worthwhile is worth it without working hard, that you are not special or different from anyone else, that you and everyone else suffers, that you will make mistakes … and then you die.
The challenge is to know what to give a f*ck about and focus on that.
The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to chose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you.
Mark believes that “Values underlie everything we are and we do.” And that choosing good values are crucial.
Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.
You’ll notice that good, healthy values are achieved internally. Something like creativity or humility can be experienced right now. You simply have to orient your mind in a certain way to experience it. These values are immediate and controllable and engage you with the world as it is rather than how you wish it were.
Overall I’d say that this book gave me a lot to reflect on as I continue my sabbatical into the second year. (A blog post for another time.)
And the quote which resonated with me most?
In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier that eating chocolate cake.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, Mark Manson, Sydney, Macmillan, 2016, EPUB format 9781925483857