Summary of the book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”, Mark Manson

We sometimes get pissed off over a trivial matter. When we realise that we are pissed off over a tiny matter, it pisses us off even more. Then we are pissed off about ourselves being pissed off. Sounds familiar? This is the “feedback loop from hell”, and we can break this loop by not giving a fuck i.e. by not being pissed off about being pissed off in the above case. It’s okay to have negative experiences and to feel like shit sometimes. Sometimes life just really sucks and we cannot run away from it. We need to learn how to let go in order to enjoy life more.

The book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”, written by Mark Manson is centred on the theme that in our short life we only have a certain amount of fucks to give, so we must choose them wisely. I would rather not call this book a non-self-help one, because most conventional self-help books are based on positive psychology, and sometimes, it doesn’t work. It might feel frustrating to have to ooze out happy vibes all the time. When we desire of being someone who we are not, it comes to us as a negative experience. It might be anything, as Mark says, from having a nicer job to a better car or a prettier girlfriend. But the acceptance of our negative experiences comes to us as a positive experience. Pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. We need to understand that it’s okay for things to suck some of the time and be at comfort with it. This would be ‘practical enlightenment’.

What does the subtle art of not giving a fuck mean? There are three subtleties to this art. One, being comfortable with being different. Two, choosing something important to give a fuck about. And three, choosing what not to give a fuck about. In short, it is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important and what is not.

Let us learn this subtle art through these ten key Ideas in the book:

Idea #1: Life isn’t without problems. Choose your problems.

When you solve problems that come to you, you find yourself in a state of contentment. When you repeat this process over time, happiness comes to you. Your problems are not privileged in their severity or pain. You are not unique in your suffering. You need to choose which problems you enjoy solving. Choosing problems empowers you. Don’t hope for a life without problems but a life with good problems. The key to living a happy life is to give a fuck only about the things that align with your finely honed personal values and with something true, immediate, and important.

Idea #2: Love the process, not just the result.

Everybody wants success, fame, happiness, and other such things. But what we do not ask ourselves is “What kind of pain do I want?” The answer to this question determines the road you take and the destination you reach. You will have to endure pains in whatever endeavour you undertake, but this struggle is the whole point. Your job is to pick a goal that is worth struggling for. If you want to be the CEO of a big company but are unwilling to put in sixty hours a week of struggle, then you won’t last.

Idea #3: We control how we respond to our problems.

We don’t always control the events that befall us. What we control is its interpretation and our response to it. “Accepting responsibility for our problems is the first step to solving them.” People usually hesitate to take responsibility for their problems, believing that it would also put them at fault for that problem. But, we need to understand that taking responsibility for our problems is where the real learning comes from, and this does not put us at fault.

Idea #4: Certainty is the enemy of growth.

“All beliefs are wrong – some are just less wrong than others.” When we start getting comfortable with the fact that we don’t know certain things and that what we know is not all that there is to know, we start learning. Let’s take your place in the social hierarchy at school, for example. If you’re convinced you’re ugly, you’ll be sad a lot. But if you notice that you get lots of compliments at school, people call you charming and some have a crush on you, that’s evidence your brain is playing you with false certainty. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn. For any change to happen in your life, you must accept that you were wrong about something you were doing before.

Idea #5: Manson’s “do something” principle

This principle says that our actions are the source of our inspiration. When you feel stuck in solving a certain problem, don’t wait for inspiration to come from beyond. Act! Start doing something about it, anything, even if it’s really small and you might think it’s irrelevant. Because when you do so, you will realise that you have started finding solutions to problems and as said above, solving problems will give you happiness. Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.

Idea #6: Healthy relationships.

A healthy relationship emerges from trust and commitment. We have to invest deeply in a person, even if it means giving up a breadth of experiences; because only when we do so, we realise the depth of an experience. This is also true about committing to a job, or a pursuit, for commitment offers a strange sense of freedom, relieving you of all the second-guessing. A relationship, however, becomes unhealthy when two people try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves.

Idea #7: Values to discard, hold, and pursue.

Stoic ideas reflect in Manson’s writing on values. He says that we must hold values that we can control and discard those which we can’t. The former are good values, while the latter are bad ones. Good values are reality-based, socially constructive, and immediate and controllable. Bad values are superstitious, socially destructive, and not immediate or controllable. Examples of good values: honesty, innovation, on our ability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, and creativity. Examples of bad values: dominance through manipulation or violence, feeling good all the time, always being the centre of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, and being rich for the sake of being rich. Values to pursue: assuming responsibility, questioning certainty, accepting own flaws, ability to hear and say no, etc.

Idea #8: Don’t obsess about leaving a legacy.

We need to confront a very uncomfortable yet undeniable fact i.e. we’re all going to die one day and when the time comes closer, we’re all scared. That’s why many of us want to leave a legacy. This, however, might wreck our short amount of invaluable time on earth. Wanting to leave a legacy, makes us look for fame and focusing on the future, without trying to be useful in the present. If we focus on bringing ourselves, our loved ones and the people we meet joy in the present, the legacy part will take care of itself.

Idea #9: Question your emotions.

Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. That’s it. They’re feedback mechanisms telling us that something is either likely right or likely wrong for us – nothing more, nothing less. But just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. An obsession and overinvestment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last.

Idea #10: Travel (my favourite)

Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live.

My favourite quotes from the book:

  1. “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.”
  2. “This, in a nutshell, is what ‘self-improvement’ is really about: prioritising better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.”
  3. “To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is, therefore, a form of action.”
  4. “If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something – anything, really – and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.”
  5. “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.”
  6. “If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you…chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about.”
  7. “If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.”
  8. “Pleasure is great, but a horrible value to prioritise your life around…..pleasure is not the cause of happiness; rather, it is the effect. If you get the other values and metrics right, then pleasure will naturally occur as a by-product.”
  9. “Just as Present Mark can look back on Past Mark’s every flaw and mistake, one day Future Mark will look back on Present Mark’s assumptions and notice similar flaws. And that will be a good thing. Because that will mean I have grown.”
  10. “People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner’s values and problems.”

Apart from these key ideas, there are numerous examples and practical solutions in the book, that you may want to read after you catch hold of this book. This is exactly the kind of book for those readers who do not believe in the whole philosophy of positivity that self-help books propagate. As you must have noticed, the author does not give the traditional self-help book advice of visualising about the type of person you want to be. This book rather allows you to embrace the idea of who you are. Happy reading!

Sourav Kumar Sharma

About the author

Sourav Kumar Sharma

Hey there! I'm a PhD scholar by day and an author by the night. This website is my mind spill. I live in Chandigarh, India and I like to read and travel, big time. In my writings, I like to mix romance with genres like travel, self-help, social issues, and life-writing.

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