Book notes: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck Mark Manson book summary by Marlo Yonocruz

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson


“In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be positive all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. “F*ck positivity,” Mark Manson says. “Let’s be honest, shit is f*cked, and we have to live with it.” In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is – a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mind-set that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

There are only so many things we can give a f*ck about, so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented, grounded lives.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I’ve read several of Mark Manson’s blog posts and I am definitely a fan of his work. I think he gives great advice for the most part and I respect the level of success he has created for himself. I also appreciate that he seems to want to help others live a better life. I saw this book and all the good ratings it received so I decided to buy it for my April reads.

Key notes:

Chapter 1: Don’t Try

  • His genius and success came from his ability to be completely unflinchingly honest with himself, especially the worst parts of himself
  • Self-improvement and success often occur together, but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing
  • Ironically, this fixation on the positive, on what’s better and what’s superior, only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack and of what we should have been but failed to be
  • 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 living a good life is to give a fuck about less, only about what is true and important
  • Our crisis as humans is no longer material, it is existential, it’s spiritual
  • Wanting positive experience is a negative experience. Accepting negative experience is a positive experience
  • Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something you do better at it?
    • Notice how it’s often the person least invested it’s excessive something that actually ends up achieving it?
  • Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experiences
  • Learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively
    • How to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values
  • What does not giving a fuck mean? 3 subtleties:
    1. Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent, it means being comfortable with being different
    2. 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, and that’s your real problem
      • Finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy
        • If you don’t find that meaningful something, your fucks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes.
    3. Whether you realize it or not, you’re always choosing what to give a fuck about
  • Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuck worthy
  • As we get older, this simplification of what we truly give a fuck about is liberating and makes us happy on a consistent basis
  • Psychological epidemic where people don’t realize that it’s OK for things to suck sometimes
    • When we don’t believe it is OK, we unconsciously start blaming ourselves and start to feel that there’s something inherently wrong with us
  • Practical enlightenment is becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable, that no matter what you do, life is comprised of failures, lost, regrets, and even death
    • Once you become comfortable with all the shit that life throws at you, you become invincible in a sort of low-level way

Chapter 2: Happiness is a Problem

  • There is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose
  • Pain and loss are inevitable, and we should let go of trying to resist them
  • Happiness is not a solvable equation, dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature. These are necessary components to creating consistent happiness
  • We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful; it is natures preferred agent for inspiring change
    • We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive
    • Our pain and suffering is not a bug of human evolution, it is a feature
    • Pain is useful. It teaches us what to pay attention to when we are young and careless
  • Our brains don’t register much difference between physical pain and psychological pain
  • Life is essentially an endless series of problems
    • Happiness comes from solving problems
    • To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action. It’s an activity, not something that is possibly bestowed onto you, not something that you magically discover in an article or blog post
      • True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving
      • Some people who are in denial of their problems must deliver them selves or rely on distractions. This may work for the short term, but will produce insecurities and other problems in the long term
  • Some people end up with victim mentality, blaming others or outside circumstances
  • Almost anything can become addictive depending on the motivation behind using it
  • Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change
    • It is generally overrated but it’s purpose is to help you survive and reproduce just a little bit better
  • Negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, you’re supposed to do something about them
  • We shouldn’t always trust our emotions, and in fact should make a habit of questioning them
  • What ever makes us feel good inevitably will also make us feel sad
    • A better question to ask yourself is what kind of pain do you want?
  • Our struggle is to find our happiness. The joy is in the climb itself

Chapter 3: You Are Not Special

  • The problem with entitlement is that it makes people need to feel good about themselves all the time, even at the expense of those around them
  • If we have problems that are unsolvable, our unconscious figures we’re either uniquely special or defective in some way
  • The tyranny of Exceptionalism
    • The increased visibility of Exceptionalism due to technology adds to people’s feeling of insecurity, desire to do the extreme, and feeling inadequate

Chapter 4: The Value of Suffering

  • If suffering is inevitable and the problems in our life unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not how do I stop suffering, but why am I suffering? For what purpose?
  • We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them
  • The question isn’t whether we evaluate ourselves against others, but rather by what standard do we measure ourselves?
  • If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure or success
  • Shitty values:
    1. Pleasure. Superficial pleasure is a false god
      • Pleasure is not the cause of happiness, it is the effect
    2. Material success. Once basic needs are met, the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero
    3. Always being right
      • People who base their self worth about being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes
      • They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathize with others. They close themselves off to new and important information
      • It’s far more helpful to assume you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed beliefs, and promotes a constant state of learning and growth
    4. Staying positive
      • Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life’s problems
      • The trick with negative emotions is to:
        1. Express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner
        2. Express them in a way that aligns with your values
  • Good values are
    1. Reality-based
    2. Socially constructive
    3. Immediate and controllable
  • Bad values are
    1. Superstitious
    2. Socially destructive
    3. Not immediate or controllable
  • Sidenote: those who are terrified about what other people think of them are actually terrified about all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them
  • Examples of good values: honesty, innovation, our abilities, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, and creativity
  • Examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods
  • Values are about prioritization
    • What are the values that you prioritize above everything else? And that therefore influences your decision making more than anything else?
    • When we have poor values, we essentially give fucks about things that don’t matter, things that in fact make our lives worse
  • Self-improvement is all about prioritizing better values and choosing better things to give a fuck about
    • When you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life
  • Five beneficial counterintuitive values that one can adopt:
    1. Taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault
    2. Uncertainty. The acknowledgment of your own ignorance and the cultivation of Constant doubt in your own beliefs
    3. Failure. The willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon
    4. Rejection. The ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life
    5. The contemplation of one’s own mortality. Paying vigilant attention to one’s own death is perhaps the only thing capable of helping us keep all of our other values in proper perspective

Chapter 5: You Are Always Choosing

  • Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it
  • 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
  • With great responsibility comes great power
    • The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise in our lives
    • Accepting responsibility for our problems is the first step to solving them
  • People often don’t take responsibility for the problems because they feel that they’re also at fault for them
    • However, responsibility and fault are not the same things
    • Faults is past tense, responsibility is present tense
  • Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but only you are responsible for it
    • This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metrics by which you measure your experiences
  • It’s likely that if the people in your relationships are doing selfish and harmful things, it’s likely that you are too, you just don’t realize it
    • Taking responsibility for your problems is more important than taking responsibility for your successes because that’s where the real life improvement comes from
  • In life, just like in poker, the best players are the ones who make the best choices given the cards they been dealt, regardless if they are good cards or not
  • The media perpetuating “outrage porn“: highlighting some out rage, then covering the reaction to the out rage, then spreading that out further and out raging another portion of the population
    • This creates an echo of bullshit between two imaginary sides, meanwhile distracting everyone from real societal problems
  • We should prioritize values of being honest, fostering transparency, and welcoming doubt over the values of being right, feeling good, and getting revenge
  • You are already choosing in every moment of every day when you give a fuck about. So change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else

Chapter 6: You Are Wrong About Everything, But So Am I

  • Growth is in endlessly iterative process. We don’t go from wrong to right, rather we go from wrong to slightly less wrong
  • Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is certain until it already happens, and even then it is still debatable
    • That’s why accepting the inevitable imperfections of our values is necessary for any growth to take place
  • We don’t actually know what a positive or negative experience really is
    • Some of the most difficult and stressful moments in our lives can be 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 a positive or negative experiences. All that we know for certain is what hurts in the moment and what doesn’t
  • Our brains are meaning machines. What we understand as meaning is generated by the association our brain makes between two or more experiences
  • Two problems:
    1. Our brain isn’t perfect and we can easily forget or mistake things we see and hear. We can misinterpret events quite easily
    2. Once we create meaning for ourselves our brains are designed to hold onto that meaning. We are biased towards the meaning our mind has made and we don’t want to let go of it
  • No matter how honest and well-intentioned we are, we are in a perpetual state of misleading ourselves and others for no other reason then that our brain is designed to be efficient, not accurate
  • Every new piece of information is measured against  the values and conclusions we already have
    • As a result, our brain is always biased towards what we feel to be true in that moment
  • Our beliefs are malleable and our memory is horribly unreliable
  • For individuals to feel justified in doing horrible things to other people, they must feel and unwavering certainty in their own righteousness, beliefs, and deservedness
  • The Backwards Law: The more you try to be certain about something, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel
    • The converse is true as well: the more you embrace being uncertain and not knowing, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing what you don’t know
  • 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
  • Manson’s Law of Avoidance: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it
    • This is why people are often afraid of success for the exact same reason they are afraid of failure. It’s threatens who they believe themselves to be
    • When we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act and fail, and grow
  • The narrower and rarer identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you
    • For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and ordinary ways possible
  • Questions to breed uncertainty:
    1. What if I’m wrong?
      • For any change to happen in your life, you have to be wrong about something
    2. What would it mean if I were wrong?
      • Being able to look at and evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them is perhaps the central skill required in changing one’s own life in a meaningful way
    3. Would being wrong create a better or worse problems than my current problem, for both myself and others?

Chapter 7: Failure is the Way Forward

  • Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures
    • 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 is likely because she has failed at it more than you have
    • Children don’t give up learning to walk when they feel hundreds of times. Avoidance of failure is something we learn later in life
  • A lot of this fear of failure comes from having chosen shitty values
    • Your self-worth should be based on your own behaviors and happiness
  • Better values are process-oriented
    • It’s growth that generate happiness, not a long list of arbitrary achievements
    • Regular goals are limited in the amount of happiness they can produce in our lives
  • Pain is part of the process
    • Our proudest achievements come in the face of the greatest adversity. Our pain often makes us stronger, more resilience, more grounded
  • Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you’re choosing to introduce a new form a pain in your life. Relish it. Savor it. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.
  • Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyways, even when you’re happy. Don’t forget that and don’t ever be afraid of that
  • The “Do Something” Principle
    • Even if you’re stuck on a problem, don’t think about it. The simple act of working on a problem will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head
    • Action isn’t just the effect of motivation, it is also the cause of it
    • Motivation isn’t only a three-part chain, it is an endless loop
      • Inspiration, motivation, action
    • The correct order is Action > Inspiration > Motivation
      • If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something, anything, and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself
    • When the standard of success becomes merely acting, when any result is regarded as progress, and inspiration is seen as a reward and not a prerequisite, we propel ourselves ahead and feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward

Chapter 8: The Importance of Saying No

  • His biggest take away from his travels:
    • Absolute freedom by itself means nothing. Freedom grants the opportunity for greater meeting, but by itself there is nothing necessarily meaningful about it
  • Ultimately, the only way to achieve meeting and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom. A choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or one person
  • As with most excesses, you have to drown yourself in them to realize they don’t make you happy
  • Travel is a fantastic self development tool because it extricates you from the values of your culture it shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves
    • There is such pressure in the west to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they are dealing with
  • To truly appreciate something you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, single career
    • You cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting of the alternatives
  • Honesty is a natural human craving. We must become comfortable with hearing and saying no
    • In this way rejection actually makes our lives better and our emotional lives healthier
  • People glorify the story of Romeo and Juliet, when scholars believe that it was more likely satirizing that kind of romance
    • Romantic love is kind of like cocaine. Stimulates exact same parts, get you high makes you feel good for a while but also creates as many problems as it solves.
  • Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other
    • In other words, they’re using each other as an escape
  • Healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems with each other’s support
  • The difference comes down to two things:
    1. How well each person in the relationship accepts responsibility
    2. The willingness of each person to both reject and be rejected by their partner
  • Where ever there is a healthy and loving relationship, there will be a clear boundary between the two people and their values
    • There will be an open avenue of giving and receiving rejection when necessary
  • People with healthy boundaries will take responsibility for their own problems and values, and not take responsibility for their partners problems and values
    • With unhealthy boundaries, the person either text responsibilities for problems and emotions that are not theirs, or demanding that somebody else take responsibility for their problems or emotions
  • Sometimes a sense of entitlement passes from parents to their kids. This is why often times your problems in your romantic relationship eerily resemble your parents’
  • People can’t solve your problems for you and they shouldn’t try because that won’t make you happy
    • You can’t solve other peoples problems for them either because that won’t make them happy
  • You both should support each other, but only because you choose to not because you feel obligated or entitled
  • These are the Yin and Yang of any toxic relationship: The Victim and the Savior
    • The person who starts fires because it makes her feel important, and the person who puts out fires because it makes him feel important
    • These are the two types of people that are drawn to one another and usually end up together because their pathologies match perfectly
    • This is often because their parents model the same relationship with poor boundaries and sense of entitlement
    • For victims, the hardest thing to do in the world is to hold themselves accountable for their problems. They spent their whole life believing that others are responsible for their fate
  • It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about, it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives
  • When our highest priorities is to always make ourselves feel good or always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. Then our relationship falls apart without even knowing it
    • Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict shows us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits
    • Conflict is not only normal, it is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship
  • Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything
    • Cheating destroys relationships not because of sex but because of trust
    • When trust is destroyed, it can only be rebuilt if the following two-steps happen:
      1. The trust breaker admits the true values that caused The breach and owns up to them
      2. The trust breaker builds a solid track record of improved behavior over time
  • The paradox of choice: the more options we have the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose because we are aware of all the other options we are potentially forfeiting
    • While investing in one thing would deny us the breath of experience we would like, pursuing a breath of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depths of experience
  • There is a freedom and liberation in commitment
    • There is increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor of what you choose to truly matter to you
    • Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous
  • Commitment can give you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them towards what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy
    • It makes decision making easier and removes any fear of missing out
    • Depth is where the gold is buried, and you have to stay committed and dig deep to find it

Chapter 9: And Then You Die

  • Death is the light by which the shadow of all of life’s meeting is measured
    • Without death everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero
  • The book Denial of Death makes two main points:
    1. Humans are unique in that we are the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly
      • Because of this unique mental ability, we all at some point become aware of the inevitability of our own death
    2. We essentially have two selves. The first is the physical self, the second self is our conceptual self, our identity or how we see ourselves
      • Because we know our physical self will eventually cease to exist, we try to make our conceptual self live on forever
  • All civilization is the result of “immortality projects” of the men and women who came before us
    • Our immortality projects are our values, they are the parameters of meaning and worth in our life
  • Once we become comfortable with the fact of our own death, we can then choose our values more freely, unrestrained by the logical quest for immortality and freed from dangerous dogmatic views
  • Death confronts us with a painful an important question:
    • What is your legacy? How will the world be different and better when you’re gone? What mark will you have made? What influence will you have caused?
  • The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself, to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the world around you
    • This is the root of all happiness
  • They all say happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself
    • Believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity
  • Primary lesson: there is nothing to be afraid of, ever

Closing thoughts:

To be honest, this book was exactly what I needed at this moment in my life. I have to admit that I have been feeling a little bit lost, caring about things I shouldn’t be caring about, and just feeling this weird anxiety. Through this book, Mark really said exactly the right words and taught me the right lessons I needed to hear. The book itself is solid, great principles, and very practical advice. After finishing the book, I felt that it would absolutely be a book I would need to revisit either later on this year or sometime next year.

Nutshell: Mark Manson’s lessons on life, love, and putting things in the right perspective.

Rating: 4.5/5

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