What I'm reading: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

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

This is the first post is my new series 'What I'm Reading' where I share key insights and interesting facts from books I'm reading. More about What I'm Reading here. 

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck was recommended to me by a good friend. She spoke about it so passionately that it jumped right to the top of my reading list – and I’m glad it did.

It’s definitely not you standard ‘self-help’ or personal growth book. In fact, the author, Mark Manson, openly challenges much of the standard advice to achieve happiness and success.

If I had to summarise the message of the book in one sentence it would be something like this:

The Subtle Art of not giving a Fuck.jpg
“Happiness is not about being positive and happy all the time, it’s about accepting the fact that sometimes life sucks and taking responsibility for being happy anyway.”

While this is not a book review, one comment I want to make is that I think the title of the book is misleading. It feels like it was designed to ‘shock’ people and grab attention more than actually reflect the message of the book. I think a more accurate title would have been “The art of only giving a f*ck about the right things”. But I guess that just didn’t sound as catchy…

But other than the title, I really liked this book and took a few valuable insights from it. Here are the key messages that stood out to me:


Stop trying to be positive all the time

‘Forced’ positive thinking actually re-iterates what we think we lack.

  • A happy (beautiful / confident / successful / etc.) person doesn’t need to stand in front of a mirror to tell herself that she is happy / beautiful / confident / successful / etc. – She just is!
  • Successful people don’t need to do visualization exercises to feel successful – they just are

Wanting positive experience is a negative experience. Accepting negative experience is a positive experience.

  • The more you desperately want something the more aware you are of not already having it
  • The more you want to be rich, the poorer you feel. The more you strive for beauty, the uglier you feel…


A new superhero is born: Disappointment Panda

Disappointment Panda.jpg

This might be my favourite part of this book – mostly just because I love pandas :)

Disappointment Panda is a superhero who’s superpower is to tell people the harsh truth about themselves – so that they can come to terms with it and take action. While that might at first sound more like a villain than a hero, Mark might be onto something.

He argues that we need to stop hiding from the negative stuff in our lives and about ourselves and instead start to embrace them.

  • Suffering and pain are inherent parts of human nature. Suffering is nature’s way to inspire change. Pain helps us pay attention and teaches us valuable lessons. Avoiding pain means we’re missing out on those lessons.
  • Don’t hope for a life without problems. Hope for a life with good problems.
  • True happiness comes from finding the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving – Don’t avoid problems, find good ones.
  • Negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them it’s because you are supposed to do something

Mark argues that most of us spend a lot of time thinking about the good stuff we want in our lives and argues we could all benefit from also thinking about what pain we want in our life, what are we willing to struggle for?


Extraordinary is the new normal – and that’s NOT a good thing

Our lives today are filled with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience because in the media that is what gets eyeballs – and eyeballs bring money. Because we see it every day, we start believing that this exceptionalism is normal and suddenly our own ‘normal’ lives seem boring and insignificant.

We have this ‘belief’ in our society that we should all strive to be extraordinary. The funny thing is, if everyone were extraordinary than, by definition, no one is. If we believe that life needs to be extraordinary to be worthwhile we basically also believe that the far majority of us is living lives that are not worthwhile.


The self-awareness onion

Another personal favourite in the book – not because I like onions but because this metaphor made me laugh out loud.

Basically, Mark’s argument is that:

There are multiple layers to self-awareness and the more you pull back the more likely you are to start crying at inappropriate times.
  • Layer 1: What we feel
  • Layer 2: Why we feel a certain way
  • Layer 3: Personal values – why do I consider this success / failure (this is the where the real magic happens)


Selecting the right personal values

Good values are immediate and controllable. Don’t make your values dependent on other people’s actions and values.


Take responsibility (even when it’s not your fault)!

We 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 it and respond.
  • Accepting responsibility for our problems (no matter what caused them) is the first step to solving them
  • Being responsible for your problems does not mean being at fault for your problems
  • Fault is about what happened in the past. Responsibility is about what you do in the present.
  • Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. Many people might be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you.
  • You choose how you interpret, see and value things


We’re wrong. All the time! 

We’re always wrong about everything. That’s how life improves. Growth is an endless iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right”. Rather we go from “wrong” to “slightly less wrong”.

Our brains are meaning making machines.

  • Problem 1: The brain makes mistakes.
  • Problem 2: Once we create meaning for ourselves our brains are designed to hold on to that meaning – we don’t want to let it go. Even if we see evidence that contradicts the meaning we created, we often ignore it and keep believing anyway.
Our brains are design to be efficient, not accurate.  


Uncertainty is the answer (not the problem)

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and growth. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we don’t know, the more opportunity we gain to learn.

The only way to solve our problems is to first admit that our actions and believes up to this point have been wrong and are not working.

Instead of striving for certainty, we should be in constant search of doubt.


Building emotional resilience is like building muscels 

For many of us our proudest achievements come in the face of greatest adversity. Our pain makes us stronger, more resilient, more grounded. Just as one must suffer from physical pain to build muscle, one must suffer emotional pain to develop greater emotional resilience, stronger sense of self, increased compassion and a generally happier life.


The Paradox of Choice

The more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose because we are aware of all the options we’re potentially forfeiting.

Pursuing a breath of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience – the kind of experiences you can only have if you stick with something long enough.



Closing comment: Now that I’ve written up all these notes I realise that some of them could easily be misunderstood given the lack of context and further explanation. I suggest not to take any of this too serious but just look at is as some thought provoking statements and ideas. And if you’re keen to learn more, read the full book.