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The Subtle Art Of Not Giving F*ck by Mark Manson, summary & review


The author sees indifference (the title calls it harsher) not as an absolute characteristic but as a necessary tool to separate what’s essential from what’s not. People worry about success, money, other people’s opinions when they should exude happiness, joy and accept who they are. That is the path to success as Manson sees it.

But positive thinking is rather dangerous. In the end, it creates illusions and sooner or later reality strikes back with a powerful punch of truth in the face. And the longer you turn your back on reality, the stronger the blow will be.

According to Manson, there is nothing worse for a modern human than feeling like a loser or appear like one in the eyes of other people.

It’s the end of the world for a person to feel sad, anxious or lonely because of only positive emotions approved in modern society. Click to Tweet

The consumerist society we live in sees fear, anger, sadness and other negative emotions as signs of sickness or just a reason to visit a psychotherapist. Manson’s advice is to turn “couldn’t-care-less” attitude on and to the max. Negativities are natural and help us learn, adapt and survive under extreme conditions. They form our life experience.

What is sick is to try to get only positive life experience. Manson calls it “The Feedback Loop From Hell”: the more satisfied you want to be, the more unsatisfied you are. A woman obsessed with her appearance is rarely happy with it. Even the smallest spot on her face can immediately drag such person into deep waters of anxiety and sadness. Mark Manson says all these people need is a healthy indifference in their lives.

You’re not rich enough? Don’t bother. You’re not too pretty? So what? Ignore this fact!

A lot of readers can argue with the author that people who don’t care can never become anything but miserable losers. Well, Manson has a lot of examples to dismantle those claims. How to master the “i-don’t-give-an-F” attitude and what this art is all about?

+ Pros

Laconism, clear and straightforward statements, a different view on self-development, interesting stories and examples.

− Cons

It will hardly be anything new for you if you’re familiar with self-help books.

That is an authentic book with occasional and artistic use of strong language. The author is definitely in touch with reality, dislikes illusions and has no intention of creating any. He accepts this life and enjoys it whatever form it takes.

See more pinions on Amazon.

This valuable book teaches you responsibility, how to achieve a sensible perception of who you are and how to stop being afraid of pain, losses, and suffering. It is a part of our lives, so stop fixating on bad things and fight them instead. Our existence is limited in time, so Mark Manson suggests we better concentrate on what matters.

And he has some ideas regarding this.


Idea № 1. Achievements are impossible with no negative experience

All kinds of adverse events, experiences and emotions seem almost catastrophic for most people these days. We are ready to spend weeks complaining how that cab driver was one minute late, or how that lady in the grocery store gave us an irritated look along with the change, how one of our colleagues made a mistake, while we lose focus on some essential things.

We perceive any misfortune like it’s a cosmical injustice. That is because we think only losers, who are unable to control their lives, can be misfortunate and make mistakes.

As a result of ads imprinting cliches in our society and under positive thinking advocacy, the majority of people have their self-esteem set too high.

And we are in fear of anything that can ruin that self-esteem. We run from decisions, lose initiative and surround ourselves with illusions even if we try and make steps forward we back away at first sight of trouble and discomfort. Such fear suffocates and enslaves us.

“Don’t try,” reads a gravestone of Charles Bukowski, a prominent writer. Manson mentions this fact at the beginning of his book. “Don’t try to escape from death” is not the only idea behind those words. Manson also understands it as “don’t try but do something.”

Bukowski’s road to fame was not exactly smooth. For many years he worked as a fill-in letter carrier for the United States Post Office Department, but continued mailing his works to publishers. Nobody wanted to publish his works and replies often contained a rich choice of mean words and insults for him. His novels were considered horrible, ridiculous and disgusting. Bukowski drank a lot and was depressed off and on for years, but he never stopped, never gave up. Only by the age of 50 the skies turned blue for him. It started with a publication by a small indie publisher and a modest fee, but lead to a triumph. His novels and poems were selling out. More than anybody on planet Earth, Bukowski was in disbelief of his own success. Alcohol, women and depression remained parts of his life. He didn’t change, but he knew how to accept and be at peace with himself. And if he hadn’t been able to accept all the negative experiences, we might have never heard about a writer and poet Charles Bukowski.

Idea № 2. Pain is a signal, and it makes you learn

Suffering is always a significant part of the learning process for a child. A child quickly learns not to touch a hot pan, not to lick metal parts out in the cold winter day, not to bite on a shiny chilly pepper. That is what forms a vision of life and a basic understanding of what one should and should not do.

Humans as biological species barely distinguish between physical and emotional pain. We tend to blame people who hurt us. That happens because we lack understanding of the nature of emotional distress. Why it occurs? Where it comes from? Yes, sometimes people can be genuinely unjust and hurt us for no reason at all, but we miss the whole point. It doesn’t matter who is guilty, but who is responsible and in your life, it is always you. So it is your responsibility to decide what to do with the pain. Submit to it and fall prey to the misery it brings or learn from it and rise again.

Mark Manson brings up a period of his life as an example. The episode when his girl left him. He couldn’t even believe they broke up and his pain was horrible. He was not only begging her to come back but also harassing with threats, pleas, and accusations. He started drowning himself in alcohol, self-pity, and occasional one-night-stands. It took him a year to come to the realization of his mistakes and weak spots. Looking back one day he finally saw how ignorant and egotistic and sometimes even cold-hearted he was. It all helped him to take a better look at himself and avoid the same behavioral patterns in the future. We cannot change others’ behavior, but we can reinvent and change ours through a painful lesson. In a lot of ways, that lesson he had in the past is why he lives a happy married life today.

Do not fear the pain says, Manson. Make the pain your tool and your trauma the source of strength, and power.

Idea № 3. Happiness is never granted and requires struggle

According to Manson, most people want a lovely house by the seaside, millions on their bank accounts, a life of earthly joys and pleasures all day.

But nobody asks themselves a question: what price am I willing to pay for it? Am I ready to overcome pain and struggle for my dream? Click to Tweet

Some people dream of financial independence and their own business. But are they ready to spend those first few years breaking their back 24/7 to come to success finally? You want to look good, but you don’t even sweat it? You wish for love, trust, partnership, and passionate sex all in one? Then what about collisions, arguments, worries, and anxieties of relationships? Will you overcome it all? Are you willing to? Happiness is in the struggle rather than in the result.

Most people wish for reward without effort and result without process, but it is not how it works. Easy come easy go. Such joys don’t last long.

Manson remembers his pal Jimmy, who used to exude self-content everywhere he went. However, all his efforts were put to cadge money from his friends. This money was about to help him open his business, or start a charity fund, or promote a prominent project, but in reality, he was just a loather and nothing more. He leads a life of an easy-rider and lived off his parents and kind-hearted friends. None of his projects came to life, he hasn’t even got a proper education, but his self-content was impenetrable. The worst part was that Jimmy was unbelievably confident in considering himself a unique, talented person who not only deserves credit and immediate success but will undoubtedly get it one day. He believed that wealth and prosperity would come his way with the help of the kind people surrounding him.

Such delusional thinking combined with extreme self-confidence can be contagious and inspirational at first. So happened to Manson’s friends and relatives, who believed his intentions and supported his projects. Gradually, the number of supporters around him started to grow thin, and his life started collapsing. He wanted to get a free ride and put no effort of his own. Eventually, people began to realize what kind of person he was, but he refused to believe and take it seriously. Anyone skeptical of him, Jimmy considered a narrow-minded person, a bigot or just envious. Jimmy was weak and preferred lying to himself instead of facing the truth.

GRIN tech’s side note: story reminds a Dunning–Kruger effect (in nutshell its about low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence)

Idea № 4. The majority of us are just usual folks, and it’s fine

There was a trend in psychology in the 1960s, which suggested that every person is unique. Manson considers this to be nothing but a lie because if everyone is unique the very term becomes meaningless. If you adopt the idea that you’re special by default, you automatically contaminate yourself with hopes for effortless success. In the end, nothing but painful awakening from illusions coupled with depression awaits you. Expectations too high rarely match reality.

It’s similar to our emotions. It is worth remembering that generations of people shed their tears for the same reasons as we do now.

The art of healthy indifference is also in not getting fixated on your exceptional nature.

Efforts, decisiveness, consistency, ability to tell what matters from what doesn’t and ability to tread your path make you unique and outstanding. You can have no special talents and still live your life with dignity.

Manson states that those ideas started in the 1960s are all seeds of everyday narcissism. Stop perceiving yourself as a genius, a rising star or — in the opposite case — a victim of circumstances. Otherwise, you remain entrapped in a wrong position, and the only perspective you can get is that the world owes you something. Perceive yourself as a friend, a relative, a willing student, a partner and remember nobody owes you anything.

Idea № 5. Make sure the gain is worth the pain

Manson writes about a Japanese lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. During World War II he got stuck on one of the Philippines islands with three of his soldiers and received an order not to give up. He then fought the enemy for 25 years, though pretty soon planes were dispersing flyers around the island informing that the war was over. Onoda and his fellow soldiers read those but considered flyers to be an enemy trick. They continued to ravage the island, convinced that the enemy is still present.

Eventually, locals managed to resist Onoda’s attacks and killed his soldiers. One soldier gave up and was captured, and Onoda managed to escape. Multiple search groups were dispatched to look for Onoda, but only a young fortune-seeker Suzuki managed to find him. He was wandering around the jungle yelling out that Emperor worries about Onoda. Suzuki found him, convinced him the war is over and took Onoda back to Japan.

Onoda became a celebrity. He gained his spots on TV, he wrote a book, he received financial rewards from the government, but the country he came back to was not his country anymore. He could feel and see the western influence in every aspect of life and culture. Japan seemed to have lost its spirit and traditions. Those 30 years in the jungle felt so much happier, but he fought for what was long gone. He left Japan to spend the rest of his years living in South America and never came back since.

Manson is a convinced realist and perceives Onoda as a man captured by his illusions. A man who refused to take a bright look at reality.

Once the illusion has shattered, his achievement and even his life both lost their point.

When Onoda realized his goal was illusory, he became so disappointed that he couldn’t continue living in Japan, his motherland he suffered so much for. He was proud to hide in forests, confident that he executes the will of the Emperor himself.

The lesson is: think about your goal twice, before sacrificing everything for its sake. Click to Tweet

Idea № 6. Concentrate only on what’s important

That is a vital part of the subtle art of indifference Manson writes about. What are those essential things?

Everybody has their answer: career success, family, recognition, fame. Whatever it is, keep this long-term goal in mind and ignore the trivia.

Manson recommends an honest self-analysis he compares to an onion. Ask yourself question after question to eliminate layers of this onion and finally get to the core.

  • What is your goal?
  • Why is it so important to you?
  • Do you have what it takes to achieve it?
  • What makes you angry and why?

Questions can be quite uncomfortable, but it is important to give honest answers. Another critical question is: what if I was wrong? You are going to need to learn to answer this question.

We need those questions to define what success and failure mean to us. Our values and goals determine the quality of our lives.

If you fail, you’re wrong at something: your goals, methods, or your very definition of success.

But seriously, what is a success? Manson remembers Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, a talented guitar player, who originally started in Metallica. He was disbanded from Metallica before the release of their first album. It left a wound so deep that Mustaine planned on revenge to outdo Metallica on their field and make them regret to abandon such an outstanding musician. He started his band, Megadeth, and became famous all over the world, selling millions of copies of his albums. By definition of the average person, this is a definite success, but this is not what Dave thinks about it. In one of his interviews, he reveals that he still feels like a poor hurt guy, outcast from one of the greatest bands in the world for reasons unjust.

There is another similar story about Pete Best, the original drummer of The Beatles. His mother owned Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool and the band used to take its stage quite often. Pete used to be a drummer in the group from 1960 to 1962 when he was unexpectedly fired by their manager Brian Epstein. One version is that producer George Martin disliked how Pete played, but the whispers also were that the rest of The Beatles couldn’t get along with Pete Best. Anyway, he got fired in a pretty unapologetic way which happens a lot in this business.

Pete was depressed, tried filing lawsuits, which came to no fruition and in the end, he didn’t become a famous musician and never reached the level of The Beatles. But he is satisfied with his life and appreciates it. In his own words, he wouldn’t have met his wife if he hadn’t lost a position in the band and he is grateful for everything that happened, good or bad. Now he has a big happy family and tours with fellow musicians around Europe from time to time. He feels much more satisfied than Dave Mustaine.

Idea № 7. Regardless of the circumstances, we hold responsibility for our lives

The more responsible you are for your life, the more control over it you have. Accountability is the first step to solve a problem.

Manson had a friend who was short and was afraid of dating women. He was convinced that despite his charm and intellect no woman would ever like him. He hardly ever tried dating someone. After every date he used to sit at home analyzing every move and gesture he made, convincing himself he’s just an unattractive, awkward guy. He chose to concentrate on what he couldn’t change — his height.

Manson points out that this man could set a goal to date women who would accept him as he is. But he stuck to his old familiar and comfortable pattern: all the joys of the world belong to tall men, and I will always be alone with my charm and wits rotting in the shadow of my shortness. You cannot take responsibility for what is not in your powers.

Keep in mind that responsibility and guilt are not the same things. According to Manson, there are problems and situations we are not guilty of but responsible for. Once you take that stance, things tend to become easier to solve and achieve. It all depends on the perspective.

If you strive after middle-class amenities like a big house or a good car you’re going to be drained. Such achievements won’t hold joy for long and will lead to the feeling of emptiness in the end. Expensive purchases do not make you better; they add themselves to the list. And you need to evolve to be happy constantly.

Mark Manson got to know that life is short at a reasonably young age when he experienced a sudden and absurd death of his close friend. It was then when he realized you need to live a conscious life, ignore the trivia and only concentrate on what is essential.

Summary to Subtle art of not giving a f*ck summary

Usually, our book reviews end up with “I’d hardly recommend reading its full copy.” But since Manson writes about a way to approach life in general – full copy might be well worth it (especially for all those side stories about people). However not if you are short of time, then our summary is just enough 🙂

See the author’s website for more content on the topic

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck summary: Manson's personal website preview

Or compare the ideas and action plan insights density in other business books we reviewed: