The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. Mark Manson is a blogger who wrote this book in reaction to the problems he saw in the self-help industry, but he doesn’t have a background in psychology or any sort of related field. This book represents his opinion, and the ideas presented in the book aren’t based on any sort of research. In broad terms I tend to take issue with books that present opinions as fact without being based in actual evidence. There’s nothing wrong with an opinion, but I think it needs to be clearly delineated as such.
In some ways, some of the author’s philosophy is a rebrand of radical acceptance. He discusses the importance of non-superficial values, and while his approach isn’t necessarily my favourite the content is reasonable. He challenges modern society’s focus on materialism and more, more, more. He also disagrees with the focus on the pursuit of positivity, to point of of avoiding the rest of what reality throws at us. He repeatedly returns to the idea of entitlement as being a fundamental underlying problem, but there is a tinge of brattiness to his writing style that takes away from this message.
There were a number of ways in which this book fell short for me. One of the places where he lost me was the idea of “don’t try”. Trying for the sake of personal growth is very different from trying to keep up with the Joneses. Manson argues that “everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience”, and while this may sometimes be the case, I doubt the veracity of this as a broad generalization. There are some valid messages about things like values that get watered down by somewhat cavalier examples.
Manson criticizes the often-repeated “be happy” message, pointing out that “the desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience.” He adds that “accepting negative experience is a positive experience.” He explains that focusing on positive expectations actually ends up showing people how they have failed. Social media tends to trigger a “feedback loop from hell” that constantly reminds that others are doing better than we are, and we are inadequate.
Manson suggests that “to not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.” He adds that we should choose what matters based on person values, which I would certainly agree with, and challenges the social media-fuelled idea that average represents failure. The values-based metrics we choose determine what we perceive as success or failure. He advocates for interpreting pain as a call to action, and recognizing pain as an action that one strives for rather than having it dropped in one’s lap. He encourages acting even the absence of motivation, which is reminiscent of CBT concepts regarding behavioural activation.
Entitled people are presented as exuding a “delusional degree of self-confidence” and operating within a “narcissistic bubble”. This made me wonder, though, isn’t this just an extreme example of not giving a fuck? Manson explains that “The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies – that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life…. This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it… [But then] the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish.” I disagree with simple pleasures being presented as “bland and mundane” and something that is necessarily aversive at first.
The book touches on the idea of “victimhood chic”, with a lack of personal responsibility and the tendency to be easily offended and outraged by any perceived slight. Whether or not this is true, I think it minimizes those that are victims of abuse. I also disagreed with the author’s statement that “in the process of changing your values, you’ll feel like a failure and will experience rejection”, as I think there’s no reason why that should be true as a blanket statement.
Manson touches on what sounds like his own entitled, bratty past. I get the sense, though, that in the present tense he’s not necessarily someone I would want to spend a lot of time with. He explains that if his wife gets dolled up for a night out and he doesn’t like her fashion choices, he will come right out and tell her, “because honesty is more important to me than feeling good all the time”. In my mind, there is honest, and then there’s asshole, and the difference lies in consideration of the other person’s feelings. He states that “if two people are close are not able to hash out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic.” I’m not certain why he presumes to dictate how couples should communicate within their relationships, but personally I don’t think it’s appropriate to project one’s own views onto others in that manner.
This was definitely an interesting book; sometimes interesting in a good way, but other times in a bad way. I’d say it disappointed me compared to what my expectations were.
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