The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson claims to provide “a counterintuitive approach to living a good life.” He wrote this book in reaction to the problems he saw in the self-help industry. His own background is as a blogger; there’s no indication that he has a background in psychology or any sort of related field. This book represents his opinion, but those opinions are sometimes presented as fact. 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. Manson 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 the pursuit of positivity, to the point of avoiding everything else. He repeatedly refers to entitlement as a key underlying problem; however, there’s a tinge of brattiness to his writing style that detracts 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”. 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.
I was definitely in agreement when Manson criticized the often-repeated “be happy” message, pointing out that “accepting negative experience is a positive experience.” He writes that social media tends to trigger a “feedback loop from hell” that constantly reminds us that others are doing better than we are, and we are inadequate.
Getting to the point of the book’s title, 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, and what is or is not successful, based on personal values, which I would certainly agree with. He encourages action even the absence of motivation, which is similar to behavioural activation in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
The author believes that entitled people exude a “delusional degree of self-confidence” and operate within a “narcissistic bubble”. This made me wonder, though, a) isn’t this just an extreme example of not giving a fuck, and b) does he know what delusional actually means? 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 simple things are often the most beautiful.
The book touches on the idea of “victimhood chic”, involving 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”; I think there’s no reason why that should be true as a blanket statement.
Manson talks about what sounds like his own entitled, bratty past. I get the sense that, in the present tense, he’s not necessarily someone I’d want to spend much time with. He explains that if his wife gets dolled up for a night out and he doesn’t like her fashion choices, he’ll come right out and tell her, “because honesty is more important to me than feeling good all the time”. In my mind, there’s 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 just because I prefers one communication style doesn’t mean that others are manipulative and toxic.
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.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck is available on Amazon.
You can find my other book reviews here.
This post contains affiliate links.
The COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit page has a wide range of resources to support better mental health and wellbeing.