Mark Manson
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, 212 pages

Finished on 9th of February, 2023
🛒 Buy here
🎧 Listen to the podcast

It’s a concise book of the self-help category, full with little bits of advice on how to view and interpret our current individual situations within modern society. With its profanity, it drives home its many actionable points in an easy-going way.

🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Our current societal mindset requires us to care about so many things at the same time that mental-health issues are on the rise, so we need to combat this by better prioritization and well-defined personal values in order to care about fewer things.
  2. Getting comfortable with enduring craving and pain, as well as adversity is a lost art and should be embraced for our own sake, because without suffering and without solving problems there’s no purpose and no happiness.
  3. We need to move away from feeling entitled and looking for what the world has to offer for us and move towards self-improvement, which is the opposite of entitlement, and embracing what we have to offer the world.

🎨 Impressions

Mark Manson was born the same year as I was, in 1984, so we’re both among the older ones in the generation of “Millennials”. He has been blogging about life-advice for a long time before publishing this mega-bestseller book in 2016. The guy has had a lot of public practice and can definitely write. It’s a pleasure to go through his pointy and often funny short sentences.

One of his blog posts had the title of this book, and as he explained in a podcast interview I listened to, that was at a time when the big social media companies (mainly Facebook) pushed posts with strong curse words in their headlines exceptionally with their algorithms, because those had higher click rates due to enraging more people. So Mark deliberately used the cursing to increase clicks. He also explained that the rest of the title was taken from a song by metal band Lamb of God, called “The Subtle Art of Murder and Persuasion” – great band, not their best song though.

It’s hard to condense the book into one or a few main messages, and that’s great I think. There’s an abundance of little bits of smart advice or new clever ways of reframing something which is part of our way of thinking.

Mark first explains the many ways we currently are on the wrong path – for example the growing sense of entitlement in young people, or the popular victim mentality, before offering ideas which are often already time-tested to act as antidotes.

I wasn’t surprised when Mark first introduced Buddhism by retelling the story of its origin – Siddharta Gautama, the rich prince who was shielded from everything negative by his family and then grew more and more unhappy. The message here is that happiness and purpose require suffering.

He also talks about the Stoics, who, 2,500 years ago, had already realized a similar thing. It’s a great analysis of the times we’re living in and has some hard to accept truths in it as well, like for example that emotions are overrated, that no one is special, or that rejection actually makes our lives better.

There’s one bit I have a problem with and that’s the chapter on the Fault vs. Responsibility Fallacy. Manson argues that when bad things happen to us, we need to accept that although these things were not our fault, it’s our responsibility to bounce back and react in a healthy way. While he is generally right, there’s a problem here in the nuances. For example, it would be completely inappropriate to suggest this to a rape victim. There are boundaries, and that’s the tricky bit. He also uses examples of slight cases of OCD which were solved by clever reframing of the situation to the people suffering from it. Successes are obviously to be celebrated, but something about this rubs me the wrong way – it’s also an idea that’s often spread by self-help guru Tony Robbins, that it’s possible to explain away the trauma in some people just by saying the right words. That the actual victims are somehow not smart enough to see they’re making their problems up. This feels misguided.

Other than that, this book offers so much great advice and is written in a fun and entertaining way that I would recommend it to anyone.

🍀 How the Book Changed Me

It’s hard to pick something specific, because there’s an abundance of pieces of advice which woke me up or stuck with me. Lots of them I had heard before, but it’s great to hear them again phrased differently or seen from a new angle.

  • With all its advantages and problems, the situation we’re finding ourselves born into doesn’t have to direct the course of our whole lives, for better or worse. Realizing there’s always lots of potential for change and improvement and nothing is ever fixed forever was a refreshing view. Feeling victimized by outside circumstances and behaving like that isn’t a good option ever.
  • Many people would like to stand out and be viewed by everyone as an exceptional person, and I would reluctantly include myself in that category as well – but the chapter about how it’s okay to be average and just aim to leave our own local surroundings a slightly better place after you’re gone was therapeutic to hear and took away lots of self-imposed pressure.
  • “There’s nothing to be afraid of, ever.” – this sentence follows from the Stoic wisdom that we should always be aware of our own mortality and the idea that rejection isn’t all bad but a way to teach us how to improve. I think of myself as a person who cares about what people think and has a hard time opening up and showing vulnerabilities (which might sound ironic since I’m stating it here), so hearing this piece of advice resonated.

📔 Highlights & Notes

Chapter 1: Don’t Try

Fame and success didn’t make [author Charles Buckowski] a better person. Nor was it by becoming a better person that he became famous and successful.

You learn about the best ways to make money because you feel you don’t have enough money already. You stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations saying that you’re beautiful because you feel as though you’re not beautiful already.

And while there’s nothing wrong with good business, the problem is that 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 Feedback Loop from Hell

Stress-related health issues, anxiety disorders, and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the past thirty years, despite the fact that everyone has a flat-screen TV and can have their groceries delivered.

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.

Most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different. Let’s be clear. There’s absolutely nothing admirable or confident about indifference. People who are indifferent are lame and scared.

They [people who succeed] say, “Fuck it,” not to everything in life, but rather to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly matters. Friends. Family. Purpose.

You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others. You just can’t.

To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy.

So Mark, What The Fuck is the Point of This Book Anyway?

I believe that today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes.

Chapter 2: Happiness is a Problem

In fact, the prince came to know what the rest of us have always kind of known: that suffering totally sucks. And it’s not necessarily that meaningful either. As with being rich, there is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose.

Years later, the prince would build his own philosophy and share it with the world, and this would be its first and central tenet: that pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them. The prince would later become known as the Buddha.

Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness.

The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda

We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change.

Like physical pain, our psychological pain is an indication of something out of equilibrium, some limitation that has been exceeded.

And this is what’s so dangerous about a society that coddles itself more and more from the inevitable discomforts of life: we lose the benefits of experiencing healthy doses of pain, a loss that disconnects us from the reality of the world around us.

Happiness comes from solving problems.

To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action;

Things standing in the way of achieving happiness via solving problems:

  1. Denial. Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place. And because they deny reality, they must constantly delude or distract themselves from reality.
  1. Victim Mentality. Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they in fact could.

Highs also generate addiction. The more you rely on them to feel better about your underlying problems, the more you will seek them out.

Emotions Are Overrated

Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. That’s it.

In other words, negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are rewards for taking the proper action.

Choose Your Struggle

A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?”

Because happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles.

Chapter 3: You Are Not Special

A person who actually has a high self-worth is able to look at the negative parts of his character frankly—“Yes, sometimes I’m irresponsible with money,”

Things Fall Apart

Numerous professors and educators have noted a lack of emotional resilience and an excess of selfish demands in today’s young people.

The Tyranny of Exceptionalism

Millennials often get blamed for this cultural shift, but that’s likely because millennials are the most plugged-in and visible generation. In fact, the tendency toward entitlement is apparent across all of society.

Technology has solved old economic problems by giving us new psychological problems. The Internet has not just open-sourced information; it has also open-sourced insecurity, self-doubt, and shame.

B-b-b-but, If I’m Not Going to be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the Point?

Being “average” has become the new standard of failure. The worst thing you can be is in the middle of the pack, the middle of the bell curve.

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve, and that their life won’t matter.

And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement.

And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations.

Chapter 4: The Value of Suffering

If suffering is inevitable, if our problems in life are unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not “How do I stop suffering?” but “Why am I suffering—for what purpose?”

The Self-Awareness Onion

Why do they feel such a need to be rich in the first place? How are they choosing to measure success/failure for themselves? Is it not perhaps some particular value that’s the root cause of their unhappiness, and not the fact that they don’t drive a Bentley yet?

We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which we choose to measure them.

Shitty Values

Pleasure is a false god. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose.

In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake.

As Freud once said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity. Some 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.

This, in a nutshell, is what “self-improvement” is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about. Because when you give better fucks, you get better problems. And when you get better problems, you get a better life.

The Choice

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.

The Responsibility / Fault Fallacy

We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life.

Genetics And The Hand We’re Dealt

They figure, “I didn’t choose my crappy genetics, so it’s not my fault if things go wrong.” And it’s true, it’s not their fault. But it’s still their responsibility.

Victimhood Chic

The writer and media commentator Ryan Holiday refers to this as “outrage porn”: rather than report on real stories and real issues, the media find it much easier (and more profitable) to find something mildly offensive, [..]

The biggest problem with victimhood chic is that it sucks attention away from actual victims.

There Is No “How”

You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else.

Chapter 6: You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)

There’s a famous Michael Jordan quote about him failing over and over and over again, and that’s why he succeeded. Well, I’m always wrong about everything, over and over and over again, and that’s why my life improves.

We shouldn’t seek to find the ultimate “right” answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we’re wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

Certainty is the enemy of growth. Nothing is for certain until it has already happened—and even then, it’s still debatable.

Architects of Our Own Beliefs

We are biased toward the meaning our mind has made, and we don’t want to let go of it. Even if we see evidence that contradicts the meaning we created, we often ignore it and keep on believing anyway.

The Dangers of Pure Certainty

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something.

This openness to being wrong must exist for any real change or growth to take place.

Manson’s Law of Avoidance

Until we change how we view ourselves, what we believe we are and are not, we cannot overcome our avoidance and anxiety. We cannot change.

I say don’t find yourself. I say never know who you are. Because that’s what keeps you striving and discovering.

How To Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself

“Am I jealous—and if I am, then why?” “Am I angry?” “Is she right, and I’m just protecting my ego?” Questions like these need to become a mental habit.

I try to live with few rules, but one that I’ve adopted over the years is this: if it’s down to me being screwed up, or everybody else being screwed up, it is far, far, far more likely that I’m the one who’s screwed up.

The Failure/Success Paradox

Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.

Avoiding failure is something we learn at some later point in life. I’m sure a lot of it comes from our education system, which judges rigorously based on performance and punishes those who don’t do well.

We can be truly successful only at something we’re willing to fail at. If we’re unwilling to fail, then we’re unwilling to succeed.

Whereas if I instead adopt the metric “Improve my social life,” I can live up to my value of “good relations with others” regardless of how other people respond to me. My self-worth is based on my own behaviors and happiness.

Pain Is Part of the Process

We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life, and then consider changing course. You could call it “hitting bottom” or “having an existential crisis.” I prefer to call it “weathering the shitstorm.” Choose what suits you.

Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy.

The “Do Something” Principle

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.

If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

Rejection Makes Your Life Better

The avoidance of rejection (both giving and receiving it) is often sold to us as a way to make ourselves feel better. But avoiding rejection gives us short-term pleasure by making us rudderless and directionless in the long term.


People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner’s values and problems.

If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so.

People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another’s emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.

Freedom Through Commitment

When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing.

Chapter 9: … And Then You Die

I came to the startling realization that if there really is no reason to do anything, then there is also no reason to not do anything; that in the face of the inevitability of death, there is no reason to ever give in to one’s fear or embarrassment or shame, since it’s all just a bunch of nothing anyway; and that by spending the majority of my short life avoiding what was painful and uncomfortable, I had essentially been avoiding being alive at all.

Something Beyond Our Selves

[Ernest] Becker called such efforts [like leaving a graspable legacy] our “immortality projects,” projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. All of human civilization, he says, is basically a result of immortality projects:

[..] all the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.

What Becker is saying, in essence, is that we’re all driven by fear to give way too many fucks about something, because giving a fuck about something is the only thing that distracts us from the reality and inevitability of our own death. And to truly not give a single fuck is to achieve a quasi-spiritual state of embracing the impermanence of one’s own existence.

The Sunny Side of Death

The Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome implored people to keep death in mind at all times, in order to appreciate life more and remain humble in the face of its adversities.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

Whether you’re listening to Aristotle or the psychologists at Harvard or Jesus Christ or the goddamn Beatles, they all say that happiness comes from the same thing: caring about something greater than yourself, believing that you are a contributing component in some much larger entity, [..]

And the primary lesson was this: there is nothing to be afraid of. Ever.

From his new book, “Everything is F*cked”:

When people prattle on about needing to find their “life’s purpose,” what they really mean is that it’s no longer clear to them what matters, what is a worthy use of their limited time here on earth6—in short, what to hope for. They are struggling to see what the before/after of their lives should be.

How do you feel after reading this?

This helps me assess the quality of my writing and improve it.

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