Living a Happy and Mentally Rich Life with Emphasis on Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.

Warning: There are F-words spread throughout referencing the title of the book I researched, as well as quotations. If you feel that offends you, please do not read.

Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life challenges the stage of self-help books. Manson was never attracted to the “typical” self-help book. Back in his teens and twenties, Manson burned through the conventional self-help literature and attended many Seminars trying to find stable ground for his personal growth and development. The cycle of what Manson calls “Disillusioned BS,” caused him to question the most common misjudgments of self-development. This desire to understand the way that people think pushed him to research what would be by far his greatest work to this date [5]. Manson, who started first as an online blogger in his twenties, has now been published in multiple magazines, including popular Forbes, and Time [6]. Mark Manson lines out guidelines and categories that gives away the tools that are needed to live a happy and mentally rich life. Manson aggressively brings to light what is most important in life, and what is a waste of time. In this essay, I will argue that to live a happy and mentally rich life, one must learn to stop trying, learn what needs to be forgotten, know how to fail forward, know what is important in life, and understand that pain is part of the process.

To stop trying is the fundamental basis of Manson’s book. Mr. Manson has coined his own spin-off, to stop trying to, “the art of not giving a fuck.” To stop trying is simpler than one would guess, but much harder to accomplish than many would, or could even imagine. Hence the reason that Mark Manson coined it as being an art. Anyone has the potential to be an artist, but becoming an artist involves lots of training and practice. Just as anyone has the potential to learn to “not give a fuck,” with the proper amount of time and effort developed. Jennifer Haupt in an article titled New Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck- Caring Less About More-and More about what Matters, Haupt summarizes her take away from the Manson’s work. There are eight topics that people care way too much about. These eight things are 1. Impressing other people. 2. Being right all the time. 3. Being “successful” 4. Being Pleasant and Polite 5. Being Happy. 6. Feeling good all the time. 7. Being Perfect. 8. Feeling secure and certain. Haupt delves into a surface view of Manson’s literature pointing out that these eight things really just don’t matter in the long run. People are trying way to hard to work their way into these eight topics, but if they were to stop trying, they would have a happier life. [4] Mark Manson said:

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. -Mark Manson [7].

     Manson refers to what Alan Watts called the Backwards law. The more someone pursues the specific goal of feeling better, the less satisfied they will become. Aggressively pursuing a feeling only reinforces the fact that you lack it. Manson referred to another philosopher, Albert Camus said:

You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consist of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life -Albert Camus [7].

     This was simply put by Manson, “Don’t try” [7]. The thing keeping people from their happiness is that they are focusing so desperately on the eight topics listed by Haupt. People try so hard to impress others, in a sad attempt to gain some appreciation from what others think. People, in general, are so afraid of being wrong that they do not put themselves out there to experience life in all its glory. People want to feel successful, happy, pleasure, and perfect, all while feeling secure in everything they do. This is an impossible task to achieve, and trying to achieve this only makes people miserable in the end. Manson says in his book:

…, if you look at your Facebook feed, everybody there is having a fucking grand old time. …if you feel like shit for even 5 minutes, you are bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing fucking lives…it [makes] it impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you [7].

     Manson throughout the Subtle Art brings to light that other people want you to think they are perfect, so they do something to help them appear perfect for 60 seconds, long enough to get a photo and throw it on a social media page. You will never see all the failures they are going through, have gone through, or will go through. The first step in achieving true happiness is to stop trying.

Once the first box of “stop trying” is checked, the next jump is learning what needs to be forgotten. Mark Manson titles this section “Shitty Values,” He considers these things as a handful of problems that are essentially unsolvable. He starts off with Pleasure; everyone enjoys pleasure, but no one should ever prioritize their life around it. Look at a drug addict or an adulterer that has changed their entire life to seeking out the “False god of pleasure.” Pleasure is a superficial life satisfaction [7]. Throughout our day we are constantly bombarded by things that are marketed to pleasure us, but the secret that no one says, is that pleasure is not the cause of happiness. It is only a byproduct of what good values can bring you. The second is Material Success. People constantly measure themselves based on how much they have or the quality of what they have as being better than everyone else’s. Manson mentions research that was done that after the basic necessities are taken care of, nothing else that is done in the sense of worldly success, changes that current level of happiness. The most dangerous aspect of the Material Success value is that often times this gets pushed in front of a more important value that could bring you happiness, such as honesty, or compassion. Always being right is another value that Mark Manson says we must abandon. The ability to have humility and take on new perspectives from others is something that only we humans can do, and yet, we remarkably don’t care. The last value that Manson claims we should abandon is the idea of staying positive. This seems to shock people but the truth of it is sometimes, life sucks, and the best thing that you can do is admit it [7]. Manson claims that emotional dysfunction is a direct result of denying prolonged negative emotions. Things go wrong and people anger us all the time, and that is perfectly fine. Negative emotions are a part of life. Denying that the negativity exists only perpetuates the problem, rather than solving any the issues that are going on. Manson says:

The trick with negative emotions is to 1.) Express them in a socially acceptable manner and 2.) express them in a way that aligns with your values [7].

     The good values that Manson claims you need are reality-based, socially constructive, immediate and controllable. Using the example of positivity, you can not be positive all the time. There are things that will occur in life that will degrade you from that sense of positivity. You can not control, it is not immediate, it is highly unrealistic, and trying to force it upon yourself is destructive. Taking, for example, honesty. Honesty is something that can be taken up immediately, is highly realistic, is highly constructive, and 100% within your control. These “Shitty Values” must be abandoned if you are ever going to live a happy and mentally rich life.

Knowing how to fail forward is one of the most iconic thought processes, developed long before Mark Manson jumped into the spotlight. In a book written by John C. Maxwell Failing Forward, Maxwell outlines traits that are carried by individuals that he calls “Achieving People.” When achieving people fail forward, they:

  1. Take responsibility for their part in any negative experience. 2. They learn from the mistake that caused the miserable experience. 3. They know, and understand that failure is a major component of forward progress. 4. They challenge common assumptions. 5. Take new risks. 6. Perseverance to the end [3].

These traits outlined are very similar to the approach that Manson has adopted in his book. Manson in the Subtle Art relates his personal story of how much of a failure that he was. He had just lost his job; his blog was nowhere it needed to be to provide for what he needed. He even said most nights he counted his change to see if he had enough money for a McDonald’s value burger. He was in his mind a failure and something needed to change. He took full responsibility for where his life was at that moment. He looked back at what he had done to get him to this point, and then he took some major risks to get where he is now [7].

In a Forbes article, contributor Mike Maddock, pushes some of the most notable successful people into the spotlight, with special attention on the failures that they have endured. In If You Have To Fail — And You Do — Fail Forward, Maddock mentions,

“My point: Failure isn’t fatal; in fact, it is actually REQUIRED for innovation success—as long as you don’t freak out, make catastrophic mistakes or (ironically) fail to learn from it.” [2]

     He then goes into a story of Albert Einstein, Einstein was arguably one of the smartest men alive. It would be a typical thought process to assume that Einstein, the smartest man that has ever walked this earth, would have done well in school, or maybe he was at least a decent student. Wrong, Albert Einstein was a lousy student, and did awful in his schooling. Einstein then went on to become known as the smartest man alive. Maddock uses the example of Einstein, and many other great legends, to paint the picture that success and innovation are achieved through mass amounts of failure. The more that someone fails, the more potential they have to be great [2]. Manson uses a fictitious story of an example of Picasso, shows up to a coffee shop and paints a picture on the napkin while he drinks his coffee. A few minutes later Picasso gets up and goes to throw the napkin away, a lady stops him and says can I buy that napkin off you. He offers it up for 20,000 dollars. She was appalled at the price and asked why it could be so much if he had only spent a few minutes on it. Fictitious Picasso said, Ma’am, I have spent 60 years on this [7]. No one looks at the failures that Picasso went through in his early life. The thousands of paintings that no one wanted. Every great man had spent decades developing what you see at face value. To become great, you have to know what does not work, which involves failing, a lot.

Will Smith, a lead actor in The Pursuit of Happiness, has an infamous quote,

Fail Early, Fail Often, Fail Forward [1].

            Negativity and Failure is an absolute requirement of life. Everyone will get knocked down like a toddler learning to walk. All we have to do is get back up. Keep trying, keep pushing for what it is that you really want out of life.

Knowing what is important in life, or what Manson coins “What to give a fuck about. [7]” is working towards the final step to living happily. This step is towards the end of the journey for a few reasons, the biggest being, it is extremely hard to start caring about the important things in life when bogged down by every single little thing that you learned to let go off in the first step. One can not fully take on this step until they are clear of any and all burdens previously stated. This involves the process that Manson calls “Kill yourself [7]” Buddhism argues that the idea of who “you” are is an arbitrary thought. “you” need to let go of what “you” think “you” are [7].  Manson stated:

The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it… Mean[ing] the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it [7].

     The point that Manson is pushing so hard to get across is the concept that the pride of what you think of and value of yourself is literally holding you captive from being happy and having mental freedom. Manson’s suggestion is to; don’t be special, and don’t be unique. Don’t measure yourself against super rich and famous, don’t measure yourself compared to popular people. The solution is to measure yourself in a simpler fashion of being a good student, a good partner, a good father, a good sibling. This involves admitting on the grandiose spectrum that maybe you are not as special or talented as what you want to think you are. Give up the sense of entitlement, and the thought that the world owes you something. Kill yourself, forget everything that you think that you know about yourself, and start working on being the best YOU that you can be without the comparisons of others [7]. Commit to who you are and what you wish to become, build trust with the ones you love, and learn to say no to all the bullshit enticements that offer you empty pleasure and meaningless happiness

The final advice that Manson parts with is that pain is part of the process. The most unconventional part of this “self-help” process, is that this is not all rainbows and blowjobs. You have to understand that the world is an inherently negative place that will beat you down if you let it [8]. You have to accept this negativity before you can find true positivity in your life. Understanding that no one is super special or unique can be a hard pill to swallow. Being told that even if you win the lottery tomorrow, you will still be an asshole, hurts. Having to tell yourself that the 1000 dollars a month extra you are making through relentless hours of overtime is literally destroying your family, can bite.

Make a list of the most important things in life. Try to put this list in order. Then, make a list of all the things that you want most in the world. A sample list below:

My Wife A Billion Dollars
My Kids A Lamborghini
My Parents To be as big of a bodybuilder as Jay Cutler
My Siblings To never have to work another day in my life
My Integrity A Jet
My Honesty Unlimited Food bar in my house

 

If you can take a look at this list and honestly say that you would sacrifice an item on the left, for something on the right, someone/something that you love the most in your life, then go ahead and pursue that. But, if that is how you feel, you still do not truly understand the concept of not giving a fuck about what is important life. Find the ones you love, find the parts of you that are not worth anything else in the world and use those to start improving yourselves. If you are in an unhappy relationship and you really don’t love your spouse, it is time to take a hard look at why. Is your relationship due to something that you are doing/causing? Is the failure in the relationship on you? Have you truly committed everything within your power to the relationship? If you honestly truly believe that everything within your power has truly been done, then why live an unhappy life? Instead of half devoting your time to a spouse you do not care about, devote your life to the rest of the most important items your list. This could be the most painful and difficult thing you have ever done in your life. Invest every minute you have to what makes you happy, and mentally rich, and you will be happy and mentally rich.

 

  1. Zameena Mejia “Will smith and Failure” https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/24/will-smith-failure-is-a-massive-part-of-being-able-to-be-successful.html d. website 12-6-18
  2.      com. (2018). If You Have To Fail — And You Do — Fail Forward. [online] Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikemaddock/2012/10/10/if-you-have-to-fail-and-you-do-fail-forward/#118d56b358e5 [Accessed 13 Dec. 2018].
  3. Maxwell, J. (2007). Failing forward. Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson.
  4. Psychology Today. (2018). New Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/one-true-thing/201612/new-book-the-subtle-art-not-giving-fck [Accessed 13 Dec. 2018].
  5. Sarah Berry. “Self-Help Movement Gets a Reality Check.” Sun-Herald, The (Sydney), 17 Sept. 2017, p. 26. EBSCOhost, hal.weber.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.hal.weber.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=DOC6WPF05JOYO4IZRQBEX1&site=ehost-live.
  6. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fpass:[*]** .” Chronicle (Toowoomba), 2017, p. 28. EBSCOhost, hal.weber.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.hal.weber.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=n5h&AN=apn.T7HBJ27&site=ehost-live.
  7. Manson, M. (2016). The subtle art of not giving a f**k : a counterintuitive approach to living a good life.
  8. Rocky 6. (2013). [DVD].
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