We have listened for decades that positive thinking is the key to becoming rich and happy. Mark Manson seems to disagree. In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, he shows us that to improve our lives we must learn to accept that we are limited and fail all the time. Not everyone can be extraordinary or exceptional at everything, and there is no problem in that! Manson advises us to accept our limitations and our fears to find courage and perseverance. We must find out what really matters to us and what our values are. If you’ve ever read self-help books that promise you can improve your life if you just think positively and found it all too dumb, this book is for you! Sometimes things go wrong, and we need to learn to deal with them! The author shows us how to use our failures in our favor. If you are looking for new and completely different ideas out there, read this microbook!
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Accept The Negative Aspects Of Your Life
Manson begins his book with the story of a man who for most of his life was a complete failure. Society labeled him a loser. This man, Charles Bukowski, achieved success in his career as a writer, but that did not stop him from being a loser. In his tomb is inscribed the following message: “Do not try”.
The story of Bukowski is present in many books, films, and seminars that preach to overcome your difficulties and become great. You cannot give up. Never giving up has become a cliché of the self-help market and continues to be repeated to exhaustion.
Manson tells us that this positive advice for self-help is actually contributing to your unhappiness because it makes clear all that you do not have, essentially saying that to improve, you must first feel awful about who you are.
Manson insists that the conventional “positive thinking” approach teaches us that we need to ignore many things – good cars, perfect bodies, a big house. But every day we are bombarded with images coming from the television or computer that show us other people who have such incredible lives. We begin to believe that feeling anxious, sad or unsatisfied is simply unacceptable, which makes us feel even worse with these emotions.
So Manson presents an alternative theory. As the desire for a better life causes a negative effect on our emotions, we must accept the negative aspects of our life. We need to get used to our limitations and failures. Doing so will bring us more positive experiences because when we are no longer afraid of the pain of our negative experiences, we become able to challenge ourselves without allowing anything to stop us.
Care About Things Which Are Worth Your Time
Manson is quick to explain that he did not mean that a person should be indifferent to everything in his life – this type of person, in his view, is a psychopath. He does not argue that we have to ignore everything and everyone, leading an apathetic life.
What he recommends, instead of being indifferent is to learn how to feel comfortable with the difference.
That means not caring what anyone thinks about your outfit or your career choice – it means defending your choices against adversity.
To face adversity, you must first learn to care about things greater than adversity – overcoming the trivial difficulties of life to worry only about the problems that are worth it. We have control over the things that matter to us, and we have to choose what we want to care about.
You have the choice of whether or not to care about the things that happen in your life. So you have to choose to care only about things that are really important.
Choose Happiness Every Day
Manson tells the story of a prince’s father who decides to spare him all human suffering. One fine day, this prince discovers what his father did and is horrified by the state of the world outside his bubble.
The outside world is very different from what happens in your daily life. This prince believed that he would achieve happiness if he lived far from all the pleasures of the world. But that did not work. This prince became known as the Buddha and his philosophy – that pain and loss are an inherent part of human existence and should not be avoided – has spread throughout the entire world and continues to be practiced until today.
The main idea is this: you can choose happiness every day of your life instead of imagining that one day you will be happy. So stop for a moment and make a deliberate choice that you will be happy right now. Stop saying “someday I’ll be happy to reach X or Y” and choose happiness now regardless of what’s going on in your life.
Stop Thinking You Are Exceptional
Just feeling good about yourself means nothing unless you have a good reason to feel good.
In the 1960s, a trend in psychology began, focused on helping people develop better self-esteem. The theory was that people who feel good about themselves do better in life and cause fewer problems. Schools, churches, and companies have begun to use this theory. People were bombarded with messages saying they were exceptional and capable of achieving great things.
The problem is that many listen to this message and believe in it – but they never do anything to be exceptional or successful. These people believe so much in themselves that they become self-destructive and narcissistic.
And sometimes the opposite is true. Some people who experience traumatic experiences or frustrations, begin to believe that they are special because of their pain. They begin to see themselves as victims. These people believe they can behave badly because they have been victimized by something beyond their control.
These behaviors lead some to take a selfish stance and make them believe the world revolves around them and their feelings.
The fact that we are constantly bombarded with examples of extraordinary and exceptional people on TV and the internet does not help either. When we compare ourselves and compare our accomplishments to what we see, we feel mediocre. That made mediocrity a new standard for failure. The simple idea that everyone can be extraordinary is impossible. Being extraordinary is not something easy, simple. It is often unreachable for most people.
Your constant effort to be extraordinary and exceptional is bad for your mental health, and the cure for this suffering is to accept that many of the things you do and who you are can be mediocre. When you accept that not everything you do needs to be extraordinary, you can enjoy the simple things in life.
Problems Can Be Good Or Bad, Values Too
Not all problems are bad. In fact, problems are necessary to achieve happiness. However, this does not mean that all problems are good. Sometimes we are faced with bad problems, and these problems are the result of bad values.
To illustrate this point, Manson uses contrasting anecdotes. The first is the story of Dave Mustaine, a guitarist who was kicked out of the band Metallica by the time they started to get big. Mustaine swore that he would start his own band and that it would be more successful than Metallica. He formed the band Megadeth and sold more than 25 million albums. However, even though he had become a famous millionaire, Mustaine still felt like a failure because Metallica has sold more than 150 million albums. To anyone, Mustaine was successful, but to himself, he was a failure.
The second story is that of Pete Best, the drummer who was kicked out of the Beatles as soon as they reached success. Best did not become a famous musician, but he considered himself successful and said that being kicked out of the Beatles was the best thing that could have happened to him because it allowed him to meet his wife and start a family. The difference between Mustaine and Best is that Best has chosen better values to measure his failures and successes.
Manson defines bad values as superstitious, socially destructive and not immediate or uncontrollable. It would be, for example, Mustaine’s desire to form a band better than Metallica but could not control which band would be more popular.
On the other hand, Manson defines good values as realistic, socially constructive, and immediate or controllable. That would be the case with Best who valued spending time with his family – something he was able to control every day of his life and which helped him to bond with his loved ones. Good values include things like honesty, creativity, and charity. Bad values include desires like becoming wealthy or being better than someone else.
Choosing good values means choosing good problems. Valuing honesty may mean having painful or unpleasant confrontations, but these confrontations will lead you to growth, while lies lead to destruction and loss of confidence. To avoid bad problems, we must spend some time defining our values and determining if they are good values.
You Have Control Over Your Life
When we feel miserable, it is often because we are not in control – someone or something is forcing us to experience many bad situations. However, when we know that our problems depend on our own choices, we feel empowered. We may still have a lot of work to do and even go through some suffering, but we feel in control of this struggle.
Manson tells the story of William James, a man who has endured many difficulties in his life, including illness. Much of what happened to James was not his fault, but he suffered for everything regardless. James was about to kill himself when he decided to experiment: for a year, he decided to take responsibility for everything that happened to him, whether it was his fault or not. He then became the father of American psychology.
Things that are out of our control happen, but Manson reminds us that the interpretation of these things is in our control. Taking responsibility for our own experiences gives us power. It also helps us realize that we can not control anyone else – we can only control how we act. That can be tricky, especially in the face of a tragedy. Events like illnesses, hurricanes, and accidents happen to people every day, and these people do not choose those events. However, we must choose how to proceed afterwards.
Recognize That You Are Wrong
Learning is not the process in which you stop being wrong to be right; it is the process in which you evolve from ‘very wrong’ to ‘somewhat wrong’. This is because learning is an endless process. Instead of being obsessed with searching for the right answer, Manson recommends that you realize that every day is ‘less wrong day’.
Certainty is a fallacy that prevents us from looking for new ways of growth. If we are sure that no one finds us attractive, we prevent ourselves from finding a romantic partner who accepts us as we are. If we are sure that a new experience will be painful, we will lose the chance to see if the experience could be positive. Our minds and emotions are often imperfect. Our brains and memories are imperfect and subject to various forms of self-sabotage. When we do not question our beliefs and ourselves, we run the risk of being destructive. Uncertainty helps us to explore and progress to be ‘less wrong’.
Manson’s advice is hard: you have to kill yourself. Not physically but psychologically. We change who we are every day as we process new information from our experiences. If a person is afraid of leaving his old self behind, he/she never develops a new self. And creating a better self than the previous one is essential for you to constantly reinvent yourself and be happy. In each situation, we must ask ourselves if we can be wrong, what would it mean if we were wrong and what kind of problem – good or bad – would result from our mistakes.
Accept Failure And Pain
You can be your own source of inspiration. You can be your own source of motivation. Whenever you want, you can act. And doing something, taking action, is your only metric of success – it means that even failure makes you move forward.
Manson is considered extremely lucky to have graduated from university in 2007, early in the financial crisis. After all, if he had not graduated from an era where the economy was at the bottom, he would never have had the courage to start his own business. Many would consider that the newly graduated Manson was a failure, but he had his own metrics of success: for him, giving up his dreams and accepting a “safe” job would mean failure. Battling for a few years without money was not a failure.
Just as there is no happiness without problems, there are no improvements without countless small failures. After all, children fall countless times when they are learning to walk, but they get up and try again. Avoiding failure is a learned behavior and one that we must prevent, grow and improve. Again, we need to set good values for ourselves-attitudes we must take every day to improve our lives.
Embracing failure will often mean suffering, discomfort, and fear. Manson gives the following advice on dealing with the fear of failure: when you have a problem, do not stand still. Do something. The answers will appear. Attitudes are not the effect of motivation but the cause of it.
Make The Right Choices
Always wanting to have everything can lead you to have nothing. This is what Manson discovered after traveling for years around the world, thinking he was living a good life. He traveled from town to town, bed-to-bed, never staying long enough to have friends or long-term relationships. But what he believed to be freedom, ended up being nothing. Manson returned to the United States, settled in a city and married a woman. Giving up the idea of freedom he had while traveling, allowed him to have a family and community that made more sense to his life.
This does not mean that traveling is not valuable or that everyone will commit and will have families. There is no formal recipe for happiness. It just means that at some point in your life, you have to choose what is important to you and forget what is not. Manson realized that family and community were important to him, and so he had to say no to travel and life on the road. Rejecting certain choices defined Manson and allowed him to create a new identity.
Accept The Fact That We Will All Die
Accepting the fact that we will all die is one of the most difficult things you will do because human beings have an inexplicable fear of death. We are the only animals capable of contemplating our own mortality, and it is very easy to be obsessed it. But, paradoxically, this leads us to waste our time. Only when we are comfortable with death can we learn how to enjoy the time we have.
And the only way to be comfortable with death is to focus on the legacy we want to leave – how you want the world to change with your presence. If you have good values, you will want to make the world better. That means believing in something greater than you and working to serve something greater. Some people find this in religion, others in the community, but the point is to let their perception of death change and let it transform their way of seeing and living their life.
The key to being a happy person is in building a set of better values. When your values are realistic, constructive and under your control, you can lead your life full of healthy challenges.
Make a list of your values and think about which ones are bad and which ones are good. Look for ways to turn your bad values into good ones. Are you deluding yourself into thinking that it is extraordinary or exceptional when in reality you have done nothing great? Think about it and turn your thoughts into actions.
The next time you face a difficult problem, do not stand still, do something about it. Let your attitudes give you inspiration and motivation instead of waiting for something to happen.