Work deadlines, payment due dates, moms’ school Whatsapp groups, keeping up with the Joneses, mom-in-law opinions, updating Facebook, the blockbuster movie missed, the bigger birthday party for the kid, the neighbour’s bigger car and better looking spouse – there are so many things that we worry about in our everyday life. Conventional wisdom nudges us to be our better selves, to try and be happy all the time, be our perfect selves, chase the elusive dream of being extraordinary. One look at the contents of Mark Manson’s book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life and you know that all your life beliefs are about to go for a toss.
You are not special. You’re wrong about everything. Don’t aspire to be happier, slimmer, richer, – one after the other, Manson punches holes in the conventional self improvement narrative. The pressure to succeed, the compulsion to be the best and the demand to be happy all the time aren’t the right things to aim for, according to him.
A New York Best Seller #6, the book gives the mantra for a living a happy life in the 21st century by subverting all that traditional, motivational, self-help wisdom offers you. And that’s big since the self improvement industry is pegged at $11 billion in the US alone. Manson’s logic is pretty simple: if you go looking for happiness or fulfilment, it means that you don’t have it yet. And the more you look for it, the more unhappy you get. He calls it the Feedback Loop from hell. Here are a few things that really struck a chord with me in the book:
The Feedback Loop from Hell! The more you try to be happy, the more you remain in a state of unhappiness. And being perennially unhappy makes you unhappy. It’s the same with things like anxiety or getting rich. And I can definitely vouch for the former. When I get anxious about something and can’t calm myself down, I become anxious about being anxious and not being able to handle challenges calmly.
Don’t try: And the solution to get out of the loop is to let go – it is liberating, light and unburdening. Don’t try to be everything that you should or expected to be. Reserve your energy and thereby your f*cks for things that really and truly matter.
Happiness is a problem: Happiness can’t be a constant state of mind. We need to work towards it. Manson says,
“Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress”
So what do we do? How to we cope with the overwhelming challenges of life? Manson suggests that we decide what is of value to us and determine how are we going to measure that. If I value money, my metric for success will be how rich I am. If I measure my success in comparison to the richest person on earth, I’ll forever consider myself a failure. I need to change my value or metric or, maybe, both.
“The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a f*ck about only what is true and immediate and important”
Manson talks about 4 values which is things are the beneficial to have in life.
1. Responsibility: We should take responsibility for everything that happens in life. We may not cause or like the unpleasant things in our lives, but we are still responsible for how we react to and interpret bad situations.
2. Uncertainty: “Growth is an iterative process”. Question your beliefs all the time and not just blindly operate through your prejudices all the time.
3. Failure: If we truly love to do something, we should be willing to fail at it. We improve as we work through our failures and the magnitude of our success is a result of all the failures we have been through.
4. Rejection: We need to learn to reject something in order to give importance to things that truly matter to us. Choosing involves rejecting. Say no to things that aren’t important.
This book isn’t a guide to greatness but it definitely makes us feel better by the end of it. We realise that it’s okay to just choose what matters to us and finally stop worrying about the world. We can retain what we value and choose how we choose to define that value. Unlike traditional wisdom which asks us to strive for happiness and be accepting of what comes our way, Mason tells us to give up chasing happiness and reject what makes us unhappy.
This book was a real eye opener for me. I read it from cover to cover twice since I found it so affirming and comforting.
(This is not a paid review. I often share my thoughts and learnings from books I read)