Book of the month: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

If the dirty old man of American literature, Charles Bukowski, decided to write a self-help book (and he wouldn’t), Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck would be a likely contender. Manson begins his New York Times bestseller with an epigraph of Bukowski’s literary journey, leaving his rags to riches tale behind, and focusing instead on the crux of the matter: Bukowski was a loser and he knew it. His literary genius lay in his pungent honesty, the key to his success in absolute refusal of redemption and unflinchingly honest portrayal of himself.

Manson begins his book with Bukowski to offer a strategic contrast to the wave of the contemporary ideal of “unrealistically positive expectations”. While Bukowski’s legendary bad boy persona stands out like a sore thumb in the constant strive toward self-improvement, his characteristic punch-to-the-gut style surfaces throughout Manson’s overture. In the opening passage for instance, he picks up on what has become a daily routine for many people: Somehow attracting the universe’s secret, abundant spirit for ‘good vibes’. “You try goofy visualization exercises about being more successful because you feel as though you aren’t successful enough already,” he quips.

Manson aptly illustrates the paradox of this contemporary striving towards positive affirmation, where the need to be ‘the best you’ essentially begins from a position of what you are not.

The inherently flawed struggle to improve yourself emphasizes your shortcomings by focusing on your failings. You learn to make money, because you are made to feel like you don’t have enough, and you learn to admit that you are beautiful, assuming that you’re not beautiful already. In the end, your ‘happy go lucky’ bubble is actually a reflection on what you lack as an individual.

The book is a timely intervention in the rapidly expanding genre of self-help guides, a proverbial slap on the buttcheeks of a generation caught in the vicious cycle of giving “too many f*cks”. You are told to care about how you make your money, what you chose to spend it on, and everything in between, keeping up with the neo-liberal agenda that has come to command every facet of your life.

Manson clarifies that not giving a f*ck doesn’t necessarily mean being indifferent, but instead, calls for conscious rationing of the f*cks you give when faced with adversity. While acknowledging and embracing the grime of everyday survival isn’t the key to an unattainably perfect, problem-free life, it helps you identify things that are important to you.

In a recent Huffington Post interview, Manson said, “If your emotions are constantly being pushed this way or that way, and you feel like you’re never in control, it’s probably because you’re valuing a lot of the wrong things.”

He encourages the reader to limit their exposure to mindless distractions like television, social media, and technology, to keep them from on dwelling on things don’t hold much value or meaning in your life.

In his cleverly articulated stoic/essentialist masterpiece, Manson makes the complex philosophical paradigm accessible to a new generation. Concisely summarizing essentialist philosophy, the forming tenants of Buddhism, he says,“The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a f*ck about only what is true and immediate and important.” Profound revelations are interwoven with his own personal anecdotes, sharp wit and Millennial-friendly writing style, that makes the book a quick and immensely pleasurable read.

Manson’s mandate of giving just the right amount of f*cks is a redressal of happiness, where he explains that happiness isn’t the absence of problems, but having problems that you enjoy solving. This is not to imply that there is any advantage to suffering.

Quite the opposite, really.

Manson emphasises the need to accept that suffering is an ugly part of life, and that only when you have cut through the clutter and honed your personal values, will you attain true happiness. True happiness is not a constant state of being, but instead a process of solving pertinent problems. It’s fine for life to suck sometimes when you know what is important to you.

“I read this book in two days,” says Alec McChesney, Editor in chief of The Standard, “I laughed. I cried. I felt uncomfortable because Manson looks directly at you and asks you some poignant questions that will make you reflect on your friendships, relationships and values.”

On a similar note, Vjekoslav Nemec writes, “Reading [The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck] made me reflect on my past and evaluate the yardsticks I am measuring my own life with.”

The key takeaway here is that instead of focusing on what you lack, step away from your need for validation, and focus on what actually makes you happy. Accepting that you are not special, or significant, in the way that you must be extraordinary, will liberate you from the weight of having to always perform successfully.

The first step to finding happiness is to know your own truth, the values that define who you are.

While many extraneous circumstances might affect your happiness, take responsibility for how you respond to a situation and interpret what happens to. You will be able to find happiness, only if you recognize the value of suffering. Instead of feeling entitled to happiness, and asking, “How do I stop suffering?” focus more on “Why am I suffering, and for what purpose?”

Remember, while there is no virtue in suffering, there is value in finding a resolution to your suffering.

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