The Philosophy of Fucking Manson (or How to Live a Purposeful Life)

Fabio Strässle
Sep 29, 2019 · 9 min read
Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

It is one of the most fascinating things to look at multiple works of an authors and discover the underlying philosophy and principles behind it. Over the last couple of days I did just that with the books of Mark Manson, a successful blogger turned bestselling author. The two books that informed this essay are The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and Everything is Fucked — A Book about Hope. While categorized often as books of self-improvement they are both deeply philosophical while being written in a highly entertaining way. Mark offers a counter intuitive life philosophy that not only provides insights into how to live ones own life but also how to make the whole world better off.

The fundamental problem

“One day, you and everyone you love will die. And beyond a small group of people for an extremely brief period of time, little of what you say or do will ever matter.”

— Mark Manson, Everything is Fucked

This is uncomfortable. This hurts. But it is true.

Mark argues that all we do in life, all our beliefs and actions, are ultimately an attempt to avoid this fact. To avoid the resulting hopelessness and find sense in our existence we need to feel relevant. We need a purpose. We need to feel that things matter. Because without it, what’s the point of it all? We would fall in a deep hole of hopelessness and this is the place where depression and anxiety lie.

All of philosophy is based on questions. First you need a good question so you can find good answers. Albert Camus wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus:

“The only serious question in life is whether to kill yourself or not.”

He found an answer (it was not “yes”, because he obviously did not kill himself) in embracing rather than rejecting the meaninglessness and absurdity of life. Mark not only agrees but argues that by further choosing the right values and being better as an individual we can make the world a better place as well.

Because no matter how many times Steven Pinker and others tell us that life is better than ever before, we sure as hell don’t feel like it. This is the paradox of progress. Mark cites studies that show how anxiety, depression and loneliness are at record highs and humanity’s trust in itself at a record low. The reason for this is because of the way that hope works.

Hope and hopelessness

Hope does not care about the past or the present it only cares about the future. We need to belief that there is potential for things getting better and that there is a way to get ourselves there. If this is not the case things feel hopeless. Because of this, it doesn’t matter how much progress we have made, in fact, it makes things even worse since we have more to loose.

To build and maintain hope we need three things:

  1. A sense of control

We need a sense of control to avoid feeling powerless and helpless. We need to be able to strive for something we value since otherwise, what’s the point? Finally, a community to share it with because humans are social creatures and we cannot live in isolation. If any one of these elements is not given, we loose hope.

For Mark, building a better world and solve our biggest problems begins with us, one by one. The individual is at the core of his philosophy when he writes

“the only logical way to improve the world is through improving ourselves.”

So that is where we will start.


Gaining a sense of control

As with all of Mark’s advice you have to start by recognizing a counter intuitive truth: You are fundamentally governed by your emotions or what he calls the ‘feeling brain’. Your rational self or ‘thinking brain’ is merely a side character who thinks it is running the show (also called rationalizing). This goes completely against most of our cultural upbringing which teaches us that we must use rationality to overcome and dominate our emotions. Everyone who tried to instill a healthy habit once and had to struggle and use countless tricks to actually make it stick can attest to the difficulty of such a task. Emotions are, well, emotional and there is no point in reasoning them away. You cannot argue rationally with your emotional self. Hence, “emotional problems can only have emotional solutions.”

Both ‘brains’ need each other though, because without the ‘thinking brain’, the ‘emotional brain’ would just do whatever the fuck it wants. If a typical day of impulsive thoughts and ‘ideas’ that bubble up in my brain are any indication this would not turn out well. And without the ‘emotional brain’ we would not get anything done because there would be no motivation to do so.

The two ‘brains’ need to work together. How? It is a bit like parenting. The parent lets the child experiment and try things in a safe environment. The child can make full use of its boundless energy and motivation without hurting itself too badly. This is essentially what the ‘thinking brain’ should provide for the ‘feeling brain’, a safe and beneficial environment that leads to the best possible results.

Finding a good purpose

A purpose is essentially something we strive for that we consider to be of value. Hence, your purpose is fundamentally determined by your values which are guiding your life. These can be good or bad depending on what their outcomes are and how they make you feel.

Your emotions are a sophisticated signaling system developed through thousands of years of evolution to make sure that you survive and reproduce. If you are doing things that are not helping you in those missions you get ‘punished’ with bad emotions and vice versa. The thing is that you will never arrive at a point in your life where there is no pain and bad emotions. Because if that would be the case you would stop growing and changing and that is the last thing evolution wants. So you find pain in ‘lesser’ problems or first-world-problems. Consequentially, you land on the hedonic treadmill, returning to a baseline of happiness eventually every time no matter how great or terrible your week was. Happiness comes from continuously improving things, solving problems and hence, is no final state.

The crux is that the desire for positive emotions is in itself a negative emotion — a feeling of lack. The desire for avoidance of negative emotions is also a negative emotion. Mark calls this Catch-22 the ‘Feedback Loop from Hell’. Combine this with the current culture which fetishizes success and the exceptional and you got the recipe for entitlement and unhappiness. Everyone thinks they must be exceptional, in fact, they deserve to be. If all our self-worth is tied to our degree of being above average then we have a problem, because this is by definition impossible for the majority of us.

You need to recognize two things:

  1. People who become great at something recognize and understand first that they are mediocre and that they could be much better if they put in the work.

Life sucks sometimes and this is okay. Pain is a normal part of life and cannot be extinguished. We should accept this and stop fighting it, instead, choose pain that is worth it. You cannot give a fuck about everything. Re-orient yourself by choosing what you want to give a fuck about and what you are willing to suffer for. As Mark’s fictional hero Disappointment Panda mentions in one of the books before walking off to the horizon:

“Don’t hope for a life without problems. There is no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”

Self-awareness and choosing good values

It all starts with self-awareness to figure out what we actually value. First, we have to understand our emotions and actually realize what we feel. Especially considering our blind spots and developing ways to express our emotions appropriately (instead of throwing a tantrum). This is already surprisingly hard for a lot of people. The next step is to ask why we feel what we feel, figuring out the root cause for our emotions. Where are they coming from and why do I react this way towards this situation?

Only after we completed these two steps are we able to recognize the underlying values governing our lives. Either they are conscious or unconscious. You want them to be conscious because only then can you chose the ones that best suit you and fulfill you.

Bad values are for example the pursuit of pleasure, material success, and always wanting to be right. They are bad because they are socially destructive, lie not in our immediate control, and are not based on reality. You values should be the opposite:

Good values are

  1. Based on reality

Mark describes his top five vales in his book Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, they are taking responsibility, acknowledging ones own ignorance, willingness to discover flaws in oneself, having clear boundaries, and grasping ones own mortality. I think those are good values to have, but I also think we all should decide which ones we want as signpost for our own lives. Make a conscious decision which values you choose, your happiness depends on it.

Communities and Conflict

Humans are social animals. This expresses itself through the fact that it is impossible to completely discount other people. We all influence each other and through the internet we now have so much more people to compare ourselves to. Furthermore, our values have a gravitational pull to them and the stronger someone holds a value the stronger this pull is. We are naturally drawn to these people and values, because if so many people belief it so strongly there must be something to it, no? This leads us to form groups and communities around values. All religions, ideologies and interpersonal groups are essentially value systems of different groups. The stronger the values are shared by a group, the stronger the group follows its purpose while not letting outside forces disrupt its path.

The different values systems and accompanying groups create an ‘us vs. them’ dynamic. This is encouraged by demonizing the other group and even defining values that directly go against other value systems. This dynamic is what can lead to conflicts between groups. These conflicts are essential for the groups existence, because it further creates purpose, namely showing others ‘the true way’ and convincing them of the ‘true’ vales. This hope, namely to make the world better by expanding and spreading the values, binds the group together.

As previously mentioned, you cannot give a fuck about everything. You have to be against something. Otherwise, you lack identity.

“(…) our psychological makeup is such that our only choices in life are either perpetual conflict or nihilism — tribalism or isolation, religious war or the Uncomfortable Truth.”

— Mark Manson, Everything is Fucked


How you can make the world better

So by now you might feel pretty hopeless and that is the point. Mark rejects hope as a useful compass. Don’t hope for things getting better, be better. Be better by accepting the Uncomfortable Truth and inherent pain and suffering of life. “Pain is the source of all value”, because without pain and loss nothing would mean anything.

Be better by having good values that make the pain worth it for you. Be antifragile in your ways of dealing with negative emotions by not avoiding them but listening to the signals and becoming better because of it. Be better by choosing freedom through not giving a fuck about the things you don’t value and not letting yourself be constrained by your inability to tolerate negative emotions. Nietzsche’s concept of ‘amor fati’ expresses this anti-hope stance perfectly:

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary — but love it.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

If you change these things about yourself you will have an impact on other people as well. The gravitational pull of your good values will attract others. Changes on the micro affect the macro and the hopelessness of the modern world will diminish. Not by giving hope but by providing a more sustainable alternative.


Marks books are refreshing through their counter intuitiveness. Of course, I have not covered more than a fraction of the points made in the two books and you might not agree with all of them (I don’t). Still I hope I have distilled the main themes and it provokes some thoughts.

Mark was influenced by some of the philosophers I personally admire (Nietzsche and Camus). Readers interested in the topics of purpose, meaning, ethics, and virtue will, I think, enjoy those thinkers as well as Mark’s books.

Fabio Strässle

Written by

Extroverted intuitive by nature, analytical introvert by training. If something fascinates me I dive in and learn about it. https://www.fabiostrassle.me/

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