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

This irreverent book has a few gems, a lot of vapid pontification but a crystallized theme that is actually worth a read.

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Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art made it on my reading list in part because of its impertinent title and in part because it is a self-help book that is masquerading as not a self-help book. However, the arrow finds it mark because as someone who is vehemently against self-help books, I actually thought the underlying message here is something that will help (gasp) my self.

The tl;dr message here is threefold -

  1. In our lives we have a finite number of fucks to give (PG:13 we can only expend our energy on so many things). We can choose to give them out willy-nilly on daily minutiae or we can laser focus the energy on the things that directly derive from our core values.
  2. We inherently believe that we are special — smarter, faster, more hardworking than the average person. This level of entitlement leads to behaviour that cues us up for disappointment and victimhood because our internal monologue doesn’t align with how other people treat us. Instead, start with the assumption that you are average, and work your way up with healthy levels of humility, uncertainty and appreciation for the journey.
  3. Be mindful that you are measuring the right things as a standard to uphold. If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value or how you measure success. When we have shitty values, we essentially give fucks about things that don’t matter and make our lives worse.

Read this book if you want an easy read and a spoonful of cold, hard truths about how you go through life in an easily digestible format. Do not read this book if long stretches of meandering anecdotes and invalidated pseudo-scientific claims will frustrate you.

Meanwhile, here is a cliffs-notes version of the key takeaways from this book —

  1. “Because when you give too many fucks — you will see every adversity as an injustice, every challenge as a failure, every inconvenience as a personal slight… You will be confined to your own petty, skull-sized hell.”
  2. If you find yourself caring about trivial things you should not be caring about, there is a problem with what your priorities are. Take a closer look at those.
  3. Happiness is not an equation and should not be measured as the absence of problems. Don’t prioritize not having problems, but having good problems you actually want to solve.
  4. “An obsession and overinvestment in emotions fails us because emotions never last… Psychologists refer to this as the “hedonistic treadmill”’ — essentially don’t overindex on feelings but build the resilience to weather problems even if things suck right now.
  5. “You will often see entitled people flip between the two — either they are on the top of the world or the world is on top of them, depending on the day of the week, or how well they are doing with their particular addiction at the moment”
  6. Take responsibility for things that happen to you. Easy to slip into victimhood chic, but if you stand up and own your reality, you put yourself in the driver seat.
  7. “The responsibility/fault fallacy allows people to pass off the responsibility for solving their problems to others. This ability to alleviate responsibility through blame gives people a temporary high and a feeling of moral righteousness”
  8. “We don’t always know what a positive and negative experience is (in realtime). Some of the most difficult and stressful moments of our lives also end up end up being the most gratifying and motivating”
  9. “Don’t be special, don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator”
  10. “Happiness comes from caring about something greater than ourselves… And entitlement strips this away from us. The gravity of entitlement sucks all attention inwards, towards ourselves, causing us to feel as if we are at the center of all the problems in the universe… and as alluring as it is, entitlement isolates us. Our curiosity and excitement for the world turns upon itself and reflects our own biases and projections onto every person we meet and every event we experience”

Written by

Uber Product | ex-Microsoft | ex-Startup | Book Worm | Feminist | Bollywood connoisseur

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