Book Review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Mark Manson)

This is not the book I expected. Nor did I expect to list this on my website as a helpful book for reevaluating your life after a loss. I thought this book was going to be about not caring so much about anything and letting everything go. It is not. (Warning: lots of f*cks (no asterisk) ahead.)

This post contains affiliate links to my shop on Bookshop.org. Please read my affiliate disclaimer.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a discussion of how to persevere despite suffering and how to care more deeply about less in life. That is, how to care about the things that are really important to your life rather than about a bunch of stuff that isn’t. Manson blends Buddhist thought with pub frankness: it’s like sitting with your buddy at a bar and having them tell you the no-holds-bar truth about why you are such a fuckwit in life and how to unfuck yourself.

The basic premise of Buddhist thought is based on the First Sermon of the Buddha, known as the Four Noble Truths. These Truths are: life is suffering, the cause of suffering is craving (needing things and more of them in life), there is a release from suffering (Nirvana), and there is a path to get there (The Eightfold Path). Buddhism accepts that life is suffering; a storm interrupted by moments of quiet and lulls of happiness that, overall, sucks. The sooner we come to terms with this the better. As for happiness, Buddhists would say that eternal happiness doesn’t exist; happiness itself can exist for moments, but there is no such thing as constant and unending happiness. Our need to search for this unending happiness is what causes our suffering because we strive for what we crave: If I just get X then I will be happy. If I find Y then I will be happy. It’s all bullshit. Happiness is what happens while you’re searching for it…but because it’s fleeting, you’re more likely to miss it because you aren’t paying attention.

In short, Buddhism makes it okay to acknowledge, accept, and live alongside suffering in life.

While most self-help books ask you to plot out what makes you happy in life, Manson wants us to answer: what are we willing to suffer for in life? This seems to me to be the better question since what makes us happy can change from day to day and year to year.

Manson doesn’t offer ways to soothe your soul, to find your inner whatever, or to heighten your spiritual self. He tells it like it is and emphasizes personal responsibility in dealing with life. He’s the anti-self-helper in a way whose sage advice is: deal with the fucked up aspects of your life and figure out what you’re willing to be unhappy about in order to be content.

You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a f*ck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a f*ck about something else. It really is that simple. It’s just not easy.

-Mark Manson

Oh, and if you don’t like swearing, you won’t like his book. 

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So…what does this book have to do with grief?

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is not a book about grief. But it does provide a way to approach rebuilding your life after something really terrible happens. The book offers suggestions for assimilating pain into life by focusing on the question: What are you willing to care about now?  Or, more to the point: what are you willing to suffer for?

Manson asks us to rethink our values because what we may think is important may only be important because our distorted values support it. Are your values based in reality? Are you actually doing something helpful in the world? Are your values immediate and controllable, meaning are you in charge of how those values are interpreted and how you respond to them?

Manson emphasizes our need to take responsibility for ourselves, including our fucked up ways, and own them. What have you done that contributes to your life difficulties? The blame doesn’t fall with others all of the time; we bring things to the table that help make things go bad. The benefit of this acceptance is that by taking responsibility for our flaws and problems, we find ways in which to improve ourselves.

Loss can shake you out of complacency. It can, for many reasons, make your realize that you have been living an inauthentic life, a life motivated by the wrong things, a life where your priorities are out of whack.

Grief provides the chance to refocus ourselves and trim out the fatty bullshit from our lives that just distracts us from important things so we can get right down to the things that actually matter. Those things that matter aren’t without their stresses, but they are things we are willing to be stressed for.

Grief makes us massively uncomfortable. The negative emotions we encounter in grief make us feel bad, and we want to avoid them. But, in order to thrive post-loss, we have to bathe in these emotions and own the horrible shit that happens to us. And we have to stop giving so many fucks about everything.

By not giving a fuck, we can use grief pain as a motivator for change, for reevaluating our values and saying “I surrender this shit; I am going to focus on that instead because, fuck it, that it matters to me.” The negative emotions we have during grief can tell us where we should turn our attention and what we should care about (and what we shouldn’t). What exactly is it that we are willing to suffer for in post-loss life?

While there is something to be said for “staying on the sunny side of life,” the truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.

-Mark Manson

I really enjoyed this book, but it isn’t for everyone. If you need a softer delivery of life advice, Manson’s book isn’t for you. If you just need to hear a basic, stripped-down, view of how to makes changes then you will like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for people who just lost someone. (Don’t show up to the funeral with it.) I do recommend the book for a time when the initial shock has settled and the griever (you or someone else) is able (and ready) to come up for air. That is, that time when the dust is settling and the griever is ready to ask “Now what?”

This post contains affiliates links to my shop on Bookshop.org. Please read my affiliate disclaimer.

Published by ancarroll

Alexandra N. Carroll is an Adjunct Professor at St. Michael's College in Vermont. She writes on grief and self-care from her home in Burlington. In her spare time, Alexandra crochets, reads, and explores.

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