(book review) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

TL:DR: Giving so many f*cks about so many things–especially about things that don’t matter–will drive us crazy and make us unhappy. This book is not only incredibly dense with wisdom but also incredibly well written and edited. It really feels like every word was chosen and place carefully, so as to make the precise point intended. I highly recommend the book, and think you will find value paying attention to each and every word.

We live in a world that is constantly berating us to do more, eat more, make more, sleep more, exercise more, buy more, own more, etc. Here in the United States, the world seems to want us to give too many fucks about too many things. As Mr. Manson suggests, this is probably because the U.S. is a capitalist society and this is good for business.

Don’t let the title fool you. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson is a book full of deep insights and smart wisdom that can help you live a better life. Mark does an amazing job of examining behavior that hurts us, so that we can stop repeating our mistakes. There are so many lessons but some of my favorite are:

Life is about choosing which pain you want to endure. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that life is about choosing which pain you want to endure. There is no one choice that is pain free. There are always pros and cons to each choice. You just have to pick the choice for which the cons are something you are willing or enjoy enduring.

Our plentiful society is anxiety inducing. Much of the angst we feel is a result of the vast range and number of opportunities we have in our society. The more we have opportunities we have, the more things we have to measure up to and feel worse about ourselves.

We have really become the victims of our own success. Stress related health issues, anxiety disorders and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the past 30 years. Despite the fact that everyone has a flatscreen tv and can have our groceries delivered.

We have so much f*cking stuff and so many opportunities, we don’t know what to give f*ck about anymore.

Our ability to think about our own thoughts makes things worse. Humans are the unique animal that can think about its own thoughts. Other animals just feel and react to that feeling. As humans, however, we worry about worrying, get more anxious about feeling anxious, get angry about getting angry, get more sad about feeling sad, etc. This ability to think about thoughts and feelings means that we compounding our negative feelings. This is why it is so important to not give a f*ck, because doing so means that you stop that recursive loop and stop hating yourself for your feelings. By not giving a f*ck we simply don’t care that we are sad, angry, anxious, etc. and we move on. “We should accept that the world is f*cked and move on, because it has always been that way and it always will be.” says Manson.

Wanting a positive experience is itself a negative experience, while accepting one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

When we give too many f*cks, we set ourselves up for perpetual and unnecessary disappointment. 

When you give a f*ck about everyone and everything, you will feel that you are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and  happy at all times. that everything is supposed to be just the way you f*cking want it to be! This is a sickness, and it will eat you alive. You will feel that you have the right for have everything feel the way you want it to be!  You will see every adversity as an injustice… Every challenge as a failure…

Every inconvenience as personal slight…

Every disagreement as a betrayal.


There is a subtle art to not giving a f*ck; and it doesn’t mean being indifferent. “There’s a name for someone who finds no emotion or meaning in anything…a psychopath.”  Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent. It means being comfortable with being different.  Since being indifferent requires figuring about what matters to you, being indifferent requires figuring out who you are and want to be. And since understanding oneself to this degree and what our guiding principles will be is difficult, Mr. Manson properly notes that:

Learning how to focus on what matters…what matters to you, is extremely hard to do; but it is the most worthwhile thing we can work on in our life.

People who act indifferent are probably the saddest form of a human being possible.

People who act indifferent are actually lying about their difference. They actually give too many f*cks about too many things and are too afraid to speak up and act on their own views. The bellow quote from the book’s preface best sums up the driving motivation of the book:

There’s absolutely nothing admirable or confident about indifference. People who are indifferent are lame and scared. They’re couch potatoes and internet trolls. In fact, indifferent people often attempt to be indifferent because–in realit–they give way too many f*cks. They give a f*ck about what everyone thinks of their hair, so they never bother washing or combing it. They give a f*ck about what everyone thinks about their ideas, so they hide behind sarcasm and self-righteous snark. They’re afraid to let anyone get close to them so they imagine themselves as some special unique snowflake who has problems that nobody else would ever understand.


Indifferent people are afraid of the world and the repercussions of their choices. That’s why they don’t make any meaningful choices.  They hide behind a gray, emotionless pit of their own making.  Self-absorbed and self-pittying.  Perpetually distracting themselves from this unfortunate thing demanding their time and energy called life.


Because here’s a sneaky truth about life. There’s no such thing as not giving a f*ck. You must give a f*ck about something. It’s part of our biology to always care about something and therefore to always give a f*ck. The question then is: What do we give a f*ck about?  What are we choosing to give a f*ck about?  and How can we choose not to give a f*ck about what ultimately does not matter?



Why do we believe what we believe?

I was watching a story about a guy who pretended to be a guru, and successfully attracted numerous followers. The reporters interviewed one of the followers, who admitted something very interesting.  She said “I wanted to believe he was a great guru”. This struck me because I have been thinking about the power of our own states of mind and how this shapes our thoughts.  We all agree that for many things, perception is reality. We believe 2+2 =4 because it can be proven, but so much of what we encounter and choose to believe is a function of what we perceive. We can’t know everything for a fact, so we must choose what to believe is truth. As a result, I am extremely interested people’s perceptions and how they are manipulated. An actor for example could pretend to be a doctor, and I might believe him to be a real doctor.

But, going back to what that woman said, I find it very interesting that what we perceive, is a function of both what we want to see or what we want to be reality, as much as it is a function of how well the actor plays a convincing doctor.  In the case of the guru and this follower, she wanted to believe that a guru and wise master existed, and that she was fortunate to know him, and that following him would lead to her happiness; but the guy was also a good actor.   The question in my mind is what which force was more influential…her desire to believe or the actors ability to portray, convince, persuade, etc.

In another example, I think about how a person might think that it makes sense for a doctor to be confident and borderline arrogant, and as a result would not believe an actor portraying a doctor who behaves or speaks insecurely.

So, what is the takeaway?  I think there is two.  The first is that–to avoid being swindled by a fake–we should be aware of our desires to believe in something, and how this clouds our judgment.   The second takeaway is that if we want to be convincing, we should consider what our audience wants to believe in and portray this.

Do people have children as means for dealing with our own mortality?

Do people have children as means for dealing with our own mortality?  Not that this would be a bad thing at all, but does it possibly explain our decision to have children and other deep motivations behind human behavior.

For a while now, I have been curious to understand why some people want to have children and raise a family, and why others do not.   We don’t really live in an age where we need children to do manual labor on the farm anymore so why do some people want something even when it–in many ways–it makes no rational sense.   For parents, children, after all, mean: more responsibility, less  freedom, emotional vulnerability and suffering caused by the relationship with them and their eventual extended family members, etc.

So why, amidst all these reasons to not have children, do people want them?  Since I believe we are rational creatures, we must be having childrent because we essentially feel that doing so will bring us more pleasure than pain.

Then I watched an interview with futurist Jason Silva, and he said some things about human behavior and psychology that I think make a lot of sense and that I had been wondering about for some time.

I think one of the ways children generate pleasure for parents is by helping parents deal with something every human undeniably struggles with: our own mortality.  We know we will die some day, but we do not like this; and so we do things to try and deal with this uncomfortable truth.   One way to deal with it is to rebel, and to try controlling it.    We can try to freeze ourselves in sub-zero ice chambers (Walt Disney) or we can get lost in an experiences that provides an escape or distraction from thinking about the fact that we only have so much time (movies and stories), or we can try and do things that make us feel like we can escape death (daredevils), or, I argue, we can try and create things that will live on after we die.   And I think having children–at some level–serves this selfish need inside us.   In addition, I think this need to create something that will live on beyond us, partially explains the attraction people have to:

  • writing books or blogs (putting their thoughts/voice into a medium that will live forever on Google’s servers somewhere)
  • create organizations or trusts that, legally, can have an infinite life
  • volunteer as mentors to younger people or children
  • join political movements that leave lasting change on something that will exist after we die (environmental movements)

Ultimately, I agree with Jason Silva.  I think all humans want to leave our mark in this world.  We want to feel like we matter; that we have a purpose.  I also  think our struggle of dealing with our humanity and mortality is so core and fundamental to who we all are that it is worth exploring and understanding further no matter who we are; and then make the world a more enjoyable place for us all.   As business person, for example, I wonder how I can create and manage a business in a way that makes people feel like they matter?   Can I listen to employees and customers better?  Can I involve them in the decision making processes such as product development, which results in tangible market offerings that people can point to and know they were a part of?   Indeed, I think we are now seeing modern management practices doing just this, and as a result, seeing improved productivity with employees and greater satisfaction and brand equity with customers; all because they are serving our fundamental human need to feel like we made a lasting difference on our world, and that we are not just some kind of puppet being controlled by some mystical god.

How do you deal with your own mortality?  Do you embrace it?  Do you ever think about it?  I realize it’s probably not healthy to be thinking constantly about our eventual death, but we should probably not pretend like it is not going to happen.  What do you think?   Leave a comment on this post.

Paradoux of Choice

In our quest to maximize freedom, we maximize choice, but is this maximization of choice leading to maximization of happiness?

In his TedTalk, Psychologist Barry Swartz helps me understand why I hate large restaurant menus.  He articulates nicely, ideas that strongly suggest maximizing choice does not maximize our happiness; rather it is in fact reducing our happiness!   I don’t think there is anything more important to ponder than things that directly affect our collective (he mentions the possibility of Pareto Inefficient economies) and individual  happiness, and I highly recommend watching the entire 19 minute TedTalk (below); but some of the major takeaways are below.

The cost of choices includes:

  • paralysis, the resulting procrastination, and the resulting consequences of not taking action create huge costs for individuals
  • the opportunity costs of not choosing another available choice, subtracts from the satisfaction of making the choice that I made
  • with so many choices, we expect one of those choices to be a perfect fit; and high expectations that prevent us from being presently surprised and “The key to happiness is low expectations!”

Some takeaways:

  • “Everything was better back when things were worse”
  • “…pretty confident we have long since passed the point [number of choices] where choices are adding to our welfare”

“That feeling can create its own reality.”

Two very curious psychological phenomena have been whirling around in my mind when I started to see how much of human behavior might be explained by them.     The first is the concept of “loss aversion”, which explains we often act in ways that minimize our expected losses rather than maximize our expected gains.   The second phenomena are self-fulfilling prophecies.  And interestingly, these may be related.

Loss aversion

Why is that one who loses $100 will lose more satisfaction than another person will gain satisfaction from a $100 windfall?   I might have some ideas that explain why we are this way, but simply being aware of this curious psychological phenomena is probably most important.  Look around and ask whether you think this phenomena can explain the human behavior, and I think you still start to see how well it explains a ton of behavior.   Loss aversion might explain why we do not ask for promotions if we fear that such being denied such a request might result in a damaged reputation within the firm.  Loss aversion might explain why we do not ask people on dates if our minds know subconsciously that we could end up feeling less confident about ourselves if the person says no; and this is even amidst the fact that our ego would probably grow by a far greater magnitude if  the person said yes.

Self-fulfilling prophecies

How often do we fear something happening, and then–out of this fear–act in such a way that then leads to that thing actually happening?!   Take for example, a person who fears that his/her lover is cheating on them.  This person then starts to act in a very insecure way.  The person starts to ask all kinds of weird questions, in weird ways, maybe starts acting weird too.  This then leads to the person’s lover becoming disenchanted by the person and then actually cheating or breaking off the relationship, which is what the person feared to begin with.  I find this incredibly ironic and, at first, very saddening.

Feelings and emotions make us humans interestingly complex, thinking creatures.  In a recent conversation/interview with Charlie Rose, Warren Buffet said:

That feeling can create its own reality.

The topic for Buffet and Rose’s conversation happened to be the U.S. consumer sentiment, and consumer’s faith and belief in the U.S. financial system.   Here the self-fulfilling prophecy to which Buffet was referring, would be the consumer’s fear that the banks were not trustworthy and that they would fail, which would cause many consumers to pull their money from the bank, which would then lead to the bank actually failing.   This is another example of how our feeling scared of something leads to behavior that ironically causes that thing to actually happen.    This realization had me pretty scared and saddened until I read an article that featured positive psychology ideas from Ryan Jacoby.   I then realized that self-fulfilling prophecies can work in the opposite manner as well. For example, if I believe that what I want to happen, will happen, I will behave and act according to this belief, thus leading to the desired thing actually happening.  Take the bank run story, for example.  If we believe that the banks will not fail, then we will leave our money in the bank, and we won’t cause a bank run, which would cause the banks to fail.  If we believe our lover is not cheating, we will act trusting, normal, and loving, and our lover will have no reason to seek companionship from someone else.

Can “loss aversion” explain economic recessions?

Citing the U.S.’s rapid recovery from 1930’s depression, Buffet says the American economic system works very well, but we will have have recessions (we have had ~15 of them since the Great Depression).  This got me thinking…Are our economic recessions also the result of human behavior and the psychological phenomenon whereby wealth is created and then because people fear the loss of this newly acquired wealth, they withdraw or reduce investments, which then slows down the economy because it inherently means taking money/capital out of the economic system?


Happiness Advantage

Due these 5 things daily for 2 minutes each day, for 21 days straight, and "rewire your brain" to not only become more happy but also to take advantage of your happiness!

Want more of an explanation and fully detailed and convincing argument for why you should do these things, watch Shawn Achor’s TEDx Bloomington talk.



The Fun Theory

Sure it was an awarding-winning and brilliant word of mouth marketing communication idea and brand marketing strategy; but I love The Fun Theory project for what it proves about us as humans.    It shows us that no matter how badly we would like to think of ourselves as too serious or tough for fun, deep down inside, we all want to laugh, smile, and have fun!

Below is a video clip of one of my favorite installations from the project.  Cheers, Volkswagen for such a cool idea!

Below is a quote from Volkswagen, taken from the Fun Theory website:

This site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.

To see videos of more installations or to learn more about the project, go to http://www.thefuntheory.com

some wisdom about our society and us as social beings

Use the below link to watch video of a author David Brooks speak about some interesting human behaviors and psychological traits.  You only need to watch the first 30 minutes of the 60 minute long video, because the rest is just him answering not-so-interesting questions from the audience.  For me, some of the highlights from his talk include:

Are you struggling on how to choose between two choices?  …let your unconcious mind play a bigger role in the decision, and leave it to a coin flip.  Get a coin, assign each side of the coin to one choice, flip it, and let the flipping of the coin tell you how you should choose.  Do this by listening to your reaction to the outcome of the coin flip, not the actual result of the coin flip itself.”

Research shows that new born babies who do not receive hands on care (the physical touching from nurses and parents) are more likely to die than those who do.  This reflects our innate need to feel emotional connections to other people.  We are social beings.


American Beauty

1/23/2010  2:20pm

The title sounds so cliche, but the movie’s content is anything but.  I am watching American Beauty and realize it profoundly affected the way I think.  Then when I get to the “plastic floating bag” scene where Ricky is showing Jan the most beautiful thing he ever filmed–a plastic grocery bag and Fall leaves are being blown around in cyclone of wind in the corner of two brick walls–and I realize that what keen observation of things we see all the time but don’t look for, is beautifully rewarding and calming (the American Beauty screen writer described the scene so ellogquentally as “just a minute away from a snowfall”), because it shows us the beauty in the common things.

Don’t Buddhists practice this philosophy of life, whereby they are keen to everything, from simple color to the presence of grass or the shade provided by trees.

passed this level of skill, advantage is all in the head

I am not sure if the idea I describe in this post is radical or even original, but I think it important enough to write about, so here you go.

I am watching the “Top 5 Best of Worst Calls” production on the Tennis Channel, and the commentators  just mentioned how Blake went from being ranked #4 in the world going into the Beijing Olympics, but then has struggled to stay in the top 20 rankings ever since he lost a Beijing Olympics match, wherein the 5th worst call was made against him.

The tennis match sportscasters and sports psychologists say that it is not uncommon for a player’s performance to deteriorate relative to his opponent’s  when a the judges/referees fail make a poor call against him.   This made me think that this kind of event illustrates the importance of a player’s state of mind is to his winning matches.    Then it made me think that, of the worldwide set of professional tennis players, a smaller subset of the top tennis players is established–on average–by the skills of these top players being markedly better than the non-top players; but that within the subset of top players (where the variability of player’s physical skill level is small), it is the top player’s mental state of mind and his ability to control it that more greatly affects his ability to beat another top player.

As I write this entry, I am also polishing up MBA application essays, and I thought that business managers and leaders can be segregated in similar fashion.  First, by a task based skill level, and then by mental state of mind, and more importantly, by their ability to control it.   That is, mental toughness is the most distinguishing trait amongst top managers because all managers are bound to encounter challenges, defeat, and failure.