In December 2017, I made a resolve to intentionally take time out of my day to read, even if I didn’t enjoy it at first. And thus, as I began to read more, I found myself falling in love again with the art of having nothing but a paper book and my imagination. All of this culminated to my resolution this year, which led me to pick up the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson at the beginning of January.
This was an unexpected choice, because if you know anything about me, it’s that I quite detest self-help books and almost guaranteed have never finished one. It turns out that I surprised myself because I somehow read it through to the very last chapter and thoroughly enjoyed it (for those wondering, yes -the title is pretty self-explanatory of what the book is about).
However, what I was not expecting was Mark Manson providing insight that was unconventional, but actually high-quality and helpful. Through many helpful points and ideas mentioned, I decided upon the 4 most important things I’ve learned from Mark’s words (albeit I had to sift through a LOT of the word ‘f*ck’ to form these 4 points).
1. “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” (pg. 9)
Mark describes this phenomenon as the backwards law: the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place.
Doesn’t it seem like all the self-help books, media, and health gurus out there are pushing messages of striving for utmost positivity? That’s what we’re all told -if you want to be happy, try to always be happy. It makes sense, right? However, Mark counters this thought by claiming that the more you try to achieve “full-time happiness”, the more lonely you feel.
“The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you will feel. Negative experiences are inevitable, and any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering.”
In this way, the only way to move forward is to realize that avoidance of the negative only breeds more negativity, and therefore, we need to intentionally recognize the negative experiences we have. And by accepting our negative experiences just as they are, such a process becomes indispensable to experiencing the true joys in life.
2. “When a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people -especially educated, pampered middle-class white people -consider ‘life problems’ are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.” (pg. 18)
After reading this statement, I was a little shocked. I think the reason for my shock was because after some time to digest it, I realized I was one of the individuals that Mark spoke about. No one likes to consider themselves as a “pampered middle-class” person.
As people living in this world, we often like to victimize ourselves and feel entitled that the world is always owing us something -that we are continuously deprived of thing after thing, whether that means more money, more job and school opportunities, more friends. We continue this stream of entitlement and never stop to think of the abundance we already have -a better education than many others and enough financial resources that allows us a roof over our heads and three meals a day.
The real danger comes from when we have too much in the world already, that we somehow have time to care about the ridiculously minute things, and we care too much about them, such as the rude waiter in that restaurant, delayed subway transit service or when our colleague or peer makes a small comment that we interpret a certain way and blow into massive proportions. Essentially, we are “giving too many f*cks in situations where f*cks do not deserve to be given”.
I resonated with this truth because I find how I can frequently complain in my head about something that makes me unhappy or about things I don’t have and be completely consumed by them, tossing around in my sleep. This thought made me stop to realize that my life is saturated in privilege and entitlement without me even being aware of it, that I could actually care so much about the small things and feel that the world owes me everything.
So where do we go from here? How do we stop whining so much about the little, unnecessary things in life? It’s much easier said than done, but a good place to start is to think about the things you genuinely value in life and what holds importance to you. And those are the things that you should save your f*cks for. As Mark ever so poignantly states,
“In our lives, we only have a limited amount of f*cks to give. We need to focus and prioritize our thoughts effectively -how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on your values. Because when you give too many f*cks -when you give a f*ck about everyone and everything -you will feel that you’re perpetually entitled to be comfortable and happy at all times, that everything is supposed to be just exactly the way you want it to be. You will see every adversity as injustice, every challenge as a failure, every inconvenience as a personal slight, every disagreement as a betrayal.
It then follows that finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Because if you don’t find that meaningful something, your f*cks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes.”
3. “Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of the day.” (pg. 98)
There’s a difference between fault and responsibility. Fault is past tense, while responsibility is present tense. As Mark explains above, fault refers to things that have already happened, decisions that have already been made; responsibility is found in our everyday decisions. In the book, Mark gives a few good examples to clarify the distinction between these two terms. If you are driving a car and hit another vehicle, you are both at fault and legally responsible to compensate the other person.
However, there are situations where we may not be at fault, but we are still responsible for them. For example, if a newborn baby shows up at your doorstep one day, it was not your fault that a baby has appeared in front of you, but you are now responsible for what happens to the baby presently. Mark emphasizes that these kind of situations -where we are not at fault but are responsible for -happen all the time and are a part of life.
Continuing from the second point, we all like to play the victim as we live in this world. If we stopped to check, every single one of us have a list of all the things our life is lacking, and even more so, we think that many of these things are not our fault and shift the blame elsewhere. While it may very well be true that certain things that go wrong in our life are not our fault, our response to the misfortune in our life is always our responsibility.
“There’s a difference between blaming someone for your situation and that person’s actually being responsible for your situation. Nobody else is ever responsible for your unhappiness but you. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things. You always get to choose the metric by which to measure your experiences.”
When you realize that how you handle an issue or situation is your own responsibility, you can break out of the vicious cycle of playing the innocent victim. When something is now your responsibility, you can’t just sit around and wait for things to get better, you now have to put in the effort and work yourself.
4. “Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.” (p. 160)
Very recently, I’ve gone through a prolonged period of stagnancy and lack of motivation in pursuing certain passions of mine -with every effort to break out of it leading to no avail. I tell myself to stop being lazy, to stop procrastinating, to just start being motivated. Despite these self “pep talks”, I still don’t make any real effort to pursue my passions, and I have no idea where to start.
As each day comes to a close and I find myself with no further advancement or epiphany, I tell myself that the next day, the inspiration will come to me. Yet as the sun rises and signals the beginning of a new day, nothing comes to me. Nothing. Nada. Only frustration from not being able to come up with the inspiration or spark that I so desperately crave. And the cycle continues.
But is it possible that I’ve been going about this the wrong way? I never really thought about it, until I read this excerpt from Mark’s book. He explains that we often see the process that emotional inspiration must first be present to give us the motivation to do something (Emotional inspiration → Motivation → Desirable action). But really, we just need to do something. Even if nothing’s there in the first place. And through even the most arbitrary actions, inspiration and motivation can emerge as a result.