The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

Mark Manson



Feb 20, 2022

Read time

15 minutes


The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (first published in 2016) is the second book by blogger and author Mark Manson. In it, Manson argues that life's struggles give it meaning, and that the mindless positivity of typical self-help books is neither practical nor helpful.

Don’t Try

The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more-buy more, own more, make more, … Fuck more. You should BE more.

The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.

The Feedback Loop from Hell

_Feedback loops from hell are emotions that are being triggered by the same emotion. _

You get anxious about doing something. Now, you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Finally, you’re becoming anxious about being anxious.

These feedback loops are part of the beauty of humanity. We can think about our thoughts. Social media is also a big part of our feedback loops. If we are sad, we can be bombarded with a thousand pictures about how cool someone’s life (not) is.

The desire for a more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience

Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.

Be willing to stare failure in the face and shove your middle finger back at it. Say “Fuck it”, not to everything in life, but rather to everything unimportant. Reserve your fucks for what truly matters.

You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others. You just can’t.

To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

When we’re young, everything is new and exciting and everything matters so much. Therefore, we give tons of fucks about everything and everyone. As we get older, with the benefit of experience, we begin to notice that most of these sorts of things have a little lasting impact on our lives. Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. You should try it sometime!

Happiness Is a Problem

The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy.

The premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and are necessary components to creating consistent happiness.

Happiness comes from solving problems. To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action; it’s an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you, not something that you magically discover in a top-ten article or from any specific guru or teacher. Happiness is a constant work-in-progress.

Unfortunately, for many people, life doesn’t feel that simple. That’s because they fuck things up in at least one of two ways:

  1. Denial: Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place.

  2. Victim Mentality: Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when in fact could. Instead, they blame others for their problems.

Emotions Are Overrated

Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. That’s it. They’re feedback mechanisms telling us that something is either likely right or likely wrong for us.

If you feel crappy it’s because your brain is telling you that there’s a problem that’s unaddressed or unresolved. Negative emotions are a call to action.

But then there are people who overidentify with their emotions. Everything is justified for no other reason than they felt it. Decision-making based on emotional intuition, without the aid of reason to keep it in line, pretty much always sucks.

An obsession and overinvestment in emotion fail us for the simple reason that emotions never last. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never-ending pursuit of “something else” (Ex. A new house, new relationship, another child, …). And despite all of our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we stared: inadequate.

You Are Not Special

But If I’m Not Going to Be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the point?

It has become an accepted part of our culture today to believe that we are all destined to do something truly extraordinary. We all deserve greatness. The fact that this statement is inherently contradictory after all if everyone were extraordinary, then by definition no one would be extraordinary – is missed by most people. Being “average” or normal has become the new standard of failure.

A lot of people are afraid to accept mediocrity because they believe that if they accept it, they’ll never achieve anything, never improve and that their life won’t matter.

The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement and think they could be so much better.

The vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.

The Value of Suffering

Manson begins this chapter by telling the story of the Japanese intelligence agent Hiroo Onoda, who did not surrender at the second World War's end in August 1945. After the war ended Onoda spent 29 years hiding in the Philippines.

Humans often choose to dedicate large portions of their lives to seemingly useless or destructive causes. On the surface, these causes make no sense. It’s hard to imagine how Onoda could have been happy on that island for almost 30 years – living off insects and sleeping in the dirt. Yet, later in his life, Onoda said he regretted nothing. He claimed that he was proud of his choices and his time spent on the battlefield.

The suffering means something; it fulfills some greater cause. And because it means something, we are able to endure it, or perhaps even enjoy it.

If suffering is inevitable and unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not “How do I stop suffering?” but “Why am I suffering–for what purpose?”

The Self-Awareness Onion

Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you’re going to start crying at inappropriate times.

The first layer of the Self-Awareness Onion is a simple understanding of one’s emotions. “This is when I feel happy/sad/angry/…”. Unfortunately, there are many people who suck at even this most basic level of self-awareness. We all have emotional blind spots. It takes years of practice and effort to get good at identifying blind spots in ourselves and expressing the affected emotions appropriately. But it is important and worth the effort.

The second layer of the onion is the ability to ask why we feel certain emotions. This helps us understand the root cause of the emotions that overwhelm us. Once we understand that, we can ideally do something to change it.

The third and deepest level of the self-awareness onion is one who is full of f*cking tears, says Manson. It is about our personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? By what standard am I judging or valuing myself and everyone around me? Value underlies everything we are and do.

_People may perceive that they feel lonely. But when they ask themselves why they feel lonely, they tend to come up with a way to blame others–everyone else is mean, or no one is cool or smart enough to understand them–and thus they avoid their problem instead of seeking to solve it. _

For many people, this passes as “self-awareness”. If you are able to go deeper and look at their underlying values, they would see that their original analysis was based on avoiding responsibility for their own problems. Most self-help gurus ignore this deeper level of self-awareness as well. They take people who are miserable because they want to be rich, and then give them all sorts of advice on how to make more money, all the while ignoring important values-based questions like “Why do they feel such a need to be rich in the first place?”.

Here are the steps to self-question yourself to learn about your personal values:

  • Take a moment and think of something that’s really bugging you
  • Now ask yourself why it bugs you. (Chances are the answer will involve a failure of some sort)
  • Then take that failure and ask why it seems “true” to you;
    1. What if that failure wasn’t really a failure?
    2. What if you’ve been looking at it the wrong way?

We get to control our problems based on how we choose to think about them, the standard by which we choose to measure them.

If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.

Shitty Values

There are a handful of common values that create really poor problems for people–problems that can hardly be solved.

  1. Pleasure

Pleasure is a false God. Research shows that people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. But pleasure, while necessary in life (in certain doses, isn’t, by itself, sufficient. Pleasure is not the cause of happiness; rather, it is the effect. If you get your values and metrics right, then pleasure will naturally occur as a by-product.

  1. Material Success

Many people measure their self-worth based on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive. Another issue with overwhelming success is the danger of prioritizing it over other values, such as honesty, nonviolence and compassion. When people measure themselves not by their behavior, but by the status symbols they’re able to collect, they are probably shallow assholes.

  1. Always Being Right

As human beings, we’re wrong pretty much constantly, so if your metric for life success is to be right–-well, you’re going to have a difficult time rationalizing all of the bullshit to yourself. People like this prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes and lack the ability to take on new perspectives.

  1. Staying Positive

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. Constant positivity is a form of avoidance and can lead to prolonged negative emotions and emotional dysfunction. It’s really simple: Things go wrong. The trick to best deal with negative emotions goes as follows:

  • Express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner
  • Express them in a way that aligns with your values

One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful. - Freud

Defining Good and Bad Values

Good values are:

  • Reality-based
  • Socially constructive
  • Immediate and controllable

Examples: Honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself/others, self-respect, curiosity, charity

Bad values are:

  • Superstitious
  • Socially destructive
  • Not immediate or controllable

Examples: Popularity, Dominance (through manipulation or violence), Always positive, Being center of attention, Being rich for the sake of being rich

Good values are achieved internally, bad values are reliant on external events.

People who are terrified of what others think about them are actually terrified of all the shitty things they think about themselves being reflected back at them.

This, in a nutshell, is what “Self-Improvement” is really about: prioritizing better values, choosing better things to give a fuck about.

You Are Always Choosing

This chapter is very similar to the first rule in 12 Rules for Life By Jordan B. Peterson – “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”.

Often the only difference between a problem being painful or being powerful is a sense that we chose it, and that we are responsible for it.

The Choice

There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerge. This is the realization that we, individually are responsible for everything in our lives, no matter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, we are always responsible for our experiences. It’s impossible not to be.

Whether we like it or not, we are always taking an active role in what’s occurring to and within us. Always.

The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

A lot of people hesitate to take responsibility for their problems because they believe that to be responsible for your problems is to also be at fault for your problems. Responsibility and fault often appear together in our culture. But they’re not the same thing.

Examples to show the difference between responsibility and fault:

  • You hit someone with your car. Now you are at fault AND legally responsible. Even if it was an accident.
  • You wake up one day and there was a newborn baby on your doorstep. It would not be your fault. But it is now your responsibility to choose what to do. Whatever you do, you are responsible for your choices.

We are responsible for experiences that aren’t our fault all the time. This is part of life. There is a difference between blaming someone else for your situation and that person actually being responsible for your situation. Nobody else is ever responsible for your situation but you. Many people may be to blame for your unhappiness, but nobody is responsible for your unhappiness. This is because you always get to choose how you see things, how you react to things, how you value things.

There Is No “How”

A lot of people might hear all of this and then say something like, “Okay, but how? I get that I avoid responsibility for all my problems. But How do I change?”

The answer to this goes as followed: There is no “How”. You are already choosing, in every moment of every day, what to give a fuck about, so change is as simple as choosing to give a fuck about something else. It really is that simple. It's just not easy. It’s simple but really, really hard. It is normal to feel uncomfortable in the beginning by using this tactic. But it really is necessary for the long run.

You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)

Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right”. Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong. We shouldn’t seek to find the ultimate “right” answer for ourselves, but rather, we should seek to chip away at the ways that we’re wrong today so that we can be a little less wrong tomorrow.

The Dangers of Pure Certainty

The more you try to be certain about something, the more uncertain and insecure you will feel. But the converse is true as well: The more you embrace being uncertain and not knowing, the more comfortable you will feel in knowing what you don’t know.

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.

The only way to solve our problems is to first admit that your actions and beliefs up to this point have been wrong and are not working. This openness to being wrong must exist for any real change or growth to take place.

Manson’s Law of Avoidance

The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it

That means the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it.

Manson’s Law applies to both good and bad things (Ex.: Making vs losing a million dollars). They are important opportunities that we consistently pass up because they threaten to change how we view and feel about ourselves.

Don’t find yourself. Never know who you are.

That’s what keeps you striving and discovering and it forces you to remain humble in you judgments and accepting of the differences in others

Kill Yourself

In Buddhism, they argue that your idea of who “you” are is an arbitrary mental construction and that you should let go of the idea that “you” exist at all. The metrics by which you define yourself actually trap you, and thus you’re better off letting go over everything.

Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: A normal student, partner, friend, or creator. The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.

This often means giving up some grandiose ideas about yourself and giving up the supply of emotional highs that you've been sustaining yourself on for years. Like a junkie, you’re going to go through withdrawal when you start giving these things up. But you’ll come out the other side so much better.

How to Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself

Questioning ourselves and doubting our own thoughts and beliefs is one of the hardest skills to develop. But it can be done. Here are some questions that will help you breed a little more uncertainty in your life.

Question #1: What if I’m wrong?

As a general rule, we’re all the world’s worst observers of ourselves. When we’re angry, jealous, or upset, we’re often the last ones to figure it out. And the only way to figure it out is to consistently question how wrong we might be about ourselves. But just because you ask yourself if you have the wrong idea doesn’t necessarily mean that you do. The goal is merely to ask the question and entertain the thought at the moment, not to hate yourself.

Question #1: What would it mean if I were wrong?

Many people are able to ask themselves if they’re wrong, but few are able to go the extra step and admit what that would mean. That’s because the potential meaning behind our wrongness is ofter painful.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

Question #1: Would being wrong create a better or worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?

You most likely have two possible outcomes:

  1. Continue causing drama and friction, complicating what should otherwise be a happy moment, and damage the trust and respect of the people around you.
  2. Mistrust your own ability to determine what’s right or wrong and remain humble.

Most people choose option A. Because it’s the easier path. It requires little thought.

Option B sustains healthy and happy relationships built on trust and respect. But it is harder and far more painful, so most people don’t choose it.

If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.

Failure Is the Way Forward

Failure itself is a relative concept.

The Failure/Success Paradox

Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something.

Young children do not ever stop trying to walk and think, “I guess walking just isn’t for me”. Avoiding failure is something we learn at some later point in life. A lot of this failure avoiding is coming from our education system and/or our where we are punished if we don’t do well.

Pain Is Part of the Process

Our most radical changes in perspective often happen at the tail end of our worst moments. It’s only when we feel intense pain that we’re willing to look at our values and question why they seem to be failing us. We need some sort of existential crisis to take an objective look at how we’ve been deriving meaning in our life, and then consider changing course.

Learn to sustain the pain you’ve chosen. When you choose a new value, you are choosing to introduce a new form of pain into your life. Welcome it with open arms. Then act despite it.

The “Do Something” Principle

If you are stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it.

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.

Most of us commit an action only if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume that these steps occur in a sort of chain reaction, like this:

Emotional inspiration => Motivation => Desirable action

If you want to accomplish something but don’t feel motivated or inspired, then you assume you’re just screwed. There’s nothing you can do about it. Motivation is not only a three-part chain but an endless loop:

Inspiration => Motivation => Action => Inspiration => Motivation => Action => Etc.

We can actually reorient our mindset in the following way:

Action => Inspiration => Motivation

If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant.

The Importance of Saying No

Rejection Makes Your Life Better

We all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.

People choose to avoid rejection all the time. Honesty is a natural human craving. But part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the word “no”. In this way, rejection actually makes our relationships better and our emotional lives healthier.


There is a difference between poor boundaries in a toxic relationship and good boundaries in a healthy one.

“You can’t go out with your friends without me. I get too jealous.” This is an example of a poor boundary. And the person in this scenario is either taking responsibility for problems/emotions that are not theirs OR demanding that someone else take responsibility for their problems/emotions.

You should both support each other. But only because you choose to support and be supported. Not because you feel obligated or entitled.

Victims should take responsibility for themselves, which is often terrifying.

Savers should stop taking responsibility for other people’s problems, which also can be terrifying.

How To Build Trust

Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflicts exist to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-only-man. Rejection is necessary in a healthy relationship/friendship/partnership/….

Freedom Through Commitment

Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant. It gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them towards what is most efficient at making easier and removing any fear of missing out.

…And Then You Die

Death scares us. And because it scares us, we avoid thinking about it, sometimes even acknowledging it, even when it’s happening to someone close to us. Yet, in a bizarre, backward way, death is the light which the shadow of all of life’s meaning is measured. Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.

Something Beyond Our Selves

Here are two points Manson referenced from another book called_ ‘The Denial of Death’_ by Dr. Ernest Becker:

  1. Humans are unique in that we’re the only animals that can conceptualize and think about ourselves abstractly.
  2. We have two “selves”
  • The physical self: the one that eats, sleeps, snores, and poops.
  • The conceptual self: our identity, or how we see ourselves.

We are all aware on some level that our physical self will eventually die, that this death is inevitable. This scares the shit out of us. Therefore we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. People try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on books, …. This is called our immortality projects. Our immortality projects are our values.

All the meaning in our life is shaped by this innate desire to never truly die.

The Sunny Side of Death

The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.

Confronting the reality of our own mortality is important because it obliterates all the crappy, fragile, superficial values in life.

The only way to be comfortable with death is to understand and see yourself as something bigger than yourself; to choose values that stretch beyond serving yourself, that are simple and immediate and controllable and tolerant of the chaotic world around you.

The pampering of the modern mind has resulted in a population that feels deserving of something without earning that something or without sacrificing for it. They call themselves experts or entrepreneurs without real-life experience. And they do this not because they think they are greater, but because they feel they need to be great to be accepted in a world that broadcasts only the extraordinary. Our culture confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not. You are already great because, in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to.

Our culture confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not. You are already great because, in the face of endless confusion and certain death, you continue to choose what to give a fuck about and what not to.