As humans, we spend a lot of time and energy on things that deserve neither. Just the other day, while driving home from a particularly difficult day at work, I was in my car waiting for a red light to turn green. As the light turned green, the car behind the car to my left blared its horn as though the driver next to me had been asleep at the wheel. I spent the next ten minutes being livid at the arrogance and impatience of the jackass who honked their horn. And why? I felt a profound sense of injustice. I was angry that the person who honked their horn was being an asshole and was going get away with it with no repercussions. I had allowed myself to be negatively affected by someone else's inconsiderate behavior and this is exactly the type of thing Mark Manson warns readers against in his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.
For readers sensitive to or just do not care for profanity, steer far clear of this book. If the title alone is not a clue, profanity infects the entirety of this book. I am not sure why. Does Manson just speak like this or is this a gimmick used to set the book apart from the thousands of other "how to be a better person" books available in bookstores? We all swear from time to time and a well-placed f-bomb is effective and can even be humorous, but the liberal use of profanity causes this book to lose credibility. I found it juvenile and unnecessary.
I disagreed with many of the major points presented in this book. Early on, Manson states that what most people consider life problems are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about. If I can call back to my personal experience from the top of this article, there are several possible reasons for such a reaction. In my own case, I can point to three: 1) I had a rough day at work and was already on edge, 2) injustice always upsets me, and 3) I struggle to properly channel my anger. This third reason is the most important and the most embarrassing and painful for me to admit. I dealt with anger management problems well into my twenties and only recently have I learned to deal with the unreasonable anger I often feel. Most of the time, I do well, but when I am in a tender state such as after a bad day at work, my fuse is short, my trigger sensitive, and it does not take much to set me off. I suspect this is true for many people. Spend any period of time reading the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, or any other major news, social, or entertainment site and you will find a cesspool unbridled vitriol, hatred, and ignorance. Or how many times have you been at Starbucks and listened to a customer scream at the barista because they accidentally put whipped cream on the mocha when the customer clearly stated they did not want those empty calories on their 290-calorie dessert coffee beverage? These are not people without any other problems who choose to berate baristas. These are people with unsorted priorities or a temporary mental disorder brought about by an overabundance of other problems they are struggling to deal with such as an unpleasant job, loss of job, dissolution of marriage, drowning in debt, death of a loved one, or any combination of these. Perhaps they have a permanent, untreated mental disorder, but that is the subject of a different book.
A bit later, Manson claims "Much as the pain of touching a hot stove teaches you not to touch it again, the sadness of being alone teaches you not to the do the things that made you feel so alone again". This is a ludicrous statement. I know a large group of people who are doing everything right when it comes to dating and just cannot find the right person. To boil their struggle and frustrations to down to such a simplistic root cause and to suggest they just haven't learned not to touch the hot stove is asinine.
At one point, Manson suggests whittling your life down to the point where you have fewer choices about anything because the more choices you have, the less satisfied you are with the choices you make because you will wonder what would have been had you made a different choice. Manson then suggests that the more experiences someone has, the less satisfied they are with those experiences and thus they should have fewer experiences. He claims to have visited an astounding 55 different countries and that the first five were great experiences, but each subsequent country and culture grew less impressive. How awful for him! And for him to suggest that people should limit their world to a single geographical area so they can stop being disappointed by visiting new countries is itself a disappointing statement and I think speaks volumes of Manson's character. Not many people have the opportunity to travel to a single foreign country let alone 55. I am fortunate to have visited 9 foreign countries so far and each experience has been a gift of broader world view, cultural education, and human understanding. I say that if you have the means to travel, travel as often and as far as you can. Eat the local food, walk the streets, make an effort to learn the language. I suspect you will return home a better and more educated person.
The news is not all bad though. Manson does offer some gems of wisdom. They are good reminders to those of us who have lost our way and one of these hit pretty close to home. As a young man, Manson dreamed of being a rock star. He fantasized about it for years but nothing ever came of it because one day, he came to a disappointing conclusion: he did not want it enough. He was not willing to suffer the struggles and failures all musicians experience on their road to success. Manson's point is "what pain to you want to sustain?" Do you want something bad enough that you are willing to suffer to attain it? If not, then you are wasting your time and should find something else to do. This slapped me right across the face and the truth was painful. Since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed writing. I wrote a decent murder mystery when I was in elementary school and my teacher encouraged me to continue writing. I fantasized about being an author and every time I read a great book, I dreamed about how fulfilling the author's life must have been and fantasized about how my life would be when I was a successful author. Decades later, I have written exactly one unpublished novel, I am not an author and the reason for this, I realized as I read about Manson's rock star dream, was that I had not spent the time struggling through the hours of bad writing to get to the good stuff. I had not experienced the disappointment and frustration of receiving countless rejection letters from publications and publishing houses. I battled the blank page and I let it beat me. I did not want it enough. That admission is a dagger through the heart.
What does all of this have to do with a subtle art of not giving a f*ck? Throughout the book, Manson encourages the reader to decide what you want to spend your limited resources caring about during your life. He goes off on several tangents, he makes some silly statements, but dig through the muck and you may find that the primary message is a good one. Stop wasting your energy on stupid things. There was a wildly popular book twenty years ago called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. I am going to suggest The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck is the modern version of Richard Carlson's blockbuster, but I do not see Subtle Art having the same legs. The presentation and profanity are going to turn a lot of readers away. I have already heard firsthand accounts from people who ditched the book halfway through. Those readers who stick with the book through the end might find some nuggets of truth waiting for them. That said, I find it difficult to recommend this book to friends and family. As Manson says, we have a limited number of f*cks to give during our short lives and even though this book is short, the people I know personally probably want to spend their f*cks on other things.