Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn

Not giving a f*ck is in vogue.

“The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck”,  “Don’t Give a Damn” – titles like these are appearing at book shops near you. Caring less appears to have overtaken “mindfulness” as the topic du jour in the self help genre.

Subtle

Mark Manson’s contribution to popular literature on the  topic is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”. Though cleverly written with lots of humour, Manson’s book is not at all satirical. It’s a genuine, well-balanced argument for a “counterintuitive approach to living a good life”. Manson’s mission is this: to help you think a bit more clearly about what you’re choosing to find important in life (and what you’re choosing to find unimportant).

“The Subtle Art” may have a reputation as an anti-self help book. In part, this is true. Manson plainly states that the book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go. It will teach you how to take inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items. It will teach you to give fewer f*cks. And in doing so, how to make time for what matters most.

This notion of caring less seems quite shocking  amid the “think positive, reach for the stars” ideologies of the last couple of decades. Manson’s argument against the prevailing “How to be Happy shit” is this: “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”. Feel free to read that twice.

After decades of books and TED talks and self talk about the power of positivity and how to have it all, it’s quite confronting to encounter an alternative view. It would be easy to write off the care less movement as something of a modern day fad. But, in actual fact, I think Mark Manson is getting at an idea that has been around for many many years.

The Ancient Greeks had a philosophy called stoicism. According to Wikipedia, stoicism is the idea that, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting what we’ve been given in life, and not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain.

Curiously, while the care less movement is gaining traction, stoicism is experiencing something of a revival. The stoicism Facebook page has 17,000 likes, and the stoicism Reddit is the most popular of all the philosophies, with 45,000 subscribers.

One of stoicism’s forefathers, Marcus Aurelius, wrote this reminder to himself around 180 AD: “Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”

I think what Aurelius is trying to say is this: We only have so many f*cks to give. Why are we wasting them on stupid things?

Before we go on, let’s get one thing straight. Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent. There’s nothing admirable about that. Indifference is for couch potatoes and internet trolls. That’s not us. We must give a f*ck about something. The question is, what are we choosing to give a f*ck about? And how can we not give a f*ck about what ultimately does not matter?

Manson offers many practical tips for how to prioritise your cares and deal with struggle.  I can’t relay them all here, so you will have to read the book. Trust me, it’s worth it. But I will summarise the ones that hit home with me.

Choose you f*cks wisely
Whether you realise it or not, you are always choosing what to care about. When we’re young, we give a whole lot of f*cks about many things- how we look, what someone said / didn’t say, being opinionated, not having an opinion. Etc. As we grow older, we realise that most of these things have little lasting impact on us and that noone actually pays attention to the superficial details that we obsess about. We become more selective about the f*cks we give. This is maturity. As we grow even older, our priorities change, our energy is consumed, our identity solidifies and we accept ourselves. We now reserve our dwindling f*cks for the most important parts of our lives. It reminds me of that saying, “If only I was as fat as the first time I thought I was fat”.

Give a f*ck about something more important than discomfort
If you’ve ever watched the Real Housewives you’ll relate to this point. People who “hand out f*cks like ice cream at summer camp” do so because they have don’t have anything more important to dedicate their f*cks to. I agree with Manson’s view that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. Find something productive to dedicate your f*cks too. 

Camping is about stripping everything back to enhance simple pleasures – like a warm cuppa tea with a view

Happiness comes not from the absence of problems, but in solving problems
Problems never stop. When you solve one, you create another. Get your dream job, now have to prove yourself. Buy that nice car, now have to keep it clean. Make new friends, now have to find time to see them all. Stresses and strains are ever present. Get used to it. If you wish them all away (I’ll be happy when I finish uni, I’ll be happy when I get that job, I’ll be happy when I buy a house), you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Olympic medalists have seriously high rates of depression. They solve their ultimate problem, and this leaves them without a purpose.

Manson argues that happiness is a form of action, an activity, rather than something bestowed on you. Two things obstruct the “solve problems; be happy” construct – denial and a victim mentality. People deny and blame others because its easy and it feels good (short term high). But, in the long term,  neglecting to solve problems can be bad news, causing insecurity, emotional repression, anger, helplessness and despair (long term pain).

What goes up
Which leads us to highs. Denial and blame give us a quick high, a way to escape our problems. As do alcohol, substances and violence. But highs generate addiction and do nothing about underlying problems. Highs are not the key to long term happiness. Happiness comes from solving problems.

Choose your struggle
Struggle is inevitable. So, instead of asking ourselves, “what do I want out of life”, we should ask ourselves “what are we willing to struggle for?”. You may like the idea of entrepreneurship, or a corner office, or a good relationship with your siblings. But you may not like the idea of long hours, low pay, difficult conversations. You may not choose that struggle. That’s okay. It’s about choices. People who enjoy the gym are fit. People who enjoy, or endure, long hours become partners. People who enjoy the stress of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who make it. Our struggles determine our successes. 

Why don’t you DO something!
There are so many more lessons in the book but I’m running out of time and wine and I want to watch Big Little Lies the miniseries. So let’s conclude with an uplifting lesson. Manson talks about the motivation trap. We are misled in to thinking that inspiration leads to motivation leads to action. This is wrong. Like Nike and Michelle Bridges, Manson believes in the Just Do It and the rest will follow approach. He says that if you lack motivation to make an important change in your life, do something, anything really and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to motivate yourself. How do you write a book? Sentence by sentence. You can’t edit a blank page. I’m not sure where this fits in with the overall message of the book, but its a good reminder.

This book is not about not caring. It doesn’t really tell you not to try. It’s a serious book that challenges you to take an active role in choosing where to place your energy. Choosing what to care about, and how to respond to struggles.

Give it a go.

Thought leader(s): Mark Manson
Book(s): Manson, M (2016) “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, HarperOne.

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