As backward as it seems, caring about things is easy; it’s the not caring part that most people find difficult. In his best-selling book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, author Mark Manson helps readers identify what is truly important and let go of what’s not. He argues for reorienting our expectations and accepting that, sometimes, life isn’t so great — and that’s OK. That realization can even be our salvation.
With chapters like Don’t Try, Happiness Is a Problem, You Are Not Special, and Failure Is the Way Forward, Manson skillfully articulates why we can all benefit from taking a step back, evaluating our circumstances, and saying f*ck it. Here, five lessons gleaned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
1. Prioritize your energy and effort
In other words, consider the f*cks you have to give, and know they are finite. You can’t, and shouldn’t, care about everything. Instead, prioritize what matters in your life and know that to make space for certain things, you have to let other things go.
This mindset shift also involves cutting yourself some slack. Comparing yourself to someone else does no good. You aren’t that person, and that’s fine. Maybe you aren’t even the person you want to be. That’s OK too. By always trying to change (be happier, look better, make more money), we simply reinforce our shortcomings, which exacerbates our problems. As Manson writes, “The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle.” By attempting to avoid, or change, these perceived negatives, we’re only making them worse. Understand and accept that you will face difficulties and that you won’t always be happy, and then when the time comes, you’ll be better prepared to recognize it and move past it.
2. Happiness is active, not passive
Happiness isn’t a state of contentment that stems from a problem-free life. Nor is happiness a solvable equation that can be deciphered by making certain changes. After all, fixing one issue tends to create others, like how getting a promotion means more responsibility and stress, or how moving into a nicer house comes with a higher tax bill. Rather, happiness is a work in progress. It’s a moving target that requires tackling real issues, not avoiding them or convincing yourself they don’t exist.
Happiness is a lot like success, in that you have to work to achieve it. It’s easy to seek out pleasure — for instance, to desire more money or a new relationship or a better physique. But real happiness requires struggle: the 60-hour work weeks to make the money, the rejection and vulnerability on the path to a meaningful relationship, or the meticulous diet and physical pain required to sculpt magazine-cover muscles. So instead of asking yourself what will make you happy, ask yourself what you’re willing to go through to make it happen. Happiness is a never-ending climb, so you need to find joy in the climb itself.
3. With great responsibility comes great power
A famous philosopher (Uncle Ben from Spider-Man) said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” But Manson suggests swapping that quote, because the more we choose to accept responsibility over our lives, the more powerful we become. It’s impossible to solve your problems if you don’t first take responsibility for them. It’s difficult to be happy or successful if you think other people are responsible for your happiness and success. By accepting that we are responsible for our decisions and our circumstances, we’re able to take power over them and usher them in the direction that will benefit our lives.
4. Certainty is the enemy of growth
As difficult as it can be to admit sometimes, we’re wrong a lot. About everything, to some degree. And that’s good, because being wrong opens us up to the possibility of change and growth. Think about it: Nothing is truly certain until it’s already happened, and even then we can still interpret it incorrectly. So instead of fighting to be right and certain in our choices, we should instead search for doubt. The person who thinks they know everything never actually learns anything, while the person who has a healthy uncertainty about themselves and the world around them invites new ideas and experiences as they attempt to make sense of the world. The goal isn’t to be right all the time. It’s to learn, grow, and be less wrong than you were before.
5. Do something, anything, and embrace failure
Just like happiness is active, so is motivation. You can’t sit back and wait for motivation to strike; you need to foster it by continually doing something — anything. If you’ve got writer’s block and can’t seem to craft the perfect intro to your novel, then write a bad intro. You’ll have accomplished something, and by getting started, you’re more likely to get energized and spur the motivation to keep writing, eventually landing on the right words.
Everyone is afraid of failure, and that keeps people from trying, which in turn keeps them from accomplishing what they really want. This fear is a powerful roadblock, but the real failure is to not pursue what you want. If you try and fail, it’s OK. You’re not just back where you started — you’re now smarter and more experienced than you were before. Failure isn’t the stopping point, it’s the way forward.