After reading the #1 international bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by author and blogger Mark Manson, I cried for a day and half. The book is drop-dead funny and yet, as I read the last chapters in a Starbucks, I had to fight off tears. Bottom lip quivering, blinking away mist in my eyes, sniffling. In fact, I actually had to leave because I knew what was coming.
After reading the last sentence of the book, I had to pack up my stuff as fast as humanly possible and head straight for the car. And as soon as I shut the car door, sealing myself from the outside world, I actually couldn’t help it anymore and succumbed to a full-blown ugly cry. Meanwhile, my poor boyfriend was sitting in the driver’s seat wondering what the hell was going on.
Crying like a crazy person is not the reaction I expected from myself after reading anything by Mark Manson, whose writing is actually known for being hilarious rather than tragic.
Here’s the thing.
Extract the laugh-out-loud funniness from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck and you are left with nothing but pure honesty. Holy moly. I have never EVER read something so honest in my life. I mean, thank god for the jokes because otherwise I’d have been crying from the first page on, and I’m not sure I would have read through to the end.
Right, so what’s the book about? Well, Mark Manson cuts through piles and piles of bullcrap and paints a very raw picture of our society, sparing nothing and no one, not even himself. His tough-love approach will force you to look at yourself with complete, utter and unforgiving honesty. That’s right, there is no escaping my friends. Get ready to face your fears head-on. And Mark leaves no room for denial.
You will finish this book and feel like Frodo after he finally drops the ring into the fiery pits of Mordor (sorry for the reference, I swear I’ve only actually seen these movies once you guys). See, I was crying my eyes out because this book forced me to realize things about myself, my life and the way I think. Things that change EVERYTHING. And CHANGE is scary. It was a painful read, but for me it was 1000% necessary. This book has made me a better human, which is better for the rest of you. So you know, Frodo and I are basically twinning.
Alright, so I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to be an indecisive, unsure person, but there is one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty: I’m skeptical. I’m a serious critical thinker and I don’t take anything at face value. In fact, I can be so deeply opinionated and nit-picky that I kinda hate almost everything. So when I tell you guys that something is great, it’s because it’s total amazingness of LIFE.
And it takes a village. No joke.
I am that hard to impress. So let me tell you what I honestly think of this book: I think it’s almost entirely amazing. Some of the writing is a tiny bit crude for my taste, but whatever. His ends justify his means.
I’ve since recuperated from that dreary September day at Starbucks (thank you for asking), but I’ve also changed. This book has changed me for the better, helped me cope with my anxiety and helped me understand people around me that I never could before.
I would recommend this book to everyone, to be completely honest. I would highly recommend it to those of you who are a unsatisfied or not completely thrilled about your lives (and that’s probably most of you).
I don’t want to give away the whole book, but I did want to discuss some of my biggest takeaways, i.e. three of the topics Mark raises in the book that I found most prevalent and relatable (happiness, success and identity), as well the tools he provides to dealing with problems in life.
Okay guys, have ever notice how our generation is happiness obsessed? I mean, for one, most of us love to how HAPPY and great our lives are on social media. I mean, social media aside, when someone asks how we’re doing, we all say good, great or fine, right? Especially when the person asking is a friend we haven’t been in touch with for a little while. You know, we want them to think our life is great, right? At family dinners, we tell everyone how BUSY we are with our jobs and FULFILLED it makes us feel, right? TELL ME that some of you relate to this.
Well, I think about how we all do this a lot and I believe the desire to constantly show others how great we are doing comes down to a fear of failure, which I’ve discussed in a previous article.
We tend to see imperfections as negative, right? So hide them to keep things positive and upbeat. You know, we have to avoid giving anyone a whiff of our failures. For example, we hide what we really think of our jobs from our friends, family and especially acquaintances. Sometimes, we hide it from our own selves. Or we’ll tell people we are having a great day when we are absolutely not.
Negativity is unacceptable in today’s society. But it’s also inevitable. Which causes some problemos. We pretend we’re doing great but meanwhile, in private, we’re compulsively googling “how to be happy” or how to be the things we think will make us happy: ways to get rich, tips for a perfect body, how to land the perfect job, how to find a #squad to go out with on weekends. On top of that, we’re constantly facing everyone’s “perfect”-looking, failure-free seeming lives on Instagram and Snapchat. So what do we do? Instead address the issue, we invent a freaking HASTAG and call it #FOMO (fear of missing out). This is the feeling we get when we see everyone we know at some awesome party and we’re at home binge-watching netflix. Or someone we knew in high school is travelling all over the world and seems to never have to work a day job. ET CETERA.
Mark Manson perfectly describes this phenomenon.
“Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences […] is totally not okay. I mean, if you look at your Facebook feed, everybody there is having a fucking grand old time. Look, eight people got married this week! And some sixteen-year-old on TV got a Ferrari for her birthday. And another kid just made two billion dollars inventing an app that automatically delivers you more toilet paper when you run out.
Meanwhile, you’re stuck at home flossing your cat. And you can’t help but think your life sucks even more than you thought.“
So what’s Mark solution? First of all, he tells you that problems are ENDLESS. There is no such thing as a problem-free life. There are only better problems. For example, a homeless person and a billionaire BOTH have problems. It’s just that the billionaire has BETTER problems.
Notice how we tend to associate happiness with something we lack. As though happiness is always just beyond our reach, never something we currently have. It’s always linked to some future achievement.
You know when you think reaching a weight goal will make you happy, only once you get there you still feel the same? So you make a new weight goal and start to work toward that, but again, you reach the goal and you don’t actually feel happier? That’s because all your other problems are still there- you’re still insecure or lack self-confidence, your job still sucks, you still don’t have a boyfriend, you still wish you could live somewhere else, et cetera et cetera. So now you’re at your weight goal, but you’re still not happy. So pick your something else you lack and you associate happiness with that thing. And so the cycle begins again.
Okay, so how do you get out of this loop? Well, first you MUST accept that problems are endless and that you will never attain a problem-free life, no matter how beautiful or rich you become, regardless of whether you live in the penthouse or not and despite how many friends you have or don’t have.
Once you accept that problems NEVER stop, you can free yourself from associating happiness with one particular thing you lack. For example, you can free yourself from thinking you’ll be happy once you reach a certain weight goat, tax bracket or get the perfect guy, or job.
Alright, now that you’ve accept that you will have problems for the rest of your life, you’re wondering how to be happy. Your job still sucks, you’re still single and hate it, you have no self-esteem and you’re still fat.
Well, Mark Manson has the answer for you. And it’s so simple.
Happiness comes from solving problems.
Now, you might think for a second that this contradicts what we just said. It doesn’t. See, before, you were thinking happiness came from a problem-free life, so when you tried to fix a problem and realized you still had other problems, you weren’t happy. But now that you’ve accepted problems are forever. So here’s the nuance: happiness comes from continuously solving your problems. Good thing problems are forever, right?
It’s the process of actually solving your problems that makes you feel fulfilled because you are progressing. You are improving. It’s about the process guys. Don’t believe me? Take it from Miley: “it’s not about what’s waiting on the other siiiide, it’s the cliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimb”.
Accept you’ll always have problems and keep solving those problems: that will generate happiness.
Alright, here’s another issue Mark raises in his book: how we want to be super successful but we’re also super afraid of failing.
For example, getting a 9 to 5 desk job is easier than being a pop star, right? It’s comfortable, it’s cushy, it’s what everyone else is doing, it makes our parents worry less, yadda yadda yadda.
It’s not that your parents would mind if you were a super successful pop star. What they don’t want you to be is a failed pop star who embarrassed herself and is now homeless and in debt. I mean, it is awkward for them to talk about at the big family reunion.
Right. So here’s the problem: as long as you’re a nine-to-fiver, you’ll never be a pop star. They’re kind of mutually exclusive. On the one hand, a 9 to 5 is secure. It’s not wowza, it’s a little boring, but it’ll do. It’s safe, cushy and relatable.
On the other hand, being a pop star is like TOTALLY AWESOME in your dreams, buuuuut it comes which a huge amount of uncertainty and risk… shudder. Your family and friends know that risk, so they try to encourage you to stay a nine-to-fiver like them. Combine the risk and the lack of support from friends and family? You’re waaaaaay less likely to choose the pop star route.
Seems like an impossible choice, right?
Well, thank GOD for Mark. Here’s his “golden rule”: Success actually is failure.
Success is repeated failure.
I know. Mind = blown.
Mark writes: “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. If someone is better then you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have.”
In other words, staying at your cushy day job, watching netflix all night long and binge drinking every weekend will, hate to break it you, not bring you success a pop star or an author or whatever your dream is.
To follow your dream and actually have a chance at succeeding, you will have to fully accept not only the possibility of failure, but the certainty of it. You will have to give yourself room to fail. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but anyone who has achieved big success has failed a bunch of times before then. If you need a job to tie you over before you can take the full plunge into working on your passion full-time, by all means do so! But pay attention to ensure you’re passion doesn’t end up on the back burner. Comfort is easy. Failure/Success is not.
Okay, you know retail therapy? Why does it make us feel good? Well, some say it’s because we can go into a change room, put something on and picture our lives differently.
For instance, you see a lil’ red dress and salivate over it because you imagine your life as the girl in the red dress (or maybe the girl who can fit in the red dress). Maybe you imagine yourself at an amazing job, killing it in front of your peers, in the red dress. Maybe you see yourself as the most popular girl in school in the red dress. Maybe you stop traffic in the red dress.
Whatever it is, you buy the red dress.
But when you wear it to work, you realize you still suck at your job and you still hate your coworkers. Aaand your back fat is popping out.
This is because, red dress or no red dress, your life is still the same. Nothing you buy in at Zara will actually make your life different.
Changing your life for real is, like, super hard. And you long for the thrill of pretending your life is different with the red dress. So before you know it, you head back to the mall and look for something else to make you feel good for another a few hours – candles, stilettos, purses, makeup, etc.
Welcome to the danger zone. All of a sudden you have WAAAAY too much stuff and no money but you still can’t stop shopping. Because if you stop shopping, what are you left with? A void. You have to actually look in the mirror consider yourself for who your are.
It’s not just shopping. Maybe, for you, it’s partying because it makes you feel good and forget your problems. Maybe you stay in a bad relationship because who would you be without that person? Maybe you can’t lose the weight because everyone knows you as the “friend who is an amazing baker” and who would you be if you stopped making and enjoying delicious food? Or maybe you can’t allow yourself a treat because you’re the “super healthy” friend and everyone sees you as an example of perfection.
This happens when we place our identity into something external and we feel like we’re nothing without it.
As Manson puts it, “There’s a certain comfort that comes with knowing how you fit in the world. Anything that shakes up that comfort– even if it could potentially make your life better– is inherently scary.”
Alright, so now you see the problem. Who you gonna call?
But you will go buy Mark Manson’s book.
And when you do, you’ll note how Manson discusses identity as an “arbitrary mental construction.” Further, he argues “that you should let go of the idea that ‘you’ exist at all; that the arbitrary metrics by which you define yourself actually trap you, and thus you’re better off letting go of everything.”
Manson writes that “[w]hen we let go of the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, we free ourselves up to actually act (and fail) and grow.”
He suggests that you define yourself in the “simplest and most ordinary ways possible” because the “narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you.”
Thinking like this has helped me with anxiety. I used to think sometimes that “I’m the girl who is scared of this, or who feels threatened by this”. But when I let that go, I don’t really have anything to worry about.
So lose the identity of the party girl or the baker, the repressed girlfriend or the shopper. When you let it go, you realize that you can take yourself places you’ve never been. You explore and try things you’ve never done. You’re just you. And that’s enough.
Hope some of the above helps. Like I said, these realizations were huge for me and have made a big difference in the way I think about things. And if none of the above makes any sense to you, just go read the book yourself because I am super tired of typing right now.
You can buy The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck here (or if you’re in Canada, here) and you can read Mark Manson’s blog here (oh, and here’s a couple of my favourite posts from his blog: Screw Finding Your Passion and Minimalism).