Book Review: Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a

"Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more – buy more, own more, make more, f*ck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a f*ck about everything, all the time."

The goal of the book is to help the reader learn “how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively – how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values.”

The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a f*ck about only what is true and immediate and important. The subtle art of not “not giving a f*ck” is not about not caring or “not giving” but about being careful in choosing what you care about. It is caring about what truly matters.

Often mindlessly (on autopilot), we let the external environment set the goals that drive our lives – and bring us eventual disappointment.

This brings us to values. Manson says that values are “the metrics by which we measure ourselves and everyone.” Our values are our internal filtration, evaluation, and measuring system. If we get our values right, then a lot of problems in our lives will take care of themselves. This is the path to happiness.

What Are Bad Values?

Before we figure out what are the right values, let’s invert and examine Manson’s bad values.

  • Pleasure … "people who focus their energy on superficial pleasures end up more anxious, more emotionally unstable, and more depressed. Pleasure is the most superficial form of life satisfaction and therefore the easiest to obtain and the easiest to lose."

  • Material success ...

  • After we meet our basic needs, more money brings little incremental happiness. Ray Dalio, billionaire, who runs the largest hedge fund in the world, wrote the following in his book Principles: "Having the basics – a good bed to sleep in, good relationships, good food, and good sex – is most important, and those things don’t get much better when you have a lot of money or much worse when you have less. And the people one meets at the top aren’t necessarily more special than those one meets at the bottom or in between."

  • I have found that for some of them money has been more of a curse than a blessing, often because of the constant anxiety involved in growing it. If money is your goal you’ll never have enough. With every additional hundred million or billion you’ll be graduating into a new financial circle occupied by people who have even more.

  • Always being right ...

  • As Dale Carnegie writes in How to Win Friends and Influence People, you can’t win an argument: "You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph. If you always focus on being right then you’ll have a fixed mindset; you’ll stop learning, because what you learn may contradict what you know. You won’t grow. And most importantly, you’re not going to have many friends."

  • If you always focus on being right then you’ll have a fixed mindset; you’ll stop learning, because what you learn may contradict what you know. You won’t grow. And most importantly, you’re not going to have many friends.

  • Always staying positive, and pain ... “Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction.” ... "Some of the greatest moments of one’s life are not pleasant, not successful, not known, and not positive."

  • Unless we decide to spend our lives in a monastery with Buddhist monks who have taken vows of silence, negativity will always be a part of our lives that we cannot control. But we can control how we deal with it. When someone does something you don’t like, this person or that traffic light may be completely in the wrong. It may not be your fault; you are not responsible for their behavior. But you are responsible for yours and how your respond. You cannot control the external environment, but you can control how you respond do it. Mark Manson says: The trick with negative emotions is to

  1. express them in a socially acceptable and healthy manner and

  2. express them in a way that aligns with your values.

  • There is another reason we want to always stay positive – but should not: to avoid pain. If we live our lives in constant search for pleasure and pain avoidance, then we will lead very empty and meaningless lives. Things that are worthy usually come with some amount of pain – writing, kids, marathon running, dating, investing, working out, etc. In the long run, things we struggle for are the ones that have the most meaning in our lives. Freud: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

What Are Good Values?

Manson provides a very clear definition. They are:

1) reality-based,

2) socially constructive, and

3) immediate and controllable.

Reverse these and you’ll get his bad values.

... Good values are achieved internally; bad values rely on externalities

  • When our values system is linked to external metrics that we cannot control, we are strapping ourselves into the bus of life in a way that lets us have little control over the journey or destination – external factors like someone’s else success or failure determine our state of happiness.

  • When our values are internal and process-based, then we are in the driver’s seat of the bus. The road will likely still be rocky, with plenty of disappointments (that’s life). But we are in much greater control of our destiny when we’re in the driver’s seat; and paradoxically, the pain we experience along the way may also bring us joy.

... we need to be very careful how we set our goals, because we will inevitably evaluate our individual success and failure against those goals.

  • Warren Buffett, drawing from his infinite wealth of wisdom and humor, said, “As an investor, you get something out of all the deadly sins – except for envy. Being envious of someone else is pretty stupid. Wishing them badly, or wishing you did as well as they did – all it does is ruin your day. Doesn’t hurt them at all, and there’s zero upside to it.”

  • Charlie Munger: Mozart … here's the greatest musical talent maybe that ever lived. And what was his life like? It was bitterly unhappy, and he died young. That's the life of Mozart. What the hell did Mozart do to screw it up? Two things that are guaranteed to create a lot of misery – he overspent his income scrupulously – that's number one. That is really stupid. And that other thing was, his life was full jealousies and resentments. If you overspend your income and be full of jealousy and resentments, you can have a lousy, unhappy life and die young. All you’ve got to do is learn from Mozart.

No “If This, Then”

We should not attach our happiness to “if this, then” statements. If only I got this job… this house… this girl… then I’d be happy. Jonathan Haidt, in The Happiness Hypothesis, has done a terrific job explaining why “if this, then” doesn’t lead to happiness.

  • First, because pleasure comes from the journey (which is often a struggle) towards a goal, not from actually achieving the goal. Arriving at the destination doesn’t bring us more pleasure than the pleasure we receive overcoming micro and macro struggles during the journey itself.

  • And second, The human mind is extraordinarily sensitive to changes in conditions, but not so sensitive to absolute levels. In other words, we adapt. We adapt to bad things and good things. If pleasure is our core value, then it will ultimately lead to our unhappiness, because our minds will adapt to each new absolute level of pleasure. And then… well, we’ll need a constant increase in the level of pleasure to stay happy, but each increase of pleasure will make us less and less happy.

Investing too is a process-based endeavor. Though no two stock analyses are identical, the systematic way of approaching them is the same from stock to stock. Unless you are in love with the process, you’ll subject yourself to a life of misery, because the causal chain between a well-thought-out process and a good outcome often takes years to unfurl. You may be making rational decisions – you may have bought value stocks in 1998 and shunned dotcom roulette; but if you just focused on the outcome of your decision, you’d have been in for three years of misery...If you are investing solely to get rich and don’t enjoy the struggle, the ups and downs of the process, then you are destined for unhappiness.

We need Good Problems

According to Mark Manson, if you avoid problems or don’t admit you have problems, then you are destined for an empty, sad existence. But you’ll arrive at a similar destination if your problems are not solvable. Happiness comes from solving good problems. And thus, we should be on the search for good problems.

As Mark Manson puts it: “To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action.”

As Mark Manson puts it, “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… When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered.”

Richard Feynman said on this topic: "You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It's their mistake, not my failing."

The “Do Something” Principle

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

Remember: Action leads to inspiration which leads to motivation

Mark Manson makes another valuable point: When you lack motivation, change the standard of success from excellence to merely doing. Then, as long as you’re doing, you cannot fail.


Knowing what the right values are is half the battle. The second half is occasionally, mindfully recalibrating our values that could have been mindlessly set or reset by daily encounters we have with life.

You may want to do that reexamination daily or monthly – whatever works for you. But our values need an occasional recalibration. What we give a f*ck about determines where we invest our time and energy – both of which are finite. Most importantly, what we care about (our values) determines our happiness on the road of life, which we only get to walk once.


  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon

© 2016 by aTrader