This is not just another self-help manual. It does not claim to make us better people, nor does it hold the secret to eternal bliss.
In this entertaining and in-your-face best seller, Manson keeps it real. He rebuffs the idea of relying on positive thinking to feel happy and proposes we accept our misfortunes as part of life.
The crux is – everyone has negative and unpleasant experiences, but the key to a satisfying existence lies in having the integrity to choose our battles wisely.
In short – everything we’ve been told about how to improve our lives is wrong.
Although it contradicts what most of us were taught, Manson’s first piece of advice is:
It sounds like we should all give up and not bother doing anything. But that’s not quite where the author is going with this.
His argument is – the more we obsess about being positive and chasing happiness – the more we realise we’re lost and unhappy. By endlessly striving for bigger and better, we find that it’s never quite enough. What we don’t have reminds us that we have failed to acquire it.
The media bombards us with prescribed methods for fixing our flaws, for strengthening our weak points, and if we don’t measure up – we must be failures. We get brainwashed into thinking that we are somehow inferior.
But Manson discourages us from buying into the hype. We shouldn’t try to be something we’re not, and we have to care less about what the world thinks. In reality, most of us are pretty average in most things we do. And that’s ok.
By caring about less, we can ensure we’re focused only on the important stuff.
But letting go of our cares and worries can be tricky due to:
The Feedback Loop from Hell
Our brains are wired to have thoughts about our thoughts. We follow a thread of sentiments down a rabbit hole, becoming preoccupied and consumed.
If we are worried, we worry about being worried. If we think we’re stupid, we start feeling stupid for thinking we lack sense. And so on.
In today’s consumerist society, everywhere we turn there seems to be some indication that we are mediocre and unworthy.
We end up plagued with anxiety, fear and guilt. And we are led to believe that we shouldn’t experience these emotions – which then amounts to more of the same.
When everybody else out there appears to be living the good life, we feel like there must be something wrong with us. Then we start feeling bad about feeling bad about ourselves. And guilty for feeling guilty.
It creates a whole lot of unnecessary white noise. In fact, it can be the cause for utter neurotic self-loathing.
The solution is to stop obsessing about how we feel and what we think we should be. It really doesn’t matter. Break the circuit and move on.
Manson goes on to provide a series of ‘Subtleties’ to help us master the fine art of not giving a f*ck.
Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
It’s part of human nature to care. Anyone who appears not to care about anything or show any form of emotion is a psychopath. They reveal nothing of themselves to the world by hiding behind their dark and secret fears.
Caring about stuff is good and showing our emotions is preferable. But only caring about what genuinely matters to us is mastering the art happiness. We need to stand by our values and not be sidelined by what others think of us.
To not give a f*ck about adversity, you must first give a f*ck about something more important than adversity.
The real problem is not that we experience crappy things in our lives, but that we don’t have anything better going on to occupy our thoughts.
If our existence is somewhat empty, our focus will direct itself wherever there’s anything to fill it. And that often means caring about small and menial stuff. We create problems out of nothing so we have something to do.
But if we can commit to filling our lives with purpose and significance, we won’t have the time or headspace to linger on inconsequential things.
Whether you realise it or not, you are always choosing what to give a f*ck about.
Giving a f*ck is not just something we experience in our adult years. Kids view the world as a place where everything seems to matter so much. Our areas of concern merely transform into new things the older we get.
As we grow, we hopefully become mature enough to realise that we should be more selective about what’s important. We learn to let stuff go. In retrospect, we recognise that our previous struggles were probably a bit pointless and silly.
By the time middle-age rolls around, our energy levels have dropped. We no longer have the patience to care so much about every little thing. We have formed a stable identity and have learned to accept ourselves and the events around us. We realise – it’s ok for things to suck.
It’s incredibly liberating and probably the happiest we’ve been.
So, without positivity, what is the secret to happiness? Manson believes …
Happiness comes from solving problems
Happiness shows up when we are solving a problem, and solving a problem requires action. Therefore, we need to be actively doing something to feel happy, not just waiting around for joy to magically find us.
It’s a work in progress. Once we solve one issue, another will crop up in its place. The pulled thread is forever unravelling.
We may resolve a weight gain issue by slogging it out at the gym, but this creates a new dilemma of having to set the alarm earlier and potentially getting less sleep. To solve the sleep problem, we decide to get to bed earlier. But an earlier bedtime means fewer stolen moments with our partner. And so it goes on.
Some people deny the existence of their problems and try to distract themselves with short-term highs. Others play the victim, diverting their attention away from their issues by blaming everyone else. Another temporary escapist solution.
We have to accept the fact there will always be problems, but not all of them are created equal. True happiness lies only in solving the problems we enjoy having. That is, we can choose which struggles are important and worthy of our time and energy, and which are not.
If you thought that was a bit left-field, Manson’s next proposal is:
You are not special
Some people have a delusional-level of self-confidence. They were probably exposed to self-esteem building programs – preaching positive thinking and getting rewarded for sub-standard results. There is no such thing as a grading system anymore. Everyone wins a prize!
These sermons urge us to embrace our exceptional uniqueness. They inform us that we are all special, that we should feel good about ourselves all the time, and that we deserve nothing but the best.
If we’re not careful though, we’ll all end up lonely and narcissistic fools. The world is already full of those with a sense of entitlement. But this self-love strategy is banking on a string of momentary highs. It is not true happiness. These people are unable to face their problems because their sense of self-worth is flawed.
Without adversity, we don’t have the opportunity to develop into strong-minded adults. We need the failures and pitfalls to learn how to survive. And with them comes great selflessness and humility. It provides the foundations for a realistic outlook and equips us with the skills we need to handle our inevitable problems.
Our ability to accept our failings and insignificance in the grand scheme of things, allows us to downsize our bag of worries. To be able to look at the negative parts of ourselves is to have genuinely high self-worth.
We are solely responsible for our actions. We do not deserve any special treatment.
Most people freak out about not being special or extraordinary. But the majority of life is filled with un-noteworthy experiences. These are the fruit and veggies of our existence. We need them to sustain a healthy outlook and to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. The things that honestly matter. They also help us to recognise when something undoubtedly extraordinary happens.
Manson expands on the benefit of suffering for the sake of experiences that create meaning. He addresses the concept of self-awareness and exploring our emotions, and warns against using the wrong metrics for measuring our success.
Further chapters are devoted to how we define and manage our value and belief systems, the empowerment that comes from the freedom of choice, and the consequence of our response mechanisms.
Towards the end of the book …
Manson exclaims that we’re all wrong about everything – but the trick is to accept that we are wrong and learn from our mistakes and misconceptions. We should never stop learning and making choices to do things differently. It’s the only way to improve our lives and to find true happiness.
On that back of this, he has even coined a new law. Manson’s Law of Avoidance says – The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it. Too often we say or do things purely to protect our sense of identity, rather than taking responsibility for our problems.
The underlying message of Manson’s entire theory is – failure is the way forward, and pain is part of the process. Being okay with the bad, so that you may know the good.
By being so focused on avoiding pain and fear, you’re avoiding being alive. You may as well embrace it all – because then you die.