Think positive and positive things will happen. How many variations of this advice have you heard? Has it worked?
“Fuck positivity,” said Mark Manson, a blogger and author of self-help novel The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. “Let’s be honest, shit is fucked and we have to live with it.”
Perhaps crassly put, but Manson hit the nail on the head with this insight which is the overarching theme of TSANGF. As a society, many of us are prone to sugarcoating the harsh realities of life. For our friends, our family, and even ourselves. We tell ourselves to chin up, to give off good vibes and work hard to be, and do, better.
That is good advice. However, philosophy isn’t one-size-fits-all. If you’re someone who prefers being hit with harsh alternatives – someone who’d rather learn to stomach the lemons than make lemonade – then TSANGF might be the self-help book for you.
A word soup of cussing, sarcasm and humor, Manson rips the bandaid right off in the first chapter by pointing out a simple truth.
“Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired,” wrote Manson (p. 3).
“But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack.” (p. 4)
It tells us what we should be – positive, happier, richer etc – and emphasizes that we have yet to reach it. We have failed. Essentially, we’re negatively impacting our mental health by taking on unnecessary and superficial stresses. Or, in other words, by giving a fuck about everything.
“The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important,” wrote the blogger (p. 5).
Manson’s work is quirky and accessible, his voice taking on the conversational tone of a no-bullshit friend who’s out to set the record straight. His work, described by himself as “a counterintuitive approach to living a good life”, begins by introducing readers to the concept of ‘The Feedback Loop from Hell’ wherein we get stuck in an overlap of emotions and begin to run circles within ourselves.
A situation where a thought on your thoughts snowballs until you find yourself repeatedly stacking on. Like feeling angry and then getting angry about being angry, or being anxious and then getting anxious about your anxiety. And then we feel bad because why are we like this? Why do we allow ourselves to fester in negativity? Manson argues that the most effective way to short-circuit the Loop is to simply embrace the “shit”.
“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,” he argues. “[And] to not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.” (pp. 9-12)
And on Manson goes, using anecdotes involving a Disappointment Panda – a superhero whose superpower would be to tell people harsh truths about themselves that they don’t want to hear but need to accept. Further on, Manson emphasizes the importance of struggles and how things fall apart, discusses the tyranny of exceptionalism, and consistently argues that it is only through the negative experiences that we will achieve the positive we desire.
TSANGF, though, is not exactly unique. Its content isn’t new, the package is. And the voice used to deliver it holds an appeal to it that makes the book charming and fun to read. Ultimately, it’s the humor and creativity which makes this self-help novel worth a read.
In a nutshell, TSANGF posits that without struggle we won’t really achieve anything worth achieving but we must first figure out what’s worth the struggle, what’s worth giving a fuck about.
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