June 2, 2019

Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Tired of more, more, and more? Learn to "Don't Try"

What an impactful title. Reading this book is like taking a self-awareness tour, or if borrowing the author Mark Manson’s metaphor, a “self-peeling” experience.


It reminds me of the book Essentialism a lot. Both talk about why and how to prioritize your attention, choose what matters to you based on finely honed personal values, and the ultimate truth of life – not about more but less. It’s the “let-go” part that is becoming unrealistically difficult and challenging in our current culture.

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Manson starts with the problems of our modern society; it’s a huge bag of problems: the overly obsessed body image, the chase of dramatic and glorified and “chemistry”-fueled love, hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, mass-media-driven exceptionalism, the pervasiveness of technology… The list goes on. I can almost hear Lady Gaga singing Shallow right now.

After this breakdown, he lays two bags in front of you. One is healthy values, the other is poor values (he called “shitty values”). Which one would you pick? When the label is attached beforehand, nobody would pick the latter, but what’s actually inside the shitty-value bag? It’s something we’re all familiar with: overrated pleasure, material success, always being right, staying constant positive, etc.

Then he goes on to explore five counter-intuitive but healthy values that one can adopt.

・Responsibility: taking responsibility for everything that occurs in your life, regardless of who’s at fault.

・Uncertainty: the acknowledgment of your own ignorance and the cultivation of constant doubt in your own beliefs.

・Failure: the willingness to discover your own flaws and mistakes so that they may be improved upon.

・Rejection: the ability to both say and hear no, thus clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life.

・Mortality: death as the compass by which we orient all of our other values and decisions.

Serious topics, but no worries, I can guarantee you that if there’s one thing that you will not get from this book, it would be boredom. Whether you’re familiar with these things or not, through creative-and-colorful prose, it’s arguably light-weight education but heavy entertainment for sure.

For example, when talking about how our brain works and how it tends to trick us, Manson has inserted a brilliant quote of comedian Emo Philips and it goes, “I used to think the human brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”

I do have one complaint though. As colorful word as it is, there are simply too many f* words, especially in the opening chapter. In fact, I had put the book back to the shelf of the bookstore twice in the past. The f* bomb is recycled over and over, it loses its impact and is also inappropriate. Plus, I do not want to read a book while speak f* internally every 10 seconds. It almost feels like he swears for the sake of swear, as if it’s his signature, as if not swearing would hurt his brand.

If you have a low tolerance for swear words, it can be really disturbing and even annoying. I won’t be surprised with a spike of 1-star reviews because of it.

On a completely different note, oftentimes I find myself getting what to read next right from the book I have just read. This book is no exception as well. I’m deeply struck by Onoda Hiroo’s story and the term “immortality projects” by Ernest Becker.

Onoda Hiroo had served the Japanese Imperial Army and fought in World War II. After its end in 1945, he had still held out in the Philippines jungle, refused to surrender and kept on his original duty - a one-man’s war for another 30 years. What had kept him up and driven him? Guess I’ll find out in No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War

Death and how we deal with it is the main theme of the final chapter. In order to compensate for our fear of death, Manson says, we try to construct a conceptual self that will live forever. “This is why people try so hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books.” Becker called such efforts “immortality projects”, the kind of projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death.

I was fascinated by this because 1) it’s a cool name! 2) I simply know so little and even think so little about death. The best way to explore such topic is through reading, that leads me to The Denial of Death.

Ultimately, I agree with Manson that “this book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go.” Not more than that, but on the point.

I want to end it with this quote from the final chapter:

You are too going to die, and that’s because you too were fortunate enough to have lived.

I think it’s excellent. I enjoy letting it lingering.

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Qihuan Piao

Qihuan Piao

(aka kinopyo) is Chinese based in Tokyo. Software writer. He shares stories inspired him in this blog. His infamous line - "I feel calm when I kill those monsters, or people (in game)" shocks his friends deeply.

He also writes in Japanese and Chinese.