Notes from: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

This blog post consists of some of the key passages from this book that I wanted to remember.

Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing. 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, etc. The problem is giving too many f*cks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a f*ck about less, giving a fuck about only watch is true and immediate and important.

Happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfilment and meaning have to be earned through choosing and managing of our struggles. Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of the negative experience – not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of the gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can benchpress a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it… People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live and make it.

The truth is that there’s no such thing as a personal problem. If you’ve got a problem, chances are millions of other people have had it in the past, have it now, and are going to have it in the future. Likely people you know too. That doesn’t minimise the problem or mean that it shouldn’t hurt. It doesn’t mean you aren’t legitimately a victim in some circumstances. It means you are not special.

The ticket to emotional health, like that to physical health, comes from eating your veggies – that is, accepting the bland and mundane truths of life: truths such as “your actions don’t actually matter that much in the grand scheme of things” and “the vast majority of your life will be boring and not noteworthy, and that’s okay.” This vegetable course will taste bad at first. Very bad. You will avoid accepting it.

The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning about their mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathise with others. They close themselves off to new and important information. It’s far more helpful to assume you’re ignorant and don’t know a whole lot. This keeps you unattached to superstitious or poorly informed beliefs and promotes a constant state of learning and growth.

We all love to take responsibility for success and happiness. Hell, we often fight over who gets to be responsible for success and happiness. But taking responsibility for our problems is far more important, because that’s where the real learning comes from. That’s where the real-life improvement comes from. To simply blame others is only to hurt yourself.

People get addicted to feeling offended all the time because it gives them a high; being self-righteous and morally superior feels good. AS political cartoonist Tim Kreider put it in a New York Times op-ed: “Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.” But part of living in a democracy and a free society is that we all have to deal with vies and people we don’t necessarily like. That’s simply the price we pay – you could even say it’s the whole point of the system. And it seems more and more people are forgetting that.

Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As the old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.

Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this. It never changes. Even when you’re happy. Even when you’re farting fairy dust. Even when you win the lottery and buy a small fleet of Jet Skis, you still won’t know what the hell you’re doing. Don’t eve forget that. And don’t ever be afraid of that.

If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something – anything, really – and then harness the reaction to do that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

Honesty is a natural human craving. But part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the world “no”. In this way, rejection actually makes our relationships better and emotional lives healthier.