Just do it. Be happy. Don’t give up. After every storm comes a rainbow. Time heals all wounds. Everything happens for a reason. Sound familiar? If you rolled your eyes at the second one and felt your fists clench by the last phrase, they probably do, because they are everywhere. These eye-rolling, stomach-lurching platitudes saturate the internet and the random Instagram model’s captions. They are sweet enough to make your teeth ache, disappointing enough that you can feel their emptiness and promising enough to turn your hope into cynicism when nothing changes.
In The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson describes how American culture, economy and society all push this narrative that overwhelming, impenetrable positivity is the key to true happiness. Feel insecure? Fake it until you make it. In the blues? Avoid it all costs, deny it, never even acknowledge it. Trapped into indecision by your fears? Deep breaths. Force a smile on your face, refuse to confront the maw of your terror. Repeat this mantra: I am alright. I am okay. It will all be okay.
These kinds of sappy encouragements — whether they are spoken to us or spoken by us — are universally loathed. Yet, when faced with the weighty task of consoling someone, you are compelled to drone out these same pithy phrases. It is a self-perpetuating cycle, and the crux of it all is the fact that we are unable to accept the chilling truth: We are not alright. We are not okay. And if we continue on acting as if our negative emotions don’t exist, nothing will ever be okay.
That is what The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, probably the most untraditional self-help literature I’ve ever encountered, promotes. In order to help ourselves, Manson postulates, we must first destroy ourselves. We must first eradicate our all-consuming notions of positivity. We must abandon our belief that we all deserve joy — that we all deserve anything, really — and the sense of entitlement, the ego, that comes with this belief.
Toxic positivity, healthy negativity: a radical concept
Manson’s methods seem contradictory, convoluted and, quite frankly, crappy. But that’s the thing — self-help, especially the intrinsic, profound kind, is not supposed to be a pleasant experience. If it is, you’re doing it wrong. To reorient your entire perspective, to uproot yourself from the standards you’ve always maintained, is cataclysmic. We have this expectation that self-help will be a nurturing, gentle experience — that it is equivalent to a relaxing spa day, when really it’s more like a deep-tissue massage.
And it is because of these false expectations that, although social media has facilitated discourse over mental illness, the number of those suffering from mental illness has also increased. When, in the past, there was a dearth of mental health representation, now there is an excess of it — an excess of positivity, of shallow quotes — as if we are overcompensating. The public, as a whole, seems content, yet when you peer more closely at each individual, you’ll see that our smiles don’t quite reach our eyes. As a result, social media has focused our attention, like a camera lens, on the tiniest nuisances in our lives, rather than on the tangible parts of our lives that truly matter.
Exerting our energy on things like the amount of likes we get and neglecting things like our important relationships, it’s no wonder we’re all mentally exhausted. But in The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Manson puts forth a radical concept: positivity, if consumed incorrectly, can be toxic, and negativity, if taken scrupulously, can be healthy. In less than 200 pages, he overturns every self-help “truth” with succinct, searing prose.
So, how can you stop giving a f*ck?
To sum it up, he first tells us to let go of our personal fables. We are not special. Our problems, no matter how tailored they are to our own experiences, are not unique. Once you stop deluding yourself into this mentality, your victim mindset will stop. Next, he urges us to accept our negative emotions as readily as we embrace the positive ones — to not conflict with them, because this internal warring only further damages us. Look your anxieties in the eye and let them wash over you, because it is only by understanding them can you seize control from them.
Manson’s ruthlessness doesn’t stop there: everything is your responsibility, even if it’s not your fault. And no, he doesn’t just mean the coffee spills, he also means the tragedies. The kind of unimaginable loss that you can hardly endure, much less accept. Life is arbitrary. Most things will never be your fault, especially this kind of grief. But, still, they are your responsibility to handle. You have the power to command how you perceive it when events spin out of control. You have the power to divert your attention and refuse to be slapped around by external forces. To carry the pain, rather than let it bow you.
You have a finite amount of f*cks to give, Manson says. So give them to what really matters: your friends, family, passions, important causes. Things that you would walk on hot coals for, be cast out for, even die for. Choose your metrics — the measurements by which you judge your success — and your values wisely. Rather than the amount of followers you have, think of all of the times you’ve made others laugh, or held eye contact with someone as they told you how you impacted them. Both are indicators of how much influence you have, but one is faceless and nameless, while the other is grounded in reality.
Lastly, you are going to die. That’s right. It might be tomorrow, but, hopefully, it’ll be years from now, when you have sated your taste for adventure and are surrounded by your loved ones. But, one day, there will be a world without you in it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So contemplate it. Don’t shy away from your mortality. Allow this knowledge to fill you up, because when you do, maybe then you’ll finally reconsider all the f*cks you’re giving. It will be painstaking, but Manson never decreed otherwise — in fact, it’s even in the title. Self-help is an art. And like art, it is a constant process that can never be perfected, only improved.
Photo Courtesy of Indiana Kwong