During my short summer holidays in Estonia and Belgium, I caught up on my challenge of reading 18 books this year (I am still “behind schedule” but made good progress) and I happened to have read this fun and deeper-than-it-appears read.
With the Amazon voucher Santa brought me last year, I picked this book. The title sounded fun, “go-against-the-grain” provocative, it resonated with my approach to life (be yourself, be weird and focus on what matters to you) and I had seen it everywhere on social media.
The subtle art of not caring about anything?
Although it may appear so, the book is not a guide to do anything you want for your own pleasure and not caring about any consequences. The main point author Mark Manson wants to drive home is that you should focus on what truly is important to you (relationships for example) and let go of everything else (keeping up with the Joneses*, what society expects of you to do, trivial issues such as “missing out on yet another two-for-one sale on hand sanitizer“, poor values,…).
A counterintuitive approach to living a good life
Manson differs himself from other self-development authors by his counterintuitive approach. It is not a book about greatness: you are special, you can achieve anything, etc. No, the author is of the opinion that not everything has to be great all the time (like on social media!), that it is okay for life to suck sometimes, that suffering will happen and that it is just a part of life. It is also about being comfortable with who you are, your fears, your doubts and the hard truths the “Disappointment Panda” – a superhero telling people harsh truths about themselves that they needed to hear but didn’t want to accept – will confront you with. The book can be seen as a guide to deal with this inevitable suffering “more mindfully, with more compassion and more humility” and as well to redefine your priorities and letting go of the unimportant items.
The topics mentioned in the book are logical and the points of Mark Manson make huge sense. These are illustrated with interesting stories and sometimes personal anecdotes that really help get the point across. I particularly enjoyed the stories about Lieutenant Onoda and the one with Dave Mustaine, which are about the values you choose to live by.
Lieutenant Onoda stayed hidden in the jungle of the Philippines for more than 30 years after World War II. He was, in fact, convinced that the war was not over yet and continued to kill innocent civilians despite letters sent to him from Japan (even a note from the emperor) asking him to return. Lieutenant Onoda valued honor, self-reliance and he took defending his country at all costs very seriously. He had been given the order to “never surrender” and that is the reason he stayed. When he was found by a Japanese “hippie” who convinced him the war ended 30 years ago, Onoda eventually returned to Japan. Upon his return, he did not find the same Japanese Empire he had been fighting for: Instead, he got disgusted by a consumerist, capitalist and superficial culture that had lost all of the traditions of honor and sacrifice upon which his generation had been raised. Onoda claimed he could not live according to his values in this post-war westernized Japan so he could not be happy. He even claimed that he was happier during his time in the jungle protecting a phantom empire. His time there gave his life meaning. All the years of suffering to protect the past empire suddenly meant nothing anymore. It was as if the Disappointment Panda had knocked on his door and told him straight to his face: “Sorry pal, you just wasted 30 years of your life”.
As a rock fan myself I, of course, enjoyed the story of Dave Mustaine. Mustaine was appointed as the lead guitarist of Metallica in 1981 but got kicked out of the band even before recording their first album in a quite abrupt way. Shortly after this incident, he formed the popular band Megadeth, the band turned out to be wildly popular over the years (check out this cover!) and it has sold more than 38 million albums. Quite impressive, isn’t it? However, the problem is, the man revealed he still feels like a failure: He still sees himself as the guy who dropped out of Metallica (the band has now sold over 180 million albums) and has adopted a value based on comparing his success to that of Metallica’s.
Although extreme, these two examples show the author’s point that choosing what you care about, what you value will define what kind of life you will live.
Should you give a f* about the book?
Manson takes a brutal and slap-in-your-face approach throughout the book which I can appreciate. The writing style of the book remains easy, some passages are absolutely hilarious, some are vulgar and will not appeal to every audience but most of what is being told is on point.
Since I am already prioritizing my attention to where it matters to me, the book was enjoyable but not a total revelation. My enthusiasm was high during the first chapters and faded slowly towards the middle, simply because what was advocated was mostly common sense.
All in all, I would give it 3.5 stars but how you evaluate the book will depend on your own background and life situation. Had I read the same book 10-15 years ago, I would probably have given it 5 stars! (I am 37). If you want to evaluate it for yourself, you can find the book here or listen to it via this free 30-day Audible trial.
Have you read it too? Should you give a f* about this book?
Let me know what you thought!
*Keeping up with the Joneses: Comparing yourself and “competing” with your neighbours in terms of material possessions, social class,…