Mark Manson on The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

The man himself, not giving a single one. Photo: Supplied

The man himself, not giving a single one. Photo: Supplied

A few years ago, New Yorker Mark Manson came to a life-changing decision – he was going to stop trying to become happy and successful. Striving to be happy was making him miserable, while worrying about success was guaranteeing failure. So he developed a new mantra: don’t try.

If this seems an odd message for a self-help book, that’s because The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is no ordinary self-help book. As the title suggests, the smash hit-tome argues that we should stop caring so much and come to terms with our shortcomings – we can’t all be winners, so let’s admit to being losers.

Mark Manson On The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck

  • Sydney: Enmore Theatre, September 14, $41
  • Melbourne (in conversation with Myke Bartlett): Melbourne Town Hall, September 18, $35
  • theschooloflife.com

Speaking to me from his Sydney hotel room, Mark admits he’s no longer in the best place to be spruiking the virtues of loserdom.

“This is really bad timing, because all of my dreams have just come true in the last six months,” he admits, laughing.

He’s in Australia for a series of shows hosted by The School of Life, for which thousands of tickets have been sold in Sydney and Melbourne. Yesterday his publisher called to tell him the book, which came out a year ago, just had its best week of sales yet. But Mark insists the experience hasn’t completely transformed his life.

“People talk to me about being a successful author and say, ‘how does it feel?’ It feels great, but I still have to live my day to day life with anxiety and self-doubt.”

All the same, he’s aware there’s a deep irony in becoming immensely successful on the back of a book about why success isn’t important. But this success is also proof that not caring works.

“My metric of success for the book was it needed to be the most brilliant, awe-inspiring thing. I spent a year and a half on the first draft and it was a bloated, self-indulgent mess,” Mark says.

“Eventually what I had to do was step back and say, ‘OK, my metric for success was to write a book I personally thought was pretty f*cking awesome’. That’s the backwards law in action. The more you strive to control the elements in your life, the more they fight against you.”

When motherfucking Thor is repping your book, the hammer has been thrown down. Thanks @chrishemsworth for the kind words.

A post shared by Mark Manson (@markmansonnet) on

The book’s lessons, as counterintuitive as they might seem, have met a rapturous reception among the millennial crowd, a generation often mocked for their sense of entitlement. Mark thinks the notion that much of our discontent actually springs from life being too easy – we live in an era of extreme convenience, after all, where even the mildest upset can seem distressing – has a particular potency for digital natives.

“I don’t think the internet necessarily makes us miserable, but it does provide exponentially more opportunities to make ourselves miserable,” he says. “If you’re a person who’s predisposed to being miserable, the internet will provide you with plenty of fuel. The vast mass of information and options makes the job of sifting through and deciding what is important in life that much more difficult.”

As the latest sale figures attest, the book’s appeal does extends beyond millennials. Although arguably part of a long-running trend for popular psychology and philosophy books, The Subtle Art seems designed for people who would never dream of subscribing to the “visualise your dream life to start living it” schtick of self-help manuals as The Secret.

“One of my favourite compliments is people who say, ‘I never read books but I read yours’. I get people who used to be into the woo-woo Secret stuff and my work helped pull them out of it, but I also get a lot of people who are totally into the woo-woo stuff and see no contradiction. I don’t get it.”

And if he had to pick something worth caring about?

“Oh god, I don’t know. Sleep eight hours, use sunscreen. That’s really all you should give a f*ck about.”

  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson is out now through Pan Macmillan, $29.95, markmanson.net

Three Things You Should Stop Giving A F*ck About

1) Being happy

Mark writes, “What determines your success isn’t, ‘What do you want to enjoy?’ The relevant question is, ‘What pain do you want to sustain?’ Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.”

2) Being special

“The knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgement of lofty expectations.”

3) Avoiding suffering

“When we force ourselves to stay popular at all times, we deny the existence of our life’s problems… [and] rob ourselves of the chance to solve them.”

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