Notes from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck
Usually when I finish reading a technical book I switch to some non-technical, either fiction or self-development book. Some people stay away from self-development books and don’t read them in principle. I think if in the whole book you find at least couple sentences that teach you something it’s worth the reading.
When I read a book I bookmark the parts that I like most, and after finishing it I go through them to recapitulate. Now since I have this site it’s a great place to save my notes so others can benefit from it too.
The genius in Bukowski’s work was not in overcoming unbelievable odds or developing himself into a shining literary light. It was the opposite. It was his simple ability to be completely, unflinchingly honest with himself — especially the worst parts of himself — and to share his failings without hesitation or doubt. This is the real story of Bukowski’s success: his comfort with himself as a failure.
Everyone wants you to believe that the key to a good life is nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about only what is true and immediate and important.
Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience… The more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make. The more you desperately want to be sexy and desired, the uglier you come to see yourself, regardless of your actual physical appearance. The more you desperately want to be happy and loved, the lonelier and more afraid you become, regardless of those who surround you.
If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive. The pain you pursue in the gym results in better health and energy. The failures in business are what lead to a better understanding of what’s necessary to be successful. Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others.
Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.
They say, “Fuck it”, not to everything in life, but rather to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly matters. Friends. Family. Purpose. Burritos. And because they reserve their fucks for only the big things that matter, people give a fuck about them in return.
I see practical enlightenment as becoming comfortable with the idea that some suffering is always inevitable — that no matter what you do, life is comprised of failures, loss, regrets, and even death. Because once you become comfortable with all the shit that life throws at you, you become invincible in a sort of low-level spiritual way. After all, the only way to overcome pain is to first learn how to bear it.
Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is solving. If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. If you feel like you have problems that you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable. The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place.
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 actually don’t 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.
But once ingested, your body will wake up feeling more potent and more alive. After all, that constant pressure to be something amazing, to be the next big thing, will be lifted off your back. The stress and anxiety of always feeling inadequate and constantly needing to prove yourself will dissipate. And the knowledge and acceptance of your own mundane existence will actually free you to accomplish what you truly wish to accomplish, without judgment or lofty expectations. You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you care about.
Sounds boring, doesn’t it? That’s because these things are ordinary. But maybe they’re ordinary for a reason: because they are what actually matters.
The first layer of the self-awareness onion is a simple understanding of one’s emotions. “This is when I feel happy.” “This makes me feel sad.” “This gives me hope.”
The second layer of the self-awareness onion is an ability to ask why we feel certain emotions. Such questions are important because they illuminate what we consider success or failure. Why do you feel angry? Is it because you failed to achieve some goal?
The third level is our personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?
There are handful of shitty values that create really poor problems. Here are some of them:
- Pleasure. Pleasure is great, but it’s a horrible value to prioritize your life around. Ask any drug addict how his pursuit of pleasure turned out. Ask an adulterer who shattered her family and lost her children whether pleasure ultimately made her happy. Ask a man who almost ate himself to death how pleasure helped him solve his problems.
- Material Success. Many people measure their self-worth based on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive or whether their front lawn is greener and prettier than the next-door neighbor’s. Research shows that once one is able to provide for basic physical needs (food, shelter, and so on), the correlation between happiness and worldly success quickly approaches zero.
- Always Being Right. The fact is, people who base their self-worth on being right about everything prevent themselves from learning from their mistakes. They lack the ability to take on new perspectives and empathize with others. They close themselves off to new and important information.
- Staying Positive. Denying negative emotions leads to experiencing deeper and more prolonged negative emotions and to emotional dysfunction. Constant positivity is a form of avoidance, not a valid solution to life’s problems. The truth is, sometimes life sucks, and the healthiest thing you can do is admit it.
Problems add a sense of meaning and importance to our life. Thus to duck our problems is to lead a meaningless (even if supposedly pleasant) existence. In the long run, completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends while struggling to make ends meet makes us happier than buying a new computer. These activities are stressful, arduous, and often unpleasant. Yet they are some of the most meaningful moments and joyous things we’ll ever do.
Freud once said, “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
Good values are reality-based, socially constructive, immediate and controllable.
Some examples of good, healthy values: honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility, creativity.
Bad values are superstitious, socially destructive, not immediate or controllable.
Some examples of bad, unhealthy values: dominance through manipulation or violence, indiscriminate fucking, feeling good all the time, always being the center of attention, not being alone, being liked by everybody, being rich for the sake of being rich, sacrificing small animals to the pagan gods.
The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives. Accepting responsibility for our problems is thus the first step to solving them.
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.
The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.
That means the more something threatens to change how you view yourself, how successful/unsuccessful you believe yourself to be, how well you see yourself living up to your values, the more you will avoid ever getting around to doing it.
My recommendation: don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator.
Aristotle wrote, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Being able to look at and evaluate different values without necessarily adopting them is perhaps the central skill required in changing one’s own life in a meaningful way.
Improvement at anything is based on thousands of tiny failures, and the magnitude of your success is based on how many times you’ve failed at something. If someone is better than you at something, then it’s likely because she has failed at it more than you have.
If you think about a young child trying to learn to walk, that child will fall down and hurt itself hundreds of times. But at no point does that child ever stop and think, “Oh, I guess walking just isn’t for me. I’m not good at it.”
Don’t just sit there. Do something. The answers will follow.
If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.
If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant. When the standard of success becomes merely acting — when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite — we propel ourselves ahead.
Commitment is liberating.
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most efficient at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out.