Interview | Mark Manson on “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck”

Photo: @markmansonnet on Instagram.

Mark Manson: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ckDon’t try. Fail often. Rejection is good. Entitlement is bad. You aren’t special. These are just a sampling of the messages Mark Manson wants to ingrain in your mind in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, his new, counterintuitive self-help book.

From Bukowski to Buddha to Shakespeare, Manson pulls from low- and high-brow philosophies on happiness, success, and what constitutes a good life. Some of the concepts (the hedonic treadmill) you might already be familiar with; others will most definitely be new to you (the Feedback Loop From Hell, the Disappointment Panda).

In a style as blunt as a man-to-man chat, playboy-turned-bestselling-author Manson provides practical ways to re-frame your thinking and maximize your potential. In short, this is one book you should give a fuck about.

Crave: Right off the bat, let’s clarify why “not giving a fuck” is not the same as indifference or apathy.

Mark Manson: Basically, “not giving a fuck” is a code word for values and prioritizing your life efficiently. We all have to give a fuck about something. The question is then: What are we choosing to give a fuck about?

I was disappointed to read that you think pleasure is not a good value. Why is that?

Pleasure’s great. Obviously, we all want to feel pleasure. It can’t be one of our highest priorities because, simply put, anything worthwhile in life is going to be un-pleasurable at times. Pleasure is the type of thing that if you get the other stuff right, pleasure will happen on its own. It will be a side-effect of nailing your values down. If you’re just chasing pleasure all the time, then it’s going to create a lot of bad problems for yourself.

How do you apply this theory to sex? It seems like men often pride themselves on not giving a fuck about who they sleep with. Why is that the wrong way to think about it?

A lot of this comes down to the way masculinity is viewed in our culture. Men are encouraged to objectify sex, which leads them to not necessarily care about who the actual person they’re having sex with is. This isn’t an argument against casual sex—I’m the last person who should be arguing against casual sex—but you can’t just be pursuing sex for the sake of sex.

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Sex is a collaborative action. It involves another human being and most of the pleasure and joy that comes from it comes from the interplay between the two people, even if it is just a one-night stand. I think a lot of guys never learn that, never figure that out. They’re so culturally pressured, by their peer group and pop culture, to “bang a bunch of chicks” that they never think of it past that.

You admit in the book that you were a party boy previously and had some wild times. How did you decide to settle down and get married?

Frankly, it just started feeling very empty and pointless. It was a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. When I was a 23- , 24- year-old guy, it was great. I didn’t have a care in the world. Everything was new and exciting and the sky was the limit, but as the years dragged on, it just started feeling like I’d spent all of this time and energy on stuff that wasn’t really impacting my life in any significant way or in any long-term way. I started to think about my future, like “What kind of man do I want to be in 10, 20 years? Do I want to be like that 40-year-old guy who’s still going out to nightclubs and trying to hit on girls half his age? No, I don’t want to be that. So at some point I need to start evaluating what I really want for myself.” I totally gave it up from there.

That speaks to the part in your book about “freedom through commitment,” which sounds counter-intuitive but is actually true.

Yeah. So, when I was younger, I didn’t want to settle down, I just wanted to sleep with a lot of different women and have a lot of fun and keep everything in the shallow end of the pool. When I finally did open myself up to committing to somebody and entering that mental space where, “Okay, this is going to be my partner for years, if not the rest of my life,” what I discovered is that there’s a huge freedom that comes with giving up all of the possibilities.

When you’re a single guy or a single woman, it’s exciting to have all this potential out there, like you could meet this type of person, you could have this type of experience, you could go to this city. That’s all very exciting but it’s also very mentally and emotionally taxing. What I found with a very stable, long-term partner who I made these commitments with is that it suddenly freed up all of this mental RAM to focus on other things in my life. I had no idea how much mental energy I had been dedicating to chasing women and having sex that was much better used in other areas of my life.

Are the things worth giving a fuck about universal or are they deeply individual?

I think they’re deeply individual. I also think that they change based on where people are in their life—how old they are, what they’ve gone through recently.

Should people give a fuck about politics?

[Laughs] This question has been coming up a lot. My answer to this is a very depressed “yes.” There’s a lot of drama and bullshit around politics. There’s a lot of noise and very little substance. I think everybody knows that and that’s part of what frustrates people so much about politics. But the fact of the matter is: we are fortunate enough to live in a democratic society and part of enjoying the benefits of that society is that we deal with a lot of this bullshit that we call politics. It’s the whole “civic responsibility” argument. I definitely believe in that. So, yeah, we do need to care to a certain extent and use our best judgment to make a decision. If everybody just stops caring about politics, we’re going to lose the reins on our government.

Let’s say you had five minutes alone with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Which concept from the book would you hope to convey to them?

Oh, God. Hillary, it would probably be transparency and openness, although I can totally understand why she’s so secretive and paranoid. Donald…I don’t even know where I would start.

I saw a lot of him in this book.

Yeah. He’s almost the poster child for the whole chapter on entitlement. It could have been written about him. In my opinion, he’s kind of the manifestation of all the worst tendencies of American culture: the narcissism, the selfishness, the detachment from reality. I would show him that entire chapter on entitlement, but he wouldn’t listen. He probably doesn’t have the patience to read it anyway.

That reminds me of your assertion in the book that it’s good to be uncertain, that we shouldn’t aim to know everything or think that we know everything.

I think humility—which I think is a very good value to adopt—is basically an extension of understanding your own ignorance. Donald definitely does not understand his own ignorance. The more certain you are, the less open you are to learning, to understanding the world in different ways.

And what about failure? You say it’s good for people to experience failure, but how does that apply when you have a very successful writing career? Are you supposed to hope for failure? Are you nervous that some other area of your life is going to fail?

The fear of failure never goes away. In many ways, you could argue that success multiplies the opportunities for failure. It’s just more of an argument for becoming more comfortable with it.