主页 The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

In this generation-defining self-help guide, a superstar blogger cuts through the crap to show us how to stop trying to be "positive" all the time so that we can truly become better, happier people.

For decades, we’ve been told that positive thinking is the key to a happy, rich life. "F**k positivity," Mark Manson says. "Let’s be honest, shit is f**ked and we have to live with it." In his wildly popular Internet blog, Manson doesn’t sugarcoat or equivocate. He tells it like it is—a dose of raw, refreshing, honest truth that is sorely lacking today. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is his antidote to the coddling, let’s-all-feel-good mindset that has infected modern society and spoiled a generation, rewarding them with gold medals just for showing up.

Manson makes the argument, backed both by academic research and well-timed poop jokes, that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. Human beings are flawed and limited—"not everybody can be extraordinary, there are winners and losers in society, and some of it is not fair or your fault." Manson advises us to get to know our limitations and accept them. Once we embrace our fears, faults, and uncertainties, once we stop running and avoiding and start confronting painful truths, we can begin to find the courage, perseverance, honesty, responsibility, curiosity, and forgiveness we seek.

There are only so many things we can give a f**k about so we need to figure out which ones really matter, Manson makes clear. While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience. A much-needed grab-you-by-the-shoulders-and-look-you-in-the-eye moment of real-talk, filled with entertaining stories and profane, ruthless humor, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k is a refreshing slap for a generation to help them lead contented,
年份: 2016
出版社: HarperCollins
语言: english
ISBN 10: 0062457713
ISBN 13: 9780062457714
File: EPUB, 495 KB
下载 (epub, 495 KB)

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Most frequently terms

 
 
bill
Don't give a Fuck is a waste of reading time. If you want to hear more of this sorry philosophy, go to bars and listen to emotional drunks. The man who wrote this mess and called it a book, is obviously very popular on this book site. The reason for that delight with Mark Manson can be easily discerned if you waste you time on his book or in a bar full of drunks. Yet it seems so strange that no matter what subject a sincere reading is searching for, this book site will feature either Manson's book or another waste of time called how to make a unicorn pie. Its all so very weird, but I suspect it is someone's way of trying to put down certain types of researchers. Perhaps its the Manson Family?
19 March 2019 (23:11) 
Daoud_B
I like it as it shows the art of giving less importance to less important things, this the best medicine for stress or anger instead of seeking psychic to solve this when it's too late
07 July 2019 (18:35) 
sonic
poo poo pee bum bumm
14 July 2019 (17:13) 
Angelseddy
You need to read this it a open mind. Look deeper and get to understand what Manson is teaching. It can be annoying reading this if you're impatient.
28 August 2019 (21:20) 
Emdee
Incredibly helpful and nicely written self-help book.
16 September 2019 (19:09) 
Omari J. Bayi
I enjoyed it and got better focus on the things worthy of my very precious fucks. I can already hear the psychology world hating on the book. get a life.
30 September 2019 (23:21) 
Frankenweenie
I enjoyed the book, but mostly for the other stories of people he included to explain his messages. Reading with an open mind is my recommendation, but in the end, the only thing that stuck with me was that Onoda's friggin crazy, and "dont care about what they say, man."

This is coming from a teen nerd who likes psychology and philosophy but actually knows pretty much nothing about either haha
17 October 2019 (02:33) 
You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MARK MANSON is a star blogger with more than two million readers. He lives in New York City.

Discover great authors, exclusive offers, and more at hc.com.








[image: ]







CHAPTER 2

Happiness Is a Problem

About twenty-five hundred years ago, in the Himalayan foothills of present-day Nepal, there lived in a great palace a king who was going to have a son. For this son the king had a particularly grand idea: he would make the child’s life perfect. The child would never know a moment of suffering—every need, every desire, would be accounted for at all times.

The king built high walls around the palace that prevented the prince from knowing the outside world. He spoiled the child, lavishing him with food and gifts, surrounding him with servants who catered to his every whim. And just as planned, the child grew up ignorant of the routine cruelties of human existence.

All of the prince’s childhood went on like this. But despite the endless luxury and opulence, the prince became kind of a pissed-off young man. Soon, every experience felt empty and valueless. The problem was that no matter what his father gave him, it never seemed enough, never meant anything.

So late one night, the prince snuck out of the palace to see what was beyond its walls. He had a servant drive him through the local village, and what he saw horrified him.

For the first time in his life, the prince saw human suffering. He saw sick people, old people, homeless people, people in pain, even people dying.

The prince returned to the palace and found himself in a sort of existential crisis. Not knowing how to process what he’d seen, he got all emo about everything and complained a lot. And, as is so typical of young men, the prince ended up blaming his father for the very things his father had tried to do for him. It was the riches, the prince thought, that had made him so miserable, that had made life seem so meaningless. He decided to run away.

But the prince was more like his father than he knew. He had grand ideas too. He wouldn’t just run away; he would give up his royalty, his family, and all of his possessions and live in the streets, sleeping in dirt like an animal. There he would starve himself, torture himself, and beg for scraps of food from strangers for the rest of his life.

The next night, the prince snuck out of the palace again, this time never to return. For years he lived as a bum, a discarded and forgotten remnant of society, the dog shit caked to the bottom of the social totem pole. And as planned, the prince suffered greatly. He suffered through disease, hunger, pain, loneliness, and decay. He confronted the brink of death itself, often limited to eating a single nut each day.

A few years went by. Then a few more. And then . . . nothing happened. The prince began to notice that this life of suffering wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It wasn’t bringing him the insight he had desired. It wasn’t revealing any deeper mystery of the world or its ultimate purpose.

In fact, the prince came to know what the rest of us have always kind of known: that suffering totally sucks. And it’s not necessarily that meaningful either. As with being rich, there is no value in suffering when it’s done without purpose. And soon the prince came to the conclusion that his grand idea, like his father’s, was in fact a fucking terrible idea and he should probably go do something else instead.

Totally confused, the prince cleaned himself up and went and found a big tree near a river. He decided that he would sit under that tree and not get up until he came up with another grand idea.

As the legend goes, the confused prince sat under that tree for forty-nine days. We won’t delve into the biological viability of sitting in the same spot for forty-nine days, but let’s just say that in that time the prince came to a number of profound realizations.

One of those realizations was this: that life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.

This isn’t to say that all suffering is equal. Some suffering is certainly more painful than other suffering. But we all must suffer nonetheless.

Years later, the prince would build his own philosophy and share it with the world, and this would be its first and central tenet: that pain and loss are inevitable and we should let go of trying to resist them. The prince would later become known as the Buddha. And in case you haven’t heard of him, he was kind of a big deal.

There is a premise that underlies a lot of our assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school or building a really complicated Lego set. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy.

This premise, though, is the problem. Happiness is not a solvable equation. Dissatisfaction and unease are inherent parts of human nature and, as we’ll see, necessary components to creating consistent happiness. The Buddha argued this from a theological and philosophical perspective. I will make the same argument in this chapter, but I will make it from a biological perspective, and with pandas.

The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda

If I could invent a superhero, I would invent one called Disappointment Panda. He’d wear a cheesy eye mask and a shirt (with a giant capital T on it) that was way too small for his big panda belly, and his superpower would be to tell people harsh truths about themselves that they needed to hear but didn’t want to accept.

He would go door-to-door like a Bible salesman and ring doorbells and say things like, “Sure, making a lot of money makes you feel good, but it won’t make your kids love you,” or “If you have to ask yourself if you trust your wife, then you probably don’t,” or “What you consider ‘friendship’ is really just your constant attempts to impress people.” Then he’d tell the homeowner to have a nice day and saunter on down to the next house.

It would be awesome. And sick. And sad. And uplifting. And necessary. After all, the greatest truths in life are usually the most unpleasant to hear.

Disappointment Panda would be the hero that none of us would want but all of us would need. He’d be the proverbial vegetables to our mental diet of junk food. He’d make our lives better despite making us feel worse. He’d make us stronger by tearing us down, brighten our future by showing us the darkness. Listening to him would be like watching a movie where the hero dies in the end: you love it even more despite making you feel horrible, because it feels real.

So while we’re here, allow me to put on my Disappointment Panda mask and drop another unpleasant truth on you:

We suffer for the simple reason that suffering is biologically useful. It is nature’s preferred agent for inspiring change. We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity, because it’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have. This constant dissatisfaction has kept our species fighting and striving, building and conquering. So no—our own pain and misery aren’t a bug of human evolution; they’re a feature.

Pain, in all of its forms, is our body’s most effective means of spurring action. Take something as simple as stubbing your toe. If you’re like me, when you stub your toe you scream enough four-letter words to make Pope Francis cry. You also probably blame some poor inanimate object for your suffering. “Stupid table,” you say. Or maybe you even go so far as to question your entire interior design philosophy based on your throbbing foot: “What kind of idiot puts a table there anyway? Seriously?”

But I digress. That horrible stubbed-toe-induced pain, the one you and I and the pope hate so much, exists for an important reason. Physical pain is a product of our nervous system, a feedback mechanism to give us a sense of our own physical proportions—where we can and cannot move and what we can and cannot touch. When we exceed those limits, our nervous system duly punishes us to make sure that we pay attention and never do it again.

And this pain, as much as we hate it, is useful. Pain is what teaches us what to pay attention to when we’re young or careless. It helps show us what’s good for us versus what’s bad for us. It helps us understand and adhere to our own limitations. It teaches us to not fuck around near hot stoves or stick metal objects into electrical sockets. Therefore, it’s not always beneficial to avoid pain and seek pleasure, since pain can, at times, be life-or-death important to our well-being.

But pain is not merely physical. As anyone who has had to sit through the first Star Wars prequel can tell you, we humans are capable of experiencing acute psychological pain as well. In fact, research has found that our brains don’t register much difference between physical pain and psychological pain. So when I tell you that my first girlfriend cheating on me and leaving me felt like having an ice pick slowly inserted into the center of my heart, that’s because, well, it hurt so much I might as well have had an ice pick slowly inserted into the center of my heart.

Like physical pain, our psychological pain is an indication of something out of equilibrium, some limitation that has been exceeded. And like our physical pain, our psychological pain is not necessarily always bad or even undesirable. In some cases, experiencing emotional or psychological pain can be healthy or necessary. Just like stubbing our toe teaches us to walk into fewer tables, the emotional pain of rejection or failure teaches us how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

And this is what’s so dangerous about a society that coddles itself more and more from the inevitable discomforts of life: we lose the benefits of experiencing healthy doses of pain, a loss that disconnects us from the reality of the world around us.

You may salivate at the thought of a problem-free life full of everlasting happiness and eternal compassion, but back here on earth the problems never cease. Seriously, problems don’t end. Disappointment Panda just dropped by. We had margaritas, and he told me all about it: problems never fucking go away, he said—they just improve. Warren Buffett’s got money problems; the drunk hobo down at Kwik-E Mart’s got money problems. Buffett’s just got better money problems than the hobo. All of life is like this.

“Life is essentially an endless series of problems, Mark,” the panda told me. He sipped his drink and adjusted the little pink umbrella. “The solution to one problem is merely the creation of the next one.”

A moment passed, and then I wondered where the fuck the talking panda came from. And while we’re at it, who made these margaritas?

“Don’t hope for a life without problems,” the panda said. “There’s no such thing. Instead, hope for a life full of good problems.”

And with that, he set his glass down, adjusted his sombrero, and sauntered off into the sunset.

Happiness Comes from Solving Problems

Problems are a constant in life. When you solve your health problem by buying a gym membership, you create new problems, like having to get up early to get to the gym on time, sweating like a meth-head for thirty minutes on an elliptical, and then getting showered and changed for work so you don’t stink up the whole office. When you solve your problem of not spending enough time with your partner by designating Wednesday night “date night,” you generate new problems, such as figuring out what to do every Wednesday that you both won’t hate, making sure you have enough money for nice dinners, rediscovering the chemistry and spark you two feel you’ve lost, and unraveling the logistics of fucking in a small bathtub filled with too many bubbles.

Problems never stop; they merely get exchanged and/or upgraded.

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.

To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action; it’s an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you, not something that you magically discover in a top-ten article on the Huffington Post or from any specific guru or teacher. It doesn’t magically appear when you finally make enough money to add on that extra room to the house. You don’t find it waiting for you in a place, an idea, a job—or even a book, for that matter.

Happiness is a constant work-in-progress, because solving problems is a constant work-in-progress—the solutions to today’s problems will lay the foundation for tomorrow’s problems, and so on. True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.

Sometimes those problems are simple: eating good food, traveling to some new place, winning at the new video game you just bought. Other times those problems are abstract and complicated: fixing your relationship with your mother, finding a career you can feel good about, developing better friendships.

Whatever your problems are, the concept is the same: solve problems; be happy. Unfortunately, for many people, life doesn’t feel that simple. That’s because they fuck things up in at least one of two ways:

1.   Denial. Some people deny that their problems exist in the first place. And because they deny reality, they must constantly delude or distract themselves from reality. This may make them feel good in the short term, but it leads to a life of insecurity, neuroticism, and emotional repression.

2.   Victim Mentality. Some choose to believe that there is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they in fact could. Victims seek to blame others for their problems or blame outside circumstances. This may make them feel better in the short term, but it leads to a life of anger, helplessness, and despair.

People deny and blame others for their problems for the simple reason that it’s easy and feels good, while solving problems is hard and often feels bad. Forms of blame and denial give us a quick high. They are a way to temporarily escape our problems, and that escape can provide us a quick rush that makes us feel better.

Highs come in many forms. Whether it’s a substance like alcohol, the moral righteousness that comes from blaming others, or the thrill of some new risky adventure, highs are shallow and unproductive ways to go about one’s life. Much of the self-help world is predicated on peddling highs to people rather than solving legitimate problems. Many self-help gurus teach you new forms of denial and pump you up with exercises that feel good in the short term, while ignoring the underlying issue. Remember, nobody who is actually happy has to stand in front of a mirror and tell himself that he’s happy.

Highs also generate addiction. The more you rely on them to feel better about your underlying problems, the more you will seek them out. In this sense, almost anything can become addictive, depending on the motivation behind using it. We all have our chosen methods to numb the pain of our problems, and in moderate doses there is nothing wrong with this. But the longer we avoid and the longer we numb, the more painful it will be when we finally do confront our issues.

Emotions Are Overrated

Emotions evolved for one specific purpose: to help us live and reproduce a little bit better. That’s it. They’re feedback mechanisms telling us that something is either likely right or likely wrong for us—nothing more, nothing less.

Much as the pain of touching a hot stove teaches you not to touch it again, the sadness of being alone teaches you not to do the things that made you feel so alone again. Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of beneficial change.

Look, I don’t mean to make light of your midlife crisis or the fact that your drunk dad stole your bike when you were eight years old and you still haven’t gotten over it, but when it comes down to it, if you feel crappy it’s because your brain is telling you that there’s a problem that’s unaddressed or unresolved. In other words, negative emotions are a call to action. When you feel them, it’s because you’re supposed to do something. Positive emotions, on the other hand, are rewards for taking the proper action. When you feel them, life seems simple and there is nothing else to do but enjoy it. Then, like everything else, the positive emotions go away, because more problems inevitably emerge.

Emotions are part of the equation of our lives, but not the entire equation. Just because something feels good doesn’t mean it is good. Just because something feels bad doesn’t mean it is bad. Emotions are merely signposts, suggestions that our neurobiology gives us, not commandments. Therefore, we shouldn’t always trust our own emotions. In fact, I believe we should make a habit of questioning them.

Many people are taught to repress their emotions for various personal, social, or cultural reasons—particularly negative emotions. Sadly, to deny one’s negative emotions is to deny many of the feedback mechanisms that help a person solve problems. As a result, many of these repressed individuals struggle to deal with problems throughout their lives. And if they can’t solve problems, then they can’t be happy. Remember, pain serves a purpose.

But then there are those people who overidentify with their emotions. Everything is justified for no other reason than they felt it. “Oh, I broke your windshield, but I was really mad; I couldn’t help it.” Or “I dropped out of school and moved to Alaska just because it felt right.” Decision-making based on emotional intuition, without the aid of reason to keep it in line, pretty much always sucks. You know who bases their entire lives on their emotions? Three-year-old kids. And dogs. You know what else three-year-olds and dogs do? Shit on the carpet.

An obsession and overinvestment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last. Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never-ending pursuit of “something else”—a new house, a new relationship, another child, another pay raise. And despite all of our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we started: inadequate.

Psychologists sometimes refer to this concept as the “hedonic treadmill”: the idea that we’re always working hard to change our life situation, but we actually never feel very different.

This is why our problems are recursive and unavoidable. The person you marry is the person you fight with. The house you buy is the house you repair. The dream job you take is the job you stress over. Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice—whatever makes us feel good will also inevitably make us feel bad. What we gain is also what we lose. What creates our positive experiences will define our negative experiences.

This is a difficult pill to swallow. We like the idea that there’s some form of ultimate happiness that can be attained. We like the idea that we can alleviate all of our suffering permanently. We like the idea that we can feel fulfilled and satisfied with our lives forever.

But we cannot.

Choose Your Struggle

If I ask you, “What do you want out of life?” and you say something like, “I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,” your response is so common and expected that it doesn’t really mean anything.

Everybody enjoys what feels good. Everyone wants to live a carefree, happy, and easy life, to fall in love and have amazing sex and relationships, to look perfect and make money and be popular and well-respected and admired and a total baller to the point that people part like the Red Sea when they walk into the room.

Everybody wants that. It’s easy to want that.

A more interesting question, a question that most people never consider, is, “What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?” Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.

For example, most people want to get the corner office and make a boatload of money—but not many people want to suffer through sixty-hour workweeks, long commutes, obnoxious paperwork, and arbitrary corporate hierarchies to escape the confines of an infinite cubicle hell.

Most people want to have great sex and an awesome relationship, but not everyone is willing to go through the tough conversations, the awkward silences, the hurt feelings, and the emotional psychodrama to get there. And so they settle. They settle and wonder, “What if?” for years and years, until the question morphs from “What if?” into “What else?” And when the lawyers go home and the alimony check is in the mail, they say, “What for?” If not for their lowered standards and expectations twenty years prior, then what for?

Because happiness requires struggle. It grows from problems. Joy doesn’t just sprout out of the ground like daisies and rainbows. Real, serious, lifelong fulfillment and meaning have to be earned through the choosing and managing of our struggles. Whether you suffer from anxiety or loneliness or obsessive-compulsive disorder or a dickhead boss who ruins half of your waking hours every day, the solution lies in the acceptance and active engagement of that negative experience—not the avoidance of it, not the salvation from it.

People want an amazing physique. But you don’t end up with one unless you legitimately appreciate the pain and physical stress that come with living inside a gym for hour upon hour, unless you love calculating and calibrating the food you eat, planning your life out in tiny plate–sized portions.

People want to start their own business. But you don’t end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, the insane hours devoted to something that may earn absolutely nothing.

People want a partner, a spouse. But you don’t end up attracting someone amazing without appreciating the emotional turbulence that comes with weathering rejections, building the sexual tension that never gets released, and staring blankly at a phone that never rings. It’s part of the game of love. You can’t win if you don’t play.

What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame.

You have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns all the time. Pleasure is the easy question. And pretty much all of us have a similar answer.

The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain? That’s the hard question that matters, the question that will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change a perspective, a life. It’s what makes me, me, and you, you. It’s what defines us and separates us and ultimately brings us together.

For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I fantasized about being a musician—a rock star, in particular. Any badass guitar song I heard, I would always close my eyes and envision myself up on stage, playing it to the screams of the crowd, people absolutely losing their minds to my sweet finger-noodling glory. This fantasy could keep me occupied for hours on end. For me, it was never a question of if I’d ever be up playing in front of screaming crowds, but when. I had it all planned out. I was simply biding my time before I could invest the proper amount of energy and effort into getting out there and making my mark. First I needed to finish school. Then I needed to make some extra money to buy gear. Then I needed to find enough free time to practice. Then I had to network and plan my first project. Then . . . and then nothing.

Despite my fantasizing about this for over half my lifetime, the reality never came to fruition. And it took me a long time and a lot of struggle to finally figure out why: I didn’t actually want it.

I was in love with the result—the image of me on stage, people cheering, me rocking out, pouring my heart into what I was playing—but I wasn’t in love with the process. And because of that, I failed at it. Repeatedly. Hell, I didn’t even try hard enough to fail at it. I hardly tried at all. The daily drudgery of practicing, the logistics of finding a group and rehearsing, the pain of finding gigs and actually getting people to show up and give a shit, the broken strings, the blown tube amp, hauling forty pounds of gear to and from rehearsals with no car. It’s a mountain of a dream and a mile-high climb to the top. And what it took me a long time to discover is that I didn’t like to climb much. I just liked to imagine the summit.

The common cultural narratives would tell me that I somehow failed myself, that I’m a quitter or a loser, that I just didn’t “have it,” that I gave up on my dream and that maybe I let myself succumb to the pressures of society.

But the truth is far less interesting than any of these explanations. The truth is, I thought I wanted something, but it turns out I didn’t. End of story.

I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love with not the fight but only the victory.

And life doesn’t work that way.

Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who run triathlons and have chiseled abs and can bench-press a small house. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who fly to the top of it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainties of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it.

This is not about willpower or grit. This is not another admonishment of “no pain, no gain.” This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems.

See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.





CHAPTER 1

Don’t Try

Charles Bukowski was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a chronic gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet. He’s probably the last person on earth you would ever look to for life advice or expect to see in any sort of self-help book.

Which is why he’s the perfect place to start.

Bukowski wanted to be a writer. But for decades his work was rejected by almost every magazine, newspaper, journal, agent, and publisher he submitted to. His work was horrible, they said. Crude. Disgusting. Depraved. And as the stacks of rejection slips piled up, the weight of his failures pushed him deep into an alcohol-fueled depression that would follow him for most of his life.

Bukowski had a day job as a letter-filer at a post office. He got paid shit money and spent most of it on booze. He gambled away the rest at the racetrack. At night, he would drink alone and sometimes hammer out poetry on his beat-up old typewriter. Often, he’d wake up on the floor, having passed out the night before.

Thirty years went by like this, most of it a meaningless blur of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitutes. Then, when Bukowski was fifty, after a lifetime of failure and self-loathing, an editor at a small independent publishing house took a strange interest in him. The editor couldn’t offer Bukowski much money or much promise of sales. But he had a weird affection for the drunk loser, so he decided to take a chance on him. It was the first real shot Bukowski had ever gotten, and, he realized, probably the only one he would ever get. Bukowski wrote back to the editor: “I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy . . . or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”

Upon signing the contract, Bukowski wrote his first novel in three weeks. It was called simply Post Office. In the dedication, he wrote, “Dedicated to nobody.”

Bukowski would make it as a novelist and poet. He would go on and publish six novels and hundreds of poems, selling over two million copies of his books. His popularity defied everyone’s expectations, particularly his own.

Stories like Bukowski’s are the bread and butter of our cultural narrative. Bukowski’s life embodies the American Dream: a man fights for what he wants, never gives up, and eventually achieves his wildest dreams. It’s practically a movie waiting to happen. We all look at stories like Bukowski’s and say, “See? He never gave up. He never stopped trying. He always believed in himself. He persisted against all the odds and made something of himself!”

It is then strange that on Bukowski’s tombstone, the epitaph reads: “Don’t try.”

See, despite the book sales and the fame, Bukowski was a loser. He knew it. And his success stemmed not from some determination to be a winner, but from the fact that he knew he was a loser, accepted it, and then wrote honestly about it. He never tried to be anything other than what he was. 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. Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about success. Even after his fame, he still showed up to poetry readings hammered and verbally abused people in his audience. He still exposed himself in public and tried to sleep with every woman he could find. Fame and success didn’t make him a better person. Nor was it by becoming a better person that he became famous and successful.

Self-improvement and success often occur together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the same thing.

Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, and more admired. Be perfect and amazing and crap out twelve-karat-gold nuggets before breakfast each morning while kissing your selfie-ready spouse and two and a half kids goodbye. Then fly your helicopter to your wonderfully fulfilling job, where you spend your days doing incredibly meaningful work that’s likely to save the planet one day.

But when you stop and really think about it, conventional life advice—all the positive and happy self-help stuff we hear all the time—is actually fixating on what you lack. It lasers in on what you perceive your personal shortcomings and failures to already be, and then emphasizes them for you. You learn about the best ways to make money because you feel you don’t have enough money already. You stand in front of the mirror and repeat affirmations saying that you’re beautiful because you feel as though you’re not beautiful already. You follow dating and relationship advice because you feel that you’re unlovable already. You try goofy visualization exercises about being more successful because you feel as though you aren’t successful enough already.

Ironically, this fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be. After all, no truly happy person feels the need to stand in front of a mirror and recite that she’s happy. She just is.

There’s a saying in Texas: “The smallest dog barks the loudest.” A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident. A rich woman doesn’t feel a need to convince anybody that she’s rich. Either you are or you are not. And if you’re dreaming of something all the time, then you’re reinforcing the same unconscious reality over and over: that you are not that.

Everyone and their TV commercial wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, or a more rugged car, or a prettier girlfriend, or a hot tub with an inflatable pool for the kids. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life is more, more, more—buy more, own more, make more, fuck more, be more. You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. Give a fuck about a new TV. Give a fuck about having a better vacation than your coworkers. Give a fuck about buying that new lawn ornament. Give a fuck about having the right kind of selfie stick.

Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.

And while there’s nothing wrong with good business, the problem is that giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. 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.

The Feedback Loop from Hell

There’s an insidious quirk to your brain that, if you let it, can drive you absolutely batty. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you:

You get anxious about confronting somebody in your life. That anxiety cripples you and you start wondering why you’re so anxious. Now you’re becoming anxious about being anxious. Oh no! Doubly anxious! Now you’re anxious about your anxiety, which is causing more anxiety. Quick, where’s the whiskey?

Or let’s say you have an anger problem. You get pissed off at the stupidest, most inane stuff, and you have no idea why. And the fact that you get pissed off so easily starts to piss you off even more. And then, in your petty rage, you realize that being angry all the time makes you a shallow and mean person, and you hate this; you hate it so much that you get angry at yourself. Now look at you: you’re angry at yourself getting angry about being angry. Fuck you, wall. Here, have a fist.

Or you’re so worried about doing the right thing all the time that you become worried about how much you’re worrying. Or you feel so guilty for every mistake you make that you begin to feel guilty about how guilty you’re feeling. Or you get sad and alone so often that it makes you feel even more sad and alone just thinking about it.

Welcome to the Feedback Loop from Hell. Chances are you’ve engaged in it more than a few times. Maybe you’re engaging in it right now: “God, I do the Feedback Loop all the time—I’m such a loser for doing it. I should stop. Oh my God, I feel like such a loser for calling myself a loser. I should stop calling myself a loser. Ah, fuck! I’m doing it again! See? I’m a loser! Argh!”

Calm down, amigo. Believe it or not, this is part of the beauty of being human. Very few animals on earth have the ability to think cogent thoughts to begin with, but we humans have the luxury of being able to have thoughts about our thoughts. So I can think about watching Miley Cyrus videos on YouTube, and then immediately think about what a sicko I am for wanting to watch Miley Cyrus videos on YouTube. Ah, the miracle of consciousness!

Now here’s the problem: Our society today, through the wonders of consumer culture and hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours social media, has bred a whole generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences—anxiety, fear, guilt, etc.—is totally not okay. I mean, if you look at your Facebook feed, everybody there is having a fucking grand old time. Look, eight people got married this week! And some sixteen-year-old on TV got a Ferrari for her birthday. And another kid just made two billion dollars inventing an app that automatically delivers you more toilet paper when you run out.

Meanwhile, you’re stuck at home flossing your cat. And you can’t help but think your life sucks even more than you thought.

The Feedback Loop from Hell has become a borderline epidemic, making many of us overly stressed, overly neurotic, and overly self-loathing.

Back in Grandpa’s day, he would feel like shit and think to himself, “Gee whiz, I sure do feel like a cow turd today. But hey, I guess that’s just life. Back to shoveling hay.”

But now? Now if you feel like shit for even five minutes, you’re bombarded with 350 images of people totally happy and having amazing fucking lives, and it’s impossible to not feel like there’s something wrong with you.

It’s this last part that gets us into trouble. We feel bad about feeling bad. We feel guilty for feeling guilty. We get angry about getting angry. We get anxious about feeling anxious. What is wrong with me?

This is why not giving a fuck is so key. This is why it’s going to save the world. And it’s going to save it by accepting that the world is totally fucked and that’s all right, because it’s always been that way, and always will be.

By not giving a fuck that you feel bad, you short-circuit the Feedback Loop from Hell; you say to yourself, “I feel like shit, but who gives a fuck?” And then, as if sprinkled by magic fuck-giving fairy dust, you stop hating yourself for feeling so bad.

George Orwell said that to see what’s in front of one’s nose requires a constant struggle. Well, the solution to our stress and anxiety is right there in front of our noses, and we’re too busy watching porn and advertisements for ab machines that don’t work, wondering why we’re not banging a hot blonde with a rocking six-pack, to notice.

We joke online about “first-world problems,” but we really have become victims of our own success. Stress-related health issues, anxiety disorders, and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the past thirty years, despite the fact that everyone has a flat-screen TV and can have their groceries delivered. Our crisis is no longer material; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. We have so much fucking stuff and so many opportunities that we don’t even know what to give a fuck about anymore.

Because there’s an infinite amount of things we can now see or know, there are also an infinite number of ways we can discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they could be. And this rips us apart inside.

Because here’s the thing that’s wrong with all of the “How to Be Happy” shit that’s been shared eight million times on Facebook in the past few years—here’s what nobody realizes about all of this crap:

The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.

This is a total mind-fuck. So I’ll give you a minute to unpretzel your brain and maybe read that again: Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that 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. The more you want to be spiritually enlightened, the more self-centered and shallow you become in trying to get there.

It’s like this one time I tripped on acid and it felt like the more I walked toward a house, the farther away the house got from me. And yes, I just used my LSD hallucinations to make a philosophical point about happiness. No fucks given.

As the existential philosopher Albert Camus said (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on LSD at the time): “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Or put more simply:

Don’t try.

Now, I know what you’re saying: “Mark, this is making my nipples all hard, but what about the Camaro I’ve been saving up for? What about the beach body I’ve been starving myself for? After all, I paid a lot of money for that ab machine! What about the big house on the lake I’ve been dreaming of? If I stop giving a fuck about those things—well, then I’ll never achieve anything. I don’t want that to happen, do I?”

So glad you asked.

Ever notice that sometimes when you care less about something, you do better at it? Notice how it’s often the person who is the least invested in the success of something that actually ends up achieving it? Notice how sometimes when you stop giving a fuck, everything seems to fall into place?

What’s with that?

What’s interesting about the backwards law is that it’s called “backwards” for a reason: not giving a fuck works in reverse. If pursuing the positive is a negative, then pursuing the negative generates the positive. The pain you pursue in the gym results in better all-around 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. The pain of honest confrontation is what generates the greatest trust and respect in your relationships. Suffering through your fears and anxieties is what allows you to build courage and perseverance.

Seriously, I could keep going, but you get the point. Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.

Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.

In my life, I have given a fuck about many things. I have also not given a fuck about many things. And like the road not taken, it was the fucks not given that made all the difference.

Chances are you know somebody in your life who, at one time or another, did not give a fuck and then went on to accomplish amazing feats. Perhaps there was a time in your own life when you simply did not give a fuck and excelled to some extraordinary height. For myself, quitting my day job in finance after only six weeks to start an Internet business ranks pretty high up there in my own “didn’t give a fuck” hall of fame. Same with deciding to sell most of my possessions and move to South America. Fucks given? None. Just went and did it.

These moments of non-fuckery are the moments that most define our lives. The major switch in careers; the spontaneous choice to drop out of college and join a rock band; the decision to finally dump that deadbeat boyfriend whom you caught wearing your pantyhose a few too many times.

To not give a fuck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action.

While not giving a fuck may seem simple on the surface, it’s a whole new bag of burritos under the hood. I don’t even know what that sentence means, but I don’t give a fuck. A bag of burritos sounds awesome, so let’s just go with it.

Most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. We give too many fucks about the rude gas station attendant who gave us our change in nickels. We give too many fucks when a show we liked was canceled on TV. We give too many fucks when our coworkers don’t bother asking us about our awesome weekend.

Meanwhile, our credit cards are maxed out, our dog hates us, and Junior is snorting meth in the bathroom, yet we’re getting pissed off about nickels and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Look, this is how it works. You’re going to die one day. I know that’s kind of obvious, but I just wanted to remind you in case you’d forgotten. You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.

There is a subtle art to not giving a fuck. And though the concept may sound ridiculous and I may sound like an asshole, what I’m talking about here is essentially learning how to focus and prioritize your thoughts effectively—how to pick and choose what matters to you and what does not matter to you based on finely honed personal values. This is incredibly difficult. It takes a lifetime of practice and discipline to achieve. And you will regularly fail. But it is perhaps the most worthy struggle one can undertake in one’s life. It is perhaps the only struggle in one’s life.

Because when you give too many fucks—when you give a fuck about everyone and everything—you will feel that you’re perpetually entitled to be comfortable and happy at all times, that everything is supposed to be just exactly the fucking way you want it to be. This is a sickness. And it will eat you alive. You will see every adversity as an injustice, every challenge as a failure, every inconvenience as a personal slight, every disagreement as a betrayal. You will be confined to your own petty, skull-sized hell, burning with entitlement and bluster, running circles around your very own personal Feedback Loop from Hell, in constant motion yet arriving nowhere.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

When most people envision giving no fucks whatsoever, they imagine a kind of serene indifference to everything, a calm that weathers all storms. They imagine and aspire to be a person who is shaken by nothing and caves in to no one.

There’s a name for a person who finds no emotion or meaning in anything: a psychopath. Why you would want to emulate a psychopath, I have no fucking clue.

So what does not giving a fuck mean? Let’s look at three “subtleties” that should help clarify the matter.

Subtlety #1: Not giving a fuck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different.

Let’s be clear. There’s absolutely nothing admirable or confident about indifference. People who are indifferent are lame and scared. They’re couch potatoes and Internet trolls. In fact, indifferent people often attempt to be indifferent because in reality they give way too many fucks. They give a fuck about what everyone thinks of their hair, so they never bother washing or combing it. They give a fuck about what everyone thinks of their ideas, so they hide behind sarcasm and self-righteous snark. They’re afraid to let anyone get close to them, so they imagine themselves as some special, unique snowflake who has problems that nobody else would ever understand.

Indifferent people are afraid of the world and the repercussions of their own choices. That’s why they don’t make any meaningful choices. They hide in a gray, emotionless pit of their own making, self-absorbed and self-pitying, perpetually distracting themselves from this unfortunate thing demanding their time and energy called life.

Because here’s a sneaky truth about life. There’s no such thing as not giving a fuck. You must give a fuck about something. It’s part of our biology to always care about something and therefore to always give a fuck.

The question, then, is, What do we give a fuck about? What are we choosing to give a fuck about? And how can we not give a fuck about what ultimately does not matter?

My mother was recently screwed out of a large chunk of money by a close friend of hers. Had I been indifferent, I would have shrugged my shoulders, sipped my mocha, and downloaded another season of The Wire. Sorry, Mom.

But instead, I was indignant. I was pissed off. I said, “No, screw that, Mom. We’re going to lawyer the fuck up and go after this asshole. Why? Because I don’t give a fuck. I will ruin this guy’s life if I have to.”

This illustrates the first subtlety of not giving a fuck. When we say, “Damn, watch out, Mark Manson just don’t give a fuck,” we don’t mean that Mark Manson doesn’t care about anything; on the contrary, we mean that Mark Manson doesn’t care about adversity in the face of his goals, he doesn’t care about pissing some people off to do what he feels is right or important or noble. We mean that Mark Manson is the type of guy who would write about himself in third person just because he thought it was the right thing to do. He just doesn’t give a fuck.

This is what is so admirable. No, not me, dumbass—the overcoming adversity stuff, the willingness to be different, an outcast, a pariah, all for the sake of one’s own values. The willingness to stare failure in the face and shove your middle finger back at it. The people who don’t give a fuck about adversity or failure or embarrassing themselves or shitting the bed a few times. The people who just laugh and then do what they believe in anyway. Because they know it’s right. They know it’s more important than they are, more important than their own feelings and their own pride and their own ego. 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 an occasional lawsuit or two. And because of that, because they reserve their fucks for only the big things that matter, people give a fuck about them in return.

Because here’s another sneaky little truth about life. You can’t be an important and life-changing presence for some people without also being a joke and an embarrassment to others. You just can’t. Because there’s no such thing as a lack of adversity. It doesn’t exist. The old saying goes that no matter where you go, there you are. Well, the same is true for adversity and failure. No matter where you go, there’s a five-hundred-pound load of shit waiting for you. And that’s perfectly fine. The point isn’t to get away from the shit. The point is to find the shit you enjoy dealing with.

Subtlety #2: To not give a fuck about adversity, you must first give a fuck about something more important than adversity.

Imagine you’re at a grocery store, and you watch an elderly lady scream at the cashier, berating him for not accepting her thirty-cent coupon. Why does this lady give a fuck? It’s just thirty cents.

I’ll tell you why: That lady probably doesn’t have anything better to do with her days than to sit at home cutting out coupons. She’s old and lonely. Her kids are dickheads and never visit. She hasn’t had sex in over thirty years. She can’t fart without extreme lower-back pain. Her pension is on its last legs, and she’s probably going to die in a diaper thinking she’s in Candy Land.

So she snips coupons. That’s all she’s got. It’s her and her damn coupons. It’s all she can give a fuck about because there is nothing else to give a fuck about. And so when that pimply-faced seventeen-year-old cashier refuses to accept one of them, when he defends his cash register’s purity the way knights used to defend maidens’ virginity, you can bet Granny is going to erupt. Eighty years of fucks will rain down all at once, like a fiery hailstorm of “Back in my day” and “People used to show more respect” stories.

The problem with people who hand out fucks like ice cream at a goddamn summer camp is that they don’t have anything more fuck-worthy to dedicate their fucks to.

If you find yourself consistently giving too many fucks about trivial shit that bothers you—your ex-boyfriend’s new Facebook picture, how quickly the batteries die in the TV remote, missing out on yet another two-for-one sale on hand sanitizer—chances are you don’t have much going on in your life to give a legitimate fuck about. And that’s your real problem. Not the hand sanitizer. Not the TV remote.

I once heard an artist say that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people—especially educated, pampered middle-class white people—consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.

It then follows that finding something important and meaningful in your life is perhaps the most productive use of your time and energy. Because if you don’t find that meaningful something, your fucks will be given to meaningless and frivolous causes.

Subtlety #3: Whether you realize it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

People aren’t just born not giving a fuck. In fact, we’re born giving way too many fucks. Ever watch a kid cry his eyes out because his hat is the wrong shade of blue? Exactly. Fuck that kid.

When we’re young, everything is new and exciting, and everything seems to matter so much. Therefore, we give tons of fucks. We give a fuck about everything and everyone—about what people are saying about us, about whether that cute boy/girl called us back or not, about whether our socks match or not, or what color our birthday balloon is.

As we get older, with the benefit of experience (and having seen so much time slip by), we begin to notice that most of these sorts of things have little lasting impact on our lives. Those people whose opinions we cared about so much before are no longer present in our lives. Rejections that were painful in the moment have actually worked out for the best. We realize how little attention people pay to the superficial details about us, and we choose not to obsess so much over them.

Essentially, we become more selective about the fucks we’re willing to give. This is something called maturity. It’s nice; you should try it sometime. Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give a fuck about what’s truly fuckworthy. As Bunk Moreland said to his partner Detective McNulty in The Wire (which, fuck you, I still downloaded): “That’s what you get for giving a fuck when it wasn’t your turn to give a fuck.”

Then, as we grow older and enter middle age, something else begins to change. Our energy level drops. Our identity solidifies. We know who we are and we accept ourselves, including some of the parts we aren’t thrilled about.

And, in a strange way, this is liberating. We no longer need to give a fuck about everything. Life is just what it is. We accept it, warts and all. We realize that we’re never going to cure cancer or go to the moon or feel Jennifer Aniston’s tits. And that’s okay. Life goes on. We now reserve our ever-dwindling fucks for the most truly fuck-worthy parts of our lives: our families, our best friends, our golf swing. And, to our astonishment, this is enough. This simplification actually makes us really fucking happy on a consistent basis. And we start to think, Maybe that crazy alcoholic Bukowski was onto something. Don’t try.

So Mark, What the Fuck Is the Point of This Book Anyway?

This book will help you think a little bit more clearly about what you’re choosing to find important in life and what you’re choosing to find unimportant.

I believe that today we’re facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes. I know that sounds intellectually lazy on the surface, but I promise you, it’s a life/death sort of issue.

Because when we believe that it’s not okay for things to suck sometimes, then we unconsciously start blaming ourselves. We start to feel as though something is inherently wrong with us, which drives us to all sorts of overcompensation, like buying forty pairs of shoes or downing Xanax with a vodka chaser on a Tuesday night or shooting up a school bus full of kids.

This belief that it’s not okay to be inadequate sometimes is the source of the growing Feedback Loop from Hell that is coming to dominate our culture.

The idea of not giving a fuck is a simple way of reorienting our expectations for life and choosing what is important and what is not. Developing this ability leads to something I like to think of as a kind of “practical enlightenment.”

No, not that airy-fairy, eternal bliss, end-of-all-suffering, bullshitty kind of enlightenment. On the contrary, 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 (and it will throw a lot of shit, trust me), 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.

This book doesn’t give a fuck about alleviating your problems or your pain. And that is precisely why you will know it’s being honest. This book is not some guide to greatness—it couldn’t be, because greatness is merely an illusion in our minds, a made-up destination that we obligate ourselves to pursue, our own psychological Atlantis.

Instead, this book will turn your pain into a tool, your trauma into power, and your problems into slightly better problems. That is real progress. Think of it as a guide to suffering and how to do it better, more meaningfully, with more compassion and more humility. It’s a book about moving lightly despite your heavy burdens, resting easier with your greatest fears, laughing at your tears as you cry them.

This book will not teach you how to gain or achieve, but rather how to lose and let go. It will teach you to take inventory of your life and scrub out all but the most important items. It will teach you to close your eyes and trust that you can fall backwards and still be okay. It will teach you to give fewer fucks. It will teach you to not try.





CHAPTER 8

The Importance of Saying No

In 2009, I gathered up all my possessions, sold them or put them into storage, left my apartment, and set off for Latin America. By this time my little dating advice blog was getting some traffic and I was actually making a modest amount of money selling PDFs and courses online. I planned on spending much of the next few years living abroad, experiencing new cultures, and taking advantage of the lower cost of living in a number of developing countries in Asia and Latin America to build my business further. It was the digital nomad dream and as a twenty-five-year-old adventure-seeker, it was exactly what I wanted out of life.

But as sexy and heroic as my plan sounded, not all of the values driving me to this nomadic lifestyle were healthy ones. Sure, I had some admirable values going on—a thirst to see the world, a curiosity for people and culture, some old-fashioned adventure-seeking. But there also existed a faint outline of shame underlying everything else. At the time I was hardly aware of it, but if I was completely honest with myself, I knew there was a screwed-up value lurking there, somewhere beneath the surface. I couldn’t see it, but in quiet moments when I was completely honest with myself, I could feel it.

Along with the entitlement of my early twenties, the “real traumatic shit” of my teenage years had left me with a nice bundle of commitment issues. I had spent the past few years overcompensating for the inadequacy and social anxiety of my teenager years, and as a result I felt like I could meet anybody I wanted, be friends with anybody I wanted, love anybody I wanted, have sex with anybody I wanted—so why would I ever commit to a single person, or even a single social group, a single city or country or culture? If I could experience everything equally, then I should experience them all equally, right?

Armed with this grandiose sense of connectivity to the world, I bounced back and forth across countries and oceans in a game of global hopscotch that lasted over five years. I visited fifty-five countries, made dozens of friends, and found myself in the arms of a number of lovers—all of whom were quickly replaced and some of whom were already forgotten by the next flight to the next country.

It was a strange life, replete with fantastic, horizon-breaching experiences as well as superficial highs designed to numb my underlying pain. It seemed both so profound yet so meaningless at the same time, and still does. Some of my greatest life lessons and character-defining moments came on the road during this period. But some of the biggest wastes of my time and energy came during this period as well.

Now I live in New York. I have a house and furniture and an electric bill and a wife. None of it is particularly glamorous or exciting. And I like it that way. Because after all the years of excitement, the biggest lesson I took from my adventuring was this: absolute freedom, by itself, means nothing.

Freedom grants the opportunity for greater meaning, but by itself there is nothing necessarily meaningful about it. Ultimately, the only way to achieve meaning and a sense of importance in one’s life is through a rejection of alternatives, a narrowing of freedom, a choice of commitment to one place, one belief, or (gulp) one person.

This realization came to me slowly over the course of my years traveling. As with most excesses in life, you have to drown yourself in them to realize that they don’t make you happy. Such was traveling with me. As I drowned in my fifty-third, fifty-fourth, fifty-fifth country, I began to understand that while all of my experiences were exciting and great, few of them would have any lasting significance. Whereas my friends back home were settling down into marriages, buying houses, and giving their time to interesting companies or political causes, I was floundering from one high to the next.

In 2011, I traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia. The food sucked. The weather sucked. (Snow in May? Are you fucking kidding me?) My apartment sucked. Nothing worked. Everything was overpriced. The people were rude and smelled funny. Nobody smiled and everyone drank too much. Yet, I loved it. It was one of my favorite trips.

There’s a bluntness to Russian culture that generally rubs Westerners the wrong way. Gone are the fake niceties and verbal webs of politeness. You don’t smile at strangers or pretend to like anything you don’t. In Russia, if something is stupid, you say it’s stupid. If someone is being an asshole, you tell him he’s being an asshole. If you really like someone and are having a great time, you tell her that you like her and are having a great time. It doesn’t matter if this person is your friend, a stranger, or someone you met five minutes ago on the street.

The first week I found all of this really uncomfortable. I went on a coffee date with a Russian girl, and within three minutes of sitting down she looked at me funny and told me that what I’d just said was stupid. I nearly choked on my drink. There was nothing combative about the way she said it; it was spoken as if it were some mundane fact—like the quality of the weather that day, or her shoe size—but I was still shocked. After all, in the West such outspokenness is seen as highly offensive, especially from someone you just met. But it went on like this with everyone. Everyone came across as rude all the time, and as a result, my Western-coddled mind felt attacked on all sides. Nagging insecurities began to surface in situations where they hadn’t existed in years.

But as the weeks wore on, I got used to the Russian frankness, much as I did the midnight sunsets and the vodka that went down like ice water. And then I started appreciating it for what it really was: unadulterated expression. Honesty in the truest sense of the word. Communication with no conditions, no strings attached, no ulterior motive, no sales job, no desperate attempt to be liked.

Somehow, after years of travel, it was in perhaps the most un-American of places where I first experienced a particular flavor of freedom: the ability to say whatever I thought or felt, without fear of repercussion. It was a strange form of liberation through accepting rejection. And as someone who had been starved of this kind of blunt expression most of his life—first by an emotionally repressed family life, then later by a meticulously constructed false display of confidence—I got drunk on it like, well, like it was the finest damn vodka I’d ever had. The month I spent in Saint Petersburg went by in a blur, and by the end I didn’t want to leave.

Travel is a fantastic self-development tool, because it extricates you from the values of your culture and shows you that another society can live with entirely different values and still function and not hate themselves. This exposure to different cultural values and metrics then forces you to reexamine what seems obvious in your own life and to consider that perhaps it’s not necessarily the best way to live. In this case, Russia had me reexamining the bullshitty, fake-nice communication that is so common in Anglo culture, and asking myself if this wasn’t somehow making us more insecure around each other and worse at intimacy.

I remember discussing this dynamic with my Russian teacher one day, and he had an interesting theory. Having lived under communism for so many generations, with little to no economic opportunity and caged by a culture of fear, Russian society found the most valuable currency to be trust. And to build trust you have to be honest. That means when things suck, you say so openly and without apology. People’s displays of unpleasant honesty were rewarded for the simple fact that they were necessary for survival—you had to know whom you could rely on and whom you couldn’t, and you needed to know quickly.

But, in the “free” West, my Russian teacher continued, there existed an abundance of economic opportunity—so much economic opportunity that it became far more valuable to present yourself in a certain way, even if it was false, than to actually be that way. Trust lost its value. Appearances and salesmanship became more advantageous forms of expression. Knowing a lot of people superficially was more beneficial than knowing a few people closely.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

The downside of this is that you never know, in the West, if you can completely trust the person you’re talking to. Sometimes this is the case even among good friends or family members. There is such pressure in the West to be likable that people often reconfigure their entire personality depending on the person they’re dealing with.

Rejection Makes Your Life Better

As an extension of our positivity/consumer culture, many of us have been “indoctrinated” with the belief that we should try to be as inherently accepting and affirmative as possible. This is a cornerstone of many of the so-called positive thinking books: open yourself up to opportunities, be accepting, say yes to everything and everyone, and so on.

But we need to reject something. Otherwise, we stand for nothing. If nothing is better or more desirable than anything else, then we are empty and our life is meaningless. We are without values and therefore live our life without any purpose.

The avoidance of rejection (both giving and receiving it) is often sold to us as a way to make ourselves feel better. But avoiding rejection gives us short-term pleasure by making us rudderless and directionless in the long term.

To truly appreciate something, you must confine yourself to it. There’s a certain level of joy and meaning that you reach in life only when you’ve spent decades investing in a single relationship, a single craft, a single career. And you cannot achieve those decades of investment without rejecting the alternatives.

The act of choosing a value for yourself requires rejecting alternative values. If I choose to make my marriage the most important part of my life, that means I’m (probably) choosing not to make cocaine-fueled hooker orgies an important part of my life. If I’m choosing to judge myself based on my ability to have open and accepting friendships, that means I’m rejecting trashing my friends behind their backs. These are all healthy decisions, yet they require rejection at every turn.

The point is this: we all must give a fuck about something, in order to value something. And to value something, we must reject what is not that something. To value X, we must reject non-X.

That rejection is an inherent and necessary part of maintaining our values, and therefore our identity. We are defined by what we choose to reject. And if we reject nothing (perhaps in fear of being rejected by something ourselves), we essentially have no identity at all.

The desire to avoid rejection at all costs, to avoid confrontation and conflict, the desire to attempt to accept everything equally and to make everything cohere and harmonize, is a deep and subtle form of entitlement. Entitled people, because they feel as though they deserve to feel great all the time, avoid rejecting anything because doing so might make them or someone else feel bad. And because they refuse to reject anything, they live a valueless, pleasure-driven, and self-absorbed life. All they give a fuck about is sustaining the high a little bit longer, to avoid the inevitable failures of their life, to pretend the suffering away.

Rejection is an important and crucial life skill. Nobody wants to be stuck in a relationship that isn’t making them happy. Nobody wants to be stuck in a business doing work they hate and don’t believe in. Nobody wants to feel that they can’t say what they really mean.

Yet people choose these things. All the time.

Honesty is a natural human craving. But part of having honesty in our lives is becoming comfortable with saying and hearing the word “no.” In this way, rejection actually makes our relationships better and our emotional lives healthier.

Boundaries

Once upon a time, there were two youngsters, a boy and a girl. Their families hated each other. But the boy snuck into a party hosted by the girl’s family because he was kind of a dick. The girl sees the boy, and angels sing so sweetly to her lady-parts that she instantly falls in love with him. Just like that. And so he sneaks into her garden and they decide to get married the next freaking day, because, you know, that’s totally practical, especially when your parents want to murder each other. Jump ahead a few days. Their families find out about the marriage and throw a shit-fit. Mercutio dies. The girl is so upset that she drinks a potion that will put her to sleep for two days. But, unfortunately, the young couple hasn’t learned the ins and outs of good marital communication yet, and the young girl totally forgets to mention something about it to her new husband. The young man therefore mistakes his new wife’s self-induced coma for suicide. He then totally loses his marbles and he commits suicide, thinking he’s going to be with her in the afterlife or some shit. But then she wakes up from her two-day coma, only to learn that her new husband has committed suicide, so she has the exact same idea and kills herself too. The end.

Romeo and Juliet is synonymous with “romance” in our culture today. It is seen as the love story in English-speaking culture, an emotional ideal to live up to. Yet when you really get down to what happens in the story, these kids are absolutely out of their fucking minds. And they just killed themselves to prove it!

It’s suspected by many scholars that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet not to celebrate romance, but rather to satirize it, to show how absolutely nutty it was. He didn’t mean for the play to be a glorification of love. In fact, he meant it to be the opposite: a big flashing neon sign blinking KEEP OUT, with police tape around it saying DO NOT CROSS.

For most of human history, romantic love was not celebrated as it is now. In fact, up until the mid-nineteenth century or so, love was seen as an unnecessary and potentially dangerous psychological impediment to the more important things in life—you know, like farming well and/or marrying a guy with a lot of sheep. Young people were often forcibly steered clear of their romantic passions in favor of practical economic marriages that would yield stability for both them and their families.

But today, we all get brain boners for this kind of batshit crazy love. It dominates our culture. And the more dramatic, the better. Whether it’s Ben Affleck working to destroy an asteroid to save the earth for the girl he loves, or Mel Gibson murdering hundreds of Englishmen and fantasizing about his raped and murdered wife while being tortured to death, or that Elven chick giving up her immortality to be with Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, or stupid romantic comedies where Jimmy Fallon forgoes his Red Sox playoff tickets because Drew Barrymore has, like, needs or something.

If this sort of romantic love were cocaine, then as a culture we’d all be like Tony Montana in Scarface: burying our faces in a fucking mountain of it, screaming, “Say hello to my lee-tle friend!”

The problem is that we’re finding out that romantic love is kind of like cocaine. Like, frighteningly similar to cocaine. Like, stimulates the exact same parts of your brain as cocaine. Like, gets you high and makes you feel good for a while but also creates as many problems as it solves, as does cocaine.

Most elements of romantic love that we pursue—the dramatic and dizzyingly emotional displays of affection, the topsy-turvy ups and downs—aren’t healthy, genuine displays of love. In fact, they’re often just another form of entitlement playing out through people’s relationships.

I know: that makes me sound like such a downer. Seriously, what kind of guy shits on romantic love? But hear me out.

The truth is, there are healthy forms of love and unhealthy forms of love. Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other—in other words, they’re using each other as an escape. Healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems with each other’s support.

The difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship comes down to two things: 1) how well each person in the relationship accepts responsibility, and 2) the willingness of each person to both reject and be rejected by their partner.

Anywhere there is an unhealthy or toxic relationship, there will be a poor and porous sense of responsibility on both sides, and there will be an inability to give and/or receive rejection. Wherever there is a healthy and loving relationship, there will be clear boundaries between the two people and their values, and there will be an open avenue of giving and receiving rejection when necessary.

By “boundaries” I mean the delineation between two people’s responsibilities for their own problems. People in a healthy relationship with strong boundaries will take responsibility for their own values and problems and not take responsibility for their partner’s values and problems. People in a toxic relationship with poor or no boundaries will regularly avoid responsibility for their own problems and/or take responsibility for their partner’s problems.

What do poor boundaries look like? Here are some examples:

“You can’t go out with your friends without me. You know how jealous I get. You have to stay home with me.”

“My coworkers are idiots; they always make me late to meetings because I have to tell them how to do their jobs.”

“I can’t believe you made me feel so stupid in front of my own sister. Never disagree with me in front of her again!”

“I’d love to take that job in Milwaukee, but my mother would never forgive me for moving so far away.”

“I can date you, but can you not tell my friend Cindy? She gets really insecure when I have a boyfriend and she doesn’t.”

In each scenario, the person is either taking responsibility for problems/emotions that are not theirs, or demanding that someone else take responsibility for their problems/emotions.

In general, entitled people fall into one of two traps in their relationships. Either they expect other people to take responsibility for their problems: “I wanted a nice relaxing weekend at home. You should have known that and canceled your plans.” Or they take on too much responsibility for other people’s problems: “She just lost her job again, but it’s probably my fault because I wasn’t as supportive of her as I could have been. I’m going to help her rewrite her résumé tomorrow.”

Entitled people adopt these strategies in their relationships, as with everything, to help avoid accepting responsibility for their own problems. As a result, their relationships are fragile and fake, products of avoiding inner pain rather than embracing a genuine appreciation and adoration of their partner.

This goes not just for romantic relationships, by the way, but also for family relationships and friendships. An overbearing mother may take responsibility for every problem in her children’s lives. Her own entitlement then encourages an entitlement in her children, as they grow up to believe other people should always be responsible for their problems.

(This is why the problems in your romantic relationships always eerily resemble the problems in your parents’ relationship.)

When you have murky areas of responsibility for your emotions and actions—areas where it’s unclear who is responsible for what, whose fault is what, why you’re doing what you’re doing—you never develop strong values for yourself. Your only value becomes making your partner happy. Or your only value becomes your partner making you happy.

This is self-defeating, of course. And relationships characterized by such murkiness usually go down like the Hindenburg, with all the drama and fireworks.

People can’t solve your problems for you. And they shouldn’t try, because that won’t make you happy. You can’t solve other people’s problems for them either, because that likewise won’t make them happy. The mark of an unhealthy relationship is two people who try to solve each other’s problems in order to feel good about themselves. Rather, a healthy relationship is when two people solve their own problems in order to feel good about each other.

The setting of proper boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t help or support your partner or be helped and supported yourself. You both should support each other. But only because you choose to support and be supported. Not because you feel obligated or entitled.

Entitled people who blame others for their own emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they constantly paint themselves as victims, eventually someone will come along and save them, and they will receive the love they’ve always wanted.

Entitled people who take the blame for other people’s emotions and actions do so because they believe that if they “fix” their partner and save him or her, they will receive the love and appreciation they’ve always wanted.

These are the yin and yang of any toxic relationship: the victim and the saver, the person who starts fires because it makes her feel important and the person who puts out fires because it makes him feel important.

These two types of people are drawn strongly to one another, and they usually end up together. Their pathologies match one another perfectly. Often they’ve grown up with parents who each exhibit one of these traits as well. So their model for a “happy” relationship is one based on entitlement and poor boundaries.

Sadly, they both fail in meeting the other’s actual needs. In fact, their pattern of overblaming and overaccepting blame perpetuates the entitlement and shitty self-worth that have been keeping them from getting their emotional needs met in the first place. The victim creates more and more problems to solve—not because additional real problems exist, but because it gets her the attention and affection she craves. The saver solves and solves—not because she actually cares about the problems, but because she believes she must fix others’ problems in order to deserve attention and affection for herself. In both cases, the intentions are selfish and conditional and therefore self-sabotaging, and genuine love is rarely experienced.

The victim, if he really loved the saver, would say, “Look, this is my problem; you don’t have to fix it for me. Just support me while I fix it myself.” That would actually be a demonstration of love: taking responsibility for your own problems and not holding your partner responsible for them.

If the saver really wanted to save the victim, the saver would say, “Look, you’re blaming others for your own problems; deal with this yourself.” And in a sick way, that would actually be a demonstration of love: helping someone solve their own problems.

Instead, victims and savers both use each other to achieve emotional highs. It’s like an addiction they fulfill in one another. Ironically, when presented with emotionally healthy people to date, they usually feel bored or lack “chemistry” with them. They pass on emotionally healthy, secure individuals because the secure partner’s solid boundaries don’t feel “exciting” enough to stimulate the constant highs necessary in the entitled person.

For victims, the hardest thing to do in the world is to hold themselves accountable for their problems. They’ve spent their whole life believing that others are responsible for their fate. That first step of taking responsibility for themselves is often terrifying.

For savers, the hardest thing to do in the world is to stop taking responsibility for other people’s problems. They’ve spent their whole life feeling valued and loved only when they’re saving somebody else—so letting go of this need is terrifying to them as well.

If you make a sacrifice for someone you care about, it needs to be because you want to, not because you feel obligated or because you fear the consequences of not doing so. If your partner is going to make a sacrifice for you, it needs to because he or she genuinely wants to, not because you’ve manipulated the sacrifice through anger or guilt. Acts of love are valid only if they’re performed without conditions or expectations.

It can be difficult for people to recognize the difference between doing something out of obligation and doing it voluntarily. So here’s a litmus test: ask yourself, “If I refused, how would the relationship change?” Similarly, ask, “If my partner refused something I wanted, how would the relationship change?”

If the answer is that a refusal would cause a blowout of drama and broken china plates, then that’s a bad sign for your relationship. It suggests that your relationship is conditional—based on superficial benefits received from one another, rather than on unconditional acceptance of each other (along with each other’s problems).

People with strong boundaries are not afraid of a temper tantrum, an argument, or getting hurt. People with weak boundaries are terrified of those things and will constantly mold their own behavior to fit the highs and lows of their relational emotional roller coaster.

People with strong boundaries understand that it’s unreasonable to expect two people to accommodate each other 100 percent and fulfill every need the other has. People with strong boundaries understand that they may hurt someone’s feelings sometimes, but ultimately they can’t determine how other people feel. People with strong boundaries understand that a healthy relationship is not about controlling one another’s emotions, but rather about each partner supporting the other in their individual growth and in solving their own problems.

It’s not about giving a fuck about everything your partner gives a fuck about; it’s about giving a fuck about your partner regardless of the fucks he or she gives. That’s unconditional love, baby.

How to Build Trust

My wife is one of those women who spend a lot of time in front of the mirror. She loves to look amazing, and I love for her to look amazing too (obviously).

Nights before we go out, she comes out of the bathroom after an hour-long makeup/hair/clothes/whatever-women-do-in-there session and asks me how she looks. She’s usually gorgeous. Every once in a while, though, she looks bad. Maybe she tried to do something new with her hair, or decided to wear a pair of boots that some flamboyant fashion designer from Milan thought were avant-garde. Whatever the reason—it just doesn’t work.

When I tell her this, she usually gets pissed off. As she marches back into the closet or the bathroom to redo everything and make us thirty minutes late, she spouts a bunch of four-letter words and sometimes even slings a few of them in my direction.

Men stereotypically lie in this situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don’t. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love.

Fortunately, I’m married to a woman who agrees and is willing to hear my uncensored thoughts. She calls me out on my bullshit too, of course, which is one of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised sometimes, and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right. And holy crap she makes me a better person, even though I hate hearing it at the time.

When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationship falls apart without our even knowing it.

Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-man. If Disappointment Panda were here, he’d tell you that the pain in our relationship is necessary to cement our trust in each other and produce greater intimacy.

For a relationship to be healthy, both people must be willing and able to both say no and hear no. Without that negation, without that occasional rejection, boundaries break down and one person’s problems and values come to dominate the other’s. Conflict is not only normal, then; it’s absolutely necessary for the maintenance of a healthy relationship. If two people who are close are not able to hash out their differences openly and vocally, then the relationship is based on manipulation and misrepresentation, and it will slowly become toxic.

Trust is the most important ingredient in any relationship, for the simple reason that without trust, the relationship doesn’t actually mean anything. A person could tell you that she loves you, wants to be with you, would give up everything for you, but if you don’t trust her, you get no benefit from those statements. You don’t feel loved until you trust that the love being expressed toward you comes without any special conditions or baggage attached to it.

This is what’s so destructive about cheating. It’s not about the sex. It’s about the trust that has been destroyed as a result of the sex. Without trust, the relationship can no longer function. So it’s either rebuild the trust or say your goodbyes.

I often get emails from people who have been cheated on by their significant other but want to stay with that partner and are wondering how they can trust him or her again. Without trust, they tell me, the relationship has begun to feel like a burden, like a threat that must be monitored and questioned rather than enjoyed.

The problem here is that most people who get caught cheating apologize and give the “It will never happen again” spiel and that’s that, as if penises fell into various orifices completely by accident. Many cheatees accept this response at face value, and don’t question the values and fucks given by their partner (pun totally intended); they don’t ask themselves whether those values and fucks make their partner a good person to stay with. They’re so concerned with holding on to their relationship that they fail to recognize that it’s become a black hole consuming their self-respect.

If people cheat, it’s because something other than the relationship is more important to them. It may be power over others. It may be validation through sex. It may be giving in to their own impulses. Whatever it is, it’s clear that the cheater’s values are not aligned in a way to support a healthy relationship. And if the cheater doesn’t admit this or come to terms with it, if he just gives the old “I don’t know what I was thinking; I was stressed out and drunk and she was there” response, then he lacks the serious self-awareness necessary to solve any relationship problems.

What needs to happen is that cheaters have to start peeling away at their self-awareness onion and figure out what fucked-up values caused them to break the trust of the relationship (and whether they actually still value the relationship). They need to be able to say, “You know what: I am selfish. I care about myself more than the relationship; to be honest, I don’t really respect the relationship much at all.” If cheaters can’t express their shitty values, and show that those values have been overridden, then there’s no reason to believe that they can be trusted. And if they can’t be trusted, then the relationship is not going to get better or change.

The other factor in regaining trust after it’s been broken is a practical one: a track record. If someone breaks your trust, words are nice; but you then need to see a consistent track record of improved behavior. Only then can you begin trusting that the cheater’s values are now aligned properly and the person really will change.

Unfortunately, building a track record for trust takes time—certainly a lot more time than it takes to break trust. And during that trust-building period, things are likely to be pretty shitty. So both people in the relationship must be conscious of the struggle they’re choosing to undertake.

I use the example of cheating in a romantic relationship, but this process applies to a breach in any relationship. When trust is destroyed, it can be rebuilt only if the following two steps happen: 1) the trust-breaker admits the true values that caused the breach and owns up to them, and 2) the trust-breaker builds a solid track record of improved behavior over time. Without the first step, there should be no attempt at reconciliation in the first place.

Trust is like a china plate. If you break it once, with some care and attention you can put it back together again. But if you break it again, it splits into even more pieces and it takes far longer to piece together again. If you break it more and more times, eventually it shatters to the point where it’s impossible to restore. There are too many broken pieces, and too much dust.

Freedom Through Commitment

Consumer culture is very good at making us want more, more, more. Underneath all the hype and marketing is the implication that more is always better. I bought into this idea for years. Make more money, visit more countries, have more experiences, be with more women.

But more is not always better. In fact, the opposite is true. We are actually often happier with less. When we’re overloaded with opportunities and options, we suffer from what psychologists refer to as the paradox of choice. Basically, the more options we’re given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we’re aware of all the other options we’re potentially forfeiting.

So if you have a choice between two places to live and pick one, you’ll likely feel confident and comfortable that you made the right choice. You’ll be satisfied with your decision.

But if you have a choice among twenty-eight places to live and pick one, the paradox of choice says that you’ll likely spend years agonizing, doubting, and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you really made the “right” choice, and if you’re truly maximizing your own happiness. And this anxiety, this desire for certainty and perfection and success, will make you unhappy.

So what do we do? Well, if you’re like I used to be, you avoid choosing anything at all. You aim to keep your options open as long as possible. You avoid commitment.

But while investing deeply in one person, one place, one job, one activity might deny us the breadth of experience we’d like, pursuing a breadth of experience denies us the opportunity to experience the rewards of depth of experience. There are some experiences that you can have only when you’ve lived in the same place for five years, when you’ve been with the same person for over a decade, when you’ve been working on the same skill or craft for half your lifetime. Now that I’m in my thirties, I can finally recognize that commitment, in its own way, offers a wealth of opportunity and experiences that would otherwise never be available to me, no matter where I went or what I did.

When you’re pursuing a wide breadth of experience, there are diminishing returns to each new adventure, each new person or thing. When you’ve never left your home country, the first country you visit inspires a massive perspective shift, because you have such a narrow experience base to draw on. But when you’ve been to twenty countries, the twenty-first adds little. And when you’ve been to fifty, the fifty-first adds even less.

The same goes for material possessions, money, hobbies, jobs, friends, and romantic/sexual partners—all the lame superficial values people choose for themselves. The older you get, the more experienced you get, the less significantly each new experience affects you. The first time I drank at a party was exciting. The hundredth time was fun. The five hundredth time felt like a normal weekend. And the thousandth time felt boring and unimportant.

The big story for me personally over the past few years has been my ability to open myself up to commitment. I’ve chosen to reject all but the very best people and experiences and values in my life. I shut down all my business projects and decided to focus on writing full-time. Since then, my website has become more popular than I’d ever imagined possible. I’ve committed to one woman for the long haul and, to my surprise, have found this more rewarding than any of the flings, trysts, and one-night stands I had in the past. I’ve committed to a single geographic location and doubled down on the handful of my significant, genuine, healthy friendships.

And what I’ve discovered is something entirely counterintuitive: that there is a freedom and liberation in commitment. I’ve found increased opportunity and upside in rejecting alternatives and distractions in favor of what I’ve chosen to let truly matter to me.

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; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.

In this way, the rejection of alternatives liberates us—rejection of what does not align with our most important values, with our chosen metrics, rejection of the constant pursuit of breadth without depth.

Yes, breadth of experience is likely necessary and desirable when you’re young—after all, you have to go out there and discover what seems worth investing yourself in. But depth is where the gold is buried. And you have to stay committed to something and go deep to dig it up. That’s true in relationships, in a career, in building a great lifestyle—in everything.





CONTENTS


	Contents

	CHAPTER 1: Don’t Try

	The Feedback Loop from Hell

	The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

	So Mark, What the Fuck Is the Point of This Book Anyway?

	CHAPTER 2: Happiness Is a Problem

	The Misadventures of Disappointment Panda

	Happiness Comes from Solving Problems

	Emotions Are Overrated

	Choose Your Struggle

	CHAPTER 3: You Are Not Special

	Things Fall Apart

	The Tyranny of Exceptionalism

	B-b-b-but, If I’m Not Going to Be Special or Extraordinary, What’s the Point?

	CHAPTER 4: The Value of Suffering

	The Self-Awareness Onion

	Rock Star Problems

	Shitty Values

	Defining Good and Bad Values

	CHAPTER 5: You Are Always Choosing

	The Choice

	The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy

	Responding to Tragedy

	Genetics and the Hand We’re Dealt

	Victimhood Chic

	There Is No “How”

	CHAPTER 6: You’re Wrong About Everything (But So Am I)

	Architects of Our Own Beliefs

	Be Careful What You Believe

	The Dangers of Pure Certainty

	Manson’s Law of Avoidance

	Kill Yourself

	How to Be a Little Less Certain of Yourself

	CHAPTER 7: Failure Is the Way Forward

	The Failure/Success Paradox

	Pain Is Part of the Process

	The “Do Something” Principle

	CHAPTER 8: The Importance of Saying No

	Rejection Makes Your Life Better

	Boundaries

	How to Build Trust

	Freedom Through Commitment

	CHAPTER 9: . . . And Then You Die

	Something Beyond Our Selves

	The Sunny Side of Death

	Acknowledgments

	About the Author

	Credits

	Copyright

	About the Publisher






Guide


	Cover

	Contents

	Chapter 1










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CHAPTER 9

. . . And Then You Die

Seek the truth for yourself, and I will meet you there.”

That was the last thing Josh ever said to me. He said it ironically, attempting to sound deep while simultaneously making fun of people who attempt to sound deep. He was drunk and high. And he was a good friend.

The most transformational moment of my life occurred when I was nineteen years old. My friend Josh had taken me to a party on a lake just north of Dallas, Texas. There were condos on a hill and below the hill was a pool, and below the pool was a cliff overlooking the lake. It was a small cliff, maybe thirty feet high—certainly high enough to give you a second thought about jumping, but low enough that with the right combination of alcohol and peer pressure that second thought could easily vanish.

Shortly after arriving at the party, Josh and I sat in the pool together, drinking beers and talking as young angsty males do. We talked about drinking and bands and girls and all of the cool stuff Josh had done that summer since dropping out of music school. We talked about playing in a band together and moving to New York City—an impossible dream at the time.

We were just kids.

“Is it okay to jump off that?” I asked after a while, nodding toward the cliff over the lake.

“Yeah,” Josh said, “people do it all the time here.”

“Are you going to do it?”

He shrugged. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

Later in the evening, Josh and I got separated. I had become distracted by a pretty Asian girl who liked video games, which to me, as a teenage nerd, was akin to winning the lottery. She had no interest in me, but she was friendly and happy to let me talk, so I talked. After a few beers, I gathered enough courage to ask her to go up to the house with me to get some food. She said su