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Brooke Murphy reviews Mark Manson's ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck' — a self-help book with a difference.

IF YOU WERE to stroll past the self-development section of any bookstore, you would notice a common thread.

This section is flooded with books about finding happiness, positivity, wellbeing and mindfulness.

Inspirational quotes on social media follow the same trend. Positive thinking philosophy has become an epidemic. Despite recent research revealing the unhealthy nature of avoiding negative emotions, the wave of positivity literature continues.

Is it going to be good vibes only from here on in? Is slapping a smile on your dial really the key to happiness? Thankfully, Mark Manson has arrived with an antidote to this positivity self-help syndrome: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

This book stands out in bookstores. It has a curse word in the title and a neon orange colour. It doesn’t look like any other self-help books that are out there. Even The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuckby Sarah Knight, has a more conventional appearance.

Inside and out, there is nothing subtle about this book. I started reading it expecting comedy; a send-up to the optimism only movement. But this book is so much more than humour. It is a real life-changer. In a world that asks us to avoid negative emotions and put on a cheery face, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck delivers a real wake-up call.

Manson’s writing style is humorous, honest, and matter-of-fact. But he is also vulnerable and knows what it feels like to hit rock bottom. He writes candidly about “real traumatic shit” he has experienced — from his parent’s divorce and adolescence, which "sucked donkey balls”, to being an unemployed couch-surfer, his ex leaving him and becoming bored of travelling the world and promiscuity. Reading about these experiences makes you feel like a close confidante. You feel like you are speaking to an old friend who has seen it all, at the local pub after a few cold ones. It’s intimate, but far from sentimental.

One of Manson's personal stories that really stuck with me was about his unrealised rock star dreams. Like many of us, Manson once dreamed of being a famous musician. Most self-help books tell us to “do what you love” or “live your dreams” but Manson is far more honest and realistic in reasoning why that "dream" never came true. 'I didn’t actually want it', he muses.

Manson does not just tell his own story. He mixes memoir with narratives about a wide range of subjects, from an alcoholic poet called Charles Bukowski, to the father of American psychology.

This book does not aim to inspire you to achieve, but rather, to cause you to take stock of your life and what you really want.

I learnt many important lessons from this book, but three stood out.

Firstly, focus on what really matters, or, put more crudely, what we really "give fucks" about. Manson wryly suggests focussing on family, friends and your golf swing.

Secondly, it was brought to my attention that I am not special. I’m not entitled to anything! Usually, I stick to self-development books that focus on how to become a successful superstar. Instead, Manson gave me the slap in the face I needed.

Thirdly, one of the best things in life is taking pleasure in the ordinary. Forgoing entitlement and claims to "specialness" can lead to true joy.

As Manson puts it: 

You will have a growing appreciation for life’s basic experiences: the pleasures of a simple friendship, creating something, helping a person in need, reading a good book, laughing with someone you really care about. … Maybe they’re ordinary for a reason: because they are what actually matters.

Some of the teachings of this book even sounded quite Buddhist — particularly Manson’s call for the acceptance of suffering. Railing against "entitlement" also echoes the Buddhist concept of "non-attachment". Maybe an alternative title for the book could have been: "The Atheist’s Guide to Buddhism". Manson’s work does intersect with Buddhist principles but without tedious discussions of the benefits of meditation or Buddhist stories.

To hell with "fake it till you make it" or positive thinking! Life is painful, uncomfortable, and often bleak. If we do not acknowledge this reality, we cannot really experience a full life. This book is not The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Purpose Driven Life, or even The Secret.

The purpose of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is not to guide you on the path to greatness. Manson does not want to rid you of your problems or pain; instead, he wants you to accept your mediocrity. And to stop giving so many fucks about things that don’t matter.

You can follow Brooke Murphy on Twitter @brooke___murphy.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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