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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck

Rating: 4/5
Date read: June, 2017

Note: I purchased this book and took these notes to further my own learning. If you enjoy these notes, go buy the book!


Counterintuitive advice that sounds odd at first but makes sense when you think about it. Stop trying to be positive all the time. Pleasure is a bad value. Be in search of more uncertainty and doubt in your life. Be wrong. A book I’ll be revisiting for sure.

Book Notes

Giving too many fucks is bad for your mental health.

The key to a good life is giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about what is true and immediate and important.

Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience.

“The Backwards Law” – the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become. Pursuing something only reinforces the fact you lack it in the first place.

Albert Camus: “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.”

Being open with your insecurities paradoxically makes you more confident and charismatic around others.

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.

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

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

Whether you realise it or not, you are always choosing what to give a fuck about.

Suffering is biologically useful. It’s nature’s agent for inspiring change. It’s the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive.

Emotional or psychological pain can be healthy or necessary. The emotional pain of rejection or failure teaches us how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Happiness comes from solving problems.

If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable.

To be happy we need something to solve. Happiness is therefore a form of action.

True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving.

People fuck this up in two ways:

  1. They deny their problems exist. They must therefore distract themselves from reality.
  2. Victim mentality – they believe this is nothing they can do to solve their problems, even when they could. They blame others or outside circumstances.

Both make them feel good in short term, but in the long-term, it leads to a life of insecurity, neuroticism, and helplessness.

Emotions are feedback mechanisms telling us that something is either likely right or likely wrong for us.

Emotions are simply biological signals designed to nudge you in the direction of change.

“Hedonic treadmill” – the idea that we’re always working hard to change our life situation, but we actually never feel very different.

What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?”

It’s no good just wanting the reward, the result, the victory. You need to also want the struggle, the process, the fight.

Our struggles determine our successes.

The true measurement of self-worth is not how a person feels about her positive experiences, but rather how she feels about her negative experiences.

Our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives.

Problems may be inevitable, but the meaning of each problem is not. We get to control what our problems mean based on how we choose to think about them.

If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure/success.

Good values are:

  1. reality-based
  2. socially constructive
  3. immediate and controllable

Bad values are:

  1. superstitious
  2. socially destructive
  3. not immediate or controllable

Examples of bad values:

Freud: “One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.

William James conducted a little experiment. Spent one year believing he was 100% responsible for everything that occurred in his life, no matter what. He would do everything in his power to change his circumstances. He would later refer to this experiment as his “rebirth” and would credit it with everything that he later accomplished in his life.

We are responsible for everything in our lives. We always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.

When we feel that we’re choosing our problems, we feel empowered. When we feel that our problems are being forced upon us against our will, we feel victimised and miserable.

Tim Kreider: “Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because we don’t even consciously acknowledge that it’s a pleasure.”

“But part of living in a democracy and a free society is that we all have to deal with views and people we don’t necessarily like. That’s simply the price we pay—you could even say it’s the whole point of the system. And it seems more and more people are forgetting that. We should pick our battles carefully, while simultaneously attempting to empathise a bit with the so-called enemy. We should approach the news and media with a healthy dose of scepticism and avoid painting those who disagree with us with a broad brush. We should prioritise values of being honest, fostering transparency, and welcoming doubt over the values of being right, feeling good, and getting revenge. These “democratic” values are harder to maintain amidst the constant noise of a networked world. But we must accept the responsibility and nurture them regardless. The future stability of our political systems may depend on it.”

Person growth can be scientific:
Values are our hypotheses.
Actions are experiments.
Emotions and thought patterns are data.

Certainty is the enemy of growth.

We should be in constant search of doubt. Doubt about our own beliefs, doubt about our own feelings, doubt about what the future may hold for us unless we get out there and create it for ourselves.

Manson’s law of avoidance: The more something threatens your identity, the more you will avoid it.

Questions to breed a little more uncertainty in your life:

  1. What if I’m wrong?
  2. What would it mean if I were wrong?
  3. Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?

Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

If it feels like it’s you versus the world, chances are it’s really just you versus yourself.

Life is about not knowing and then doing something anyway. All of life is like this.

If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.

Action isn’t just the effect of motivation; it’s also the cause of it.

“Do something principle”: do something—anything, really—and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.

Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous.

Without death, everything would feel inconsequential, all experience arbitrary, all metrics and values suddenly zero.

Because we’re able to conceptualise alternate versions of reality, we are also the only animal capable of imagining a reality without ourselves in it.

“Immortality projects” are projects that allow our conceptual self to live on way past the point of our physical death. Why people try hard to put their names on buildings, on statues, on spines of books.

Giving a fuck about something is the only thing that distracts us from the reality and inevitability of our own death.

Mark Twain: “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”

The more I peer into the darkness, the brighter life gets, the quieter the world becomes, and the less unconscious resistance I feel to, well, anything.