‘The key to a good life is not giving a fuck about more; it’s giving a fuck about less, giving a fuck about what is true and immediate and important.’
Mark Manson, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck : A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life.
Despite its screaming orange cover and witty title, Mark Manson’s book is essentially about old school values fused with traditional Buddhist concepts. How the two fuse together comes down to the author’s unique and humorous take on what constitutes a life well lived.
Manson states that how contented we are with our lives, is directly related to the metrics/values we choose to base our actions on. So, if for example we place mega value on things like pleasure, material success, always being right and staying positive – in order to deny our negative emotions – then we are quite likely to end up being thoroughly miserable.
He often references Buddhist concepts including the acceptance of suffering and non-attachment. And perceives our daily lives as being pedestrian, tedious, painful and dispiriting. Manson emphasizes that how we choose to deal with this reality, will determine what happens to us in the future. And that it is our suffering and willingness to deal with our anxieties, problems and fears that enable us to gain courage and build resilience.
‘Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience.’
Manson also states that we need to accept that we are not special and we should dump any sense of entitlement. Instead we should focus on acquiring worthwhile values – in other words, only giving a fuck about what it true and important. What happens to us is usually well beyond our control – but how we choose to react is what defines us.
This made me think of Andy Warhol and his So What theory. Unlike Manson, Warhol wasn’t keen on Buddhist principles. He openly admitted that he really loved money, material possessions, beautiful people and furthermore, he shamelessly revelled in superficiality, his own fame and other celebrities. His favourite things were inevitably shallow, fashionable, wildly funny and not very Zen.
‘I think it would be terribly glamourous to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Liz Taylor’s finger’.
In his pursuit of wealth, Warhol developed some dodgy business principles. At his NY studio – The Factory – the artists, photographers and artisans who laboured to complete his artworks as ‘studio assistants’ were often poorly or never paid and their contributions were rarely acknowledged.
Warhol admitted to being anxious and fearful, particularly when he was younger. But he also claimed that once he’d formulated his So What theory, he felt significantly better. The principle of his So What theory is that you simply stop giving a fuck about events that leave you feeling wretched and unloved.
In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, he wrote,
‘Sometimes people let the same problem make them miserable for years when they could just say, ‘So what.’
‘My mother didn’t love me.’ So what.
‘My husband won’t ball me.’ So what.
‘I’m a success but I’m still alone.’ So what.
I don’t know how I made it through all the years before I learned how to do that trick. It took a long time for me to learn it, but once you do, you never forget.’
For the past week or so I’ve been giving Warhol’s So What theory an experimental trial run. What bought this on was a string of unfortunate events that I had no control over and these events were driving me crazy.
I concluded that Warhol’s So What theory does recalibrate the mind a little. But I should also mention that meditation – when I do it regularly! – has a more lasting effect and makes me feel decidedly more cheerful.
So what, says the cheeky sparrow drying his wings on my window ledge.
Photograph: Book cover, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck : A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life. By Mark Manson. Published by Harper Collins 2016.