The Subtle Art of Caring About Fewer, Better Things (Book Notes)

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With it’s loud title and bright orange cover, this book has been on the “recommended” list of my Audible and Kindle pages several times. However, when something tries so hard to get my attention, I instinctually tend to ignore it. I’m glad that I got over this initial reaction, as it ended up being full of useful old messages wrapped in new language.

Obviously, if you can’t tolerate reading a lot of expletives, you shouldn’t read something titled The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. You might not want to read this post either, as I’ll be including some excerpts and I’m too lazy to edit them out. F-bombs ahead!

This book isn’t about not caring at all. It’s about caring deeply about what matters to you, while ignoring what doesn’t.

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.

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.

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.

So far in 2020, we have gotten an involuntary lesson on this topic. Some of the things we cared so much about were taken away, and we realize it didn’t really matter that much. Meanwhile, many things we took for granted are sorely missed. Simply sharing a coffee/beer with a group of friends in an outdoor cafe/bar. Instead of focusing on the negatives of various tasks, I realize many things that I should have appreciated.

The solution is to consciously choose and accept the hard problems that we want to solve.

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.

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

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.

Happiness is not a destination on a game board. You can’t achieve permanent happiness with a certain job title, net worth number, or any single act. We need to keep solving problems. It’s a continuous process that never ends. (As a goal-oriented person, I’m still rather disappointed in this, but I have come to realize it is true.) This is also why it helps to find something to care about greater than yourself.

Life isn’t fair. I also ran across this familiar poker analogy in the book:

We all get dealt cards. Some of us get better cards than others. And while it’s easy to get hung up on our cards, and feel we got screwed over, the real game lies in the choices we make with those cards, the risks we decide to take, and the consequences we choose to live with. People who consistently make the best choices in the situations they’re given are the ones who eventually come out ahead in poker, just as in life. And it’s not necessarily the people with the best cards.

Stop caring about the things that don’t matter. Find the things that do matter, and focus on those. Accept that bad things may happen to you out of your control, but realize you control your response. Take action. Keep taking action. Timeless advice, but good reminders all the same as it is easily forgotten.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. Would never want to read a book that tries to get my attention with expletives. Especially when I have kids around the house. Better books out there that do a much better job without seeking to “shock” me.

  2. This sounds like the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” book that came out 20 years ago.
    not much new; just recycled stuff, repackaged in a different way.

    • I remember that book, but I was pretty young so I never read it. To be fair, most self-improvement and even personal finance advice is recycled to some extent. How many different ways can you say to track and prioritize your spending, spend less than you earn, pay yourself first, buy proper insurance, and invest in low-cost diversified funds? 🙂 With that in mind, I’d still recommend this book to someone looking for lifestyle advice. I’ve definitely read a lot worse.

  3. This is one of my favorite recent books. I’ve read this multiple times and recommend it to others. It puts the signal to noise ratio into perspective.

  4. Why is it the Kindle/hardcover is available now but the paperback isn’t until 2021? Is there a newer version coming out in 2021 or paperback won’t be printed until then?

  5. Well said. Appreciate the overview of the book as I’ve seen the title a lot but never cracked it open.

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