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The Subtle Art of Making Ancient Wisdom Cool Again

open book on top of kitchen table next to glasses and watch
Mark Manson’s runaway bestseller The Subtle Art of Not Giving a (Darn): A Counterintuitive Ap­proach to Living a Good Life, in my opinion, is a phenomenal new book. I read it once the old-fashioned way and then listened to it as an audio­book three times, including once during each of two road trips with my sons - one with Jimmy and one with Evan; from time to time pausing it to talk over the ideas presented. Mark has brilliantly disguised ancient wisdom and philosophy using a hipster lingo laced with occasional profanity as a way of tricking Millennials and other open-minded readers into investing time in a book about personal values.
Profanity aside, it’s a highly en­tertaining, refreshingly candid and extremely clever personal approach to life. The core message of Manson’s book is that each person needs to prioritize what’s truly important to him or her and let go of everything else. He suggests limiting the time spent on social media, TV, video games, mate­rial things, and stop worrying about things that we can’t control. Instead, he suggests focusing on our relationships with the people central in our lives, along with our personal and profes­sional passions.
Instead of hoping for and even expecting a stress-free life without suffering or worries, he says it’s much more realistic and productive to ask yourself, “What are the problems I am willing to sacrifice and work for?” He says, “Life is essentially an endless se­ries of problems.” So, it’s a losing battle to constantly try to run away from problems. Instead of asking, “How can I get rid of my problems?” A better question is, “What are the problems that excite me?” To be happy we need something to solve.
Manson writes, “This book doesn’t give a (darn) about alleviating your problems or your pain. It turns out that adversity and failure are actually useful and even necessary for devel­oping strong-minded and successful adults."
“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.”
I’ve always noticed that when something really good happens in my life, the happiness and sense of accomplishment fades quickly; and now I understand why. Complacency shuts down progress, so we are hard-wired to become restless and dissatis­fied. This is simply a feature of human nature, and it’s actually a good thing in many ways.
Notable quotes by Mark Manson:
  • You cannot be a powerful and life-changing presence to some people without being a joke or an embarrass­ment to others. There is a simple realization from which all personal improvement and growth emerges. This is the realization that we, individually, are responsible for everything in our lives, no mat­ter the external circumstances. We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond.
  • Challenge yourself to find the good and beautiful thing inside of everyone. It’s there. It’s your job to find it. Not their job to show you.
  • Who you are is defined by what you’re willing to struggle for.
  • 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 care too much about pain. In contrast, if you don’t give a (darn) about the pain, you become unstoppable.
There is nothing new under the sun, and actually, this book borrows heavily from central ideas of wisdom tradi­tions thousands of years old. Still, Mark Manson can be ruthlessly honest and outrageously funny at the same time. It’s a thought-provoking and hilarious survival guide for life in 2018 America.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD