Book Review: The Subtly Magical Life Changing Approach To Not Giving A F*ck

Two books have filled my Facebook feed this week more than any other. Two books, same topic, very similar title – yet different groups of friends seem to be favouring one or the other. Some friends have been a little evangelistic, insisting I MUST read their book of choice.

To keep things all nice and fair and balanced, I figured I’d read both. Ironic, really, since the topic of each book is how to stop giving a f*ck about what other people think. See, I’m so worried about your opinion of me that I won’t even write the F word in full.

So, here are my thoughts on the ‘not giving a F’ movement. Pfft, take them or leave them.

The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck: A counterintuitive approach to living a good life, by Mark Manson. RRP: $29.99 AUDOrange cover with title text - Art of Not Giving A F*ck

The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A F*ck: How to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do, by Sarah Knight.  RRP: $29.99 AUD

White cover with title lettering - Magic of Not Giving A F*ck

These books are two versions of the same basic theory, which goes:

  • Life is short.
  • You have a finite number of Fs in your bucket.
  • Don’t waste them!

Clearly there are plenty of people giving their Fs to these books, which speak to the sense of overwhelm we hear so much about in today’s society. It seems we are using up precious time complaining about being time poor. We say yes to things, people and tasks that don’t make us happy – then run out of time for the things that do. According to Manson and Knight, it’s time to get our Fs in a row!

Most of us could do with reigning in our Fs a little, lest we sink under a great tidal wave of FOMO, guilt, obligations, fear, too much work and not enough play. But I also have some big reservations about this message. I mean, we can’t just all go around not giving a F about anything, can we?

What Manson and Knight have in common

Both titles are humorous works with a self-help bent. The authors make no claim to expertise or qualifications (though that hardly matters these days). Manson is a blogger who’s previously written on dating advice. Knight has a background in publishing. So, not psychologists then; but Knight’s book has been an international bestseller, translated into 15 languages (and counting), so the message clearly resonates with someone!

There are overlaps here with decades of other motivational guides that remind us not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ and to focus our energies on the things that truly matter.  These are the first such guides (that I’ve read) that do this by explicitly telling you to get the F over your guilt and whining and re-evaluate how you measure success and failure in your life.

Both books provide practical ‘check list’ style advice to help you allocate your Fs appropriately. You CAN say no to:

  • birthday parties
  • breakfast meetings
  • requests for money, even if it’s for a good cause
  • a bigger home, car or TV
  • keeping up with the Joneses in any way, shape or form
  • reading books that people INSIST will be of benefit to you

and the list goes on.  You don’t need as much as you want; and the ‘world won’t end’ if you skip that Tupperware party and take a day to yourself. Just don’t be an asshole about it (again, both books stipulate this).

The path to enlightenment – and not offending people – is to be polite and clear about your intentions. Say no and give a genuine reason. If that reason is something like ‘I’m tired’ or ‘I want to spend more time with my family’, then that’s the way it is. How can anyone really argue with that?

When it comes to F budgeting on a more personal level, you need to do some weighing up of the reasons behind your current F balance. Do you like designer label clothing because it’s nice? Great – give a F then. Or do you like it because it’s what your friends wear, or you feel inadequate without it? No Fs required.

Save your Fs for something you are genuinely passionate about, that makes your heart sing. It’s better for you and probably for everyone around you too!

Sarah Knight’s theory in diagram form. Image credit – Daily Review

How the two books differ

Although the messages of these two books are essentially the same, the delivery is a little different. I would argue that Manson’s is more targeted at men and Knight’s at women – although I know readers who’ve gone against the grain. Manson’s book is more intellectual, but also totally crude. It’s that crazy balancing act that some writers pull off where punctuating sentences with vulgarities can sound quite clever – think John Birmingham doing philosophy.

Manson’s work is influenced by mindfulness teachings and ‘acceptance and commitment therapy’ ideals, though the author makes no claim to any of this. He suggests that life is a struggle and we must learn to accept that. You will not always be happy – so don’t waste Fs feeling disappointed all the time. You are not exceptional – so don’t waste Fs on jealousy, FOMO or striving for impossible goals. “Trying to prove something to yourself and others is the root of most misery”, Manson posits. Just be.

Knight’s approach is more conversational; arguably more practical. She breaks her Fs into 4 categories: things, work, friends and family. She offers strategies for managing F allocation within the typically treacherous scenarios of each group. Knight’s main solution is developing ‘personal policies’ and sticking to them. As in, ‘I have a personal policy never to go hot air ballooning…buy raffle tickets…attend dinner parties…hold other people’s babies…’, etc. You may choose to extrapolate on the reasons for your policy, or not. People should take this as a classic ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ solution and understand that you are politely declining whatever they’re offering.

This brings me to the limitations that concern me about this F-free philosophy.

Limitations of this philosophy

If you’re going to start giving fewer Fs, you’re going to need to toughen up. As beneficial as this approach sounds to your personal overcrowded schedule (or mind), you WILL offend and annoy people. Be prepared to be branded selfish or lazy, a cheapskate for not buying those raffle tickets, or difficult to work with for avoiding those Friday night networking drinks. Ideally, if you’re at the point of putting theory into practice, you will not give a F what people think of you – and that’s awesome. But consider what that means in practice. Next time you throw a party, you might find that no one else gives a F either!

On a broader social level, I think giving a F is essential to living as part of a community. You can’t always do what YOU want when YOU want to do it – what are you, 5? Occasionally putting yourself out for the sake of someone else’s happiness is a nice thing to do. Maybe not always, but sometimes.

There is also big potential here for misunderstandings. To be honest, if I decline your party invitation it’s usually not because I don’t give a F; it’s more likely that I give too many Fs, leading to a bout of social anxiety that’s keeping me trapped on the couch. That’s my F equation to work on – not your problem. But I’d hate for you to think I don’t give a F about you!

Neither of these books discusses any actual, real problems, either. I suspect your Fs are allocated very differently if you’re living with oppression or disease. Check your privilege.

It’s also important to move slowly when taking advice from privileged people. Knight quit her job and liberated herself from the 9 to 5; that was the inspiration for her book. She stopped giving a F about a job she hated, and quit. It worked for her – she wrote a bestseller. But, not everyone will achieve that. Most of us probably don’t even want to – not deep down, if we have to put a whole lot of effort into it! And if you have a mortgage and 3 kids, quitting your job on a whim puts you more into the ‘asshole’ category than hero-of-the-working-man/woman.

So, if you’re choosing between one book or the other, it probably comes down to your perspective on ‘happiness’.

If you think you DESERVE to be happy – therefore, you have a right to save your Fs for things that matter – pick Knight.

If you think that life will always involve struggle – therefore, you need to pick your battles carefully and save your Fs for things that matter – pick Manson.

Choose your own adventure! I don’t give a F what you read, obviously.

2 comments for “Book Review: The Subtly Magical Life Changing Approach To Not Giving A F*ck

  1. March 20, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Who knew there could be such opposing views on the same train of thought? Like you Lara, I care too much about what others think of me to follow either author’s example!

    • lara@caingray.net
      March 20, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      It’s very hard to detach yourself enough to truly not care about others’ opinions. I’m not even sure I would want to live that way. I guess it’s all about finding the right balance – which is pretty much going to change day to day I think!

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