This question around happiness is kind of just like kissing your own a–––.
Mark Manson never intended to become a self-help guru. In fact, his potty-mouthed, New York Times best-selling book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F––k rails against that multi-million-dollar industry.
In Australia to deliver a series of sold-out talks, Manson tells The New Daily that he feels, very strongly, that the self-help industry is “a little bit delusionally positive” and feeds people unrealistic expectations.
“I very much wanted to provide an antidote to that, to be a counterbalance to all the positivity and create like a negative form of self-improvement,” he explains.
Manson’s straight-shooting book, which started out as a hugely popular blog and then snowballed, actively questions what it is we each want and why and embraces, rather than pushes away, difficulty.
“It’s finding good pain and problems, pain that is worthwhile,” he says.
An avid reader of existential philosophy, Manson is also fascinated by new psychological research.
“They’re finding that people don’t even know when they are happy. They don’t remember correctly what made them happy in their past and they don’t predict correctly what’s going to make them happy in their future, so this question around happiness is kind of just like kissing your own a–––. It’s not really fruitful or productive.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F––k pulls in everyone from Buddhist monks to philosophers in demonstrating his approach, opening with a look at the alcoholic and occasionally cantankerous author Charles Bukowski.
Bukowski famously made it as a writer late in life. Quoted in the opening chapter, he says: “I have one or two choices – stay in the post office and go crazy … or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.”
Manson argues perfect happiness is an easy sell that rarely reflects the whole story.
“It’s so easily marketable because we live in a very capitalist society. Those messages get perpetuated.”
Filling huge rooms on speaking tours like this is surreal, he says, with the cynical millennials who followed him from the blog forming a big part of Manson’s audience. He also attracts finance-industry types and personal trainers, saying of the latter, with a chuckle: “I think they really identify with the whole pain thing.”
Manson also fields interview requests from self-help gurus of the stridently positive mould, ironically.
“I’m a self-loathing, self-help guru,” Manson laughs. “It’s very strange for me, dealing with those people and talking to them candidly. I have a weird love-hate relationship with the self-help genre.”
He resists offering specific tips or exercises, insisting that would be counter-intuitive.
“The big thing is developing the ability to ask why you care about certain things, and to ask that honestly,” he says.
“Most people, they either never ask that, or they’re not able to answer it very honestly. The whole goal of the book is simply to guide people in asking those questions a little bit better about themselves, and so if I try to feed people the answer, then I’m going against that.”
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F––k is out now. For more info on The School of Life talks, click here.