The Art of Selfishness: Why Not-Giving-A-Fuck Might Just Be the Best Advice You’ll Never Take

I have previously spoken about the un-helpfulness of the self-help movement and how using philosophies such as Stoicism in the face of the unexpected – job loss in my case, can be of more benefit to us as individuals than mindless positivity without direction. This sentiment is reflected in Mark Manson’s, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.

Since losing my job I have decided to take my Mental Health and well-being more seriously. The first step in this process toward self-improvement was to find a therapist. This wasn’t an easy step to take and not for the reasons you may imagine. I had crossed the first hurdle already – admitting there was a problem that needed resolving i.e. I was underachieving, lost, lacked direction and required assistance.

It is not easy to talk about it. To friends, to family to anyone, this was my biggest hurdle. Therapy is not just for those with diagnosed illnesses, I am a firm believer that it can be of benefit to all people at any stage in their lives. Being aware of your own mental health and how to improve it is something that should not be a taboo subject, not today.

One of the first things my therapist said to me is that during our sessions, every now and then they will ask me whether or not I am taking care of myself. What does ‘taking care of yourself’ even mean you might ask?

On the face of it, this seemingly innocuous question can be answered quite simply. I’m not drinking too much, I don’t do drugs, I shower every day. This of course is not what they meant. Should I or should I not quit smoking for instance is of course a question of self-preservation (I debate this with every roll-up), the true essence of this question, however, lies in the detail.

What am I doing in my life that is just for me?

I am fortunate in this respect because a) I knew what was meant when the question was posed to me and b) I do have a few things that are just for me. I am an avid vinyl collector, I’m a huge boxing fan, I write, I read, and when the weather permits I am a keen motorcyclist. Looking after ones-self, having little moments of selfishness is not a new philosophy. Ayn Rand tried to argue this point in her 1964 book The Virtue of Selfishness insisting that:

“Her usage was consistent with a more precise meaning of the term as simply ‘concern with one’s own interests’. The equation of selfishness with evil, she explained, had caused ‘the arrested moral development of mankind’ and needed to be rejected.”

Aryn Rand

Before we get a little too side-tracked, I am not going to be evaluating the full philosophy of Objectivism or its components but nonetheless, the definition of selfishness in this context forms the foundation of my perspective.

Manson, in his 2016 book, talks about 3 things:

  1. Do not try to be somebody you are not.
  2. The key to life is to choose what you care about.
  3. Only follow values that you can control.

This is Water

goldfish

If your happiness is contingent on the value other people place on things like a new car for instance or a bigger house or a better paid job then you are living in a world where nothing is good enough for you, a world of perpetual failure that you yourself have created.

David Foster Wallace gave an incredible commencement speech about the value of a real education and what it means to be well-adjusted in the world today and Manson certainly incorporates Wallace’s ideas into his theory of not-giving-a-fuck. In the written form of this speech This is Water D.F.W explains in vivid detail what it means to choose moreover, what we have the ability to choose to think about. What we care about.

Should we spend our time getting mad at the fact the batteries in the TV remote need changing or that Julia next door hasn’t trimmed her rose-bush in over a year, or could we spend that time more constructively? Focusing on what we can do to make a difference, focusing on ourselves so that we are better positioned to help others. Surely this is a more productive use of our time?

Every person has their own set of values, belief systems, things that they care about more than others because they have prioritised their life in a certain way. We cannot care of everything all the time and even if we could, would we want to?

Rand’s idea of selfishness is rooted in this assumption. That we should spend time prioritising our thoughts and our values and what we consider important to us. By doing so we can attribute our time to be a force for positivity in the world. By focusing on our-selves, by being a little more selfish we can then place our-selves more perfectly in the world.

Fuck Bucks

Sarah Knight, a bestselling author and speaker beautifully explains her theory of not-giving-a-fuck in this TEDx talk from 2017.

She runs through the way in which she decided to implement these theories and practices in to her own life. Having little moments of selfishness. Learning that it is OK to say no if you do not want to do something and to not feel guilty about where you spend your time and your energy and your money (your fuck-bucks).

‘Taking care’ of yourself is an integral element to good mental health and well-being. It is vital to us in order to sustain well-being over time and not just in terms of thinking positively but by acting positively as well.

The way I see it, is once we can let go of the little things that do not matter, once we can learn to not feel guilty about looking after our-selves and our own best interests, we can then focus on what really matters. We will then have the time and the freedom to shine and in doing so allow others to shine also. Not giving a fuck is not the same as not caring. It is about choosing what to care about and this is key.

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