“Happiness is a problem.”
The self-help industry revolves around selling books or programs that will make you happy. The world of social media thrives by offering us constant exposure to the newest trends and fads. We are always being pushed to buy (or buy into) the latest new thing that will fulfill our lives. Mark Manson (no relation to this writer) takes a different approach to self-improvement in his book (and now movie) The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%!. The plan he offers is not to help you find what is missing in your life. Rather it is based on coming to understand what is and is not important in life.
I’ve not read the book, but I assume the film (which is basically Manson doing a monologue) is essentially delivering the same ideas. His philosophy is basically that there are only a few things in life that really matter. The way we find fulfillment is to identify those things and not worry about the rest. Consumerism, the constant search for something new and shinier, the need to have more money, more power, or more fame are all distractions from the things that will really make our lives happy.
Throughout his monologue, he uses raw and scatological language to make his points. Given the title of the book and film, this shouldn’t be a surprise. I think such language also points to his own generation as the target audience for the film, Millennials. The perspective he develops is indeed something that is fitting for that generation to be considering at this point in life. It is something each generation deals with at some point.
Manson eschews the label of stoicism. While there are differences between his views and the Stoics, he is much more like them than different from them. He (according to an article on his website) sees himself more in touch with Buddhism and existentialism. His aha moment grows from discovering the reality of death. That reality is frequently the cause of people beginning to think about what is important in life.
His ideas are similar in many ways to the biblical writer of Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” is not far removed from the film’s title. Ecclesiastes looks at all the ways people have sought to find meaning—and the ways they all fall short. That is much what Manson is doing in the film. And so, I feel it appropriate to quote Ecclesiastes to give my reaction to the film: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Perhaps this restating what many have discovered through centuries is necessary for each new generation to help it come to grips with the questions of value and happiness.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a #@%! is in theaters and coming soon to VOD.
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures and GFC Films.