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The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking Paperback – November 5, 2013
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The 30 Best Self Help Books
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: The you-can-do-it, life-is-one-big-smiley-face ethos of our contemporary culture has its value: Aggressive positivity helps many triumph over addiction, say, or build previously unimaginable businesses, even win elections and wars. But according to Oliver Burkeman, this relentless pursuit of happiness and success can also make us miserable. Exploring the dark side of the theories put forth by such icons as Norman Vincent Peale and Eckhart Tolle by looking to both ancient philosophy and current business theory, Burkeman--a feature writer for British newspaper The Guardian--offers up the counterintuitive idea that only by embracing and examining failure and loss and unhappiness will we become free of it. So in your next yoga class, try this: breathe deep, think unhappy thoughts--and feel your soul relax. --Sara Nelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Burkeman's tour of the ‘negative path' to happiness makes for a deeply insightful and entertaining book. This insecure, anxious and sometimes unhappy reader found it quite helpful.” ―Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times
“Some of the most truthful and useful words on [happiness] to be published in recent years . . . A marvellous synthesis of good sense, which would make a bracing detox for the self-help junkie.” ―Julian Baggini, The Guardian
“The Antidote is a gem. Countering a self-help tradition in which ‘positive thinking' too often takes the place of actual thinking, Oliver Burkeman returns our attention to several of philosophy's deeper traditions and does so with a light hand and a wry sense of humor. You'll come away from this book enriched--and, yes, even a little happier.” ―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
“Quietly subversive, beautifully written, persuasive, and profound, Oliver Burkeman's book will make you think--and smile.” ―Alex Bellos, author of Here's Looking at Euclid
“Addictive, wise, and very funny.” ―Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist
“What unites [Burkeman's] travels, and seems to drive the various characters he meets, from modern-day Stoics to business consultants, is disillusionment with a patently false idea that something as complex as the goal of human happiness can be found by looking in a book . . . It's a simple idea, but an exhilarating and satisfying one.” ―Alexander Larman, The Observer
“This is an excellent book; Burkeman makes us see that our current approach, in which we want happiness but search for certainty--often in the shape of material goods--is counterproductive.” ―William Leith, The Telegraph
“Fascinating . . . After years spent consulting specialists--from psychologists to philosophers and even Buddhists--Burkeman realised they all agreed on one thing: . . . in order to be truly happy, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions--or, at least, to learn to stop running so hard from them.” ―Mandy Francis, The Daily Mail
“Splendid . . . Readable and engaging.” ―British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Times (London)
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Top Customer Reviews
The extraordinarily well-read author's path leads us from Seneca and the Stoics, past some disadvantages of goal-setting to Ulrich Tolle and the benefits of insecurity. He pays a rather entertaining visit to a museum dedicated to products that failed in the marketplace, the "survivor bias," and a discussion about the widespread avoidance of thoughts about death. Each of these is a starting point for his very cogent thoughts and research about a specific aspect of the journey on which he is taking the reader.
I must admit to having been somewhat of a convert to the author's philosophy before picking up the book, so that there is some bias here, but I truly believe that most Westerners would benefit greatly from reading this book slowly and thoughtfully. True, there was a point in mid-read when either my mind wandered, or the author did not clearly explain the connection between the current topic and his main line of thought. However, he (or I) returned well before the end and left me extremely glad to have read it.
In his Epilogue, Burkeman uses two expressions with which I was not familiar but which were particularly interesting to me: First, "negative capability," reportedly coined by the poet John Keats who explained it as "when [one] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason..." Second is a word that may have the same meaning, acceptance of "opensure," which is the opposite of closure. As a counselor and coach I have often thought that if people could end their search for certainty and/or closure they would be much happier, and I am pleased to find a word that describes that state.
The very thoroughly researched text ends with an extensive bibliography, so that the curious can go to sources quite easily.
I recommend Oliver Burkeman's "The Antidote" to just about anyone whose search for certainty, or belief in positive thinking as the path to happiness, have not actually led them to the tranquility that they seek. That would probably be most people.
But if you're just one of those many people out there like myself who's trying to avoid being angry and upset, but who doesn't buy the "be happy and wonderful things will happen to you" mantra, this book will be interesting. I say "interesting" not "enlightening" because it is a surface treatment covering everything from ancient stoicism to Buddhism to modern-day Santa Muerte beliefs and as such can't possibly be deep enough to be enlightening. It does go deep enough to show the common theme running through many beliefs, that happiness is ultimately related to finding a way to be content and productive in the world as it is, without devoting too much of our energy to struggling against it. The book does not suggest that we not try to better ourselves or the world around us, but does make the point that it is the struggle against our condition that is likely to make us unhappy far more than the condition we're in to begin with.
I found this book to be an interesting departure point, suggesting several others that I suspect will be more enlightening, rather than merely interesting.
The Antidote, for sure, is personally fascinating. I abhor positive thinking, gravitating instead toward reality. But I didn't come by this easily. In my early 20's, I became obsessed with all manner of self help, positive thinking and new age spirituality. I devoured (embarrassing) self help books, feeling temporarily inspired by them while making feeble attempts to put the words into practice. Inevitably, I'd feel like a failure for not being able to be perfect -- or even slightly "better" than I was before; I'd feel consumed with anger and resentment, too, that my problems didn't magically go away; that life wasn't easier. It took me a LONG TIME to realize that my faux spirituality was primarily the cause of my dissatisfaction and pain.
My actual problems were far less annoying than the books I was reading to solve them.
I wish I'd read The Antidote 15 years ago.
The Antidote travels familiar -- to me, a junkie, at least -- terrain. If you've ever read a book on buddhism (through a pop culture lens), for instance, much of this won't be new: accept life as it is. But the context will; the author blends storytelling, cutting edge research, personal anecdote and wry humor into this compelling case for what he refers to as the negative path; the wisdom of the Stoics as a sane approach to life.
I am torn as to how many stars to offer; for whatever reason, I wasn't in love with the book as a whole. The author is certainly a talented writer, but I felt like the book went on and on. And on. This kind of thing, yes, is highly subjective, so take it with a grain of salt. To me, this book would have been a lot better had it been a lot shorter. I often feel this way about non-fiction books -- that there's a quota to fill. What's wrong with lean and mean?
(OK, OK: the book is not actually that long, so maybe it's my attention span).
It also bears mentioning that reading The Antidote is not actually the antidote for, really, anything: you actually have to live -- which means accepting that life is hard and messy and sometimes ugly and awful; it means not constantly trying to escape it.
But if you're obsessed with The Secret, then you need this book. The Secret will not-so-secretly let you down, again and again. The Antidote contains actual valuable advice: there are no shortcuts, magical thinking is useless and, my favorite: a little negativity will make us happier.