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The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking [Kindle Edition]

Oliver Burkeman
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (153 customer reviews)

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Book Description

For a civilisation  so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task. Self-help books don't seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth - even if you can get it - doesn't lead to happiness. Romance, family life and work often seem to bring stress as much as joy. We can't even agree on what 'happiness' means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way? What if it's our constant efforts to feel happy that are making us miserable? In this fascinating new book, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual collection of people - experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers - who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it's our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative, 'negative path' to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty - the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counter-intuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

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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. We're on a treadmill of disappointment. So Burkeman explores a better way, and tells us about the philosophers and thinkers who have inspired him (***** Daily Telegraph,)

He has written some of the most truthful and useful words on [happiness] to be published in recent years. This is a marvellous synthesis of good sense, which would make a bracing detox for the self-help junkie (Julian Baggini Guardian)

If life can only have one destination, then, Burkeman argues, we should enjoy the journey as much as we can and deal with the terminus when it comes. It's a simple idea, but an exhilarating and satisfying one (Observer)

Addictive, wise and very funny. Burkeman never takes himself too seriously, but the rest of us should. (Tim Harford author of THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST)

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 ALEX'S ADVENTURES IN NUMBERLAND)

Does the pursuit of happiness make us miserable? In this elegant and erudite book, Oliver Burkeman explores the riddle of joy in the 21st century. This book doesn't set out to make you happy, but that may just be why it works (Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works)

This is a genuinely useful book; Burkeman is not in the business of pouring automatic scorn; he really does want us to become slightly happier . . . Help! is win-win. If you do find yourself with those problems which, though potentially tractable, are disproportionately aggravating, then you will find solace and good advice here. If you do not, or rather think you do not, then you will be amused anyway. Either way, you won't need to read another self-help book again. (Nicholas Lezard, Guardian)

[The Antidote] has performed a neat trick by appealing to both the self-help superfan and the self-help cynic... it's immensely readable and rewarding (The Stylist)

Wry, thought-provoking and often hilarious (Irish Independent)

Burkeman's entertainingly argued proposition seems refreshingly well-grounded in reality, solid research and common sense and is probably worth a shot... (Good Book Guide)

Book Description

'A bracing detox for the self-help junkie' Guardian

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More About the Author

Oliver Burkeman is a feature writer for The Guardian newspaper. He is a winner of the Foreign Press Association's Young Journalist of the Year award, and has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. He writes a popular weekly column on psychology, This Column Will Change Your Life, and has reported from London, Washington and New York.

For Oliver Burkeman's blog and a selection of his writing, visit

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot on, stop chasing happiness, embrace failures. 18 Sept. 2012
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I got this book mainly for my husband who is an out and out pessimist, he works on the principle 'expect the worse and if it happens then you are not disappointed, if a good thing happens instead then you come away happy, either way you are never dissapointed'' this he claims is his theory of pessimism and happiness.

I read this book after my husband came waving it in my face claiming that he had been right all along. I am a born optimist and doubted this claim so I read the book, OMG it may be that my husband is right (now can I admit it to him?).

What Oliver Burkeman says is more or less what my husband has been saying all along, we should stop this mindless pursuit of happiness charging around looking for nirvana. We should instead embrace all the things that go wrong in our lives and look for the goodness in them, can I ever look my husband in the face again?

OB observes that for a population so obsessed with seeking happiness we are absolutely rubbish at finding it, money does not make you happy (although husband does say 'better to cry in a mercedes than a mini!!')Romance and family life all often lead to stresses that we don't want or need.

Using an eclectic mix of guides OB leads us through finding happiness in unusual places, who would consider using a buddhist and a terrorism expert to guide us to harmony?

A thought provoking book and well worth the effort of reading it.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discomforting Degree of Honesty 24 Feb. 2014
By clahain
Format:Kindle Edition
Reading THE ANTIDOTE: HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T STAND POSITIVE THINKING isn't a comfortable experience. I'd run into an excerpt in the online magazine BRAIN PICKINGS and was prepared for a snide, curmudgeonly critique of our be-happy-or-something's-wrong-with-you culture. And Burkeman certainly demonstrates many of the hallmarks of a grumpy old man. He's skeptical, judgmental, argumentative. He also seems to be onto something that most of us, in our rush to capture joy and fulfillment in a (recycled) bottle, never manage to grasp: prayers, wishes and abundance spells aside, things do not always work out for the best. Worse, as good as things might be at the moment, it'll all head downhill as we inevitably age and die.

One day the sun will rise without us.

That's the plain truth of the matter. It's also, according to Burkeman, why it's so important that we live our time here on earth with our eyes wide open. Even if it's hard. And scary.

Burkman gathers evidence from various schools of philosophy/religion/psychology. One of the most entertaining parts of the book is the chapter about his week in the forests of Massachusetts attempting Buddhist meditation. His evaluation of the power our momentary (and often inaccurate) thoughts/judgments have over our perception of our world is fascinating.

I also enjoyed his discussion of Stoicism, basically, the idea that emotional pain results not from outside events themselves, but from our judgement about those events. This isn't, as many people believe, an attitude of "life's terrible so deal with it." It's more "plan for the worst and hope it doesn't turn out quite so bad." Some would call this crass pessimism or even nihilism, the belief that life is essentially meaningless.
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61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to be 8 July 2012
By Eleanor TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In "The Antidote" Oliver Burkeman argues that happiness (whatever that is) can not be achieved through manic positive thinking, motivational pep talks, or narrowly-focused goal setting. Instead one can find a fulfilling way to live by embracing uncertainty and giving negative thoughts their due. In eight chapters we meet Stoics, Buddhists, and other thinkers who all possess:

"A willingness to adopt an oblique stance towards one's own inner life; to pause and take a step back; to turn to face what others might flee from; and to realise that the shortest apparent route to a positive mood is rarely a sure path to a more profound kind of happiness."

Burkeman emphasizes that, unlike so many motivational speakers, he is not intending to offer fail-safe rules for a happy life. Instead he thoughtfully and thoroughly explores topics we might usually shy away from, arriving at wise advice. I already feel calmer and more content having been immersed in his ideas, and perversely I'm looking forward to a chance to test his techniques.

Having greatly enjoyed and valued Burkeman's previous book Help!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done, I was worried that "The Antidote" would cover too much of the same ground. This new book, however, felt fresh and readable offering a more sustained and meaty thesis than the short articles in "Help", whilst still retaining the humour and anecdotes that made the first book such a pleasure.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to important thinkers 24 Dec. 2012
As with Burkeman's previous book ('Help'), this mixes a deceptively easy-going writing style, some good jokes and a comprehensive review of the territory. He has done his homework, and the first-hand reporting of site visits and interviews show the skills of a deft journalist. If you don't know the work of the Stoics, Albert Ellis, Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle or (latterly) Steve Shapiro, this is a very entertaining, well-written introduction: if you have read any of their work, then you might be left wanting just a little more insight or originality.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 5 days ago by Belle Tidswell
5.0 out of 5 stars ... there was nothing new for me in it but nice to know someone is...
I could have written this book so there was nothing new for me in it but nice to know someone is making money out of being as realistic as I!
Published 21 days ago by Mr. T. Brooks
4.0 out of 5 stars Life as a good dinner
Interesting critique of motivational "self help" and a selective tour of a few alternative philosophies such as Stoicism, made less dry because it's done through stories... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Wossaname
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep & Brilliant
This is a deep and brilliant book for all those who are not satisfied with hyped up blind optimism - just as the title says ;)

My regards to Mr Burkeman!
Published 2 months ago by Strega da Portobello
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Utterly brilliant and highly amusing. A must read!
Published 2 months ago by Adam Butler
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an excellent antidote!
Hugely readable and funny - Burkeman's style is consistently good. I would recommend this book widely. If you aren't sure, take a sample read of his Guardian articles.
Published 3 months ago by Alex Quigley
5.0 out of 5 stars A reminder to enjoy the moment
A tranquil read, filled with thought provoking anecdotes and reassurance to the anxious or depressed. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Priya Desai
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm ok
This book makes sense
I'm not saying it's the answer to all of my or your problems
Even in the time leading up to my finishing it I experienced a period of unjustified... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kevin Treweeks
5.0 out of 5 stars Negative enrichment
Perhaps the most deflating thing you can do to a supposedly serious book of non-fiction is to describe it as 'journalism', suggesting that, whatever its merits, the work is... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jon Chambers
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written book, interesting arguments but you're approach towards...
Well written book, interesting arguments but you're approach towards optimism and positive thinking is highly dependent on the type of individual you are, what you want out of life... Read more
Published 5 months ago by MR N S SEWAK
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