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

Oliver Burkeman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)

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Book Description

21 Jun 2012
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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (21 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847678645
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847678645
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 217,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Product Description


'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

'Addictive, wise and very funny. Burkeman never takes himself too seriously, but the rest of us should.' --TIM HARFORD, author of Adapt and The Undercover Economist

'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

'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

'A happiness how-to-do without the cringey bits. Help! Is quite possibly invaluable' --Daily Mail on Help!

'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, (on Help!)

Book Description

'A bracing detox for the self-help junkie' Guardian --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to be 8 July 2012
By Eleanor TOP 500 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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I loved this book. It's as if Bill Bryson or Louis Theroux had performed a road trip into the world of self help. Yet the book has Burkeman's excellent style as a rational, intelligent journalist at heart and this work is both readable and important. Why important? Because it is the first book I have ever read that effortlessly and amusingly conveys hundreds of philosophical and psychological points on happiness into a coherent whole in a way that makes it a pleasure to consume. It should be required reading for all 18 year olds! I am 47 ... Buy it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The pursuit of happiness reconceived 16 Dec 2012
By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
Oliver Burkeman has written this book out of dissatisfaction with the self-help industry, with its mantras of empowerment, its cult of 'positive thinking' and its inveterate habit of treating success and happiness as a right for all. 'The Antidote' draws together strands from a variety of philosophical and spiritual traditions that share a common attitude towards the active pursuit of happiness: they believe it to be a mistaken strategy, self-defeating because grounded in ignorance - sometimes willed ignorance - of the facts of human existence.

Burkeman takes his reader through the basic tenets of classical stoicism and a discussion of the Buddhist principle of non-attachment. He looks at the growth of 'positive thinking' as a secular cure-all, and argues that many of its ideas and much of its language can be located in the worldview of commerce and the businessman. Burkeman argues that this style of thinking is both incoherent in itself and in any case inappropriate as a guide to life, which in the nature of things offers many more instances of repeated failure and disappointment than of success and continuous happiness. A visit to the 'Museum of Failure' reinforces the fact that even in commerce far more products fail than succeed. Excessive goal-orientation may even turn mere failure into disaster.

A journalist by profession, Burkeman is writing for the intelligent general reader who - like the author - may be assumed to be at least mildly sceptical about the positive thinkers.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
So what is The Antidote?

Acknowledging and considering the negative - instead of trying to suppress it with `positivity', getting more comfortable with it - making negative experiences less scary. There's a Stoical element of `feel the fear and do it anyway'. You render fears less potent by repeating and surviving a feared experience. And maybe, even, learning from it. Similarly, if you acknowledge and understand the negative, you may render it less potent.

This book puts balance back into the Tyranny of The Positive on the Self Help shelf. The more you experience and survive negative experiences, the more you trust yourself to survive them (although, to some extent, by mitigating them with healthy responses). So, rather than "trying to drown negativity out with relentless good cheer" (p9), is it more about learning to acknowledge, accept, and react to negative experiences thoughtfully. Balance this with meeting positive experiences with a certain amount of hazard-mitigating caution, moderation and reserve? Here you may have a more realistic `sweet spot' for healthy happy living.

If the only way to learn not to be overwhelmed by our negative experiences, or carried away by our positive experiences, is through experience, through doing and surviving, even thriving, then it's a journey with no short cuts.

Or is it?

This is where Burkeman's wry, reflective, investigative approach comes into its own. He tries things out and reports back. We get to learn from his torture by Barbie Girl. His trial by Chancery Lane. His face-off with death and the aisles of the Museum of Failure. Because the writing is personable, connected, honest, human, readable and funny, we get to really feel his experiences. So it's like we're learning by living through them.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing dose of realism
This book has introduced me to stoicism. That helps me. Life can be awful sometimes. One needs to be able to handle that. This book helps.
Published 7 days ago by Ms. K. E. Hancock
2.0 out of 5 stars Informative book on happiness theories
Very well written and informative. A unique and different approach to happiness theories all while exploring existing ones, the conclusion is a bit disappointing however.
Published 9 days ago by N.
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing book
Consists of a whole series of anecdotes about other people, poorly assembled and expressed, not intrinsically interesting enough to hold my attention. Read more
Published 14 days ago by D. Jefferies
5.0 out of 5 stars good read
This is a written debunking of myths. Enjoyable, interesting and thought provoking. I have recommended it to others who have appreciated it as much as I have.
Published 22 days ago by Mr Richard F Sheppard
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy that makes sense
After years of listening to unthinking management-speak and motivational flavour-of-the-month at work it is wonderful to hear that nonsense de-bunked but in a positive way (sorry -... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jac-in-the-book
5.0 out of 5 stars BEST BOOK EVER.
I was recommended this book by a friend and I couldn't be more grateful. It truly provides a new way to look at life and has encouraged me to make little changes that make big... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jessar
4.0 out of 5 stars Discomforting Degree of Honesty
Reading THE ANTIDOTE: HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T STAND POSITIVE THINKING isn't a comfortable experience. Read more
Published 1 month ago by clahain
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book
I loved this book, humorous, a laugh . It changed me for the better. I would read it again and again.
Published 1 month ago by fresh air fiend
5.0 out of 5 stars an alternative to living with cancer
Often the cancer path is that of positivity and battle.
This offers an alternative, that you can confront the worse case scenario and continue living. Read more
Published 2 months ago by nemesis
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice change
I read this book last autumn when I was reading for my exams. I found it to be a really interersting break from all the talk about being positive. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tony
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