Customer Reviews


102 Reviews
5 star:
 (63)
4 star:
 (22)
3 star:
 (9)
2 star:
 (5)
1 star:
 (3)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to be
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...
Published 21 months ago by Eleanor

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, Insightful, but Hardly Life-Changing
In just over 200 pages, Oliver Burkeman sets out in 'The Antidote' to summarise Stoicism and Buddhism, demolish our sense of self, our fixation on goals and security, and to excoriate the self-help industry. Covering such terrain in so slender a volume was always going to be a breathless endeavour. Burkeman just about manages to retain his credibility, and the reader's...
Published 6 months ago by Richard Bagshaw


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to be, 8 July 2012
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely lovely, well written, well thought out guide to happiness., 24 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


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 (Wales, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(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. However, he has avoided the easy path of feeding the reader's complacency by holding these people up to easy mockery; preferring instead to speak to a number of figures - Eckhart Tolle among them - who have argued for a 'negative way' through life and the renunciation of goal-oriented, achievement-oriented philosophies. There is a seriousness here that emerges repeatedly: for example, in the discussion of Ernest Becker's 'The Denial of Death', which ascribes much of human unhappiness to our inability to look steadily at the fact of personal and collective extinction.

This is probably not the book for a reader already extensively read in the Stoics or the Buddhist tradition. It is neither a rigorous work of philosophy nor a detailed plan for life. There were a couple of instances in which I felt that a more secure grounding in the sciences might have helped the author see flaws in the arguments of some of his interviewees; and he is more enthusiastic about the late Alan Watts than I can bring myself to be. But these are minor points and do not affect my judgement that this is a sane, readable, equable, persuasive guide to an admirable philosophical tradition. Given the subject matter, it helps considerably that Burkeman has a wry sense of humour that is never overplayed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Antidote - wiser, humbler, and happier for reading it., 4 Aug 2012
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
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. So, thanks, Oliver, for trying out so many odd and difficult and challenging things, and for talking to interesting, thought-provoking and quirky people for us. Thanks for doing this against the backdrop of all the research hours you've put into understanding well-being, or happiness. Thanks for the leg-work, the hours at the laptop, and most of all for reporting back. The book is a treasure. I feel wiser, humbler, and happier for reading it. Everyone should have a copy.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, Insightful, but Hardly Life-Changing, 6 Oct 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In just over 200 pages, Oliver Burkeman sets out in 'The Antidote' to summarise Stoicism and Buddhism, demolish our sense of self, our fixation on goals and security, and to excoriate the self-help industry. Covering such terrain in so slender a volume was always going to be a breathless endeavour. Burkeman just about manages to retain his credibility, and the reader's goodwill, by writing with levity and wit. However, I found The Antidote rather too thin to be as life-changing as it professes, or as other reviewers describe.

Burkeman warns us at the outset that the 'negative path to happiness' does not offer the quick-fix answers or checklists beloved of self-help manuals. Indeed there is little here for a reader seeking concrete advice; although that is no bad thing. Instead, Burkeman asks us to question many of the supposed tenets of a happy life, and explores whether learning to live with uncertainty, insecurity and the possibility of failure might not ultimately be more rewarding than attempting to deny them. In this, the book is wise, and humane. And it is at its best when it blasts the grinning idiocy of the positive thinking industry.

The Antidote is less successful in offering an alternative view. Instead, Burkeman summarises the - often mutually contradictory - philosophies of other writers. Many are commensense, and can be adequately summarised in The Antidote's short chapters, although with little nuance or elaboration. Forays into more existential terrain, however - such as the denial of the self - are too brief to be convincing. Moreover, although some scientific studies are referenced, and lend their passages of the book greater credibility, Burkeman is more fond of quoting ancient philosophers and personal experience. A more thorough review of the evidence would have made Burkeman's thesis more compelling.

Make no mistake, The Antidote offers a lively, engaging read on a universally appealing topic, and is liberally sprinkled with insight and entertaining anecdotes. Yet the book is less than the sum of its parts. Burkeman offers a good introduction to a negative's thinkers approach to happiness, but readers hoping for something more substantial or original will be left wanting more.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars thoughtful, 9 Sep 2013
By 
D&D - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
Burkeman explores various approaches to tranquility, rather than happiness: he considers many avenues that I have researched too, such as the philosophies of the Stoics and the Buddhists as well as teachings of individuals such as Albert Ellis (whom I found practically helpful) and Eckhart Tolle (I bought all of his CDs and books but never got much practical benefit).

He explains that the Stoics believe that it is your thinking that makes any event good or bad. As Ellis points out, however bad any event (even death), it could have been worse. They don't claim that negative emotions don't really exist or that they don't really matter or that they can easily be brushed aside through sheer effort of will. Their view is that it's the beliefs you hold about the disadvantages of death, starvation, losing a home or a job, that makes them distressing. This is the underlying insight behind contemporary cognitive behavioural therapy too.

I particularly appreciated the author's discourse on the Stoics because "To Love is to Be Happy With" by Kaufman, which created such a positive impact on the quality of my life, is based on their school of thought but with many practical examples and questions. It doesn't go as far, though: the Stoics also advise negative visualisation - regularly reminding yourself that you might lose any of the things you currently enjoy, even to reminding yourself that your children may die tomorrow. Although this might strike any parent as horrifying, the practice will make you love them even more, while simultaneously reducing the shock should it happen. It is also an antidote to anxiety, which is a subtler and apparently even more powerful benefit.

Spend time vividly imagining exactly how wrong things could go, IN REALITY. You will usually find your fears were exaggerated. All too often, things will not turn out for the best, but the premeditation of evils, of the worst that could happen, usually means that things almost certainly go LESS wrong than we feared. If you lose your job, there are specific steps you could take to find a new one. If you lose your relationship, you would probably manage to find happiness in life despite being single. Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. By contrast, happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle. Negative visualisation generates a vastly more dependable calm.

I found the more practical first part of the book the most interesting. He covers, for instance:

- Daniel Wegner's studies showing that the internal mechanism responsible for sabotaging our efforts at suppressing negative thoughts might govern an entire territory of mental activity and outward behaviour. All too often the outcome we're seeking to avoid is exactly the one to which we seem magnetically lured.

- Joanne Wood's research that, the lower our self esteem, the worse affirmations and forced positive thinking make us feel.

- Tali Sharot's book "The Optimism Bias" compiling growing evidence that a well-functioning mind may be built so as to perceive the odds of things going well as greater than they really are. Healthy and happy people generally have a LESS accurate, overly optimistic grasp of their true ability to influence events than do those who are suffering from depression (and who perceive events far more realistically).

- Gabriele Oettingen's research which reveals that spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go actually reduces most people's motivation to achieve them. Subjects encouraged to think about how they were going to have a particularly high-achieving week at work, for example, ended up achieving less than who were invited to reflect on the coming week, but given no further guidelines on how to do so. In experiment after experiment, people responded to positive visualisation by relaxing. They seemed subconsciously to have confused visualising success with having already achieved it. Focusing on the outcome you desire may actually sabotage your efforts

His conclusion is that negative thinking is not always superior to the positive kind. Optimism is wonderful; goals can sometimes be useful; even positive thinking and positive visualisation have their benefits. the problem is that we have developed the habit of chronically overvaluing positivity and the skills of 'doing', in how we think about happiness, and that we chronically undervalue negativity and the 'not-doing' skills, such as resting in uncertainty or getting friendly towards failure. We are motivated by a craving to put an end to uncertainty and anxiety, whether by convincing ourselves that the future is bright or by resigning ourselves despondently to the expectation that it won't be, instead of easing up on the search for neat solutions and embracing imperfection.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spot on, stop chasing happiness, embrace failures., 18 Sep 2012
By 
FLB (England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not so much a self-help guide as an essay promoting one group of related theories, 15 July 2012
By 
David Burton "aenikata" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you're looking for a guide that will genuinely change your perspective and help you plan a better way of looking at things, this isn't really it.
As negative as that sounds, I did find this fairly thought-provoking and interesting, as it starts with a quick critique of the positive thinking movement, before moving on to outline groups such as the stoics who had a much greater effort at realism and how their perspective is, in the author's opinion, rather more useful.
For all the sniping at the positive thinking books for their target market being people who have already failed to be helped by other positive thinking books, the book is a little short on evidence that the author's preferred attitudes are more useful.
That said, it takes different movements which take similar views on life, and correlates them together. This is potentially useful if you're interested, like me, in comparing different theories in psychology and religion, and trying to find useful threads between them. A guide it isn't, really, but I do think the ideas it proposes are worth considering, and the range of movements that are tied together by it make it still an interesting read.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A more realistic view of life, 22 Jun 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
The German pessimist Philosopher Schopenahuer once wrote that pain and suffering is a 'positive' quality and happiness and contentment a 'negative' quality. What he meant was that the natural order of things was suffering and unhappiness. The path to some semblance of happiness is to 'reduce' the amount of suffering and wretchedness. So by treating the normal state of affairs and the world as a place, generally, of unhappiness - you will be less surprised when misfortune strikes, because it is as expected.

The path to happiness is NOT the gaining of something. I.e. money, fame, wealth - but rather the reduction of something.

This book is excellent and a refreshing antidote to the happy-go-lucky saccharine smiled 'you can achieve anything you want' optimism that promises you everything.

To expect the worst. To realise that what makes something bad in our minds is not that it actually is bad, but because we think it bad. Such lies the path to a life of less suffering. Happiness doesn't exist, it is fleeting moments, like sun rays through clouds.

The only negative is that the book doesn't actually mention Schopenhauer. Maybe the author is not familiar with his philosophy. The ideas and stories presented are great and relevant and sometimes funny. I think the book could have been even better if the ideas in it were constructed around a wider all encompassing philosophy and science. Such as Schopenhauers idea of the struggle of the Will and Darwins theory of evolution.

Great reading. Definitely recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars authentic happiness, not a cheap self-help...., 23 Jun 2012
By 
J. DOUGLAS "Johnny Douglas" (Nr London, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Do you see a glass that is half-full, half-empty, or that simply contains enough liquid to throw over the person who asks the question!? Oliver Burkeman wrestles with the recipe for contentment while rejecting the whole idea of a wellbeing formula. Burkeman noticed that "something united all those psychologists and philosophers - and even the odd self-help guru - whose ideas seemed actually to hold water". This Burkeman calls the "negative path": the idea that the more we strive for happiness, and other psychological goods like security and confidence, the less we achieve them. And so, paradoxically, it is by thinking more about the downers in life, such as the inevitability of death, the inescapability of suffering or the impossibility of security, that we achieve something like happiness.

Burkeman is keen to emphasise that the negative path is not "one single, comprehensive, neatly packaged philosophy" and nor is it a "panacea". It is rather a family of approaches that share an interest in coming to terms with the imperfections of reality in a number of different ways.

The most impressive parts are where Burkeman shows why it's so easy to believe that quick fix paths to happiness can help. For example, the idea that successful people persevere in the face of setbacks and have the charisma to get people to follow them can be true. However, people with the same qualities can also be very unsuccessful - if you persevere and get others to believe in your non-existent future success, you're a spectacular failure. Burkeman's approach throughout is this sort of even-handed way of looking at issues from all angles, and his writing style is light enough to deftly communicate complexity. The book culminates when Burkeman goes to Mexico to look at the Day of the Dead celebrations, a brilliant, morbidly positive ending, right up to the final sentence.

The path to happiness is NOT the gaining of something. I.e. money, fame, wealth - but rather the reduction of something. The ideas and stories presented are great and relevant and sometimes funny. I think the book could have been even better if the ideas in it were constructed around a wider all encompassing philosophy and science. Well written and a very enjoyable read. Not the usual self help platitudes. Refreshing, rare and insightful!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 211 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First
ARRAY(0xa80c09cc)

This product

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
Used & New from: 6.46
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews