7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 24 February 2014
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. I don't think this is Burkeman's contention at all. He seems to be prescribing an unsentimental common sense. Like, save for retirement because, though you may die before you need the money, it'll be worse to be old and destitute. Or, if your cholesterol is high, skip the fried food--sure, you're going to die anyway, but why rush into it?
According to the author, rather than being a depressing way to live, this close attention to reality, especially the reality of our own mortality, can actually lead to a meaningful and--dare we suggest--joyful life. So, in the end, THE ANTIDOTE isn't an argument against optimism and positive thinking. The question it addresses is far more basic and useful than that. Namely, does it really matter whether the glass is half full or half empty if you don't appreciate the contents?
Reading this book requires and open mind and some bravery, but it's worth the effort.
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 December 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.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2012
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!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
OK; I didn't really get too much of the philosophy but I did enjoy reading The Antidote. Oliver Burkeman is hilarious. His dry, cutting sense of humour turned something which could have so quickly become pompous and preaching into an absolute pleasure and a joy to read. Amazingly enough, because I enjoyed the reading experience and had a smile on my face, I've taken in more of the content than I have with any self-help book but; I can't say I've altered my way of thinking to any great degree. The Antidote will introduce you to the concept; "..does the pursuit of happiness make us miserable..", Burkeman throws in a widely diverse group of people, theories and arguments in an open handed, often humorous manner, as he attempts to convince you that yes, it does. There are some powerful and interesting voices in the book and it's diverse, you couldn't accuse Burkeman of being single minded, he has gone out of his way to cover all of the bases.
In summary I'd say The Antidote is well worth the read even if you don't normally delve into this type of literature. Not overly long, interesting, funny and written in a way that grabs the attention without ever becoming dry or taking itself too seriously. You won't feel disappointed if you come away from this experience disagreeing with the concept, Burkeman is gentle enough to leave that up to you, but who knows, maybe you'll find The Antidote life changing, so give it a go.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 essentially ephemeral. Oliver Burkeman is a very accomplished journalist, and he even describes himself in The Antidote as 'a reporter'. Yet despite being highly entertaining (and it's worth reading for its entertainment value alone) his book is eminently serious, tackling important issues like insecurity and the sense of self. Moreover, Burkeman's argument that adopting a negative outlook has positive benefits is potentially life-enhancing. It's an idea that's pursued rigorously and it gives coherence to what could otherwise read as little more than an episodic collection of feature articles.
The Antidote is intended to have a wider and more popular appeal than that of the average psychology text. In true investigative reporter style, Burkeman seeks out colourful, 'larger-than-life', characters who embody attitudes, theories and beliefs, like Positive Thinking and Buddhism. So, for example, he seeks out a modern-day Seneca (enter Keith of Watford), or a mind-changing, bench-sleeping, drop-out (the Russell Square hermit, Ulrich Tolle). He visits a lawless and life-threatening part of Mexico which, infested with criminal gangs and with zero police presence, is home to a bizarre new religious cult devoted to Saint Death.
But there is purpose behind each 'journalistic' foray. According to those quoted in the chapter entitled Who's There?, for example, there may not be any such entity as the undivided self, and it may not even be meaningful to talk in terms of self and non-self (or the dividing line between one's body and the space around it). But for me, if that's a meaningful concept, this chapter is the most puzzling and rewarding of all. And the book as a whole is one you'll probably want, or need, to revisit in order to puzzle over its implications. For despite its irreverent wit and often flippant prose, The Antidote is deceptively profound.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2012
'The Antidote' has had such a long-lasting positive effect on me that not only did I write a fan-email to the author (the second occasion on which I've done so), but I'm here writing my first ever Amazon review.
I've long been a fan of Oliver Burkeman's weekly column in the Guardian Weekend magazine (This Column Will Change Your Life), and when I saw the subtitle of this book, I felt so strongly that it had been written with people like me in mind that I preordered it and awaited its arrival impatiently.
Burkeman's columns are characterised by wit, fluency, an often informal bent, and the journey of the curious but (slightly) cynical writer at the centre of it all. He's the perfect reviewer of the world of self-help for those who reserve a healthy suspicion of the self-help industry, like Burkeman himself. He always puts ideas within a philosophical or history-of-psychological-thought context, and in this book he has room to develop in all these areas.
While 'The Antidote' seems to reside in self-help sections of bookshops, it has no exercises or mantras for self-improvement; it's more like an interested but casual exploration of an array of approaches to life that don't urge striving for happiness or goals. I felt more educated by it than anything else, but better than that, the book reassured me that my distrust of what I've always felt to be over-the-top, almost horrifically enthusiastic positivity is not due to me being a negative, miserable defeatist, but a fairly Stoical person. The result of that is that I'm much happier - though my friends and family presumably aren't, as a result of me constantly demanding that they read it.