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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discomforting Degree of Honesty, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking (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. 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.
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Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

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