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The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking Paperback – 12 Jul 2018
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About the Author
Oliver Burkeman is an award-winning feature writer for the Guardian. He writes a popular weekly column on psychology, ‘This Column Will Change Your Life’, and has reported from London, Washington and New York.
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Its been a distinctly mixed reading experience, although I really do have to recommend this one. If nothing else Burkeman is a very good writer, he weaves together analogies, knowledge of theory, research and reporting his own experiences when he has tried out certain recommendations himself very well. Its more a page turner than I had expected. The contents are clear, there's great supporting endnotes and references and a good supporting index, all of which make it easy to find what you are looking for quickly, although, as I say, its such a well written book that its easy to read and read chapters at a time too.
Burkeman explores stoicisim, buddhism's non-attachment principles, even meets with the author who created Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, a sort of revitalised stoicism, criticises goal setting, the focus upon the self, talks about the benefits of insecurity, embracing your failures at the museum of failure and finally focuses in on the tradition of momento mori (remember you will die).
I have had some acquaintance with these ideas prior to reading Burkeman, indeed, some of my perspective has been shaped by Erich Fromm who initially promoted Zen Buddhism and some ideas now associated with the so called Optimisation Movement but was pretty scathing about how those ideas were commercialised in his day, the promotion of "easy/effortless fixes" and he really seemed to disapprove of the Human Potential Movement. Burkeman's presentation is good, no prior acquaintance with the ideas is necessary to enjoy the book, or even benefit from some of the insights I would say, it is an antidote to the sorts of positive thinking he finds vexing, and I suspect much of his potential readership too.
The book is similar to Psychobabble: Exploding the myths of the self help generation by Dr Stephen Briers but I think Oliver Burkeman's book is the better of the two, it could just be personal preference but I think the pace of narrative and writing style is more engaging. I would also say cheering or encouraging but that may just be my own personal perspective.
For the past decade or so I have been studying and dipping into psychology, NLP, self-help books and CD's from all sorts of 'gurus', some made sense, some had wild promises with titles like 'super ultimate success in 99 guaranteed steps if you follow my 3 hour plan to the letter' etc etc... I had very mixed results and luckily avoided accepting the invites to 'seminars' that took you to even more heights of success - (for a few thousand quid of course).
In the same way Richard Carlson's 'Stop Thinking and Start Living' gave me a eureka moment I found 'The Antidote' brought balance and relief from the rabbit trails I had been pursuing. It was like someone disengaging the brain from being stuck in high revs to suddenly freewheeling down the hill and taking in the view.
I no longer worry about journals, daily mantras and visualisations and rigid steps to success... (that I wasn't doing anyway because it wasn't working for me), instead I'm quite enjoying the present, planning the next move and being pro-active but without the stress or ridiculous expectations I'd been setting myself. And it helped answer the question for me that I had been pondering... 'If these self-help guys have it so sussed, why do I buy more books from other people like them who have also got it sussed!?'
The book discusses Oliver's worldwide travels and interviews with interesting people through topics like accepting death as part of life, change and the ups and downs of life, finding 'contentment' over 'pursuit of happiness', stoicism, living for the moment rather than imagining you've achieved future goals etc (which apparently make us less likely to strive for them anyway) ... if you watch the little film promoting it on his website it's pretty good at explaining more. It's not offering or pushing solutions either.... just different ideas.
Mr Burkeman writes more like a novelist, it's easy to read and it's the kind of book you'll want to re-read or dip into. It's also going to save me lots of money and time adding more self-help books to my collection.