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

4.06  ·  Rating Details ·  6,306 Ratings  ·  775 Reviews
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 necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress 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 t ...more
ebook, 256 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2012)
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Ivan Andrus I can't stand positive thinking, but it's not a mere debunking of "The Secret" and its ilk. Rather it explores various traditions such as Stoicism,…moreI can't stand positive thinking, but it's not a mere debunking of "The Secret" and its ilk. Rather it explores various traditions such as Stoicism, and Buddhism to provide glimpses at an "alternate route" to life.(less)

Community Reviews

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Sanjay Gautam
Oct 26, 2015 Sanjay Gautam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: For those who really can't stand positive thinking.

Murphy's Law symbolize the error-prone nature of people and processes. This book shows how possibly the culture of positive thinking and cult of optimism can go wrong and how Murphy's law is applicable to it. Anything that can go wrong, will.

The book remains true to its title. It is really meant for the people who can't stand 'positive thinking', 'cult of optimism' kind of approaches to happiness. What this book does is that it shows a new and counter-intuitive approach to happiness- NEGATIVE PA
...more
Seamus Thompson
May 31, 2013 Seamus Thompson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This might be the only (so-called) self-help book that includes a quote from The Wire at the beginning of a chapter -- and surely that's a good sign.

I'm not someone who reads a lot of self-help books. I don't read them at all, really, though living in Southern California for a couple decades meant inevitable contact with self-help gurus and enthusiasts. Positive thinking, visualization and imitating the habits of successful people have always struck me as somehow deficient tactics but I never re
...more
Caroline
Sep 20, 2015 Caroline rated it really liked it
Recommended to Caroline by: Richard Wood
Shelves: psychology
Curmudgeonly Brit that I am, I enjoyed this book a lot. I read it at a gallop. I found it wonderfully provocative. I could have filled its margins with comments, heavily pressed into the paper, and accompanied by lots of exclamation marks.

The general drift of the book is that the roaring ra-ra-ra of positive thinking does not work. Day by day, in every way, we are NOT getting better and better. The author, Oliver Burkeman, a Guardian journalist covering psychology, says that instead we need to
...more
Brendon Schrodinger
Nov 11, 2015 Brendon Schrodinger rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
People often remark on how happy I always appear.- most of the time I have a smile on my face. And I must admit that my moods are fairly stable. But I'm definitely not one for always looking on the bright side of life, and I wouldn't call myself an optimist at all. I'm also very sceptical, especially about psychological strategies to 'get the most out of life'. I have encountered 'postive psychology' in my education studies and while I must admit that some aspects my be helpful, I cringe at the ...more
Diane
Nov 15, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Diane by: Brendon Schrodinger
What a clever and amusing and interesting and thoughtful book! I need more adjectives to describe how much I enjoyed this look at happiness in the modern world.

Oliver Burkeman is a journalist who was skeptical of the "cult of optimism," and he digs into the research on positive thinking and talks to various experts in the field. The first thing he learns is that you can't suppress negative thoughts — suppression doesn't work. Whatever idea you are trying to squash down will only continue to pop
...more
Marie Murrell
Jan 08, 2013 Marie Murrell rated it it was amazing
This might be my favorite self-help book of all time. In a nutshell, rather than trying to force ourselves to be cheerful when we don't feel cheerful by thinking positively, it suggests we think of the worst thing that can happen and realize that whatever that worst thing is, it isn't likely to be the end of the world. On procrastination, it suggests we stop trying to feel motivated and just do what we have to do--moods and actions don't have to be related. On goals, it explores whether goal str ...more
Laura Leaney
Dec 22, 2012 Laura Leaney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a friendly little book that purports to be an anti-"self-help" book - although I have more than a sneaking suspicion that it IS a self-help book. My guess is that Oliver Burkeman is preaching to the choir, to use an old cliché, because I doubt any individual feeling the rosy after-glow of a Get Motivated! seminar will pick it up for an afternoon's reading. I bought the thing after reading a review in the Los Angeles Times, thinking it would offer a humorous take on our cultural obsession ...more
Emma Sea
May 24, 2013 Emma Sea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Excellent book. The writing is highly engaging, and Burkeman gives enough information to be interesting, without overloading the reader, and incorporates just the right amount of personal narrative. The book is easy to just fall into, and, while still thought-provoking, doesn't require the reader to sit for ten minutes rotating a concept until its in the right position for comprehension.

I think it's got the wrong title, because this makes it sound like pop-psychology, and this is much more than
...more
Bonny
Dec 29, 2014 Bonny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, non-fiction
I used to do the lab. work for a local group of oncologists, and one evening I heard someone crying in the waiting room. The rest of the staff had left and the doctors were doing rounds, so I went to see what was going on. I found a patient sitting there, crying quietly. She had been in remission twice, but had recently relapsed. She said she needed to talk to one of the doctors because she didn't know what she was doing wrong. When we talked further, she said she had been using some visualizati ...more
Richard
Oct 26, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subtitle here is the hook: “Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”. Many of the ideas presented within these pages were already at least vaguely familiar to me, especially those of the Stoics and at least some of the Buddhists. But, really, the word “happiness” is out of place. Even before the Stoics existed, wise Greeks had recognized “call no man happy until he is dead,” and Burkeman’s thrust here is that striving for happiness is almost certainly a bad idea.

A better goal
...more
Henrik Lindberg
Dec 18, 2012 Henrik Lindberg rated it it was ok
It's such a turnoff with self-help books that start out with ridiculing self-helps books only to try to paint themselves in a different light. Turnoff and common, that is. This book is no different. It becomes especially obnoxious when the author denounces other authors lack of rigor only to himself use ancient Greek philosophy and Alan Watts as backbones to his arguments. Now, stoicism and Buddhist metaphysics are favorite subjects of mine. My problem with the book is not lack of rigor but the ...more
Marcus
Mar 02, 2013 Marcus rated it liked it
The Antidote starts off by talking about the positive thinking movement, moves on to Seneca and the Stoics then dips into Buddhist meditation, pauses to to criticize goal setting then stops in for a visit with Eckhart Tolle. Burkeman then writes about how we overvalue safety and undervalue failure then ends with a chapter on how we approach death, including an interesting visit to Mexico on the Day of the Dead.

Every chapter is well written and provides sufficient insight into each of the various
...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

I know this is going to come as a shock to many of you, but I am not exactly an "Up With People" kind of guy, and the relentless forced positivity within a certain section of the liberal arts these days, despite being done for the most noble intentions, tends to wear me out. So thank God, then, for the new
...more
Stephanie
Jun 22, 2015 Stephanie rated it liked it
I did like this book, but i wanted more from it. It seemed disappointingly minimal. The author unfortunately followed the pattern that is becoming really commonplace and boring in nonfiction books of talking to a handful of people, each of whom represents a different aspect of the topic at hand, and going out to a few select places in the world to experience the subject firsthand. And then using that smattering of information as a basis for an entire way of thinking about the world.

I really like
...more
Lylah
Jul 04, 2013 Lylah rated it it was amazing
Calling this book life changing would be a little hyperbolic, calling it perspective changing would not.

Oliver Burkeman, a Brit, starts by looking at what's wrong with America's billion dollar self-help/motivational industry. There's the expensive seminars (which corporations, the military and government agencies pay for their employees to attend) where an 80-year-old tycoon with an orange faux tan lets you in on his secret to success: banish the word "impossible" from your vocabulary! Then ther
...more
Antigone
Feb 05, 2015 Antigone rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Looking at life directly is a lot like looking at the sun directly and should come with similar warnings. Damage will be done. Which is not to say that you shouldn't do it, or that anything could prevent some of us from doing it frequently and with great determination. But it would have been nice to have had some sort of cautionary word, some small piece of been-there-done-that warrior's wisdom; something graspable beyond the rather underwhelming bromide: Ignorance is bliss. Because by the time ...more
Charlou Lunsford
May 13, 2013 Charlou Lunsford rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
OK - So I will admit I picked this up because of my cynicism. I'm just not one of those "happy" people that are all the rage right now.

I kept reading because this book is so much more. How wonderfully validating this book was. (That is why we read self-help books, right? Not to change, but to validate who we are.) At some point I had realized that while I'm not one of the "happy' type, I am a content person when I'm not feeling bad about myself for not being "happy." The constant pressure to be
...more
Carlo
Jul 26, 2015 Carlo rated it it was amazing
This is a very good book to which I keep coming back in the couple of months since I read it. What makes it great is its insistence of not having a one-size-fits-all formula to feeling happiness (or a better and delicious word used here and elsewhere is, if I may capitalise it, Eudaemonia), let alone exposing the tenuous and very subtle nature of what we usually call happiness, which among many things is mainly sensed in hindsight. The idea that there is no single solution for our problems, happ ...more
Hinch
Nov 02, 2012 Hinch rated it really liked it
The Antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking, by Oliver Burkeman, is a challenging, but ultimately liberating discussion on the virtues of the "backward path" to happiness. The author begins by exploring the short comings of the modern-day fixation on positive thinking. The message extolled by self-help gurus and mainstream motivational literature entreats us to eliminate negativity from our consciousness, to coordinate our activities around a set of clearly defined goals ...more
Katie Mercer
Oct 18, 2012 Katie Mercer rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Full Disclosure I won this book as a Goodreads Firstreads. The thing is though, I entered the contest because I read the summary and immediately laughed because hand to god this book was almost exactly a conversation I was having with a good friend recently. Basically we were talking about how we find the whole "self-help" thing boring. My problems (not that I have any, obviously) do not stem from me not having any faith in my ability to get through things, so why do I need to wake up everyday a ...more
Caren
Jul 15, 2012 Caren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
This book may sound as though it had been written by something of a curmudgeon, but---far from it---it is a witty, sparkling foray into ideas about what makes us happy. The author, a writer for "The Guardian" (a British newspaper), explores psychology in his weekly columns. The chapters in this book look at finding contentment from the perspective of Stoicism, Buddhism, setting goals (or not), moving your focus outside of yourself, not seeking after security, recognizing your mistakes and weakne ...more
Erin
Dec 09, 2012 Erin rated it really liked it
I had never read the author's articles in the Guardian, but might start doing so after reading this book. I appreciate that this the work of a journalist and not a self-help guru. Remember that a journalist is some one who gets paid money to do things that you might like to do for free if the consequences didn't seem overwhelming. If you read The Antidote in that light then it is a very interesting and thoughtful look into metacognition and the self help industry. The book is not academic, and i ...more
Jafar
Dec 19, 2013 Jafar rated it liked it
You can’t overstate the folly of the self-help industry and the ridiculousness of the “motivational” speakers and various other “gurus.” And the millions who pay money to hear or read platitudes like “you are the master of your own destiny”? Only in America.
Laura
May 23, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
The impact this book has made on my outlook on life has been profound. Highly recommended!
Damaskcat
Feb 22, 2013 Damaskcat rated it it was amazing
It might seem odd that a self-confessed positive thinker would even consider reading this book whose sub title proclaims it is a book about `Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking'. But I've read it and enjoyed it and from its pages have compiled a list of further reading. The book is written in an easy conversational style and I found the author's experiences and meetings with the gurus of the self help world fascinating reading.

I was interested to learn that my own brand of pos
...more
Sylvester
Oct 18, 2016 Sylvester rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
Another book I picked up for its title, and enjoyed more than I thought I would. I found it amusing somehow. All this pursuing happiness, my gosh, I'm pretty sure it must be a Western invention. There was a time when suffering was accepted as part of life, not so much now. Not where I live.

So Burkeman takes 7 chapters to pose several different attacks on "the cult of optimism" - talks about how positive thinking can actually cause greater disappointment in life. How the Stoics would take the wo
...more
Христо Блажев
Jun 20, 2015 Христо Блажев rated it really liked it
Противоотрова срещу селф-хелп шарлатанщините: http://knigolandia.info/book-review/p...

Но това не е книга срещу. Това е книга за. Бъркман се оглежда наоколо и намира примери, че търсенето на щастие по обичайния за западните общеста начин е обречено на провал изначално. Извори на възможности обаче той открива другаде – на първо място при стоиците от античността, които са успели да се абстрахират от щенията на ума и тялото си. Друга посока има в социалните връзки, доказателство за което е, че дори
...more
Bill
Jul 12, 2015 Bill rated it really liked it
Excellent read ... the negative capability as an answer to the relentless onslaught of self help positive thinking dribble.

I'll be back with my thoughts but in the interim remember all we have is the now. The past is gone and the future a fantasy. The now is the only reality!
Jack
Jan 08, 2016 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The culture I live in is big into speed, exclamation-point certainty and abundance. In the past few years I have increasingly felt uncomfortable in this environment. I've come to accept that I'm simply playing a different game from everyone else. Books like this one have helped me give structure and depth to these thoughts, allowing me to better articulate some observations.

Western culture is obsessed with positive thinking. Setting goals, visualizing success, making things happen. But life is m
...more
Deb
Jun 10, 2013 Deb rated it it was amazing
**Happiness where you least expect it**

It’s kind of ironic that our pursuits of happiness often result in increases of misery. Relentless striving for lives full of positivity, good cheer, security, and success has paradoxically derailed many from the path of happiness. (What’s wrong with this picture?)

Shedding insight into this self-help paradox, the author Oliver Burkeman points out that:
“There is something about trying to *make ourselves* happy and successful that is precisely what sabotages
...more
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“Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.” 40 likes
“And here lies the essential between Stoicism and the modern-day 'cult of optimism.' For the Stoics, the ideal state of mind was tranquility, not the excitable cheer that positive thinkers usually seem to mean when they use the word, 'happiness.' And tranquility was to be achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a kind of calm indifference towards one's circumstances.” 26 likes
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