Book review

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

by Oliver Burkeman

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I bought this book as a present for my wife, who would have no shame in admitting that she can’t stand all the “positive thinking” malarkey. She read it, and didn’t really enjoy it, finding that it had many of the same messages for how to be happy but without the “positive” sticker on the front. So I was curious as to what lay within…

And once I’d read it, I could see her point. Many of the conclusions that Mr Burkeman comes to are, indeed, those that you might read elsewhere, but without the same spin: you would read elsewhere of the benefits of mindfulness, of Stoicism, of self-awareness in many websites and books.

The spin here, if there is one, is that you don’t have to do these things with any view that they are designed to be positive affirmations. You can just do them because they seem to work. Plus, you get to poke fun at the wilder elements of the “positivity” crowd, which Mr Burkeman does very effectively in is re-telling tales of huge conference centres with crowds chanting empty slogans about “winning” or whatever it happens to be.

So in the end I rather liked this book. From my personal point of view, I’m becoming increasingly wary of the whole move to Stoicism, as I think it may entrench particular points of view that I don’t subscribe to (in particular I fear it pushes people into accepting a bad status quo, rather than in pushing back against it).

On the other hand, I’m all-in on Mindfulness: there is clearly a bunch going on in our brains that isn’t directly accessible to us, and the identification of ourselves with our stream-of-consciousness self-talk seems like a great candidate for why so many of us are so upset, so much of the time. My cats don’t do that (or at least I don’t think they do…), and they are pretty content.

So anything that tries to break us out of this is a good thing. Plus, the book got me watching Youtube videos of Eckhart Tolle, and the guy is like Yoda, if Yoda were wearing clothes that escaped from the 1970s that his mother had knitted him, sitting and smiling and blinking and not saying much, but when he does saying wise things. How much do I love him!

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four because of the Tolle bits.

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