The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

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

Five words from the blurb: solution, happiness, embracing, negative, thinking

I don’t normally read self-help books, but something about this one caught my attention. I loved the way it went against the grain of popular opinion by promoting the power of negative thinking and so I requested a review copy.

The book concentrates on the idea that our society’s habit of seeking happiness is actually making us miserable. It suggests embracing failure, pessimism and uncertainty in order to find happiness in a more realistic way. The book looks at a varied group of people who take this different view of life and shows how it has worked for them.

The great thing about The Antidote is how entertaining the reading experience is. Several sections are very funny and the examples are perfect for sharing with family and friends. I found myself repeating anecdotes from this book on numerous occasions and think I’ll continue to do so for a long time.

The book looks at a range of topics including Buddhist meditation, Stoics, and socities that embrace death, but I particularly liked the chapter on products that had failed:

I laughed when I encountered Goff’s Low Ash Cat Food, with its proud boast, ‘contains only one point five percent ash!’ (As the journalist Neil Steinberg has noted, this is like marketing a line of hot dogs called ‘Few Mouse Hairs’.) Yet several people presumably invested months of their lives in creating that cat food.

Although many examples were light-hearted there was a serious message under the surface. The chapter showing how becoming too focused on goals can be dangerous was unnerving. It gave the example of climbers who die trying to reach the summit of Everest – showing that people can sometimes become so focused on the result that they don’t realise what they risk when trying to achieve it.

I don’t think this book is life changing, but it raises some thought provoking ideas. Recommended to anyone interested in the power of negative thinking!




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  1. Judith says:

    Eeek! The power of negative thinking? Crazy! On the other hand, people who succeed at something usually fail and learn from their errors (think: famous business people, or children learning to ride a bike), so at least failure is needed to succeed (and be happy – possibly).

    It’s an interesting idea – I may see if I can get the book. I am usually a bit pessimistic about things but (therefore, because I don’t expect much) a contented person. :-)

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Yes, learning from your errors is a key point in this book. It recommends enjoying the negatives as they help to reveal what might work in the future. I’m a bit of a pessimist too and this book is reassuring in the way this might actually help us to be happier!

  2. Sandy says:

    This sounds exactly like my son’s state of mind, while I am all “go, go, go”. What you describe actually makes walking around sense but I’m really not sure if I could do that! That is so contrary to the way I’ve been raised…

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I’d love to hear your take on this book. As a naturally positive person I wonder if you’d find it all nuts!

  3. kimbofo says:

    Oh dear. I don’t think I should read this book. I am a pessimist at heart and have spent the best part of the 5 or 6 years trying to let go of my negativity!!

    1. Jackie says:

      kimbofo, Perhaps you just need to learn to embrace it?!

  4. Annabel says:

    I’m neurotic enough underneath my slacker exterior to never allow myself to be a pessimist, I do tend to the glass half full, and dislike Eeyore-ish-ness generally. However, isn’t embracing failure an positive trait? I’d probably enjoy this book, even if I didn’t agree with it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, Yes, I don’t think you need to agree with this one to enjoy it. :-)

  5. I’m glad to hear this was good. It piqued my interest a while back as I get so tired of the constant push to be positive all the time. I really think it’s ok to occasionally wallow in negative feelings, as long as you move on from them. I tried reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Bright-Sided a while back but didn’t make it through. I’m looking forward to trying this one!

    1. Jackie says:

      threegoodrats, I’ve become very interested in stoicism as a result of this book and it has lead me onto many other books that also promote staying away from that positive hype. I hope that you enjoy this one.


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