Book Review: The Antidote: Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking by Oliver Burkeman

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Title: The Antidote
Author: Oliver Burkeman

Summary: 'Countering the conventional self-help focus on relentless cheerfulness, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to a diverse range of people who share one big, surprising insight into happiness - that trying so hard to be positive is the problem, not the solution. Whether experimental psychologists or terrorism experts, Buddhists, anthropologists or hard-headed business consultants, they all recommend and alternative, 'negative path' to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty - the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid.
The Antidote is a thoroughly liberating, enjoyable and happy journey - a celebration of the power of negative thinking.'

My thoughts: I will begin this review by stating that I read quite a few self-help books. I generally steer clear of the ones that offer to fix your life in ten easy steps, or the ones that indicates different genders are from specific planets, but I do read some of them. I could defend myself by saying that I like to research the psychology behind them (which I do) or that I only read them when forced to at gun-point (which I don't), but to be honest, most of the time, it's because self-help books make me happy. Plain and simple. And the first time I saw this book, I picked it up, read the blurb, and then put it back down. It wasn't because I thought anything within the book would be fake or vapid, but really because I felt threatened. I felt like perhaps the very self-help books I enjoyed reading would be 'picked on' by the author of this book, and I would end up either hurling the book across the room (I hate doing this to any book - even if I hate it) or questioning my whole reasoning for liking self-help books in the first place. After all, there is a certain stigma attached to anyone reading them.
Oliver Burkeman surprised me with an amazing, thoroughly-researched and overwhelmingly logical book. He didn't use his writing as a way to pick on the other self-help books out there - merely to question their effectiveness in doing what they promise: making people happier.
He starts off by talking about the current trend in self-help books and seminars - unfailing optimism. While I like to consider myself optimistic, I agree that being optimistic all the time just leads to being in denial, and Burkeman was clever in his approach of this. He didn't try to point fingers or dispose of the optimistic viewpoint, but just began with a simple question - is this truly making us happier?
I liked that Burkeman consulted many different points of view and multiple professionals in the writing of his book. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Buddhism and it's use of non-attachment.
I also enjoyed the chapter 'Memento Mori: Death as a way of Life.' as it seemed so very related to a lot of things I have been dealing with lately, and have thus grown to develop an interest in. Burkeman not only fed my interest, but has given me a drive to find out more in the area of the Western world's rejection of death as a constant.
As the book went on, I found myself becoming more and more thoughtful about the views that Burkeman was presenting, and how they seemed to give an overwhelming sense of cohesion. Here was something I had read about in other books, such as those researched and written by Brene Brown - that at the root of all our good emotions (happiness, joy, contentment) was the willingness to be insecure, vulnerable, and in the moment. That we need to observe negative emotions instead of putting our fingers in our ears and yelling 'I'm not listening' every time they appear. I feel as if I'm reading so much about these topics lately, and I am only becoming more fascinated by this call to be more open, more flawed, more HUMAN.
This book is a fascinating journey for anyone to read, and, while I did have a little trouble at times following the way Burkeman wrote (that may have been due to sleep deprivation), I found the way he wrote to be fascinating. I wouldn't necessarily call this book a 'happy journey', as detailed in it's summary, but it has definitely led me further along a path of learning that I am thoroughly enjoying.

Rating: 8/10


  1. How very insightful! I'm curious to learn more.

    I realised today that trying and trying and trying to be at peace isn't especially peaceful. And while it's confronting to think that all that effort and time was misapplied, it's also relieving to know that another solution is out there, one that stands perhaps a better chance of working in terms of being able to accept happiness. Perhaps I'd benefit from reading this! In fact, I'm quite sure I would.

    1. It's a fascinating book and I found it wonderful to read. There were so many moments when I put it down to ponder something I'd just read.
      I think you'd benefit from reading it, too, and you are welcome to borrow it from me if you like. <3

  2. I too will be reading this book, after seeing your review! :) The "denial" of forceful positive thinking always got to me, I know people who boast of their optimism and tell me the root of my problems is my pessimism, and while I agree a little optimism doesn't go astray, I've never been convinced I was able to change that so drastically, and the thought nags at me that we need to recognise and own our weakness to get past it: it's what they tell me in recovery from depression after all, so why wouldn't it apply to regular weaknesses in humanity? I like to indulge my sadnesses. I'm curious about this book's (and author's) philosophy and whether it lines up with mine, and very curious about those ponder-points you mentioned hehe. Thank you for writing this!

    1. I thought I had already replied to this! My apologies!!
      I definitely agree. As someone who also deals with depression, people often just tell you to cheer up, and that irritates me non-stop. I think we should be allowed to feel the full scope of our emotions, rather than just force ourselves to skim over the negative ones. I hope you enjoy the book!!


All content owned by Bethwyn Walker unless otherwise stated. Powered by Blogger.

books | chronic illness | lifestyle | wellbeing

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top