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addabook - The Antidote
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The Antidote
Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
Oliver Burkeman
read on February 1, 2013

The main idea in this book is pretty much that optimism is overrated. Not entirely useless, but overrated. Rather than presenting a coherent logical case for any main thesis though, Burkeman uses the book to skip around exploring different ideas where negativity and skepticism and stoicism can be useful tools. There are a few things in this book that I wasn't a huge fan of, or possibly didn't really understand, though I did appreciate the philosophical discussion and Buddhist overtones. Most of the book was great - a few things that stuck out:

  • Apparently, suicide is more correlated with perfectionism than hopelessness. This seems like a stretch to me - I feel like suicide would be correlated with depression, an actual mental condition - but still, interesting to consider how sad striving for perfection and always falling short can make a person.
    I like the subway challenge (saying nonsensical things to strangers you'll never see again in the subway). Seemingly horrible things like that are often not nearly as bad as they seem.
  • Burkeman at one point brought up the free will discussion / split brain experiments / confabulation that I've seen so many times before. I just wouldn't have expected that to show up here.
  • Burkeman goes to a vipassana meditation camp for a week, where no one does any talking the whole time. It sounds awesome, and his description of "vipassana vendetta" is fascinating, and totally believable. Ties into things I've read before about confabulation and your brain just grasping at straws, trying to give narrative and meaning to things that have neither. I first read about vipassana maybe five or so years ago and have been fascinated by it ever since, I would love to go to a seminar like this someday.
  • Strong and lengthy argument that understanding impermanence typically leads to increased happiness and satisfaction with the current situation. Things get a little 'Fight Club' (Raymond K Hessel), but coming to terms with knowing that you will be dead soon, and that you will, at some point, lose everything you have, helps you appreciate the present. I thought Burkeman presented this topic pretty well, and it left a pretty good impression on me. In the month or so since finishing the book, I feel like I've been more thoughtful of impermanence and appreciative of what I have. I think I'd like to explore that topic further, later on.

Author Bio:

Oliver Burkeman (born 1975) is a British journalist for the British newspaper The Guardian. He is a winner of the Foreign Press Association's Young Journalist of the Year award, FPA's Science Story of the Year 2015 and has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2006. He writes a popular weekly column on psychology, This Column Will Change Your Life, and has reported from London, Washington and New York. He also has his own blog. Educated at Huntington School, York, he holds a degree from Christ's College, Cambridge (a constituent college of the University of Cambridge), and was matriculated in 1994.