The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
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Success through failure, calm through embracing anxiety―a totally original approach to self-help
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 the wrong way?
Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it's our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty―the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person's guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.
self-help book – one that evidently didn’t solve all their problems. When you look at the self-help shelves with a coldly impartial eye, this isn’t especially surprising. That we yearn for neat, book-sized solutions to the problem of being human is understandable, but strip away the packaging, and you’ll find that the messages of such works are frequently banal. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People essentially tells you to decide what matters most to you in life, and then do it; How to Win
in more innovative and more popular vehicles. There were certainly many other reasons for GM’s ongoing decline. But twenty-nine became a fetish, distorting the organisation in damaging ways, fuelling short-termism and blinkered vision, all so that the numbers in the business news headlines might match those on the vice-presidents’ lapels. But that never happened. GM continued spiralling towards failure, and went bankrupt in 2009; it ended up taking a bailout from Washington. At the Detroit Auto
magnum opus The Denial of Death. (Another death-fixated Woody Allen character, Alvy Singer, uses a copy to woo the titular heroine of Annie Hall.) Becker was born in Massachusetts in 1924; as a drafted soldier he encountered the worst realities of death while still a young man, helping to liberate a Nazi concentration camp by the time he had turned twenty-one. The lack of serious thought we give to mortality, for Becker, is no accident or oversight: it is precisely because death is so terrifying
to the mental state of a three-year-old. He might be perfectly happy in his new condition, but nobody would disagree that something bad had still happened to the adult he once was. It makes no difference that the adult is no longer around. No matter how persuasive you find Epicurus’s arguments against fearing death, it doesn’t follow that death is not bad. This distinction is crucial, because it begins to make sense of the idea that a greater degree of mortality awareness might be part of the
possible. This kind of smaller habit may actually be the most powerful form of memento mori. For it is precisely through such mundane and unassuming rituals that we can best hope to enfold an awareness of death into the daily rhythms of life, and thus achieve something of Epicurus’s calm rationality in the face of mortality. What lingered in my mind for months after Mexico, in any case, was not the loud celebration of death, though I had seen some of that in central Mexico City. Instead, it was