Bits of Books - Books by Title

The Antidote

happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking

Oliver Burkeman

Basic premise that the more you chase happiness, the less chance of attaining it, and in fact the act of pursuing happiness actually makes us unhappier.

People try to eliminate uncertainty, insecurity, failure and sadness. Suggest that should just be willing to experience these things as part of life.

We know we always fail at mental suppession - whether we're told not to think of a pink elephant, or not to be sad when bereaved, or to relax when feeling stressed. This implies a basic failing of conventional self-help books. When you are instructed to always think positively, that means you have to constantly be aware of negative thoughts. (And then of course your failure to think positively triggers more negative thoughts, etc etc)

And ideas that conflict with our existing self-image are unsettling, and so we dismiss them. So if you start out with low self-esteem, incoming positive messages make you feel even worse, because you have to counter them.

Perhaps books like The Secret, which told readers that they could have whatever they liked if they just wanted it badly enough, were partly to blame for the crowds who took out mortgages they couldn't repay.

Stoics, who sought tranquility, rather than 'happiness'. And tranquility was achieved not by strenuously chasing after enjoyable experiences, but by cultivating a calm indifference towards one's circumstances.

It's our beliefs that matter. Not that the obnoxious person next door is upsetting you but that you have decided to call his behaviour upsetting. As in road rage: were other drivers really behaving badly, or was it more accurate to say that the cause of his anger was his belief that they ought to behave differently. If someone insults you badly, ultimately nothing bad has actually happened. To get annoyed, you would have to judge that they have somehow harmed you.

Doesn't imply passive acceptance - change what you can, and ignore what you can't change.

Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes you less prepared for the bad event, and gives you a greater shock when it inevitably arrives. In contrast, the Stoics actively premeditated potential evils.

When we get a new toy, the thrill quickly wears off. But if constantly contemplate the possibility of losing it, the pleasure is renewed each time. Epictetus said that every time you kiss your child goodnight, you should specifically consider the possibility that they might die before tomorrow. The practice will make you love her all the more, and at the same time reduce the shock should it ever come to pass.

And also, reminds you that nothing will be as bad as you fear. Lose your job, doesn't mean a life of poverty and starvation. Lose a GF or BF doesn't mean a life of lonely misery.

More books on Happiness

We habitually act as if our control over our lives is much greater than it really is. Even very personal things like health, finances and reputation - we can try to influence them, but frequently things don't go our way. "never have I trusted Fortune," wrote Seneca, "even when she seemed to be at peace. All her generous bounties - money, office, influence - I deposited where she could ask for them back without disturbing me."

Books by Title

Books by Author

Books by Topic

Bits of Books To Impress