In this fascinating new book which he narrates himself, Oliver Burkeman argues that "positive thinking" and relentless optimism aren't the solution to the happiness dilemma, but part of the problem. And that there is, in fact, an alternative path to contentment and success that involves embracing the things we spend our lives trying to avoid - uncertainty, insecurity, pessimism, and failure. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.
©2012 Oliver Burkeman (P)2012 Canongate Books Ltd
Speaker, Trainer, Facilitator, Coach
I'm a happy believer in the scientific ideas of positive psychology, I have sometimes been called a motivational speaker, and decided to listen to this book to get the view from the 'other side' and negative thinking. I expected each element of positive thinking to be examined and taken apart in detail with counter evidence yet this was not the case. I did find one extremely useful example of the use of negative visualisation, an excellent counterweight to excessive positive thinking and goal fixation.
Other than that I found a book that mirrored my own path of discovery and search for the truth about happiness albeit with the positive as my starting point. I agree with Oliver's concerns about the worst excesses of positive thinking but then I tend to believe that the truth in life is usually somewhere in between any two schools of thought.
This book is a delight, so well balanced and inquisitive rather than dismissive or defensive as I feared it might be. The ideas covered from Buddhist meditation, Eckhart Tolle, to Alan Watts ideas on the true nature of the self, to Carol Dweck's work on Mindset and Keats negative capability are all ideas I personally associate with the positive path in life - to find them here examined from another perspective was enlightening. I see nothing here that conflicts with the ideas of positive psychology, I'd go so far as to say they align completely.
Albert Ellis's idea of 'musterbation' is brilliant, we 'must' on ourselves all the time and get in all kinds of self defeating behaviour. This idea that stands out most for me along with the courageous examination of death.
So the book is really only an antidote to the smiley yellow face and painted on smile of superficial positive thinking. I'm still a little more generous towards the 'positive thinkers' as I have seen them set many people on the path to searching out their own deeper truth. That aside I agreed and found a great deal of well written and entertaining wisdom her
What a refreshing book! Funny, thoughtful, informative unorthadox and practical.
I laughed aloud throughout the first chapter's "motivational seminar" account. This alone served as an antidote to the tyranny of "success mentality", but what I liked most was the book not only presents a viable alternative, but makes an excellent case for why the "positive thinking" approach must always fail in the end to make us happy, based as it is on denial, and constant future focus.
Excellently narrated too by the author (which always makes for a better reading), I thoroughly recommend this book as an antidote to the whole philosophy of self improvement. This book, is instead a radical alternative - the practice of the philosophy of self acceptance.
This is a rare thing - an author-read audiobook that's a real pleasure to listen to, and I find a British voice is often easier on a British ear so that was a bonus for me.
Oliver's reading pace is perfect, his pronunciation clear and concise, and his voice conveys just the right amount of the dripping sarcasm or biting wit which sometime punctuates the dialogue. It's a shame the sample clip on the product page has been encoded so badly as the recording itself is really clear and well produced.
His descriptions of motivational seminars and books had me nodding and laughing along in recognition.
Pessimists and motivational skeptics rejoice - a book for us has arrived!
a well researched, well written and well read book. author describes several interesting approaches I wasn't aware of. the combination of factual info and authors sense of humour makes for an easy engaging listen.
If you have read Oliver Burkeman's column in the Guardian you'll know what to expect from this book. Its intelligent and inquisative. The book takes a look at the rather glib approaches to being happy or geting the life you want whic have been popularised over the last few decades by many in the self-help industry that seem to promise the world and a life which is full of success and somehow devoid of any struggle difficulty or unpleasantness. To me it is a call for more grounded and realistic but ultimately more satisfying approach to living a happier life. And I mean happy in the true sense of being fulfilling, and rewarding even if at time it is difficult and unpleasant. There is plenty of wisodm which I'm sure our fathers and grandfathers would have recognised and admired, and which seem to stem from a time when we weren't promised everything on a plate. In a world of 24hr media where adverts and politicians bombard us with the notion that we can be, and have whatever we want; when we feel entitled to this, and when approaches such as the law of attraction promise we really can have everything we want if we just want it enough, this book is a breath of fresh air. Happiness really is a journey and not a destination.
Really well written and very insightful, Oliver allows you to make up your own mind rather than telling you how to live your life. Really nice spoken voice too and plenty of humour thrown in to take the edge of the more serious topics. Memento mori.
You can tell a lot about satirists and iconoclasts by the targets they choose. The late, great Christopher Hitchens went after Mother Theresa for instance. You look at that choice, swallow hard and think "Really?" So this got off to a bad start for me when Oliver Burkeman opted to start his challenge to the "positive thinking" movement in a Texas sports arena at which a line-up including ex-President George W Bush advised attendees to banish the term "impossible" from their vocabulary. The rally sounded painful but as a target it's on a par with hitting a cow's bum with a banjo. Far too easy for anyone to get paid for doing it.
I was hoping to read a serious challenge to the major players in the field of happiness and psychological resilience; a field that I came to as a sceptic and now work in. When you've developed an attachment to a school of thought it's important to have your sacred cows kicked hard and regularly in order to maintain your objectivity. What I got was patchy, conflicted and either poorly researched or a little dishonest. Burkeman consistently sneers at the self-help industry which would be fine except this is basically a self help book. In it he argues for "the negative path" in which we accept suffering as an inevitable part of life, adopt the teaching of the stoic philosophers, practice meditation and take a lead from Buddha in renouncing our attachment to ego. This can lead to a more fulfilling life than simply chasing accomplishments and good feelings. To that end he spends a week at a silent meditation camp in Massachusetts; he meets the psychologist Albert Ellis to discuss the benefits of really exploring the things that make us unhappy; he listens to Brene Brown talk about the benefits of facing our vulnerability and shame and he visits the desperately poor shanty town of Kibera, in Kenya, to meet people who have nothing but are happy.
He doesn't bother to mention that Ellis produced something called the ABCDE method which is a cornerstone of positive psychology interventions designed for subjects to use on themselves; evidence based self help at its best. If he'd gone after Ellis rather than the Texas cheerleaders I'd have admired his chutzpah. But he ducked the challenge and simply referenced his work in a highly selective way. You can't find Ellis on Audible but if you look up Seligman's Learned Optimism it's probably in there. Brene Brown's The Power of Vulnerability is also on Audible. The section on meditation really irked me because I couldn't shake the assumption that you and I, practising meditation at home with the help of the sort of guide you can find on here or in our local leisure centre are a bit sad from Oliver's perspective. If you can't find the time to do 9 hours a day at a silent retreat in Massachusetts why bother? All of this stuff; all of it; features in works by Shawn Achor, Martin Seligman, Albert Ellis, Brene Braun and in every case it's written up fully, clearly and with a desire to help. Rather than this, which strikes a consistent note of self satisfied show-boating.
Where I really lost any sympathy for him was in the Kibera section though where he made a mixture of points about our ability to find happiness in poverty even when great wealth is in site. He acknowledges that this view could come off as patronising and then rather than giving us a well argued justification of his position he simply quotes Coleen Rooney (that's Mrs Wayne Rooney for those of you who don't like football) making the same point. So here's how we're supposed to know the argument's solid. When Oliver Burkeman; Cambridge educated, winner of the Foreign Press Association's Young Journalist of the Year Award and Guardian columnist says it; it's sound. If a young woman from a working class background; associated with a working class sport, who quit education after her GCSE's says it; it's obviously nonsense. Lazy, sexist, snobbish tosh.
This book starts with a great premise, that the positive thinking school of thought has got it wrong and that positive thinking does not work in every situation. I was looking forward to some solid examples, research and analysis of how 'positive psychology' does not work. Instead this book goes off on a tangent and discusses everything and anything but that. It then proceeds to develop a counter theory of negative thinking and how it might be more beneficial. But the problem is the writer picks and promotes the same principles and psychological studies that the positive psychologists and motivational speakers use...bhudhist-derivitives, mindfulness etc. are the en-vogue stuff most popular psychology titles talk about. So what's different about the 'Antidote'?
I feel a tad let down by the book as it could have made a great case by showing research that has demonstrated results contrary to the cult of positive thinking. If I was to write something like that, I would look at the important theories of positive thinking, pick the popular books and show through experimental and longitudinal research how they fail to work and why.
This is an insightful and often humorous look into the way the world obsesses about happiness. For a cynical Brit like me, it's pleasing to hear someone confirm that being eternally, stupidly optimistic isn't necessarily the best way of doing things. Burkeman successfully brings together theories from religion, philosophy and psychology to make some very sound points. It's also well narrated by the author. I enjoyed listening and I think it works well as an audio book.
Having read a number of books on Buddhism and mindfulness, I found this book a refreshing take on these and a number of other related topics; no-frills, down-to-earth, but without losing any of the sophistication. Theories and quotes are interspersed with personal interviews and experiences carried out by Burkeman in researching for the book. A must-read (/-listen!)
Before this, I have read some positive-thinking books from Anthony Robbins, Robin Sharma and Robert Kiyosaki. At first, it seemed like they were going to change my life, like if they showed me the path to reach eternal happiness and joy. But it wasn't so easy. Things sometimes can go wrong, sh*t happens. This book show you how to accept life as it is, without necessarily rejecting to your goals or dreams if you are willing to have them. I won't say that possitive-thinking books are totally uneuseful, but with The Antidote you learn that the way they try to teach you how to live or confront issues is not the best approach.
"Just what I needed"
I found I wanted to listen to this in one sitting, but I resisted as I really wanted to take in the ideas. I will re listen with notebook & pen to take down points of interest.
"The breath of fresh air.."
The author performs himself, and does this very emphatically, and in a nice accent.
This book is indeed an antidote. And after years of struggling with self help books by David Allen, Brian Tracy, and Steven Covey - I now understood why I could not reach the satisfaction, following there advice. Well this book is a game changer. A just love it.
"Brilliant and refereshing"
The antidote is a book which forces you to consider your life in the face of an epidemic of goal achievement, addiction to overly optimistic positive thinking and the "you too can be a success," that has swept the Western world. Ironically, it was a sense of heightened optimism that gripped me when the last words of the book were spoken. I felt free.
The Antidote is very easy to listen and Burkeman is a dynamic writer. The only criticisms I have are, first, once I started listening to the book I couldn't stop and as a consequence, the narration lasted only a day and second, there is no other book by the same author that I could find on Audible.
This book really touched me more than any other book in its genre. Absolutely brilliant!!
"A British Malcolm Gladwell"
While readers may not agree with every point Oliver Burkeman makes about happiness and uncertainty, it's a good bet they're nearly unanymous concerning his thoughtful and provocative style of journalism. Like Malcolm Gladwell's books, The Antidote is an intellectual feast for people who love exploring different ideas. Also like Gladwell, he does a great job reading his own material which really is an added pleasure.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.