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The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman

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Optimism is wonderful; goals can sometimes be useful; even positive thinking and positive
visualisation have their benefits. The problem is that we have developed the habit of chronically overvaluing positivity, and of the skills of ‘doing’, in how we think about happiness, and that we
chronically undervalue negativity, and the ‘not-doing’ skills, such as resting in uncertainty or getting friendly towards failure.

Suggests positive thinking isn’t everything but if you are tied into that mindset you can see how positive thinking can be the answer, for example if things going well due to positive thinking, if things are going badly you need positive thinking. 

Positive thinking gives an illusion of being permanent whereas negative thinking generally is accepted as temporary.  Perhaps think more like a Stoic ask yourself what is the worst that can happen & realise that everything is temporary therefore enjoy it when it lasts.

Mindfulness also is a bit too hyped as the moment may not be good so living in the moment isn’t always key.

The ‘backwards law’ : clinging to a particular version of a happy life, while fighting to eliminate all possibility of an unhappy one, was the cause of the problem, not its solution.

Suggests the Yale study that highlights people being asked about their goals then years later being followed up never actually occurred.  Therefore it suggests If you can in embrace uncertainty and give up goals this could be beneficial. 

It is a revelation for some people to realise that your whole life is only ever now. Many people live most of their life as if this were not true – as if the opposite were true.’ Without noticing we’re doing it, we treat the future as intrinsically more valuable than the present. Yet the future never seems to arrive.

There is a problem if you’re getting into the self-rating game at all; implicitly, you’re assuming that
you are a single self that can be given a universal grade. When you rate your self highly, you actually create the possibility of rating your self poorly; you are reinforcing the notion that yourself is something that can be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in the first place.  This will always be a preposterous overgeneralisation.

The issue with teaching the concept of self-esteem is that you may be ‘teaching them arrogance, conceit and superiority’.  When high self-esteem falters, ‘guilt, depression, and potentially feelings of inferiority and insecurity’ can arise instead.

Therefore try to drop generalisations. Instead you can rate your individual acts as good or bad, if you like. Seek to perform as many good ones, and as few bad ones, as possible, but leave your self out of it!

What is problematic about the goal of security is that to obtain real happiness it might be dependent on being willing to face, and to tolerate, insecurity and vulnerability.

We seek the fulfilment of strong romantic relationships and friendships, yet striving too hard to achieve security in such relationships stifles relationships. For a relationship to flourish this depends on a certain degree of not being protected, of being open to experiences both negative and positive.

‘To be vulnerable’, argue the psychotherapists Hal and Sidra Stone, ‘is to be without defensive armour, to be authentic and present … when we are able to feel our vulnerability, we are able to experience the full range of our reactions to the world around us.’

Nairobi is an example of significant financial inequalities- grand mansion of a senior Kenyan politician sits just a modest walk back up the road from the slum to Nairobi. However the poorer people don’t have choices therefore need to get on with it.  Living in a situation of such inherent insecurity, while very far from preferable, was clarifying. Nobody would envy it. But living with fewer illusions meant facing
reality head on. Not having the option of trying to protect yourself in counter-productive ways made for a resilience in the face of hardship that qualified, in the end, as a modest but extremely durable kind of happiness.

Perseverance, charisma and leadership skills seem to be important when you look at successful entrepreneurs who tend to possess these skills. However, generally studies of successful people discount the survival bias, these traits are likely to be the characteristics of extremely unsuccessful people, ‘incurring large losses requires both persistence … and the ability to persuade others to pour their money down the drain.’ People without much perseverance or charisma are more likely to end up in the middle, experiencing neither great success nor great failure.

Perfectionism, at bottom, is a fear-driven striving to avoid the experience of failure at all costs. At its extremes, it is an exhausting and permanently stressful way to live.

The Stoics, noted that tranquillity can be achieved by choosing not to be distressed by events, even if we can’t choose events themselves.  For the Buddhists, a willingness to observe the ‘inner weather’ of your thoughts and emotions is the key to understanding that they need not dictate your actions. A small habit to consider may be the most powerful form of memento mori (a reminder of inevitable death). 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 calm rationality in the face of mortality. Relaxing alongside mortality, of comfortably coexisting with it, of the companionship of life and death.

Figure out what, specifically, you might do in order to focus on life’s flavours, so as to improve your chances of reaching death having lived life as fully and as deeply as possible.  Life is a dance, and when you are dancing, you are not intent on getting somewhere. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance.


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