Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Antidote

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive ThinkingThe Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The subtitle says it all: "Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking"...this is a self-help book that subverts the ooey gooey "if you can believe it, you can achieve it" messages.

First thoughts: Yes. This book is for me. I struggle with goals - setting them, sticking to them, believing in them. It's especially challenging as a person who loves committing to, well, challenges. I've done happiness challenges for several years, and while I learned a lot, I can't say I'm any more (or less) "happy" than I was without the challenges.

What about Happiness?: We crave happiness, but we aren't very good at achieving it - despite all of our trying with education, money, more stuff, self-help books, etc...we're still not quite happy. Some of us, yes, but not as a whole. What gives?

A quote: "There are good reasons to believe that the whole notion of 'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with. For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place?" -p6 what are our options?: In the face of the paradox of happiness, we can continue to pursue futile solutions, give up, OR take the "negative path" to "happiness" - that is, we can "enjoy uncertainty, embrace insecurity, and value death." -p7-8

More about these Negative Paths:

Stoicism: tranquility through calm indifference of circumstances - examine negative emotions and experiences and decide to be tranquil.
Buddhism: non-attachment to positive and/or negative thoughts - don't cling to or avoid anything.
Insecurity: it's not something to confront - recognize that life is insecurity.
Failure: stretching past your current limit - it's a good thing.

"To fully embrace the experience of failure, not merely to tolerate it as a stepping stone to success, is to abandon this constant straining never to put a foot wrong. It is to relax." -p173

Goals: stop pushing things to 5yrs in the future - enjoy your work in the present.

"...goal-free living simply makes for happier humans." -p95

Goals, continued: The goal chapter was my favorite - I am constantly changing my "goals" and letting them adapt to where I am at the moment. I've learned to be flexible in the path I take to an objective and in changing the objective itself. It's much easier to take action based on who I am right now instead of "where I see myself in 5 years" - 5 years ago I did not see myself a) engaged, b) applying to grad school, c) finishing up a teaching fellowship...and yet here I am, happy as a clam that these things are all true.

Recommended for: everyone. Unless you've already figured all this out, and even then, still read this to affirm your decisions to fail big, pursue your curiosities, and live in composed insecurity.

Final thoughts in a quote: "You can have a broad sense of direction without a specific goal or a precise vision of the future. I think of it like jazz, like improvisation. It's all about meandering with purpose." -Steve Shapiro, p96

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