Jan 252014

If you’ve ever browsed through, or read, one of those self-help books that promises life will be perfect if only you think good thoughts, or that success in a business comes from setting goals and striving to meet them, you may have had the niggling thought that there might be something missing in the rosy pictures these books paint. If so, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking might be the right book for you. I haven’t reviewed many of the books I’ve read recently, but this struck me as important enough to do so.

The book talks about how always trying to be happy, thinking only positive thoughts, and trying to pretend bad things never happen to people doesn’t work to make us happy; there is real value in confronting our fears and worries and working through the worst-case scenarios as well as the best-case dreams. The author points out that fear of failure makes businesses blind to the reality that setting goals and doing things in the same way as a successful company doesn’t bring success in and of itself.

The chapter called ‘Goal Crazy’ got me adding bookmarks: it’s about how goals often don’t work, and it’s not just because companies and people set the wrong ones, but because setting goals at all often means neglecting other important aspects. Examples include people determined to succeed in business who end up divorced and with health problems, or companies who focus on sales and starve the research department of necessary funds. Interesting stuff indeed, and lots to think about.

The author discusses various philosophies and methods to accept life without the ‘think positive at all times’ mantra, including stoicism, meditation, Eckhart Tolle’s teachings, and the Mexican tradition of memento mori, and teases out the similarities between these. In the final chapter, entitled ‘Negative Capability’, he comes to the conclusion that happiness includes negative thoughts and emotions as well as positive ones. This is a grounded happiness, rather than something fleeting that depends on one’s mood. This, to me, sounds like something worthwhile (and achievable).

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