Book Review: The Antidote Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking


the antidote happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking

Book Review

The backstory: 

I am often termed a realist or cynic or whatever seems the opposite of the overly peppy and cheerful type. Seeing the negatives to given situations come easily to me which are fantastic for troubleshooting but not so fantastic for living with an expressed joy. While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, The Art of Charm, on my phone the author of this book, Oliver Burkeman, shared the title of his book. Immediately I laughed and burst into a smile. Soon after I was determined to find it on Amazon and read the content behind the title. I was very cautious knowing that any stand against positivity could mean jumping way too far to the other end of the spectrum causing very unhelpful and negative thoughts as well.

What do I think:

Anyone interested in this book should know that it is definitely not Christian. Ideas around death and the afterlife look very different from this context. But many of the themes and ways of thinking I believe are wonderfully fitting into the hope that comes from a Christian mindset. Knowing that this life may be littered with ugly, bitter moments is only a short blink in terms of eternity. And yet, it is where most of our minds are consumed.

My advice is to know your apologetics, why you believe what you believe, well before reading. If you are like me and find yourself pushing harder against the overly positive comments around in the hopes of balancing out what seems like crazy cheerleader behavior, then read this book. The book really comes together well in the last couple chapters. But the first half gives some helpful visual examples to the theories described. And for us visual learners that can be very useful once you get to the summaries at the end.

I did really appreciate that this look on positive thinking is fresh. It made me naturally smile many times through the text (which is harder than it sounds). And it's actually a very Japanese mindset as well, often termed wabisabi, loosely meaning embracing imperfection.

Favorite passage and ending summary:

"The point here is not that negative capability is always superior to the positive kind. Optimism is wonderful; goals can sometimes be useful; even positive thinking and positive visualization have their benefits. The problem is that we have developed the habit of chronically overvaluing positivity and 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. To use an old cliche of therapy-speak, we spend too much of our lives seeking 'closure'. Even those of us who mock such cliches are often motivated by a craving to put an end to uncertainty and anxiety, whether by convincing ourselves that the future is bright, or by resigning ourselves despondently to the expectation that it won't be. What we need more of, instead, is what the psychologist Paul Pearsall called 'openture'. Yes, this is an awkward neologism. But its very awkwardness is a reminder of the spirit that it expresses, which includes embracing imperfection and easing up on the search for neat solutions."

Star Rating:

the antidote happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking

How will it change me:

  • I hope to memorize and remember that summary at the end. "embrace imperfection and ease up on my search for neat solutions"
  • I plan to search more into the Japanese concept of Wabisabi and find connecting Bible passages exemplifying this need to embrace imperfection. And they are all over the Word.
  • I hope to welcome silence into my conversations with others.
  • By embracing imperfection, I hope to see and encourage grace and mercy in my life and how I connect with others.