Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

It's not often these days that I come across a book that I genuinely find has the potential to be life changing, but this is one.

What Oliver Burkeman does is picks up the idea a lot of us have seen lying there on the floor but continually shied away from- that this relentless propaganda about 'Positive Thinking' and you can succeed through focussing relentlessly on nothing but success and goals, and all of the material riches of the world will be yours- was actually rubbish. And boy does he run with the idea with verve and an intellectual keenness that is truly inspiring, without having to force a smile and thump a fist in the air whilst continually repeating the inane mantra that 'yes, I'm worth it, because I believe in Me!!!'

Burkeman takes us on a journey from the Greek and Roman Stoics through Buddhist meditation and the contemporary 'spiritual' philosophies of thinkers like Eckhart Tolle, to show us that blind ambition and the setting of materialistic goals is not only a flawed approach to life, but actually debilitating. The proof of this is of course in the pudding; in the US- and increasingly here as we continue to unthinkingly hang onto their cultural coat-tails- an obsession with positive thinking [invariably linked to achieving material gain which [supposedly] = happiness] has created a society with some of the highest levels of dissatisfaction with life and depression.

So something must be going wrong, somewhere in this thinking because it is not only making our societies more fragile, but also I would argue, degrading our economic as well as psychological health too [it does however of course, make the pedlars of Positive Thinking books and seminars a lot of money in the process though].

To not 'positively think' does not, as the scaremongers would have us believe, lead to personal and societal ruin through the destruction of ambition and flair. In fact, embracing failure constructively, accepting your constraints and working within them, accepting set-backs as inevitable and uncontrollable- because despite what the Positive Thinkers tell us, the universe is an unpredictable place and your name will come up with some sort of personal problem written upon it, sometime or other- can lead to a much more healthier, productive and, yes, happier life. Goal setting for example may have it's place, but it should not be an over-riding objective to the detriment of all the other aspects of your life, because invariably, when you reach that goal, it's never quite as wonderful or as ladened with happiness and a sense of achievement as you had thought. So all you do is defer happiness towards another goal...and another...and another...until you realise perhaps too late, that 99% of the process is actually making you unhappy, which all rather defeats the object, doesn't it.

As some Chinese philosopher whose name escapes me said, it is the journey that is important, not the destination. Never a truer word said, and if more people lived by that simple maxim, I'm sure the world would be a much happier and pleasant place. This book is an excellent place to learn more about how to live by that simple maxim. Give it a go, if just one idea in it chimes with you, then I really do believe it may well change your life for the better.