The Antidote – Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking – by Oliver Burkeman – Book Review

Title: THE ANTIDOTE – Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Author: Oliver Burkeman
Published: 2012Publisher: CanongatePages: 236

Price:  £8.99 ( Paperback Purchase HERE)

£8.99 (E-Book Purchase HERE)Other parts of the world   Various Prices (Purchase HERE)

Genre: Self Help

Having spent many years practising ‘positive thinking’, following the advice of the gurus of this new wonder-path to instant happiness, fulfilment and abundance, using visualisations, vision boards, affirmations and all the techniques that we’re told successful people have used in their lives, my results have been, to say the least, disappointing, disheartening, discouraging and depressing.

So it was with great relief that I was sent this book to review, and read on the front cover:

“Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking.” 

“A bracing detox for the self-help junkie.”

And on the back:

“What if ‘positive thinking’ and relentless optimism aren’t the solution to happiness– but part of the problem?”  TWEET THIS

The author suggests that striving too hard to achieve happiness is what makes us miserable, and that there’s a better path to contentment and happiness by embracing those things we try to deny or avoid when practising ‘positive thinking’ – insecurity, uncertainty, pessimism and yes, even failure.

He guides us towards realising that the positive-thinkers’ definition of happiness all too often involves the accumulation of stuff – material possessions, the big house, the yacht, the flash car, the perfect partner, perfect looks, perfect health, and all the other perfections that can be yours, but when it doesn’t work, and from my observations, it usually doesn’t, we’re doomed to be disappointed.

I found it difficult to select quotes from this book – I wanted to quote the whole book, that’s how good it is, not very practical I know, so here are a couple to give you a flavour.

“Part of the problem with positive thinking, and many related approaches to happiness, is exactly this desire to reduce big questions to one-size-fits-all self-help tricks or ten point plans.” 

“At the bottom of all this lies the principle labelled ‘the law of reversed effort’, or the ‘backwards law’,…..…all this trying to make everything right is a big part of what’s wrong.”

The author offers a solution to our frustrations with positive thinking that shouldn’t make sense, but does. And he’s written a book that’s easy to read and is often very funny.

I found this book extremely helpful. It helped me realise that I wasn’t a failure; that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t get the results from ’positive thinking’; that there was a better way to live one’s life, without all the ballyhoo about creating your own reality; about attracting as much stuff as you want; about controlling the world according to whatever you desire.

It showed me that acceptance of reality, being mindful, maintaining awareness of the now moment, leads to a much more durable sense of peace and contentment; that our suffering is caused by trying to resist ‘what is’, which is crazy.

Book Overview

The book has got 8 chapters, each giving information and advice from a different perspective:

  • The problems caused by trying too hard to be happy.
  • The positive outcomes of considering the worst case scenario, based on the ideas from Stoicism.
  • The Buddhist guide to not thinking positively, by developing mindfulness and living in the present moment.
  • How setting goals may cause problems because trying to control the future just doesn’t work.
  • How most of our problems come from identifying with the self, the ego, and how to get over the self.
  • How there are many benefits from embracing insecurity.
  • The benefits of embracing your mistakes and errors. The fact that all our fears are ultimately a fear of death, and how to deal with this fear so that it doesn’t overwhelm us.And finally, an Epilogue based upon the idea of Negative Capability, which is when you can accept and embrace all the uncertainties, insecurities, mysteries and doubts that life throws at us, without trying to fix them, which you can’t anyway.

Who Would Benefit From Reading This Book?

  • Those who are searching for answers as to why positive thinking isn’t working for them.
  • Those who are trying to undo their addiction to airy-fairy, pink candy-floss ‘solutions’ to all their troubles.
  • Those who have based their lives on the false Buddha quote: “As you think, so you become”. Even if Buddha had said this, it doesn’t say: “Whatever you think about, you get.”
  • Everyone.


 A great book. Deep stuff handled with a light touch and with humour. Top advice from someone who’s ‘been there, done that’. Real answers to some of life’s questions and situations. This book is a keeper, to be read and re-read.

About Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman is a feature writer for The Guardian newspaper. He is a winner of the Foreign Press Association’s Young Journalist of the Year award, and has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. He writes a popular weekly column on psychology, This Column Will Change Your Life, and has reported from London, Washington and New York.

He has an earlier book: ‘HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done’ also from Canongate.

*Post Disclaimer: I received ‘The Antidote ‘ from Canongate Books in the UK for review. All opinions are my own.  
Kelly Martin
Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin, author of ‘When Everyone Shines But You’ is a dedicated writer and blogger who fearlessly explores life’s deepest questions. Faced with a decade of profound anxiety and grief following the loss of her father and her best friend Michael, Kelly embarked on a transformative journey guided by mindfulness, and she hasn’t looked back since. Through her insightful writing, engaging podcasts, and inspiring You Tube channel Kelly empowers others to unearth the hidden treasures within their pain, embracing the profound truth that they are ‘enough’ exactly as they are.

Find me on: Web | Twitter/X | Instagram | Facebook

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