91: The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman

91: The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
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Episode found at: https://bookworm.fm/91/

If you find yourself repulsed by the blatant optimism espoused by most self-help gurus, then today’s book may just be a breath of fresh air for you. Join Joe & Mike as they consider stoicism, death, and the negative path to happiness. Links Support the Show Timeblocking course (The Sweet Setup) Cal Newport’s blog post…

Random stream of feedback time!

I think the phrase Joe kept looking for and couldn’t quite find was “false dichotomy.” It’s come up in a bunch of contexts for me lately, so I practically yelled it out while listening.

On Mike’s choice to slow his news consumption: Amen, brother. I haven’t watched TV news in years, but I was a ravenous consumer of online news (mostly via RSS feeds). I’ve made a conscious decision to dial way back in the last few years of non-stop news cycles, and a few months ago I went back to taking the local newspaper and really forcing myself to slow down (I still get industry-specific news online, and follow a few very local feeds, but that’s it). The renewed routine of reading the morning paper while having that first cup of coffee has been refreshing, despite the content of the paper being rather less than uplifting at times. The rest of the day is certainly much clearer.

This feedback probably belongs on Digital Minimalism more than this book, doesn’t it? :man_shrugging:

The Antidote is actually my favorite self help book. I’m slightly sad that Mike and Joe disliked it as much as they did. Nevertheless, I respect their opinions.

The Antidote got me into meditation. It gave me a starting point to learn more about Buddhism and Stocism. Thanks to these things, I’ve had such a better time when dealing with stress and anxiety. Maybe this is because I’ve been highly prone to fearing negative outcomes for most of my life. Thinking about the worst case scenario has been a powerful tool for me.

The epilogue of the book does a good job summarizing the author’s intent, I think:

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 visualisation have their benefits. The problem is that we have developed the habit of chronically overvaluing positivity, and of 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 cliché of therapy-speak, we spend too much of our lives seeking ‘closure’. Even those of us who mock such clichés 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.

But you can also treat these ideas as a toolkit, from which tools can be borrowed as necessary. Anyone can become somewhat Stoic, or a bit more Buddhist, or practise memento mori a little more frequently; unlike far too many selfhelp schemes, which purport to be comprehensive guides to life, the negative path to happiness isn’t an all-or-nothing affair.

One thing I love is that the book contains a complete bibliography and list of resources referenced throughout the book. I’ve gone through his notes and found original articles and books that expand upon various things he talks about.

One thing I do dislike about the book: the stories of Mount Everest, the failed UK stadium, and the museum of failed products are all too long for the purpose of being examples to “support” the various claims throughout the book.

I just finished this one last night, and I didn’t feel that the examples were overly long, but that’s purely my personal opinion; YMMV. I’ve been dipping my toes into Stoicism for a while now, this may push me closer to at least the shallow end of the pool, if not the deep end. Meditation is something I struggle with, but again, this may help nudge me in that direction as well. I got some very bad preconceptions of what meditation is from some New Agey relatives of mine years ago that I need to let go of :slight_smile: