Episode 183 – Oliver Burkeman – Happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking

Oliver Burkeman is an award-winning feature writer for The Guardian and the author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, published by Faber & Faber in 2012. He lives in New York City.

Oliver joined The Guardian in 2000, working primarily on magazine features and as a columnist. His most widely read journalism is his weekly column on psychology, productivity and the science of happiness, entitled This Column Will Change Your Life. (A collection of these columns was published in the UK in 2011, entitled Help!: How To Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done.) His other reporting has taken him to the extreme north of Canada (to investigate the battle for natural resources under the Arctic Sea); to the slums outside Nairobi (to report on the real-world effects of celebrity anti-poverty campaigns); and to rural Sweden (to report on the rise and rise of the IKEA empire). He has interviewed a wide range of high-profile figures, including Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, David Cameron, Dolly Parton, 50 Cent, and Larry David.


Oliver has spoken extensively – on themes such as the problems with overfocusing on goals, the upsides of uncertainty in business, finding time for creative work, and ancient Stoicism as a philosophy for modern life – at events including: the 99U Conference at Lincoln Center in New York; the Edinburgh International Book Festival; the World Knowledge Forum in Seoul, South Korea; the creativity conference Adobe MAX in Los Angeles; and The Guardian ’s Masterclass series and at the School Of Life in London. His radio appearances have included NPR’s All Things Considered, BBC Radio 4’s Today program, and WNYC’s The Leonard Lopate Show, and he is working on two BBC radio programs on psychology to be broadcast in 2016.

Oliver has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, New Philosopher, Salon, Slate, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, and Esquire. He writes a monthly column in Psychologies magazine, published in the UK.

Oliver holds an MA in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University. He grew up in York, in the north of England, where it rains a lot.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking , his latest book, is an exploration of the upsides of uncertainty, pessimism, failure and insecurity – part philosophical investigation, part first-person travelogue. (The research included a grueling silent meditation retreat, and a trip to one of Mexico City’s most dangerous neighborhoods.) The Antidote introduces a disparate group of people – psychologists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, and business consultants – who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that ‘positive thinking’, relentless optimism, and a fixation on ambitious goal-setting often aren’t the solution, but part of the problem – and that there is an alternative, ‘negative path’ to happiness and success that involves embracing the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. The Antidote was an Amazon Editors’ Pick for Best Books of November 2012, and extracts or related op-eds have featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Salon and Slate. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it “a fascinating, wide-ranging exploration of negativity, positivity, failure, success and what it means to be happy,” with “the potential to effect genuine, lasting changes.”The Los Angeles Times described it as “deeply insightful and entertaining.”

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

Success through failure, calm through embracing anxiety―a totally original approach to self-help

Self-help books don’t seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth―even if you can get it―doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress as joy. We can’t even agree on what “happiness” means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way?
Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty―the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting,The Antidote is the intelligent person’s guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.



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In this episode we spoke to Oliver Burkeman in which we covered the self help industry, guru worship, social media mis-haps and much much more – this is a hilariously fun packed episode.  

This conversation will challenge your ideas regarding positive thinking. 


Find Oliver and his work HERE.

Find Oliver’s work at The Guardian HERE

on Twitter:@oliverburkeman

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