Is Positive Thinking Dead?

Book Review:The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” by Oliver Burkeman

My Rating: 1 Star



“I was going to buy a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking, and then I thought, ‘What the hell good would that do?’” – Ronnie Shakes

That admittedly funny quote precedes the Table of Contents for this book, and it’s quite appropriate given the title. I love it!

Burkeman theorizes that many well-known self-help techniques, such as positive thinking and visualizing your goals, ultimately backfire. His assertion is that when one is trying to think positively, the mind is then constantly “scanning” for negative thoughts, in order to judge the success of the task (of thinking positively, that is).

That scanning, he insists, only highlights any negative thoughts that might be lurking around the mind.

He then makes the case for Stoicism, a philosophy born in Athens way back in 3rd century B.C.  I immediately recoiled at the thought, because I’m not very fond of the term – it seems so…grim.

However, Burkeman insists that true Stoicism doesn’t mean what we think it means, that it is not about “weary resignation,” but instead, a “tough-minded calm in the face of trying circumstances.”

Well, that certainly seems more palatable to me. I’d never be the kind of person to say “Hey, why don’t ya turn that frown upside down!” cheerily to someone in the midst of a painful life circumstance. I’d risk getting slapped (and I’d deserve it).

Unfortunately, after that quick explanation of why Stoicism isn’t so bad, the chapter went on and on (and ON) in dreary prose, so dreadfully boring I could only skim through it.

The next part of the book caught my interest, as it was about Buddhism and how it relates to rejecting the positive thinking mindset. Unfortunately, if you have a basic working  knowledge of the tenets of Buddhism (“the root of all suffering is attachment,” for example), you will find nothing new here.

This chapter was another disappointment to me. It had too many words but said very little.

The last few chapters covered:


  • Why making goals can be counter-productive
  • How to get over yourself
  • Hidden benefits of insecurity


It wrapped up with chapters called “the case for embracing your errors,” which seems sensible enough, and “death as a way of life,” which does not seem sensible or desirable in the least.

I really wanted to like this book. I too, struggle with tiring of the cheesy, worn out mantra of “think positive!” I too, think that it is a throwaway term that is essentially hollow from overuse.

However, I just could not keep my attention engaged. I slowly plodded my way through this book, but found nothing worth highlighting, nothing that gave me an “A-HA!” moment of clarity.

I think that this author, while clearly very intelligent and also with a good premise, just wasn’t able to express his ideas in a way that catches the reader’s attention.

I wish I had not purchased this book. It will be going to Goodwill with my next donation box.



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