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The following are my notes about the book The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. It's an excellent book and I highly recommend it.
Some of the following may not make sense to others. Most are there for me to jog my memory, but you may find them interesting as well.
If you do, I encourage you to pick up the book.
http://www.amazon.com/Antidote-Happiness-People-Positive-Thinking/dp/0865478015/
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
Chapter 1 - On Trying Too Hard to be Happy
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Describes the 'cult of optimism' that preaches only positive thinking. Cut 'impossible' out of your vocabulary.
Premise: If you think happy and successful thoughts, happiness and success shall follow.
One of the best-known general findings of the "science of happiness" has been the discovery that the countless advantages of modern life have done so little to lift our collective mood.
Self-help gurus tend to make claims unsupported by research.
Seeking happiness may be flawed to begin with. 'Ask yourself if you are happy, and you will cease to be so'
The effort to try to feel happy is often the precise thing that makes us miserable.
Efforts to eliminate negative emotions causes us to feel them.
The 'negative path' is about ... seeking the happiness that arises through negativity, rather than trying to drown it out with relentless good cheer.
But the 'negative path' is not well defined.
Some stress embracing negative feelings and thoughts while others might better be described as advocating indifference towards them.
Some focus on radically unconventional techniques for pursuing happiness, while others point towards a different definition of happiness, or to abandoning the pursuit of it altogether.
The word 'negative' often has a double meaning here too. It can refer to unpleasant experiences and emotions, or developing skills of 'not doing'
A person who has resolved to 'think positively' must constantly scan his or her mind for negative thoughts, drawing more attention to the negative thoughts.
The mind very strongly wants a consistent, coherent self (basis for biases, cognitive dissonance).
Positive affirmations, like "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better"
Are more likely to be sought by people with low self-esteem
Saying them clashes with their internal opinion and be rejected
Chapter 2 - What would Seneca do?
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Self-humiliation makes you realize the result is not nearly as bad as you might think. Talking to yourself loudly on a subway train will make people think you are crazy, but there will be no explosion of ridicule. The realistic worst case scenario really isn't that bad.
Spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go actually reduces most people's motivation to achieve them.
Subconsciously confused visualizing success with actually achieving it.
Basis for Stoicism is focusing on how things could go wrong and cultivating a calm indifference to one's circumstances.
External events are neither negative nor positive intrinsically, it is only the beliefs you hold about those events.
Negative visualization - Imagine not having the things you do have, and you will come to appreciate them more. Combats 'hedonic adaptation'
Thinking about the possibility of losing someone you value shifts it from the backdrop of your life back to center stage, where it can deliver pleasure once more.
Reassurance is a double edged sword, and like optimism, requires constant maintenance.
Reassurance can exacerbate anxiety: when you reassure your friend that the worst case scenario he fears probably won't occur, you inadvertently reinforce he belief that it would be catastrophic if it did.
Confronting the worst-case scenario robs it of its anxiety-inducing power. If you lost your job, there are specific steps you could take to find a new one.
There is no sense in getting frustrated at a situation you cannot control.
Difference between acceptance and resignation. Changing a situation is fine, but you shouldn't be be disturbed by the situation.
There is a difference between outcomes that are completely terrible vs things that are merely bad.
Something might be highly disagreeable. You might feel sad. It doesn't have to be completely terrible.
We elevate those things we want to things we *must* have and make things that are bad seem utterly terrible. Reverse it, turn infinite fears into finite fears.
It could always be worse.
Chapter 3 - The Storm Before the Calm
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Introduces meditation and links it to the Buddhist idea of non-attachment.
Develop a strong attachment to your luxurious lifestyle, and your life may become an unhappy, fearful struggle to keep it that way.
Non-attachment is to feel impulses, think thoughts, and experience life without becoming hooked by mental narratives about how things 'should be', or should never be, or should remain forever.
Author spent a week at a retreat, spending about 15 hours a day meditating and describes the experience.
In a pain study, people who had been trained in meditation had much higher pain tolerance than those who did not, even if they were not meditating during the pain.
We confuse acting with feeling.
Chapter 4 - Goal Crazy
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Describes an experienced Everest expedition team that attempted to summit much later than the safest summit time. The blizzard when darkness fell sent temperatures to -40 F. They may have not had enough oxygen to get back down, and 7 people died.
Chris Kayes, expert on organizational behavior, suggests their goal for reaching the summit may have hardened their resolve to continue even in the face of mounting evidence it would lead to their death.
I think related to "escalation of commitment"
The goal became part of their identity. It wouldn't be that they had failed, it would be they were failures.
Kayes saw this in business.
Subsequent analyses of another expedition groups diaries saw hardened resolve in the face of uncertainty, to the point where they would seek information that increased uncertainty.
In NYC, when it rains, demand for taxis increases. Simultaneously, supply of taxis decreases because the drivers clock out early. The rain had meant they reached their daily goal faster.
Describes some anecdotal evidence that employees give more value when *not* asked to create goals.
Study with entrepreneurs suggested most threw out the idea of a detailed business plan regarding a new company, instead focusing on "destroying every barrier between yourself and some prize you're obsessed with"
Claims uncertainty is where things happen.
Chapter 5 - Who's There?
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Eckhart Tolle, dubbed one of the world's bestselling 'spiritual' authors. Had experience which he says made him feel as if he had no bounded personal identity.
Turn attention inward, and attempt to identify this thing called 'self'.
Usually people find the skin to be the boundary between the self and other, but at an atomic level its a blending with no clear delineation. It is really a meeting place instead of a boundary.
Consider you may identify too closely with the voice in your head.
We're not only distressed by our thoughts; we imagine that we are those thoughts.
"I cannot live with myself"- there must be two 'selfs', the "I" and the "self" that "I" cannot live with. Maybe only one of them is real?
Listen to your thoughts, but separate yourself from them. Be witness to your thoughts.
Most humans... think the next moment must be more important than this one. Then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.
High self-esteem may be a false notion due to its reliance on a unitary, easily identifiable self.
When you rate yourself highly, you create the possibility of rating yourself poorly, reinforcing the notion that your self can be 'good' or 'bad' in the first place.
Rate individual actions as good or bad, but leave your self out of it.
Chapter 6 - The Safety Catch
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Goes into airline safety and security theater.
Driven by a fundamental human desire to feel secure.
Perhaps happiness is related to the ability to tolerate insecurity and vulnerability, especially in relationships.
Discusses Kibera, Kenya, one of the poorest places with terrible conditions.
No running water, no electricity.
Violence is rampant, opportunistic murders a weekly occurrence.
Human waste disposed of putting it in a plastic bag and flinging it as far from your own house as possible.
Yet, Kiberans don't seem as unhappy or as depressed as one might think.
Some studies have found the poorest countries in the world to be among the happiest, and anxiety and depression are much less common.
Author doesn't have an answer to the puzzle either, but could be viewed in the psychology of security.
Possibly greatest sense of insecurity is the idea that we have no special purpose. Decline of religion, science becoming dominant reasoning.
Becoming secure may separate yourself from change, which is constant in life.
We don't realize there is no security until we realize there is no "I".
Chapter 7 - Museum of Failure
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Humans refuse to learn from their mistakes.
Brain attempts to delete/remove information that isn't consistent with prior information in attempt to reconcile consistency.
People often examine the personality traits of highly successful people, but the same traits may also be applied to highly unsuccessful people.
Incurring large losses requires persistence and ability to persuade others to pour money down the drain.
Perfectionism can be viewed as fear-driven desire to avoid experiencing failure.
Fixed theory - that talent is innate, vs incremental theory - that talent evolves through hard work.
Chapter 8 - Memento Mori
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Death is absolutely everywhere, and yet it is frequently furthest from our mind. No one believes in his own death.
Describes 'immortality projects', Making a killing in business or in the battlefield, frequently has less to do with economic need or political reality than with the need for assuring ourselves that we have achieved something of lasting worth.
After being primed to think about death, people clench onto immortality projects.
Christians show more negativity towards Jews.
People become less willing to share or trust others with money.
Illogical to fear death. If life doesn't continue beyond death, when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.
Why fear the oblivion of time after death, but not before life?
In the face of death, things like fear of failure or embarrassment fall away, leaving what is truly important.
Describes death awareness in Mexican life through the Day of the Dead.
References the traditionally practiced in rural Mexico.
People in villages go to cemeteries to remember those lost.
3 deaths in Mexican culture
- Body ceases to function
- When body is lowered into ground
- When no one left alive to remember us
Consider imagining you are 80 years old
I wish I had spent more time ...
I wish I had spent less time ...
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