Loading...
The Daily Dose Blog The Daily Dose Blog Home

Positive thinking can make you miserable

Exploring the dark side of happiness

By Rich_Maloof Nov 15, 2012 3:44PM

“For a civilization so fixated on achieving happiness,” writes Oliver Burkeman, “we seem remarkably incompetent at the task.”

Why is that, and how can we gain some competence? Burkeman, author of the just-released book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, champions a modern psychological perspective that says too much positivity is a problem, not a solution.

Photo: Purestock/Getty ImagesThe “backwards law” of happiness is neatly summed up in a metaphor from philosopher Alan Watts that appears as an epigraph in Burkeman’s book: When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float.

Our culture not only advertises happiness and contentment but very nearly insists on it. If you don’t drink the cultural Kool-Aid, you’re in desperate need of help, they tell us, and there’s a rich industry of motivational speakers and self-help publishers eager to have you drink up. Never mind that the people most likely to purchase a self-help book are those who bought one 18 months prior. Just keep buyin’ and tryin’.

More on MSN Living: 50 things everyone should know about marriage

For many — not just the clinically depressed, but the chronically pensive — the Pollyanna positivism and you-can-do-it attitude doesn’t keep happiness afloat for long. Yet we’re still bombarded with the message that “there’s something terribly, terribly wrong with not feeling incredibly excited and cheerful every moment of the day," as Burkeman told NPR.

The author steeped himself in that happy-face culture while researching The Antidote and also traveled around the world to learn from cultures that aren’t so entangled in a positive bias. He deduced that relentless optimism is a pretty terrible path to happiness. The worst thing you can do is subscribe to a doctrine of positive thinking that demands you banish all sadness and disappointment rather than embrace negativity as half, or at least a necessary part, of life’s whole.

More on MSN Living: The top 10 traits women want in a man

“The negative path to happiness” seems like a radical concept but is in fact ancient. In the yin-yang of Buddhism, forces of shadow and light are co-reliant and interactive. One has no power or potential without the other.

“Positive thinking demands that you change unwelcome thoughts and feelings,” Burkeman told TheHairpin.com “[I]t seems to me that something like Buddhist meditation, and some modern forms of therapy, are focused much more on learning to observe thoughts and feelings without giving in to the urge to try to manipulate them. So that’s the paradox: perhaps the best change you can make is resisting the compulsion to change.”

Bing: Is positive thinking good for you?

Photo: Purestock/Getty Images

Subscribe to the Daily Dose

More from MSN Living:
25 things she finds sexiest about you
8 words that give away a liar
The trends men love ... and the ones they hate

0Comments

inspire: live a better life

  • Off-season vacation destinations

    The 10 best off-season vacation deals in the world

    Summer and winter tend to hog all the glory when it comes to travel high seasons. Sure, you want to soak up all the time at the beach you can during the summer, and you just want to escape the cold during the last months of the year.

  • Best places for fall foliage

    The 16 best places to see fall foliage

    Who just wants to stand around and watch the red and gold leaves slowly fall from their tree branches to the ground as we move from summer to fall? Instead, take in the changing seasons while you're on the move.

  • 30 things you learn in your 30s

    30 things that will (probably) happen in your 30s

    In September, I'll turn 38. I'm at the age now where, when people ask how old I am, it takes me a minute to remember. I don't know if that's because I've already been 37 different ages and it's hard to keep straight which one I am now, or if it's because I'm in denial, or if it's because I am going senile. Maybe a combination of all of the above. Regardless, my 30s have flown by and soon they will be but a memory. So, in an effort to preserve the memory I have left (or at least keep a record of it), and to celebrate what has been an amazing decade so far, here are 30 things that have happened to me in my 30s (and will probably happen to you too):

  • Great travel tech gadgets

    The 8 best travel tech accessories for every trip

    Traveling doesn't have to be stressful. And what you can fit in your carry-on can make all the difference (and not just a fresh pair of socks), especially when you get that low battery signal.

  • The Science

    5 surprising ways to live longer

    Volunteering (and these other rituals) might be just as good as exercise when it comes to extending your life.

  • Don’t hit snooze

    7 cures for a case of the Mondays

    Use these tricks to set a better tone for the rest of the week.

  • King's Night: Amsterdam, Holland

    The 10 wildest celebrations in the world

    Whether it involves a food fight, mermaids or a torch-lit procession, people the world over know how to have a good time. Here are some of the biggest, boldest, booziest celebrations around, along with some tips to get the full experience.

  • green brain image (Courtesy of Newser)

    Scientists turn bad memories to happy ones

    Research could mean more effective treatment for human disorders.

  • Cultura\Getty Images(Cultura\Getty Images)

    4 reasons journaling is good for you

    An entry a day might keep the doctor away (or at least the shrink).

  • Getty Images(Getty Images)

    Appreciating the Small Things in Life

    One woman's shout-outs to daily moments of joy — and how to cultivate them.

  • Woman jogging (Photo: Huffington Post)
  • Getty Images // Magazine

    Little ways to feel healthier and happier

    Our best health and fitness tips including the one move that tones all, berry news, and more.

Loading...
about rich maloof
Loading...
buzzing now on msn living
Loading...
inspire videos
editor's picks
Loading...