Positive thinking can make you miserable
Exploring the dark side of happiness
“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.
The “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.”
Photo: Purestock/Getty Images
inspire: live a better life
An entry a day might keep the doctor away (or at least the shrink).
One woman's shout-outs to daily moments of joy — and how to cultivate them.
Volunteering (and these other rituals) might be just as good as exercise when it comes to extending your life.
Use these tricks to set a better tone for the rest of the week.
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):
Our best health and fitness tips including the one move that tones all, berry news, and more.
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.
Here's some tips to get to happiness going forward in your life.
People 60 to 82 did best on cognitive tasks before 10:30am.
Lucille Ball was born in 1911, and though we lost her long ago, her legacy as America's favorite redhead lives on through the timeless classic, "I Love Lucy." People of all generations still enjoy Lucy's antics as much as they did over 60 years ago when the show first premiered.
Summer is coming to an end, and in a few weeks, kids will be forced to trade in their beach bags for backpacks. But just because the season is fading away doesn't mean the memories from the past few months have to disappear with it.