Only at the very end does he come close to questioning happiness as the most desirable outcome. Burkeman would be the first to accept that he hasn't written the last word on human happiness. Sep 13, Caroline rated it really liked it Recommended to Caroline by:
The rest of us just show up and get to work. This Burkeman calls the "negative path": This is a marvellous synthesis of good sense, which would make a bracing detox for the self-help junkie. Even deeper than the problems caused by the pervasive ideology of positive thinking is the assumption that it makes good sense to categorise all our thoughts as positive or negative in the first place. I need gentle encouragement and lots of treats in order to do anything. In his long-running Guardian column , Burkeman has proven himself to be a very rare beast indeed. He was a Trollope through and through. Burkeman noticed that "something united all those psychologists and philosophers — and even the odd self-help guru — whose ideas seemed actually to hold water". Day by day, in every way, we are NOT getting better and better. The general drift of the book is that the roaring ra-ra-ra of positive thinking does not work. The author, Oliver Burkeman, a Guardian journalist covering psychology, says that instead we need to cultivate an attitude of reasonable pessimism. Call me old-fashioned, but much more important than seeing positively is to see accurately, truthfully, honestly and sincerely. Even the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman , has pretty much abandoned it, preferring instead to talk about flourishing, the thing that Aristotle saw as the highest human good. He cites Anthony Trollope, who unfailingly used to write for 3 hours each morning, before going off to his day job. Finally, far from being the detached and philosophical being glowingly described by the author, I'm an old drama queen, who bangs the table about injustices, and get very upset when things go wrong. What he suggests is that "a happiness worthy of the name" must include a mix of the rough and smooth, the aches and pains as well as the joys of life. I have tried it on and off for about 40 years, and always get fed up with it after just a short time. He is never sneering or snooty about the self-help world he explores, and is always willing to grant to whoever he is examining whatever truth might lie behind their claims. Burkeman is keen to emphasise that the negative path is not "one single, comprehensive, neatly packaged philosophy" and nor is it a "panacea". Although Burkeman commends truthfulness, he doesn't stress its value for its own sake, only as a surer means to happiness than rose-tinted vision. I also find meditation awfully difficult. It is rather a family of approaches that share an interest in coming to terms with the imperfections of reality in a number of different ways. But he has written some of the most truthful and useful words on it to be published in recent years. When we flourish, we do often feel happy, but that's simply an effect of the real goal, which is to live in accordance with our natures, doing the things we do best the best we can do them. I found it wonderfully provocative.
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