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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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Oliver Burkeman and the Pursuit of Happiness

Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman's book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking comes out today in the U.S. The brief and Burkeman-narrated trailer above gives a quick idea of what it's about — essentially, how to be happier without worrying about being happier. Burkeman was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book via email, and to make an unexpected Aqua reference.

Edith Zimmerman: Oliver, thank you for emailing with me! I'll jump right into it. Wanting to be "happy" seems like such a catch-all idea, and a seemingly impossible thing to aim for, especially when the more you zoom in on what it means — or what an individual means by it — the vaguer it seems. (Personally I picture like a smiley face gliding around a house.) What would be a more specific, realistic thing for people to aim for instead? More-frequent moments of satisfaction? Bravery? Kindness?

Oliver Burkeman: I completely agree about the impossibility and vagueness. I set off to report a book on why “positive thinking” and relentless optimism is a pretty terrible path to happiness, and it is, but I ended up having to concede that “happiness” as a destination is also fairly problematic. I really like the way the psychologist Paul Pearsall put it — that what we need is more “awe," an emotion that mixes wonder (the positive) and fear (the negative). The things you mention, bravery and kindness, are definitely going to lead to more awe if you pursue them seriously. Needless to say, this is the exact opposite of what’s promised by positive thinking and conventional self-help, which seems aimed more at an unbroken state of excitement. I doubt that’s attainable, and even if it was, you’d just end up annoying everyone else. (And would it even be desirable? I’d rather get to the end of my life feeling like I’d fully experienced the highs and the lows, not that I’d successfully managed to shut out the lows.)

You mention that instead of envisioning positive things, it might be more useful to envision worst-case scenarios. What's a worst-case scenario you envisioned recently?

I love this technique, which goes back to the Stoics, who called it “the premeditation of evils”: they argued that you’d feel far more appreciative of the advantages you enjoy in life if you reflected on the fact that you might lose them at any moment; you’d cherish your relationships more by remembering that your loved ones might — and eventually will — die. (Seneca the Stoic was ordered to commit ritual suicide by bleeding himself to death, so maybe the fragility of life back then helps explain why they preferred this kind of view over positive thinking.) But it’s also a great antidote to anxiety, even in minor ways. A couple of days ago, getting unduly stressed by a writing deadline, I remembered to stop and think: what’s the *actual* worst that could happen if I mess this up completely? It would be annoying, sure. But before I’d asked myself that, my anxiety was disproportionate, and was getting in the way of work. We seem to go through life racing to catch planes, or worrying about job interviews, or fretting about relationships, as if it would be literally as bad as nuclear war if things didn’t work out.

Do you actually think it's possible for people to change their lives/outlooks/brains? I guess the answer to this has to be yes. But in case it's not ... off the record? I don't know. It seems so hard. It almost seems like weight loss books. People love to buy them because it feels like doing something good/proactive, taking the right steps, but then more often than not, nothing actually changes. I guess: To what degree do you believe humans are capable of mental change?

The standard psychological wisdom these days is that it’s 50/10/40: 50% “set point," determined by your genes, 10% by circumstances — wealth, health, etcetera, and then 40% that’s under your control. (The big surprise there is the 10%: I think most of us imagine circumstances would account for far more.) But the go-to fridge-magnet quote here is from Carl Rogers: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Positive thinking demands that you change unwelcome thoughts and feelings. Whereas it 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. As a master procrastinator, the only way I got this book written at all was by realizing I didn’t need to “feel motivated” to do so. You can just feel reluctant and procrastinatory and irritated, but act anyway.

Are you afraid of dying?

Hmmm … I’m definitely afraid of what condition old age and illness might leave me in. Fearing death itself is a much weirder notion – after exploring this, for the book, I came to agree with the thinkers who say it makes no sense to fear a condition you won’t be around to experience. What I got from visiting Mexico during the Day of the Dead, though, and talking to philosophers, is that we’d all be better off becoming more familiar with death in an informal, everyday way, reflecting on it even when circumstances don’t force us to, to make the whole thing less horrifying. There’s a group called Death Cafe that holds death-themed conversations over coffee and cookies. That sounds incredible.

Could "have low expectations in general" be a simplistic summary of your approach?

I don’t think so, actually, though it’s been claimed that some countries, such as Denmark, perform well in happiness surveys because nobody expects too much from life there. For me, having gone on this whole journey, the ideal might be something more like “no expectations”: an openness to whatever happens. Embracing the uncertainty. That doesn’t mean I’m particularly good at this, I should stress. But then being OK with being imperfect is part of the point too, so I have a built-in get-out clause there.

Should children be taught the power of negative thinking in elementary school? (Vs. the current "think positive"/"I can be anything I want" etc. models. Although maybe "I can be anything I want" isn't necessarily an example of positive thinking. Hmm ... )

I think the psychologist Carol Dweck, who’s done lots of fascinating work on how children relate to the experience of failure, would probably say that you should. She also argues that we should praise children for their efforts, not their accomplishments — praising for accomplishment makes kids see their attainments as a bar they’ve got to keep reaching, which dissuades them from pushing themselves for fear of falling short. Unless you learn that negative emotions and experiences are OK, you’re going to dedicate all your energies to avoiding them, and that gets you nowhere, except perhaps to a career as a motivational speaker telling people to walk barefoot across hot coals, or whatever.

How was your week of silence?

It was amazing, but that’s not to say it was fun. This was at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and basically entailed unbroken sitting and walking meditation from about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. (with some meal breaks and a couple of rest periods). The first thing you realize when you remove all the outer sounds and stimuli is that your mind is relentlessly noisy: for the first day or so I had the appalling 1997 pop song “Barbie Girl," which I’ve never liked or owned, stuck ceaselessly in my head. And so, if you’re anything like me, you struggle to “get calm” and quieten down, but it doesn’t work, so you feel worse … and then you realize that that’s not the point. The point (if there is one — and lots of Buddhist teachers would object to the idea of a “point," I think) is to learn to observe your interior world without judgment. And then once you realize that, things do get calmer, of their own accord. From that point on, it was a wonderful experience, until I got back to the everyday world and checked by inbox for the first time in days.

I like what I've read about how you enacted your (minor) fears — yelling on a train and sounding nuts; dressing badly, etc. — to see that they're not actually that bad, and can in fact be liberating. "It happened, I lived, now I don't have to take up brainspace worrying about that anymore." I'd be curious to hear more about that, and if you recommend any particular ones to try out.

The train exercise came from Albert Ellis, the fantastically sweary New York psychotherapist who died in 2006. (The reason behind human suffering, he perceptively noted, is that “we’re all out of our fucking minds.") If you’re easily embarrassed, he argued, you should embarrass yourself deliberately — because then you’ll learn directly that your fears were overblown. So I did this on the London Underground, speaking the names of the stations out loud, as he suggested. It was pretty excruciating, but that’s not the point – the point is that I didn’t get arrested or attacked and my head didn’t explode. A few people looked at me oddly, but most of them were wrapped up in their own worlds, as most people are most of the time. And realizing all that was curiously liberating and exhilirating. If you’re going to choose an exercise like this yourself, the main thing is to pick one that’s legal, considerate of others, and not dangerous. For some people, just striking up a conversation at a party might count. The point is to figure out what you fear, then choreograph a confrontation between those fears and the real experience.

'The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking' is out now. Oliver Burkeman is also on Twitter.



129 Comments / Post A Comment

WaityKatie

Thanks for this, I've been looking forward to this book coming out in the US for ages now!

churlishgreen

@WaityKatie I was just coming here to say exactly the same thing!

milenakent

In a sense this represents modern western thinking realizing what the zen and taoist philosophies were on about all this time, They long embraced what westerners would call negativity - nothing matters, in fact, you don't exist (as such). They invite what seems like a cold and harsh examination of existence, then advise living in that world. @n

wearitcounts

Unless you learn that negative emotions and experiences are OK, you’re going to dedicate all your energies to avoiding them, and that gets you nowhere

yes. i needed to hear this, today. and most days.

RK Fire

@wearitcounts: Yeah, I find that I am feeling incredibly negative today due to a number of issues at home and at work, and I've been feeling a bit guilty about it as a result. I'm trying to re-channel some of it now but at the same time, it is good to remember the problems will pass (and others will appear! ha.) and these feelings are a normal reaction to them that will eventually pass.

Kristen

After watching Sunday's episode of Homeland, I have spent much of yesterday and today actively grateful that I am not locked underground in a Supermax prison. The hot chocolate & Bailey's I drank last night while sitting on my couch with my boyfriend and simultaneously not being locked in a Supermax was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my year thus far.

Premeditation of evils works, is what I'm saying.

Edit:There is obviously the backlash where the next day you spend a lot of time worrying about all the people who ARE locked in Supermax prisons and obsessively reading that Adam Gopnik article and becoming very anxious about everything and also sliding into worrying about factory farming (the link being: vast complexes of evil that exist on the peripheries of our consciousness and which we must ignore almost entirely in order to simply function in our day to day lives without being overcome with guilt and horror.) But it works _temporarily_, is maybe what I'm saying.

WaityKatie

@Kristen I think it might be a matter of different personality types or something, because it works that way for me too - thinking about how much worse things could be always makes me feel better. And frankly, so does complaining. Yet I know that other people find that suppressing/denying every negative thought and "focusing on the positive" is the way to go, and it seems to work for them. I just find that approach incredibly false and enraging, so it doesn't work for me. I kind of wish the cheery Pollyannas could acknowledge that maybe us Eeyores are doing what works for us and just shut the hell up about how we should "look on the bright side."

Also, agree on Homeland, I hate when bad things happen to Marin Ireland!

OhMarie

@Kristen It's stupid/stereotypical, but I often get thoughts like this if I'm high. Like, a couple of months ago it occurred to me how wonderful it is to have a home that is protected from the elements, climate controlled, and that nobody else can come into if you don't want them to. I think about that a lot now.

RK Fire

@OhMarie: Ha! I had a weird realization a month ago during a stressful work moment where I thought about where my mother was at my age, and I realized "Ah.. so she was in an unhappy marriage with a 6 year old baby and the city she was living in was about to fall in the culmination of the end of a civil war. Got it."

It's a little melodramatic, but that helped me calm down from freaking out about a little work kerfluffle as well as the fact that I'm in a job I dislike. Hey, at least I love my husband and the city I live in won't fall to the communists!

themmases

@WaityKatie Oh yeah, I find complaining very cathartic a lot of the time and honestly, I think most people do. When I think someone is being overly negative, what I really mean is that they are complaining too much because I find them or their complaint boring/unsympathetic, or that I had never seen [thing] in that light but now I have to and my enjoyment is also impaired.

Most people I know bond at least a little by complaining, like when I worked retail (but even to some extent now in my office job) complaining was how you made conversation. "I'm so tired" is a 100% valid conversation opener here, and lots of other places I've been. If everything around you is neutral and bearable, what's to even comment on, and how would that constitute a connection if you did?

Occasionally a thing or person will bug me so much that I never truly feel I'm done complaining, and I have to make myself stop talking about it. But most of the time, not. And I don't know anyone who is like that all the time.

sycofan

@Kristen Have you ever read any Wayne Dyer? I started reading one his books and it said that telling people about your tiredness or ill health is one of the worst form of abuses you can inflict on another person. Book went in the trash after that.

Blushingflwr

@WaityKatie That's really the key - different people have different coping strategies, and what works for person A doesn't necessarily work for person B. I read an article years ago that said that telling pessimists to look on the bright side didn't work, and that for pessimists, imagining all the things that could go wrong and then being able to take steps to avoid those things was useful. But people who are more naturally optimistic don't get that.
This is, I think, a major failing of our society - the inability to recognize and appreciate diversity. We SAY we value it, in terms of things like gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. But we don't seem to acknowledge or value diversity of interests, skills, temperaments. We want one-size-fits-all solutions to life's problems, but they don't actually exist.

skyslang

@Blushingflwr I agree to a certain extent. It's all about finding your own way to be relaxed and confidant, right?
But I think the problem with positive thinking is that it doesn't allow one to think critically. If you don't allow yourself to feel bad, you can never figure out why you're feeling bad and take steps to change whatever it is that's making you feel bad.
Of course, to start the whole process you have to think you can actually change your situation, which requires some positive thinking....

cupcakecore@twitter

Oh my god I want to read this book for the title alone. But then, I think one of the most grating phrases in the english language is "stay posi!" so there you go.

Miss Maszkerádi

@cupcakecore@twitter No, the most grating phrase is "It will all be okay, everything happens for a reason!" ARGGGGH KILL IT WITH FIRE.

BornSecular

@cupcakecore@twitter Dear god, I'm so glad I had never actually heard that before. The current need to shorten every word longer than 1 syllable makes my eye twitch.

MoxyCrimeFighter

@Countess Maritza "Things have a way of working themselves out!" OH IT'S THAT EASY, WHY HAVE I TRIED SO HARD.

Alhough when I was unemployed, my grandmother said this to me a few times - and usually my reaction to anyone else would be, "Shut uppppp you magical-thinking nitwit," but considering that she was the daughter of immigrants who was raised by a widowed, single mother during the Depression; weathered the loss of her husband, son, and grandson within 8 years of each other; and recently pulled her 2nd husband through a major illness practically through sheer force of will, I'm really just more impressed at how positive she is at the age of 82.

Bittersweet

@MoxyCrimeFighter But...things really do have a way of working themselves out, don't they? Whether they work out the way you want them to, or how much you're involved in working the things out, will vary depending on the life event.

What I guess I'm saying is - maybe your grandmother was right, and there wasn't much in the way of "magical thinking" (whatever that is) involved...

Miss Maszkerádi

Hooooooo boy. I think I just sensed my mom buying this for me as a half-joking Christmas gift. I'm notoriously crabby about Positive Thinking! Smile! Fake It Till You Make It! and all those assorted things that work really well for people that are capable of turning off existential angst with the flip of a switch.

Of course, the only thing to be done is to pre-empt the Christmas embarrassment by running to Barnes and Noble RIGHT NOW myself. :D

Slutface

I'm going to make a negative thoughts vision board.

leonstj

@Slutface - You mean, printing out the youtube comments pages?

City_Dater

Love this!

I think a lot of this stuff comes naturally to thoughtful people as they get older, particularly noting that the world doesn't end when you're embarrassed (and most people around you don't even notice) and that there are always far worse things that could happen to you (and didn't).

Lisa Frank

@City_Dater I loved this too; I found it incredibly...positive, actually. Or at least affirming. I actually really like scaring myself by trying new things, because I realize that the world doesn't end, and hey, I can do something I didn't know I could do! But I think it becomes less socially acceptable as we get older?

Miss Maszkerádi

@Lisa Frank I'm just beginning to understand the joys of trying things out of my comfort zone. I hope one of the other things that happens as we get older is we start caring less about what is considered socially acceptable?

City_Dater

@Countess Maritza

From my own experience, I can say resoundingly, "yes, we who are Old do not care what is considered socially acceptable."

JanieS

RELEVANT TO MY INTERESTS.

Chareth Cutestory

I really love this. The guy in Don't Sweat the Small Stuff talks about negative premeditation (he calls it "seeing the glass as already broken"). That, and the idea that you shouldn't expect people to like you by default (so that it comes as a pleasant surprise when they actually do), has helped me to diminish so much of my anxiety in social situations.

salty comma

This is weirdly validating for me. I've never believed that being prepared for the worst but still being driven and passionate about the things that matter to me was being negative or pessimistic, despite my family's opinions. I'm always pleasantly surprised when things turn out well, but genuinely, not in that Taylor Swift, "WHO, ME??" way. This mentality is particularly effective if you've got a history of panic disorders & OCD, where adaptable, practical thinking is a life raft.

Briony Fields

Very interesting stuff! I started meditated every day about six weeks ago, and I have noticed this odd gratefulness floating around my head lately. I mean, I have a lot when you compare me to a global standard, but I also struggle in some ways which depress me (badly paid job, no savings, shitty work hours, etc). I have found that trying to force myself to see the positive side (not starving! Not living in a war zone!) just kind of make me more bitter, whereas allowing myself to grumble and cry about my situation sometimes has resulted in this out of the blue feelings of "Hot damn, I'm so lucky".

WaityKatie

@Briony Fields True this. I had this really annoying discussion with a friend this weekend whereby she was arguing that I basically didn't have any problems at all, because others in the world have problems that are objectively so much worse. I don't disagree that I am incredibly lucky and privileged by a global standard, and that there are problems much much worse than anything I am currently experiencing, but that doesn't make my problems not "real." They're still real problems, even if they are not the worst problems to exist in the world! I mean, how does denying that something is bad make it go away? Argh, that convo. annoyed me so much! Like we're supposed to sit here and pretend that everything is PERFECTLY FINE and not try to fix anything in our own lives because the things that are happening in our lives are not THE ABSOLUTE WORST THINGS IN EXISTENCE? God. So yeah, basically, I want to be able to complain and be validated in my complaining, even though I know that my problems are not horrible world-ending catastrophes. Because complaining makes me feel better and helps me come up with ways to make my life better. Whereas saying that my life is perfect and I'm luckyluckylucky to be in this crap job with all this debt and no love life maybe ever to happen just makes me depressed.

WaityKatie

@Briony Fields True this. I had this really annoying discussion with a friend this weekend whereby she was arguing that I basically didn't have any problems at all, because others in the world have problems that are objectively so much worse. I don't disagree that I am incredibly lucky and privileged by a global standard, and that there are problems much much worse than anything I am currently experiencing, but that doesn't make my problems not "real." They're still real problems, even if they are not the worst problems to exist in the world! I mean, how does denying that something is bad make it go away? Argh, that convo. annoyed me so much! Like we're supposed to sit here and pretend that everything is PERFECTLY FINE and not try to fix anything in our own lives because the things that are happening in our lives are not THE ABSOLUTE WORST THINGS IN EXISTENCE? God. So yeah, basically, I want to be able to complain and be validated in my complaining, even though I know that my problems are not horrible world-ending catastrophes. Because complaining makes me feel better and helps me come up with ways to make my life better. Whereas saying that my life is perfect and I'm luckyluckylucky to be in this crap job with all this debt and no love life maybe ever to happen just makes me depressed.

1880s Night

@Briony Fields I did start meditating a few weeks ago, and even though I'm not sure I'm doing it properly, I do have this same grateful feeling? It's quite odd, really. I was driving to my (crappy, poorly paid) job on the verge of tears a few days ago, but then had a little step back where I felt grateful for feeling anything at all, even if it's just shitty and anxious.

Uh, that sounds so utterly smug and pretentious now that I've typed it out. Sorry! It helped at the time though.

Briony Fields

@WaityKatie Blargh, that is annoying! I mean, it's definitely true that we are privileged up the wahoo, but trying to jam that down your (or someone else's) throat anytime they're having a bad day is so not useful. I waste so much more energy trying to deny stuff? Like, if I miss a train I generally think "Oh well, there will be another one in five minutes, it's ok if I'm a bit late, my life is still amazing" but the lingering feeling of annoyance over missing a train stays. However, if I allow myself a tiny meltdown and cry for a minute over the frustration of a non-perfect transit system, then I can just get the hell OVER it so much quicker! And it's just a train? There's definitely something to be said about embracing our negative feelings.

hallelujah

Unfortunately for some of us, once you try to play along & picture the worst case scenario (my infant son dying in his sleep, for instance), it follows you & haunts every waking moment. Or is this supposed to be for less consequential worst cases? Because I'd pretty sure I'd be a happier human without that thought in the back of my mind.

fb100003964691892

@hallelujah That's my problem. I think of totally plausible worst case scenarios that I can't shake.

For me, I totally totally agree that a search for "happiness" doesn't work at all as advertised, and keeping a healthy perspective can be great. Playing the "worst case scenario" game is really helpful for me! But also, as with anything, no solution is right for everyone. It's just good to have a variety of options.

whateverlolawants

@hallelujah Thank you. I saw that and was like, "Maybe his brain works differently." Particularly since last year, I have been imagining a lot of very terrible things, and it's made me feel much worse. I see what he means, but either I'm doing it wrong or it doesn't work for me.

yeah-elle

@hallelujah Yes, this troubled me too. And what if the actual worst scenario thing actually happens?

A friend of mine already was struggling with worst-scenario thinking and anxiety, and then her father died suddenly in a horrible freak accident. It was a whole other layer of panic and anxiety on top of her grief.

Playing the worst scenario game is fine and dandy if you don't struggle with repetitive thinking. It's fine and dandy if the worst scenario doesn't actually occur and fuck you up.

skyslang

@hallelujah Yeah, right? I'm a freelance writer, too, and sometimes thinking about the worst case scenario when I'm stressing about an assignment ends with ... "and then I end up living on the street."

frigwiggin

Now I feel kind of like a jerk for being a positive-feelings kind of person when my friends need cheerleading. But I mainly say the sort of things I want people to say to me (and usually don't) when I need cheerleading, so whatever. I'm sure they'll tell me if and when it is annoying, or will just stop coming to me.

SheWhoReadsInSkirts

@frigwiggin Dude, your positivity is the trick. I handle all of the negative parts of it myself. >->

frigwiggin

@SheWhoReadsInSkirts Haha, okay, good. I appreciate your positivity too, especially since I don't usually get much cheerleading from Mike, if you catch my drift. XD

peregrina

I am all for this book and his research. However, I do know that there was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre who was under convicted of having relations (I don't know if they were consensual or not) with an underage student. I am just wary of many meditation and yoga centers in the New England area for being a little on the cult-y side, especially IMS. Burkeman probably should have gone to a more legit center to do his happiness research.

whateverlolawants

"I’d rather get to the end of my life feeling like I’d fully experienced the highs and the lows, not that I’d successfully managed to shut out the lows."

He really wants to "fully experience" the lows? I sure don't. Do the rest of you? I don't really want or expect life to be super awesome all the time, but geez... having fully experienced some pretty shitty lows, I'd rather not do it much more.

Maybe he means that avoiding the lows sometimes comes at a cost (living in fear, not connecting with others, being numb, etc.) That's a valid point. But if I get to my deathbed with a lucid mind, I doubt I'm going to say, "I'm glad I fully experienced the lows of life." Maybe I'm different than the norm, though.

Woman Laughing Alone With Boas

@whateverlolawants It's weird that he phrases it that way, in the sense that yeah, those truly shitty things are not fun to experience, at all. And truly, some bad things are so bad they just shouldn't happen to anyone. And I don't think anyone who is mentally healthy wants "lows" to experience.

But, I dunno, for example, I very, very recently lost a good friend to suicide. I didn't and don't "want" this experience -- I will always, for my whole life probably, wish that my friend wasn't dead -- but I can't deny to myself that the experience has opened me up to other people and to big ideas I'm afraid of, like death and purpose, in a very profound way. I am growing and changing because of it. Would I trade all that knowledge and insight and profound spiritual connection to have my friend back, healthy and whole and happy? Yes. In a fucking heartbeat. Yet, while I wish this particular thing never happened, while I would undo it if i could, and I don't want anything like it to ever happen in my life again, it has happened, and I am (to borrow an idea from the interview) somewhat "in awe" of the affects it has had on me.

I guess it's just like, no, I do not want these lows to happen. But recognizing their power (for me, I think for the author, not for everyone though) will get better results in the end than trying to push them away forever. I won't be saying "I'm glad I fully experienced the lows of life," on my deathbed, but I could see myself saying, "I went through some shit and came out the other side feeling more human than I did before, and that's something."

carolita

I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s, everytime you'd meet someone at a party, they'd ask you if you were happy. And it was always, yes, yes, very happy! Everyone was happy. It drove me nuts. Because I didn't believe them and felt we were all lying to each other, under pressure to "be" happy. The word "happy" lost its meaning. I'd never actually thought about it until everyone got so obsessed with being happy. I think "happy enough" is a good way to be. I'm always "happy enough."
Funnily enough, after "happy" came "busy." Into the 2000's the ideal answer was "busy, so busy!" Next book? How to be busy?

skyslang

@carolita Hilarious and true! I am so tired of hearing everyone talk about how busy they are.

carolita

@skyslang I think it comes from all that credit card debt. As long as you're busy working, you don't feel so bad about it. Or something like that, maybe? Wouldn't want people thinking you're not working your ass off, right?

skyslang

Positive Thinking can destroy your life.
My dad is way into positive thinking and when I was a kid, he convinced me it was the answer to everything. But it never felt right. It felt too difficult, honestly. Trying to be positive all the time was exhausting.
Now, as a grown adult with lots of life experience, I feel sorry for him. He's never let himself admit when something is wrong, so he's never able to change it. He stays in situations that are bad for him and he is deeply unhappy, although he pretends otherwise and ends up creeping everyone out.
More than anything, though, I see that positive thinking doesn't work. Two years ago he had to declare bankruptcy at 70 (he had just bought a new Mercedes thinking that the positive action of this would jump start his failing real estate business, ignoring the fact that it was the worst time to be in real estate).

Jolly Farton

@skyslang Thanks for sharing your story & unique perspective - something about it hit me right in the feels, though I haven't directly encountered anything similar in my own life. Though, I have had a distinct aversion to the whole "positive thinking" movement ever since I read this article in Salon about the book Secret and Oprah's promotion of its tenets.

What I find most despicable about it is, I think maybe those of us most attracted to (and hurt by) these ideas are the ones who just really need a break in life, who need that thread of hope to cling on to- and the whole thing is like snake oil- something that seems like a cure, but eventually just makes things worse. I don't know, I'm not in a position to say anything about it, but apparently I feel strongly about this for some reason?? Blegh.

I really hope your father can find peace (that sounds kind of ugh but it's really all I can figure to say).

Jolly Farton

@skyslang Uf I just realized I replied to an old post! Sorry, was just rummaging through Hairpin posts I hadn't read haha

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