Self-help books don’t seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth—even if you can get it—doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress as joy. We can’t even agree on what “happiness” means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way?
Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty—the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person’s guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.
This is a self-help book for cynics. Guardian feature writer Burkeman (Help!) makes the compelling observation that even with the mass production of books on attaining happiness, the collective mood has failed to rise. It has, if anything, fallen. Burkeman's aim is to endorse a "negative" path to happiness, a route in which happiness is no longer the final destination because serenity is not a fixed state, and trying so hard to be happy is part of what makes us so miserable. Burkeman balances the ideas of the deepest thinkers, thoughts on mortality, and his own foray into Buddhist meditation with tremendously funny anecdotes about the antics of motivational convention attendees and his humiliating attempts at stoicism on the London subway. The version of "happiness" that emerges has no clear set of steps, rather a calm (yet admirably comical) shift from the happy human being to the human who is, simply, being. None of this is new, but Burkeman's ability to present sentiments in fresh, delightfully sarcastic packaging will appeal to the happy, the unhappy, and those who have already found a peaceful middle ground. Agent: Claire Conrad, Janklow & Nesbit. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Faber & Faber
November 13, 2012
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