a 2paragraphs book review:
Oliver Burkeman’s main target in this book is the cult of positivity—that is, as the title suggests, those who believe that positive thinking will, without fail, lead to success and happiness. The main problem with this cult (and the motivational speakers who rake in fortunes promoting it) is that people who are most anxious about finding happiness are those most likely to be disappointed when they don’t find it. The only real solution to this conundrum, he argues, is to stop seeking happiness and learn to accept negativity.
Two major philosophies Burkeman examines along these lines are Stoicism and Buddhism. Stoics advocate imagining the worst-case scenario in any given situation and recognizing that it isn’t objectively or universally bad but only subjectively bad; Burkeman draws a parallel between this philosophy and the observation in Hamlet that “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Likewise, Buddhism offers a philosophy of non-attachment—even when it comes to one’s own thoughts. Building on these philosophies, Burkeman also examines the trouble with being goal oriented (irrational pursuit of goals can get in the way of actual accomplishments, as in the case of the Into Thin Air mountain climbers who died rather than give up a chance at reaching the summit of Mount Everest), the value of disidentifying with our thoughts (we come to realize that there’s a difference between who we are and what we think), the need to recognize and value failure (we can fail without being failures; also problematic is the fact that while highly successful people advocate taking great risks, highly unsuccessful people also tend to take great risks while the rest of us muddle by), and an acceptance of and appreciation for death (as in the Mexican Day of the Dead).