The Antidote

Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Oliver Burkeman

Faber & Faber

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.



Read an Excerpt

On Trying Too Hard to Be Happy

Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute.
– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Winter Notes on Summer Impressions
THE MAN WHO CLAIMS that he is about to tell me the secret of human happiness is eighty-three years old, with an alarming orange tan that does nothing to enhance his credibility. It is just after eight o’clock on a December morning, in a darkened basketball stadium on the outskirts of San Antonio in Texas, and – according to the orange



  • The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman Video Trailer

    Watch this video trailer for The Anitdote, narrated by the author.



Praise for The Antidote

“Burkeman’s tour of the ‘negative path’ to happiness makes for a deeply insightful and entertaining book. This insecure, anxious and sometimes unhappy reader found it quite helpful.” —Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

“Some of the most truthful and useful words on [happiness] to be published in recent years . . . A marvellous synthesis of good sense, which would make a bracing detox for the self-help junkie.” —Julian Baggini, The Guardian

The Antidote is a gem. Countering a self-help tradition in which ‘positive thinking’ too often takes the place of actual thinking, Oliver Burkeman returns our attention to several  of philosophy’s deeper traditions and does so with a light hand and a wry sense of humor. You’ll come away from  this book enriched—and, yes, even a little happier.”  —Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

“Quietly subversive, beautifully written, persuasive, and profound, Oliver Burkeman’s book will make you think—and smile.”  —Alex Bellos, author of Here’s Looking at Euclid

“Addictive, wise, and very funny.”  —Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist

“What unites [Burkeman’s] travels, and seems to drive the various characters he meets, from modern-day Stoics to business consultants, is disillusionment with a patently false idea that something as complex as the goal of human happiness can be found by looking in a book . . . It’s a simple idea, but an exhilarating and satisfying one.” —Alexander Larman, The Observer

“This is an excellent book; Burkeman makes us see that our current approach, in which we want happiness but search for certainty—often in the shape of material goods—is counterproductive.” —William Leith, The Telegraph

“Fascinating . . . After years spent consulting specialists—from psychologists to philosophers and even Buddhists—Burkeman realised they all agreed on one thing: . . . in order to be truly happy, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions—or, at least, to learn to stop running so hard from them.” —Mandy Francis, The Daily Mail

“Splendid . . . Readable and engaging.” —British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Times (London)

In the Press

Work in Progress » Blog Archive » "What's the worst that could happen?": Oliver Burkeman on Embracing Negativity and Uncertainty
by Sarah Scire Oliver Burkeman wants you to stop trying to be happy. In his wry, wide-ranging book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, Burkeman challenges the "cult of optimism" and writes that "it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative
- FSG's Work in Progress
Positive Thinking for Writers | Work in Progress
So you want to write? Don't bother answering that: everyone wants to write, because writing is non-stop fun. But getting started can be intimidating
- FSG's Work in Progress

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Oliver Burkeman

  • Oliver Burkeman is a feature writer for The Guardian. He is a winner of the Foreign Press Association’s Young Journalist of the Year award, and has been short-listed for the Orwell Prize. He writes a popular weekly column on psychology, “This Column Will Change Your Life,” and has reported from New York, London, and Washington. He lives in New York City.
  • Oliver Burkeman




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The Antidote

Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

Oliver Burkeman