HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T STAND POSITIVE THINKING by OLIVER BURKEMAN
I like this book so much I have become a Jehova’s Witness of Stoicism. I want to spread the gospel of
managed expectations. Have you heard about the probable failure of positive thinking? Did you know you can embrace failure and insecurity? (Not that I have any choice.) Rejoice! We’re all going to die. Hallelulah! Most things are a bit rubbish.
Cue Marcus Aurelius, who wouldn’t bitch about stuff you can’t fix. ‘The cucumber is bitter? Put it down. There are brambles in the path? Step to one side. That is enough, without also asking: “How did those things come into the world at all.” (p42 The Antidote)
Wonderful as the words of Marcus Aurelius are I’d love to see how Stoic he was with his bickering family members. I suppose he just girded his loins and went and conquered somewhere. Anything to get out of the house. Be that as it may his Meditations have stood the test of time. Highly recommended, despite Bill Clinton liking them, as is this marvelous book.
I really needed The Antidote, having failed with several annoyingly optimistic self help systems. As a lifelong sceptic I’ve never been able to positively visualise a bright future. And that made me feel guilty. Why? Life often is cold and cruel. It’s a bleak, harsh universe. Which I didn’t create. It’s not my fault. For once. Fortunately some wiser, calmer people have coping strategies, many of which are listed in the contents of The Antidote. (Wish I’d thought of this when I was book reviewing. Cut to the Chase.) 1 On Trying Too Hard To Be Happy. 2 What Would Seneca Do? The Stoic Art of Confronting the Worst Case Scenario 3 The Storm Before the Calm 4 Goal Crazy When Trying to Control the Future Doesn’t Work 5 Who’s There? How to Get Over Yourself. 6 The Safety Catch. The Hidden Benefits of Insecurity 7 The Museum of Failure, the case for embracing your errors, 8 Memento Mori, death as way of life.
WHY I NEEDED THIS BOOK: SELF MEDICATING WITH PLEASURE DIDN’T WORK.
I came of age when it was thought that more sex and drugs, in more diverse ways, with more people, might end all war. Just as machines would do all the work and religions would fade away.
While hedonist excess was an absorbing hobby, by the time you end up selling lewd therapy services to other obsessives, to pay for your drug addiction, but also to get more sex, it’s probably time to reboot.
Having said that addiction and debauchery were absorbing hobbies. There was fun, some reciprocated love, (and a great deal more disappointment.). After the second summer of love there was shared euphoria, trance and transcendence, everything the most legendary mystic could have wished for – out of body experiences, eternal bliss, time out of mind – copyright the superb Steely Dan, not that they minded ripping off Keith Jarrett (Gaucho) and Horace Silver (Song for My Father). And, Walter, I wouldn’t complain about how ugly ‘English chicks’ are if you have a face like an Alsatian’s shaved asshole. You’re welcome.
I digress. While seeking higher highs and plumbing greater depths, there were many near death experiences both psychic and actual, unity with ‘God’ and even on occasion with household objects. (Ketamine – the most rigorous alternative reality I ever encountered. Makes LSD look like a vicarage tea party.) There was also repeated homelessness, poverty, many broken relationships, divorce, misery and no cure for the lifelong depression which started it all in the first place.
MY ABYSS IS DEEPER THAN YOUR ABYSS.
What the hell has this to do with The Antidote. Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking? (Which I will return to another day, as it’s full of great anecdotes, interesting interviews and useful advice.) I suppose I’m trying to have a more interesting abyss story than ‘Power of the Now’ author Ekkehard Tolle – paging Doctor Freud, I just typed Ekkehard Toole – whose crisis, told herein, consisted of sitting on a bench. (And if a buffoon like Russell Brand likes your stuff how good can it be?) Think I have Abyss Bragging Rights, having spent decades in anomic hell, looking for something which didn’t exist.
Ahem, brief summary of recent Stoic gleanings; get over yourself, (‘yourself’ doesn’t exist anyway) and focus outwards. Altruism works better than greed. Fame and money are hard to get and fleeting AND THEY WON’T MAKE YOU HAPPY, at least not for long.
MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY
Which is more or less the message of this wise, lovely song, with which I’ll finish, ‘Make Someone Happy’ by two great masters Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck. I prefer the more sombre, less show business duo version with Bill Evans. Which will be somewhere on Spotify or Deezer but is well worth purchasing anyway. However, this rendition is available RIGHT NOW, all we have, as Ekkehard Tolle would say. Oliver Burkeman points out that if you’re asked ‘How are you now? you’ll probably answer ‘OK’. Depression can be wallowing in the past and anxiety is worrying about the future. I should stop yearning for the more elegant Tony Bennett and Bill Evans version and accept what I have. Which, as ever, is better than a slap in the belly with a wet fish.
Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck at the White House. 1962
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5W1662te94 now unavailable (June 2015)
what I originally wanted was this: Make Someone Happy Tony Bennett and Bill Evans npw rereleased in sumptuous boxed set, with some great unreleased tracks and alternate takes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFd07-J-lGc