Monday, 29 April 2019

Not believing in fairies

A few years ago there was a furore about a book called "The Secret", which you had to pay quite a bit for. Anyway, I got it out of the library, and was rather disappointed - but not surprised - to find it full of self-help, positive thinking crap. Packed to the gunwales with the usual 'secrets' that self-help gurus tell us: "cut the word impossible out of your life" and all will be rosy for you. Believe and good things will happen.

Fairy stories. I don't believe in fairies. Candy floss. I don't eat sugar.

I have written about positive thinking before (here, here and here), but thought I would consider another author today who has taken on the power of negativity, Oliver Burkeman. Burkeman wrote a book way back in 2012 called "The Antidote" - hah, note that similarity to "The Secret"? - aiming to help to debunk the positivity movement. I must have missed the initial party about this book, as it is now nearly 7 years old.

Burkeman's book, while interesting, is more of a 'once over lightly' of different philosophies and approaches that may be more practical to us than positive thinking in the long term. Nothing is gone into with enough depth for us to apply it from the book, however, it might be a really good eye-opener for those who have been trying to survive on candy floss and fairies.

Further, Burkeman thinks we try too hard to be happy... and worse, we don't really know what happiness means. As a planet, we certainly can't decide on what it is collectively. Most of us have no idea whether we are happy or not (just shows we all need to reflect more). He also touches on Wenger's precisely counterintuitive error and ironic process theory; where "all too often, the outcome we’re seeking to avoid is exactly the one to which we seem magnetically lured". Wenger is behind the "don't think about the polar bear" experiment. How this relates to positive thinking is that being told not to think negative thoughts actually makes us think more negative thoughts. Excellent. 

Then there are those affirmations. Burkeman introduces us to researcher Joanne Wood, who thinks affirmations are dangerous, having done some research on self-comparison theory. They should help us see ourselves in a better light, but actually undermine our self-esteem as we know we can't deliver. 

Burkeman takes us on a tour of the Stoics, Buddhism, escalation of commitment (goalodicy), act hunger, ego, security and fear, mistakes and mindset, and mortality. 

Get it from the library, lie outside on a sun lounger, and enjoy the tour. Look for some of the studies he discusses: you will find those very interesting.

And don't believe in fairies.


Sam

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