The Antidote Book Summary, by Oliver Burkema

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1-Page Summary of The Antidote


There are many self-help books that promise to help people achieve happiness. The fact that so many of them exist shows how important it is for people to be happy. However, if you take away the shiny covers and flashy slogans on these books, you’ll realize that their messages don’t really say anything new.

For example, the best-selling self-help book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People tells readers to decide what matters most in their lives and do it.

A best-selling book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, advises readers that it is better to be pleasant than obnoxious. The author also says that people should use the other person’s first name a lot.

Some self-help books are not only banal but outright false. For example, several bestsellers on the importance of setting goals quote a study from Yale University. In that study, students were asked if they had concrete and written down goals for their lives. Only 3% said yes while 97% said no to this question two decades later when those same people were located again and questioned about how their lives turned out.

The Yale study on goal setting would be great evidence that writing down goals can secure future success if it weren’t a fake. The study never took place at all.

Many self-help books suggest that if you become wealthier, you’ll be happier. However, this isn’t always the case. In fact, one of the most well known findings in happiness research is that there’s a limit to how much money can make us happy. After we reach a certain level of wealth, more and more money won’t necessarily make us any happier.

Similarly, studies have shown that some of the poorest countries in the world are actually happier than richer countries. One study found that Nigeria is one of the happiest places on earth.

Big Idea #1: The happier we want to be, the unhappier we usually are.

Most people would like to have everything in life be just right. However, the ironic process theory states that when you try to suppress certain thoughts or behaviors, they end up becoming more prevalent. For example, if you’re told not to think about a white bear, you can’t help but think about a white bear. Affirmations are phrases designed to make readers feel better by repeating them over and over again; however, they could actually be ultimately counterproductive because it’s usually people with low self esteem who seek affirmation so when they say an affirmative phrase like “Every day in every way I am getting better and better” repeatedly it clashes with their poor self image. Then they automatically reject the affirmation because it threatens the coherence of their sense of self which is strong within us as humans and we struggle to reassert our existing self-images against incoming messages.

Positive thinking can actually make people feel worse. Several experiments have found that writing “I’m a lovable person” makes someone who doesn’t believe it in the first place even more negative about themselves. In fact, trying to convince yourself otherwise only reaffirms your negativity.

The flaw of positive thinking is summed up best by one character in an Edith Wharton story: “There are many ways to be unhappy, but there’s only one way to be happy—and that is to stop running after happiness.”

Big Idea #2: Failure is an inevitable part of life – accept it.

Have you ever noticed how self-help books only tell stories about people who succeeded? They don’t talk about the failures. Somehow, we never read autobiographies by people who boldly went out and pursued their dreams – and then flat-out failed.

The Antidote Book Summary, by Oliver Burkema

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